Yesterday, standing in the checkout line at Costco, I did my usual imaginings about the person ahead of me. On the conveyor: Toy Story 3 (Blue-Ray version,) three ginger-bread house kits, plus a few assorted child-centric items.
My expectations for this shopper were a little skewed from the usual because most of the time I shop at a different Costco in Concord, in the county’s Latino epicenter. Yesterday I went to the Danville store, which has a much different complexion. The route is overseen by succession of multi-multi-million-dollar McMansions ascending the hillsides from the San Ramon Valley floor. A couple miles beyond the Danville store you’ll pass by the guard-gates of Blackhawk, one of the original Bay Area gated enclaves, home to sports notables and infomercial celebrities.
My profiler’s instinct kicked in as I watched my shopper pay with her American Express card. Did I say the young lady ahead of me was blond, wearing casually expensive workout clothes? — not to mention that she had a manner with the checker that would make her the queen of any play-time co-op, or private-school fund-raiser. But yesterday I cut her some slack. I admitted I might be wrong — not necessarily about her pedigree because her attire and manner advertised her station. The fact is, I don’t know her real story and I’d just had a mild wakeup call about blanket assumptions.
The previous night, I saw Bill Gates’ father mugging for the camera as he allowed himself to be dunked in a tank of water: pay your $$, throw the ball, dunk the clown. The sign by the water tank said SOAK THE RICH. This disarming visual introduced an interview with Mr. Gates on the PBS Newshour. Turns out, he’s been stumping for a local (Washington state) tax on millionaires. Refreshing. I’d also seen Bill Gates’ wife in a recent interview promoting her family’s foundation. She seemed as benign as the blond supermom at Costco. The common denominator with all three Gates, Bill, dad, and wife, seems to be an understanding that wealth is not created in a vacuum, and paying back is part of the game. A hopeful reminder that not all billionaires are cut from the same cloth.
Unfortunately, the Gates’ perspective has limited influence on Silicon Valley where two of its elite chose to push their world view into California politics. Carly Fiorina and Meg Whitman were in the race for the top offices of U.S. Senator and governor, and both made their vision of our state’s future clear through their own history. Fiorina left a trail of unemployed at her former employer, HP, and Queen Meg showed her true colors in the kerfuffle about her fired illegal-immigrant housekeeper.
A couple weeks ago during the height of the election season, Maureen Dowd, in her column for the New York Times, lumped these two billionaires in with a cadre she called the Republican Mean Girls. I’m glad she said it because white guys like me aren’t allowed such insightful statements that border on profiling.
I’m pleased to note that both Fiorina and Whitman have been rejected by California voters, a departure from the rest of the country in the Great Red Sweep of 2010. California IS different. It grows a brand of liberalism (the old-fashioned, Age of Reason variety) anathema to the Heartland. Unfortunately, I suspect the state’s Democratic wins with Brown and Boxer, like tales of generous billionaires, is the real exception. Yesterday’s election elsewhere in the country was more in character with this nation’s longstanding appetite for demagogues and a secret longing for theocracy.