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Claiming the Color Purple

I stand on the cliffs in the People’s Republic of Santa Monica, where the Pacific dazzles, palms sway and a brilliant sun torches all memory of the other 49 states.

The intersection is Ocean and California, edge of the continent and nexus of national dissent. “Smoke-Free Park,” says a sign. Another: “Recycled Water.”

We stand apart.

At the top of the California Incline, a blue obelisk spikes skyward like a pin on the map of the United States, marking it for John Kerry.

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No, this wasn’t the only state to go that way. But while much of the country wrung its hands over the terror of homosexuality and other such nightmares, Californians cut against the grain once more and overwhelmingly voted themselves a $3-billion bill for embryonic stem cell research.

We shall all burn in hell, and frankly I had problems with Proposition 71. But it was worth passing just to seal California’s maverick reputation in a nation suffering from a hyper-religiosity epidemic.

“I’m just glad we’re here,” huffs Rita Frazier, a hospital administrator who is on the 18th mile of a 20-mile walk with her friend Elizabeth. “I guess we’re a rarefied breed because we’re more tolerant and more open to new ideas.”

Not that we don’t have our own fractures. The election day map reveals the traditional socialist republic running along our coast, while the rest of the state can be thought of as a sister nation of Oklahoma.

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But the map of the United States shows entire states without a single blue county. Imagine life in a lock-step domain so utterly predictable that you have to cross borders to find a dissenting view.

In a nation of sheep, wild creatures of every species abound at California and Ocean. A man named Pake Kealoha sits on a bench explaining how, as an evangelical Christian, he opposes gay marriage. A woman named Hilary Schapler walks by and says she has some real problems with that attitude.

“I don’t think Bush is a moral man,” she says.We are left and right, inside-out and upside-down, unspeakably normal and irretrievably nuts, but united in our delight at the rest of the country’s disdain for us, especially when it hits 70 degrees in November.

Beside me, two homeless men are sprawled on sleeping bags, speaking Spanish as the salt air blows in from Hong Kong. Power walking past this encampment in splendiferous workout apparel are Nora Slaff of Beverly Hills and Janine Hopkins of Santa Monica.

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“It’s a consolation,” Hopkins said about waking up in California on election day.

California a consolation? It’s the last station.

While the rest of the continent retreats into darker shades of blue or red, California is going deep purple. We’ve got a GOP governor who’s pro-choice, married a Kennedy, lobbied for stem cell research and doesn’t tremble at the sight of a homosexual.

He’s broken more than a few campaign promises, but since he’s dying to be president, maybe we should secede.

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On a light pole, I see a flier from an “Albanian Personal Trainer.” It says:

“Let me teach you all I know about ... kickboxing, swimming, yoga, soccer on the sand, wrestling, dancing etc. Training with me you can find force, energy and velocity.”

We’ve already got all three. Did I mention that the birds of paradise are in bloom?

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The columnist can be reached at steve.lopez@latimes.com.


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