Until recently, Arnold Schwarzenegger's story seemed to read like the ultimate American fairy tale.
A boy grows up in the small village of Thal, Austria in a house containing no refrigerator, flush toilet or telephone. All the while, he dreams of coming to America. So herculean is his resolve, he becomes a bodybuilding force, is the youngest Mr. Universe at 20, and lands in America by the time he is 21, ready for the big time. "I always liked big things," Schwarzenegger once said. "I did not want anything in my life to be little. I wanted to be part of the big dreamers, big skyscrapers, big money, big action."
Determined to be the world's greatest bodybuilder, Schwarzenegger wins the Mr. Olympia title seven times. Then he marries into pure American royalty, flexes his acting muscles in mega-hits like Conan the Barbarian and The Terminator (his thick accent only adds to his charm). And if that's not enough, he becomes the leader of a state so powerful, that if it became an individual nation, it would have the world's seventh largest economy.
And then, well, we know what happens from there...
So I've been thinking about the state of our vision of the American dream in light of the recent news. What perfect timing for David Prybil's recent debut novel, Golden State. The book traces the fatefully interweaving journeys of four Sacramento locals trying to grasp their own piece of the Dream, in the wake of a big action movie star sweeping into town and promising to shake things up and fix all that's broken. We see how their hopes and dreams are what keep them going, no matter how delusional those hopes and plans may be.
I asked Prybil for his take. Specifically, if we can't use Schwarzenegger as our American dream alpha role model, does that tarnish our hopes and fantasies? Apparently, not. "The allure of the American dream is too powerful," explains Prybil. "And California is that dream's Oz at the end of the yellow brick road -- the place where people go to make their dreams come true, whether that dream is to become rich or famous or to just live in a place where the sun shines more often than not."
Since the American dream in California remains so strong, Prybil offered a list of some key spots to witness it in action:
Hollywood Walk of Fame/Grumman's Chinese Theater. No starlet arrives in LA without coming here and testing her own footprints against those of the stars that preceded her. On the flipside, there are the star impersonators, the Marilyns and Michaels and Charlie Chaplins, trying to scratch out a living after their own dreams for stardom have faded. Come on a premiere night and see both sides of the coin at their very shiniest.
Palm Springs. A sparkling oasis in the desert, totally man-made, filled with people wealthy enough to retire there and surrounded by some of the greatest golf courses and resorts in the world. Enough said.
French Laundry / Napa Valley wineries. It wasn't that long ago that California wines came in a box. Now, it is a Mecca, producing some of the best wines in the world. And French Laundry is its VIP Room, the place where the select few -- who managed to finagle a reservation that often takes over a year to get -- drink those wines, while savoring Thomas Keller's organic gourmet cuisine, which some say is the best in the world.
California Train Museum, Sacramento. The origination of the dream, tracing a time back in the mid-1800's when the chant of Manifest Destiny and the cry of "gold!" led people to risk their lives, making the arduous journey across the country, and others risked their fortunes to build a rail line to make that journey easier. It is a good place to gain a little perspective, and to honor those who paved the way.
The San Diego Border Crossing. Dreams come in all sizes, and if ever there were a place to see the Dream's most poignant and humble allure in full effect, every second of every day, it is here. You are in, or you are out. Note the stark differences in the people and the landscape, separated only by a fence, a gate and a Green Card. And be thankful that you're on the right side of it.
To learn more about Prybil and his book, Golden State, visit, www.davidprybil.com.