Joe Mathews

Joe Mathews is the California editor of Zócalo Public Square, a not-for-profit daily Ideas Exchange that blends live events and humanities journalism. He is the author of The People’s Machine: Arnold Schwarzenegger And the Rise of Blockbuster Democracy and coauthor of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It, books that established him as one of the premier translators of the state’s politics and policy. Previously, he was a reporter for the Los Angeles TimesThe Wall Street Journal, and the Baltimore Sun.

Ways to Connect

Courtesy Fresno Grizzlies, aka Fresno Taco

Greater Fresno, with 1.1 million people and growing, is in the process of becoming California’s next big metropolitan area (it’s already fifth—after L.A., the Bay Area, San Diego, and greater Sacramento). But, perhaps because of its poverty, it still has the low civic self-esteem of the smaller town it used to be. And so Fresno hasn’t managed to conjure up a defining, unifying narrative that could galvanize it to build the infrastructure and institutions its population needs.

nickchapman / Flickr - Creative Commons

Can you imagine Southern California without Hollywood? Or the Bay Area without Silicon Valley?

No? History suggests that the identities of cities and regions are more fragile, and their central industries more perilous, than we care to admit. (Just ask former Detroit autoworkers.)

Joe Moore / Valley Public Radio

Fresno regularly ranks as one of the poorest metro areas in the United States. So why do people keep moving there?

The short, if incomplete, answer: Fresno is in California. And there is something very different about our state’s poor cities.

On Christmas Eve, it felt like the park was all ours.

Joe Moore / Valley Public Radio

I am a California dairy cow.  Mmmm—oo.

Surprised to hear from me? In normal times, I wouldn’t be inclined to cooperate with the anthropomorphic scheme of a writer desperate for a mid-summer column.

But today so much is being said about agriculture here in the Central Valley, and dairies in particular, that I felt the need to—if you’ll pardon the pun—milk the moment. Too many of you city slickers have the wrong impression of the cows you pass along the 5 or the 99.

I’m not talking about secession or flying Sarah Palin down from Alaska but about what may be the most important California arts event most Californians have never heard of: Fresno’s Rogue Festival. Founded more than a decade ago in the backyard of artist Marcel Nunis, the independent festival brings thousands of people from around the country and the world to Fresno the first two weekends of March for hundreds of performances in a dozen different venues.

Flickr user OZinOH / Creative Commons License / Flickr.com

I miss the days when Thanksgiving felt as big as all of California.

Amtrak

I’m not a big fan of trains, but my oldest son, Ben, 4, loves them. He’d been lobbying to go on a “big train trip,” and his school would be closed for a couple days at the end of September, when I had a meeting in Sacramento. Why not take the kid on a train trip from L.A. to the state capital, by Amtrak?

Flickr user bob_in_thailand / Creative Commons License / Flickr.com

There’s a nasty California disease spreading so fast that even our baseball teams have caught it.

Flickr user http://www.flickr.com/photos/joeshlabotnik/ / Creative Commons License / Flickr.com

A riddle. If you land at a big-city airport and there’s no train there, where are you?

Answer: California.

Yes, San Francisco, I know you’re the exception, with a BART train stop inside San Francisco International Airport (SFO). But the California rule is that we’ll invest billions in our airports and billions in our trains, but we wouldn’t dream of directly connecting the two.

Instead, we taunt those who dare to dream.

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