- 11 Sep 08, 04:37 AM GMT
Venice Beach couldn't be more Californian if it grew its hair long and took up yoga. Toss a joss stick along the seafront and you'd strike half-a-dozen tie-dyed T-shirts before it hit the sand.
Other parts of the country might scorn the locals as effete coastal wackos, a world away from the true American heartland.
But, still. A steady stream of bright-eyed incomers from across America have flocked west regardless for decades, lured by the prospect of fame and wealth.
At first it was the gold rush that brought them. Then it was Hollywood. Today, you wonder if every waitress or barman who serves you is a future rock star or matinee idol.
Just down the road from where I'm writing this, a young immigrant from Austria called Arnold Schwarzenegger used to pump iron in Gold's Gym. And look at him now.
As I gazed out at the shimmering Pacific for the first time in my life, the sun beating down on my face, I realised that I was looking at the American dream.
To find out why California exercises this pull and generates such resentment, I caught up with 53-year-old Nicholas Omana, who moved here from his native Salt Lake City ("not being a Mormon, I didn't really fit in there").
A voice-over artist by day and a stand-up comedian by night, he wasn't exactly difficult to identify as an adopted Californian by his floral shirt and easy, avuncular laugh.
I asked him what made things different here. It's because in the west, he told me, the frontier spirit lives on.
"People come out here to make it big, and I think that lends itself to taking risks and trying new things," he says.
"It seems to me that optimism and liberalism go together, and Californians are naturally optimistic."
I don't think this is the whole story, though. This is the state that gave us Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and - as I've already noted - Prop 13. Surely California's defiant individualism and buccaneering get-up-and-go have, historically, lent themselves as much to the right as much as the left?
My hunch was confirmed as I wandered down nearby Abbot Kinney, an upmarket, bohemian thoroughfare where Obama posters hung from porches and anti-Bush graffiti was etched in the cement.
I got talking to Jordan Peagler, a 21-year-old student in a flowing CND logo-print dress. I took it as read that she, like everyone else round here, must be a true-blue Democrat - if not a Green or a Yippie or some such.
But I was wrong. Jordan, who had moved here from Savannah, Georgia, liked the look of another new girl in town.
"I guess I'm undecided," she told me. "But I thought Sarah Palin made a great speech after her nomination. I like her manner.
"I'm a fiscal conservative and a social liberal.
"But some of my friends lost members of their family on 9/11. That will weigh heavily on the decision I make. I feel that leaving Iraq is much more complicated than certain politicians make it out to be."
It's an apposite point, today of all days, though not everyone in Venice would concur.
But that's the thing with California. Why should it have to agree with anyone else?
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