Posted 03 November 2003 - 12:04 PM
Arnold Schwarzenegger, California's new governor, is certain to raise the profile of the state's capital, writes Dudi Appleton
It's surely the strangest double act since Arnie and Danny DeVito played twins in the eponymous movie. Somehow Schwarzenegger and Sacramento just don't go together. For while the latter is the Golden State's capital, it's a long way from the California where the young Austrian made his name pumping iron on Los Angeles's Muscle Beach.
The orator: Arnold Schwarzenegger in his latest role - governor of California
Glamorous is not a word that comes to mind when you think of the city. Today, a century and a half after the wildest days of the gold rush - when the city sprang to life - politics-weary Californians see it as a sleepy backwater, notable mainly for snaffling 10 per cent of their wages in state tax.
Sacramentans, on the other hand, are convinced that they have the best way of life in America: all of California's sun, with Midwestern-style hospitality; and the friendliness of San Francisco, without the tackiness of Los Angeles.
I set out for Sacramento from San Francisco on election day last week. It was a chill autumn day and Bay Bridge was shrouded in its trademark city fog - though by the time I had reached Sacramento's city limits, it was a searing 90F. The city lies about 80 miles north-east of San Francisco, tucked away at the confluence of the Sacramento and American rivers. Steamboats were the original way to travel here, with craft such as the Delta King (now reinvented as a hotel on Old Sacramento's waterfront) paddling their way from San Francisco in as little as six hours. These days, when Highway 80 is at its worst, it can feel that long by car as hedonists and gamblers head for the sun and snow of Lake Tahoe or Nevada's casinos across the state line.
Curiously, Sacramento was established by a 19th-century Arnie equivalent, a poor German-speaking immigrant, Johannes (John) Sutter. The young exile arrived from Switzerland and somehow persuaded the Governor of Mexico (California was not yet a state) to grant him 50,000 acres to establish a farm and trading colony. The land turned out to contain gold, and after 10 years of toil his workers deserted him for the lure of quick wealth, Sacramento quickly becoming a trading post for cash-rich prospectors. Sutter, whose fort still stands surrounded by modern streets, failed to seize the moment and died a ruined man.
Old Sacramento is where passengers once disembarked from the paddleboats, and it has not changed much since. Cobbled streets with Wild West signs over frontier-style buildings crowd the banks of the Sacramento, where I found families eating shrimp in the afternoon sun, listening to the Freight Train Riders of America singing some bluegrass favourites.
Old Sacramento is quaint, especially on election day, which coincided with the local historical society's "Gold Rush Day", filling the streets with horses, carriages, Yankee soldiers and Indian Braves. It's a little silly, but also charming, and a real eye-opener for the children crowding round the cowboys in front of the old steam locomotives at the State Railroad Museum.
California, of course, loves a cowboy, even an ersatz one. They've elected enough of them: Clint Eastwood became Mayor of Carmel and Ronald Reagan was a previous incumbent of Arnie Schwarzenegger's new job.
The notion of the gunslinger striding into town, ridding honest townsfolk of corrupt or incompetent officials is so ingrained here that it seems when Arnold Schwarzenegger promised to "Terminate the Deficit", Californians appeared happy to lose their reason.
Post-election, locals were alternately mourning or consoling themselves with the fact that Arnie Schwarzenegger's Austrian birth means he cannot follow Reagan to the White House - though nobody's prepared to bet on it. As Al Fawcett, who runs Sacramento's (numerous) elections, observes, "You don't need intellect to be elected here, you need a profile."
As night fell, Old Sacramento's streets emptied. By the time I'd changed for the evening in my hotel, looking for a little Western rowdiness, everyone had gone home. I swear a tumbleweed passed me on Front Street. Even Tunel 21, the celebrated bar owned by Vlade Divac, star player of the Sacramento Kings basketball team, was deserted.
Sacramento may be quiet at night, but it's a lot prettier than I'd expected - closer to Graz, Schwarzenegger's birthplace, than the concrete heck of inner Los Angeles. In fact, the more I saw, the more it occurred to me that the city and Arnie might have more in common than I first thought.
For Sacramento, like the future governor, has not been averse to a little self-reinvention. First it was a frontier town, then a dull bureaucratic capital, and - until budget cuts closed the bases - a major air force town. Recently, business has moved in, UPS and Fedex occupying the bases, Hewlett Packard and Apple extending the reach of San Jose's Silicon Valley.
With property prices a fraction of those in LA or San Francisco, the two pretty rivers, immense areas of parkland, and the novelty of actually being able to park your car, people are settling in the city by choice - not just because they have been posted here.
You can see and feel the effects. There are still plenty of men wearing beards and shorts and women in sensible shoes, but a younger generation is bringing life to the city's increasingly dynamic downtown - at least during the day.
Having passed through Woodpark (billed as "a tranquil place where neighbors are friends"), I reached uptown's new galleries and old-style cafes, where waitresses call you "Honey" and ask you if you're too warm. The couple beside me explained that people from Sacramento never used to consider theirs a real city. "Going to the city meant San Francisco. We were just some place on the way to somewhere else."
Arnie's future office, the State Capitol, is, like much of downtown Sacramento, a working museum. The imposing, white-domed building, which was built in the 1860s and is still the seat of state government, was restored in 1976 at a cost of $8 (£5) per Californian. At the time it was the most expensive restoration programme ever undertaken in the United States.
Inside, representatives with surnames from Aghazarian to Yee (Time magazine recently named Sacramento "America's Most Ethnically Diverse City") vote in an Assembly Chamber that looks like an ornate oak-and-leather Victorian lecture theatre. Votes appear as numbers on incongruous wall-mounted electronic screens.
Even Sacramentans, who like to see themselves as immune to politicians' smarm and Hollywood glitz, seem to have fallen for Arnie. Wendy, the Capitol's gift-shop assistant, voted for him because, "It'd be kinda cool to have the Terminator as my Governor."
Others just despaired of the old incumbent, Gray Davis, wondering how, with the world's fifth-largest economy, California can be in debt to the tune of $38 billion (£24 billion). As a security guard whispered to me between votes: "If we've got to have a deficit, then let's have a colourful one. Davis was always too grey for my liking." Bob Graswich, a columnist with the Sacramento Bee, concluded that "We can't help ourselves, we're starstruck: we all want to shake a movie star's hand."
Speculation is also rife that Schwarzenegger will, as promised, focus on Sacramento; that he'll fly the private jet up here and wander the streets pressing flesh. Some even believe he will renovate and then move in to the old Governor's Mansion in Midtown.
Midtown was once the place nobody wanted to live - certainly not the Governor. When Nancy Reagan was first shown around the mansion after her husband's 1967 election, she was horrified. Back then this was the district of choice for Sacramento's hookers and drug dealers, and the Gothic white mansion was in a poor state. Nancy painted her bedroom red then escaped to a leased three-bedroom ranch house. Now a museum, the mansion is exactly as it was left - hurriedly - by Mrs Reagan.
The rumour that Arnie may soon be living here certainly lent a buzz to the official mansion tour, gripping us more than the fact that Sinatra had once played the parlour piano and Indira Ghandi had stayed upstairs.
A group of students from the JFK High School were staring blankly at a photo of JFK on the mansion's breakfast table.
"Didn't he get shot?" one asked. None seemed able to identify him as a former president or the man after whom their school is named. Their teacher was mortified. Joe, our guide, pointed out where Charles Lindbergh once sat. This time the JFK High teacher looked blank.
"I should know that name . . ." Joe helpfully offered to loan him Spirit of Saint Louis, the Lindbergh movie starring Jimmy Stewart. But the teacher hadn't heard of Jimmy Stewart.
It was a sobering moment, and one to give pause for thought. Neither politicians nor movie stars, it seems, can count on eternal celebrity in California. For as John Sutter discovered and Arnie probably knows, even in laid-back Sacramento, about which we will doubtless hear much more, California giveth, and California taketh away.
Posted 03 November 2003 - 08:58 PM
The New California Governator has just announced an agreement whereby
English will be the official language of the state, rather than German which was the other possibility.
As part of the negotiations, The Terminator's Government conceded that English spelling had some room for improvement and has accepted a
5-year phase-in plan that would become known as "Austro-English" (or, if nobody will be offended, "Austrionics")..
In the first year, "s" will replace the soft "c". Sertainly, this will
make the sivil servants jump with joy. The hard "c" will be dropped in
favor of the "k". This should klear up konfusion, and keyboards kan have
one less letter.
There will be growing publik enthusiasm in the sekond year when the
troublesome "ph" will be replaced with the "f". This will make words like
fotograf 20% shorter.
In the 3rd year, publik akseptanse of the new spelling kan be expekted to
reach the stage where more komplikated changes are possible.
Governments will enkourage the removal of double letters which have
always ben a deterent to akurate speling. Also, al wil agre that the
horibl mes of the silent "e" in the languag is disgrasful and it
should g! o away.
By the 4th yer peopl wil be reseptiv to steps such as replasing "th" with
"z" and "w" with "v".
During ze fifz yer, ze unesesary "o" kan be dropd from vords kontaining
"ou" and after ziz fifz yer, ve vil hav a reil sensibl riten styl.
Zer vil be no mor trubl or difikultis and evrivun vil find it ezi tu
understand ech oza. Ze drem of a united urop vil finali kum tru.
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