Welcome back to Between Minds, our ongoing exploration of dynamic offices and dichotomous work styles.
Our last post outlined the difference between the working culture of the United States’ East and West Coasts. Many of these distinctions are so widely acknowledged as to seem cliché. East Coasters are formal; West Coasters are casual. East Coasters take the subway; West Coasters ride a bicycle. East Coasters live to work; West Coasters work to live. But as we noted, anyone who has worked on both coasts will attest that the “grain” of truth in these stereotypes could fill a beach. Whether we’re talking New York / L.A, Cambridge / Palo Alto, or Chicago / Seattle, there really are significant differences in lifestyles and business practices across the coastal divide.
Today we release a follow-up infographic identifying real world dignitaries from both coasts who exemplify the best the Atlantic and Pacific regions have to offer, respectively. But the world of fiction also offers a wealth of characters and settings that illustrate each coast’s distinct pleasures and discrete vices.
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For instance, the Joads in Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath are symbolic of generations of fortune-seekers from the Conquistadors to the Kardashians who have headed west to fulfill their dreams. The family leaves Depression-ravaged Oklahoma for California, where they are assured that “it never gets cold” and you can “reach out anywhere and pick an orange.” This vision of golden-hued prosperity ends up being a mirage, but the family perseveres—just like Khloe did when Lamar Odom was traded to Dallas.
Jay Gatsby, the titular character in Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, is a rather tragic testament to East Coast traditionalism. Gatsby is born as “James Gatz,” and grows up in poverty in rural North Dakota. Unwilling to accept his status in life, Gatz reinvents himself as Jay Gatsby and makes a fortune bootlegging liquor. But Gatsby seals his fate when he falls in love with patrician Daisy Buchanan, who can accept neither his ill-gained money nor his humble beginnings. Even in the swinging Jazz Age, social climbers were expected to advance one rung at a time. But had Gatsby been born only two generations later, he would have been husband material in that other classical work of American literature, Sex and the City.
Jeffrey Lebowski, known by the sobriquet “The Dude,” is the protagonist of the Coen brothers’ cult film The Big Lebowski—and a perfect personification of the West Coast’s laissez whatever counter culture. The Dude is a full-time slacker and part-time bowler living in Venice, California. Like a character in Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night,” The Dude stumbles into a series of mishaps stemming from mistaken identity. But the film’s plot is almost an afterthought. Like the Raymond Chandler novel The Big Sleep from which it draws inspiration, the film is really about Southern California and the voluminous cast of kooky and eccentric characters inhabiting its environs.
If The Big Lebowski captures the cultural milieu of L.A., then Gus Van Sant’s Good Will Hunting nails the je ne sais quoi of Boston—although none of the film’s protagonists would ever use that French expression. Matt Damon plays a troubled math prodigy and Ben Affleck his faster-of-tongue, slower-of-brain best friend. But the real star of the movie is the Boston accents the characters use throughout. ”This is a Hah’vahd bah, huh?” “My boy’s wicked smaht!” “How you like them apples?” Other than “Valley girl,” the West Coast doesn’t have a distinct dialect, while the East Coast has hundreds.
Finally, there’s Jason Reitman’s film Up in the Air, which captures the peripatetic lifestyle of so many perpetual travelers jetting back and forth between coasts. George Clooney’s character, Ryan Bingham, has no real office. He works out of his business class seat as he crisscrosses the country. Bingham gives motivational speeches using the metaphor “What’s in Your Backpack” to extol the virtues of a burdenless lifestyle free of relationships and possessions. “Make no mistake,” he tells his audience, “moving is living.” But for the rest of us, living is finally finding a place to settle down, whether on the East Coast, West Coast, or the vast expanse in between.