Thursday marks the anniversary of my start date at The Sacramento Bee. Previously, I had worked at The Oregonian in Portland, Ore., (yes, I watch “Portlandia”; yes, I like it) for 29 years. That’s a long time, and I had lots of time to develop riffs and themes about Oregon. I got very good at drawing slugs, wolves, salmon, old-growth timber and hydroelectric dams. Joining The Bee, a much different and faster-paced media market, was a challenge I felt ready for. I even survived my first stretch of 160-degree weather.
The first and most important challenge was to learn just precisely who the players were. Gov. Jerry Brown was well known to me as a national political figure of 40 years. I had familiarized myself as fast as I could with the rest of the California leadership (I could identify State Sen. Mark Leno or Assembly Minority Leader Connie Conway on the street now), and it helped enormously that Brown’s dog, Sutter, was an attractive foil for me. Going around town now, I still usually hear either, “You’re the new guy,” “You’re the new guy who draws Sutter” or “You have unusual hair.”
One of the things that has struck me about California politics is the mammoth influence that the lobby culture has in Sacramento. California is a high-stakes poker game, where the big money plays at the private tables. Comparatively, Oregon is a friendly game of hearts. To see how much influence money has in California is to remove any idealistic illusions you have about politics; it’s like finding out your Ozzie and Harriet parents moonlight as bouncers at a biker bar.
I am slowly learning what some of the Sacramento community memes are, which is very much akin to learning a language: you may have a 5,000-word vocabulary, but you haven’t memorized the idioms yet. Learning the names of the Sacramento Kings, knowing who Gregory Kondos and Jack Gallagher are, or what, precisely a Delta smelt smells like (cucumbers, I am told) is a process of osmosis rather than deliberate study. I now know that the 12th Avenue exit on Highway 99 south is actually the Sutterville Road exit, and Power Inn Road is named after an actual power station. No one has been able to explain the red rabbit hanging from the airport ceiling.
I have met some of the political players around town. I have seen Gov. Brown a few times at news conferences and speeches, but never actually met him. I did pet his dog a few times. I had a friendly chat with Speaker John A. Pérez, who, it turned out, was the former college roommate of a friend of mine. He noted that he never wore green ties, and I have not put him in one since. I ran into Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg at the Land Park golf course, and he didn’t seem to want to bash me in the head with his 7-iron. I met with Mayor Kevin Johnson, and told him I would be unable to have an in-depth conversation with him about his NBA career, which seemed to exhilarate him. I found him inquisitive and likable. Sadly.
Having the opportunity to draw here in Sacramento is, honestly, something I never dreamed I would be doing. The circumstances under which I am here haunt me. But I also know that this is the best place for me now, and I am very much enjoying analyzing my new digs. And if you have any thoughts about subjects you’d like to have me address, I am easy enough to find.
You can reach me at: “The New Guy Who Draws Sutter, 2100 Q St., Sacramento, CA 95813.” Or just send me an angry, unsigned email. I always respond.
Unless you make a joke about my hair.