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Topic #15
On The Road Again?

While we were visiting Seattle this past weekend, Avery and I discovered that we were both thinking of the trip as a mini "test drive" of the city: a kind of a "can you see yourself living here?" sort of thing. When we first met, we had a penchant for moving around frequently… if not to a new city or state, then at least to a new apartment. Much like our quest to find the much-talked about perfect college experience, we were always scouring Access Guides to learn about all of the great cities that would be just perfect for us to live in. Now that we've lived in San Francisco longer than we've lived anywhere else (together, that is&#41, it's only natural that from time to time we would feel the urge to move again. We have gotten a hell of a lot more picky, though!

When we first visited San Francisco, we loved it, of course. It was new and big and populated and urban. There were artsy-looking people and theater and galleries and shopping. What was there not to like? We-e-ll, after more than four years in the same small studio apartment, quite a few things come to mind: the lack of apartment vacancies, the sky-high rents, the overcrowding, the faltering public transit…did I mention the overcrowding?

When we got into Seattle, the air smelled fresher to me. There were trees and greenery all over the place and no huge crowds swarming around downtown. We were able to go out to dinner without making a reservation a week in advance. After three days there, however, Seattle's shine started to tarnish. The city itself seemed a little small, and the people, very homogeneous, well-to-do and the teensiest bit bitchy in a subtle-yet-distinctly-noticeable sort of way. It wasn't too far into our visit when it hit me: Seattle is not too far from possibly becoming the Next Big Thing. A giant upscale mall soon to be chock-filled with upscale stores like Tiffany and Cartier was under construction, and there were stories all over the newspapers about the skyrocketing rents. It was then that I plonked my head down onto the table and wondered if there is anywhere that we will ever truly love to live.

I spent the first eighteen years of my life in a rural, racist, small-minded hick town in Connecticut with a population in the range of 3,500 people. To this day it remains virtually identical to how it was twenty years ago (or so I hear, as I left as soon as I was able, and never looked back.&#41 In a nutshell, there was nowhere to go but up. Until I went away to college at age eighteen, I had never moved in my life. Perhaps this was the reason I would eventually move around so much in my early twenties. Using the "How Far Can We Get With the Money We Have?" method of choosing where to move next, we went from Hartford, CT to Slippery Rock, PA to Morgantown, WV to Boston, MA, and ended up in San Francisco.

Hartford lacked the young, urban excitement that we were looking for in a city. For the East Coast-impaired, Connecticut can basically be described as one giant suburb. Malls, both strip- and shopping-, abound, nearly every house is blessed with a yard and a garage, and everything that could be construed as a "downtown" closes early. I suppose we could have tried to move to a city like Boston, but at this point we literally had no money. We had just started living together, and practically the only way we could eat was to use up my abundant points from my University of Hartford Cafeteria Meal Plan to "buy" cardboard boxes full of those little boxes of cereal. Combined with our already-existing diet of peanut butter sandwiches and cast-off, unwanted pizzas (we worked at Domino's&#41, we became very svelte.

On to Slippery Rock it was. This year of my life was so unbearably scary and bad that I think that my mind has erased it altogether. Suffice it to say, Western Pennsylvania is way, way, w-a-a-y behind the rest of the country. In order to get the money from our student loans, we had to at least finish out the year there, and believe you me, by the time that year was up we had looked through every 500 page College Guide out there, and had written away for countless transfer applications. Once again, the (lack of&#41 money factor kept us from going more than 90 miles south to West Virginia.

There are an abundance of jokes about West Virginia and incest, and it is true that they are a simple folk, but our year and a half there wasn't so bad, in retrospect. I don't know about now, but when we lived there the townspeople seemed to be very into anything natural, and there was an abundance of Co-op Grocery Stores, Birkenstock Sandal retailers and Tea-Tree Oil everything. The scariest apartment we ever lived in was in WV — it was half of a house with the bathroom not-so-conveniently located in the basement, and not a pretty, finished, rec-roomy basement, either. A smelly, musty basement with lots and lots of bugs, and not just little harmless spiders, either. Bugs the likes of which I had never seen before and have not seen since, huge gazillopedes that scared the bejeezus out of both of us. It was so bad that we would accompany one another down there and stand watch for the monster bugs while the other showered.

Realizing that we were definitely not rural by nature, we went back to the wintry Northeast and finished our college educations in Boston, the biggest con of this area being the six to eight months of winter weather. There is a good chance that we would still be there today had fate not dragged us across the country to sunny California.

When we were in Seattle, every time we mentioned that we were from San Francisco, the response would be "San Francisco! Ooohh, that's a nice city. But so expensive!" It was a real eye-opener to hear other people's views of San Francisco, and it made me wonder why we are paying so much for the "privilege" of living there. Why are we busting our asses working 10-hour days, living paycheck to paycheck to live in an apartment that doesn't even have a bedroom? Why are we sacrificing in order to live In The City? Will we ever find somewhere new and exciting to move to?

Will there be anywhere new and exciting left to move to?

Up until we moved to San Francisco, Janet and I could have been classified as nomads. The longest that we would ever live in one city would be eighteen months… and we would usually move a couple of times within that time period. When we moved to San Francisco, we figured that it would just be another two year pit-stop while we figured out where we really wanted to live. That was four and a quarter years ago.

When we first met, Janet was a senior in high school, living in a little hick town in rural Connecticut. I was a sophomore in high school in a suburb of the State Capitol (West Hartford, Connecticut&#41. When we moved in together, we lived a small efficiency apartment (smaller than a studio&#41, and we stayed there until we left for Pennsylvania six months later. As we bid farewell to everything that we knew, it was decided that we would never live in Connecticut again.
Connecticut wasn't a horrible place to grow up, but it was exquisitely boring. In Connecticut, the highlight of your week was going to a mall. Actually, Connecticut has so little to do that the malls are actually marked on the highway signs (4 miles to Westfarms Mall&#41. Parents must love raising kids in Connecticut, because it's nearly impossible for them to get into trouble.

The sad thing is that almost eight years later, there is still nothing to do in Connecticut.

When we left Connecticut, we left for a place that ended up being far worse than our home towns. We ended up at a place called Slippery Rock, PA. We chose Slippery Rock because of their University, under some false pretenses. We moved there thinking that it would be a good place to go to school. It wasn't.
We moved there thinking that we could go to Pittsburgh on the weekends. The school spoke of the "regular bus service" between Slippery Rock and Pittsburgh. Regular service meant once every two days, with no weekend service, making it impossible to go to a large city, because we had no car. Having no car made Slippery Rock an unbearable place to live.
Life in Slippery Rock had more pressing problems. The largest problem was that we accepted an apartment sight unseen because it was the only place that we could find. OK… we were young… we were invincible… we were shocked when we got there with the U-Haul.
The apartment building was called the Habitat Apartments…. it never said Civilized Habitat. The building said that it had a gift shop… it was a head shop, filled with a tattoo artist and bikers. When we realized that we were at the right place, we just broke down and cried.
But that ended up working out for the best. The building owner was really nice, and we ended up getting many free months of rent in exchange for performing repairs and operating the head shop… but within a year, it was time to go on to larger pastures.

We spent almost two years in Morgantown, West Virginia while going to West Virginia University. In retrospect, it was the best school to attend, but it was a miserable place to live. The people were from a culture radically different from us Nutmeggers (people from Connecticut&#41… they talked slowly and even though I had a full beard, they had a marked propensity for calling me ma'am just because I had long hair. You can guess what that says about people in West Virginia.
The apartment situation wasn't much better than that in Slippery Rock. We spent a year in the married student housing, cramped into an apartment the size of a large jail cell. Then we moved to an apartment owned by a woman who ended up becoming a bit "touched in the head" who kept coming into the apartment and re-arranging our stuff. We spent the last few months in a large 2 bedroom apartment with a psycho-slut of a room mate. It was about a month after we moved in with Heather that we decided to get the hell out of dodge and go back to the Northeast.

Because we knew people in Boston, when we were accepted to a small liberal arts college in Newton, MA (a suburb of Boston&#41 we decided to make the move. Boston was a great place to live… and we were very happy there. But the winters were cold, and we knew that we would have to find new jobs and a new apartment as soon as school was over. When we got the opportunity to move out to San Francisco for free by hitching a ride out west with someone we knew, we took it. That was a little over four years ago.

Somewhere about two years after moving here, we realized that San Francisco would be the city that we would call home for the foreseeable future… and why shouldn't we stay here? San Francisco has phenomenal restaurants, the bars are good… as is the selection of beer. In San Francisco, we found a neighborhood where we weren't the strangest people around, we made friends, and found an apartment with a great landlord. some time around June 1996, San Francisco became home.

But now it's 1998 and San Francisco is starting to feel less like home and more like just a place to live. Don't get me wrong, San Francisco is still the best place that we have lived. However… the little things are starting to get to us. Our neighborhood is gentrifying… the chain stores like Starbucks and Pasta Pomodoro are pushing out the locally owned stores like Bean There and Benvenuti. Developers are approaching the owners of the stores on Haight Street to see if they will sell their properties for a new yuppie sports bar. We're in a neighborhood that in a few years will be just as plain and boring as everywhere else in the United States. So why are paying top dollar to live somewhere that's becoming just like everywhere else…

I guess the reason that I stay is because there's nothing better that I've found… yet. But if anyone needs a Telecommunications Marketing Specialist in any major city (anywhere in the world&#41 just let me know! If the offer is interesting enough, maybe we'll consider leaving Sodom by the Bay.

Posted in Topics of the Week (1990s).

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