10 Years in California - What I've Learned So Far

As November begins, it occurs to me that we've been Californians* for 10 years exactly. The * is for my friend Hil in L.A. who rightfully notes that I'll never be a true Californian... I will always be a Midwestern Boy. Fair 'nuff, I can accept that. I'm actually proud of it. But make no mistake... Simon and Henry are true Californians. And their mom and dad will be sure to help find them some nice Midwestern Girls, some day.

10 years ago I loaded up the Nissan Pulsar -- the one my Frontenac, Missouri mechanic said I should junk but went on to log 1000's of vertical miles in the Oregon/Washington Cascades and beyond -- and drove south from Hood River to San Francisco, where my brother Peter had a studio apartment on Lower Haight.

He let me... actually, encouraged me... to set up shop (my web design biz) at his place. Because it was so tiny, I actually had to set up a little office w/ a PowerMac fresh every morning after tucking away the pullout bed. I flew back up to Oregon just in time for Thanksgiving w/ Kari, packed up a truck and the cats, and migrated south into Peter's apartment! Thanks to Peter's heroic patience thresh-hold, the 3 of us and the 2 cats shared this tiny place for 3 weeks until we could re-situate.

So that's how it all began for us. I have an amazing cascade of memories from my early SF days... navigating our stuff through the maze at Crocker's Lockers.... seeing Bob Weir w/ a cart full of grapefruit at Rainbow (hey, Bob, ya gonna whack'em or extrac'em?)... Go-Getters, the worst pizza on the planet... getting towed for the first time (a miserable must for all SF newbies) and so on and so forth and next thing you know, it's 10 years!

When I talk to my friends in the Midwest, sometimes it seems like they are either hoping or expecting me to bounce back east. Or they just have to write me off as one of the crazies. To a practical Midwesterner, living out here makes no sense, no matter how easy it is to get to Stinson Beach. It's too expensive. They bring up earthquakes a lot.

But since many have been so curious I've pulled together a few answers to questions I often get that might help Midwesterners understand what it's like out here. I'll just give the answers, you can guess the questions:

  • Yes, I feel the shakers. Here in Alameda, at first you think there's a really loud heavy truck speeding your way. Then it's a rumbling locomotive going 800 mph underneath your house. I remember my first one in SF. I was walking across my office floor on Maiden Lane when the whole room turned to jello and I felt as if I was body surfing. When it ended, the old-timer in the corner, without looking up from his typing, calmly said "that's a 5.2" and indeed it was.
  • I always enjoy meeting other Midwestern Transplants. We always seem to find each other and get along. I've discovered that I really like people from Wisconsin, probably more than any state.
  • If you stubbornly insist that you eat only "American" food, you'll miss out on a lot.
  • No matter how liberal you think you are in St. Louis, you'll always be off a little to the right.
  • Nobody cares what you do.
  • Unless it offends somebody.
  • I don't know how you get anything done in Berkeley.
  • Driving across the central valley to Tahoe sucks.
  • They start them off in hot tubs when they are just babies.
  • Nobody cares where you went to high school.
  • Baseball just doesn't impact people's lives here much.
  • San Franciscans aren't just a bunch of gay people getting married.
  • Bands always play their best at the Fillmore.
  • In California, it is socially acceptable to just Not Show Up. My disdain for this practice keeps me a Midwestern. Meanwhile, I've begun to on occasion just Not Show Up. This concerns me.
  • Yes, it's crazy expensive to live here. Don't really know how we do it, but we've somehow found a way to make it work and share a wonderful family life.
  • Added 11/20/2007: You know your son is a truly a Californian when he asks "So why do cars even have turn indicators?"
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