The densely populated coastal corridors from Boston to Washington and from San Diego to Berkeley are where most of America's big decisions are made.
They remind us of two quite different Americas: one country along these coasts and everything else in between. Those in Boston, New York and Washington determine how our government works; what sort of news, books, art and fashion we should consume; and whether our money and investments are worth anything.
The Pacific corridor is just as influential, but in a hipper, cooler fashion. Whether America suffers through another zombie film or one more Lady Gaga video or Kanye West's latest soft-porn rhyme is determined by Hollywood -- mostly by executives who live in the la-la land of the thin Pacific strip from Malibu to Palos Verdes.
The next smart phone or search engine 5.0 will arise from the minds of tech geeks who pay $2,000 a month for studio apartments and drive BMWs in Menlo Park, Palo Alto or Mountain View.
The road to riches and influence, we are told, lies in being branded with a degree from a coastal-elite campus like Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Stanford or Berkeley. How well a Yale professor teaches an 18-year-old in a class on American history does not matter as much as the fact that the professor helps to stamp the student with the Ivy League logo. That mark is the lifelong golden key that is supposed to unlock the door to coastal privilege.
Fly over or drive across the United States, and the spatial absurdity of this rather narrow coastal monopoly is immediately apparent to the naked eye. Outside of these power corridors, our vast country appears pretty empty. The nation's muscles that produce our oil, gas, food, lumber, minerals and manufactured goods work unnoticed in this sparsely settled fly-over expanse.
People rise each morning in San Francisco and New York and count on plentiful food, fuel and power. They expect service in elevators to limos that are mostly made elsewhere by people of the sort they seldom see and don't really know -- other than to influence through a cable news show, a new rap song, the next federal health-care mandate or more phone apps.