This article is part of the The Great American Reach Around series.

This week is a very special Great American Reach Around, because I get to kick back and just play host to three very talented writers and let them tell us about their cities. Our journey begins in California, where Corey "Mackieman" Terrell and Laura "Surly Girl" Coleman have set up shop. Corey offers a balanced view of San Diego and Laura is sure to raise a few eyebrows with her cynical take of Los Angeles. Okay, maybe not, since many Americans look down on the city of Los Angeles almost as much as they look down on last week's state of Texas.

The slim foreign portion of this week's GARA update comes from the far-away continent of Africa. Johannesburg, South Africa exemplifies the economic divides and strife that have characterized South Africa since before the end of Apartheid. We also had the land of borscht and vodka, Russia, scheduled for this installment, but it would seem Russians are incapable of meeting deadlines. Perhaps I should have characterized their contribution as more of a quota. I think Russians over the age of about 20 have a pretty good grasp of how those things work.

We begin in the gigantic and mighty state of California. California is America's most populous and economically important state. Its GDP is the eighth largest in the world, placing it just behind Italy and ahead of Canada, Spain, Russia, India, and most of the rest of the world. California is geographically diverse, with temperate climates in the north and desert conditions in the south. It has a large Latino immigrant population and is as culturally diverse as it is economically diverse

Within the United States the popular image of California is of a gaudy land of liberalism, hippies, and celebrities. I have visited both of today's cities twice and I would tend to agree with this assessment, although the gaudiness is a bit overplayed if you've ever been to Las Vegas.

Mock all we want, California is probably the state of the Union best-equipped to exist independent of the United States. Its powerful economy and diverse industrial, technological, and agricultural base would allow it to be self-sufficient in a way few other states can boast. That might be why lame science fiction writers like to visualize a future in which California is a nation unto itself.

Guilty as charged, I admit.

But, enough about me and the state of California from the perspective of an outsider. Let's get down and dirty in San Diego.

Corey "Mackieman" Terrell

San Diego, California

It was a cool evening on September 28, 1542 when Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo rolled up into what would become San Diego Bay and claimed the area around today's Point Loma for Spain. Cabrillo had the good sense to die four months later, leaving Spain to forget about the area for 60 years.

In November of 1602 Sebastian Vizcaino left his posh crib in Mexico and sailed north in his flagship, "San Diego," named thus for the Catholic saint San Diego de Alcalá. And the Mexicans haven't stopped coming since.

Upon arrival in San Diego, after getting over the fact that the airport has only one runway, the visitor is bathed in some of the greatest weather found in the continental United States. With an average year-round temperature of 70.5 degrees, most areas of San Diego are renowned for both their ambient comfort and subsequent preposterous costs of living.

This also fuels a healthy population of very polite homeless people who are seen only when the air is cool and there isn't a cloud to be found. Further inland, average temperatures begin to increase, so much so in places like Escondido and El Cajon that one is reminded that this fertile paradise is actually just a giant desert with a bitchin' irrigation system.

Formerly the seventh largest city in the nation (we're coming for you, San Antonio!), San Diego enjoys more than 300 days of sunshine each year. Beaches are rarely empty unless some vile toxin has invaded the water killing anyone who comes near the water.

The freeway system in San Diego was not updated after the passage of the 1960s and has since seen its service level crumble past the point of usability during rush hours. With, "rush hour" actually covering more than ten hours each day, traffic is a forgone conclusion.

Home to America's only installation of Legoland (yes, an entire theme park for Lego), there is never a lack of ways to spend money. Flanked by the San Diego Padre's Petco Park and the San Diego Bay, the downtown area is a mixture of office buildings and condominiums under construction that the Monopoly Man himself couldn't afford. Looking across the bay, the island of Coronado is connected via the Coronado Bay Bridge, featured prominently in the opening credits for Simon & Simon, as well as every week on the news when some pussy decides that he just can't take it anymore and jumps off.

The U.S. Armed Forces play a big role in the local economy and police reports. With the largest naval fleet in the world and one of only two Marine recruiting depots, the area is absolutely crawling with young sailors and Marines out for a night on the town.

Combine that with things like the clothing-optional Black's Beach where only old gay men hang out and the site of the mansion where those crazy but fashion conscious Heaven's Gate cult members committed mass suicide to catch Jesus surfing behind a comet, and San Diego truly becomes America's Finest City™.

North of San Diego is the enchanted land of Los Angeles, where the stars come out at night and don't where panties when they get out of cars. Laura "Surly Girl" Coleman, our first female GARA writer, bring us her view as an LA transplant from Chicago.

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