Putting my life in "Jeopardy" - Clay Wilson

They say one should never judge a book by its cover. They should also say one should never judge an area of the country by what is shown on TV and in the movies.

I never thought of California as a place that I would particularly want to visit. Judging from what I had seen and heard of Los Angeles, San Francisco and some other areas of the state, I had always considered it n as the stereotype goes n a "land of fruits and nuts."

True, I had a cousin in L.A. who seemed to enjoy it well enough. And her parents usually spoke highly of it when they returned to Georgia.

But I still couldn't get the mass media images n mohawked weirdos on roller skates, spoiled-rotten movie stars, granola-crunching ex-hippies n out of my head.

Then I got The Call. The Call that informed me I had been selected to participate on the television game show "Jeopardy!"

This has been a dream of mine for at least half my life now. The idea of making money off all the seemingly useless knowledge I've accumulated throughout my life held an irresistible appeal for me.

For the past few years, my parents have watched "Jeopardy" much more regularly than I have. I was very grateful when they told me a contestant search was coming to Atlanta earlier this year.

I went to downtown, passed the written test and participated in the mock-game audition. Then I put it out of my mind, not really expecting to ever get The Call.

But about a month ago, I did get it. And last week I flew to L.A. to tape the show.

I can't discuss the outcome until after the show airs, which will be Jan. 16. But I can say that I really liked L.A.

The experience was greatly enhanced by the fact that I had a cousin out there who graciously took me and my parents under her wing. She showed us the sights, took us to the good places to eat and generally made the whole trip a lot more pleasant.

After my day of taping, we saw Santa Monica and the Pacific Ocean. The next day, courtesy of my NBC-employed cousin, we attended a taping of "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno." On Saturday we saw Beverly Hills, including the Walk of Fame and Rodeo Drive.

I guess I had a vague idea that Beverly Hills would be impressive, but nothing prepared me for Rodeo Drive. Cruising that street, with Louis Vuitton, Chanel and Cartier on one side and Gucci, Prada and Tiffany on the other, I realized I was surrounded by more wealth at one time than I will probably come in contact with for the whole rest of my life.

I don't consider myself a very materialistic person, and I'm generally not dazzled by riches; but on Rodeo Drive it's almost as if money is the air one must breathe.

On the other side of the socioeconomic spectrum, we saw the area's "masses" as we took the bus into Santa Monica. The diversity of humanity was breathtaking n Hispanics, Asians, African-Americans, Indians, Middle Easterners and, interspersed here and there, a few WASPS like my parents and me.

Much to my surprise, they weren't all strung-out punk rockers or Birkenstock-wearing tree-huggers. They were regular people, going about their regular lives.

Many of them were just as friendly, helpful and open as we are here in the hospitable South.

My Japanese friend, Fumi, who is much more cosmopolitan and well-traveled than I, is always chiding me for my provincialism. She's always scolding me for stereotyping areas of the country or the world I've never even visited.

After my L.A. trip, I think I'll be a little more apt to heed her rebukes.

I may never have wanted to go to California, but I sure would like to go back someday.

Clay Wilson is the education reporter for the Daily Herald. His column appears on Wednesdays. He can be reached at (770) 957-9161 or by e-mail at cwilson@henryherald.com.