Things you notice when you move

January 28, 2014 1:45 pm by MRM in Uncategorized

There are a lot of things you notice when you move: subtle differences in culture, changes in the way you go about your life, and the overall attitude of people in your new area. It’s the little things that tend to gnaw at you the most, or at least to me.I recently moved to the San Francisco Bay Area (though city snobs are very clear that I’m not to say I’m in San Francisco, even to people far away from the area who make no differentiation between SF and twenty miles in any direction therefrom).

Traffic rules are different. Way different. This is partly because traffic is a pretty big deal here. However, having lived in DC (in the same way that I now live in SF), the Bay Area does things much better. Traffic moves on 101, even during rush hour. I can’t say the same about the Capital Beltway, with which I am painfully familiar.

First, the bad: The absolute worst thing California (and in particular, the Bay Area) does is merge middle lanes. Take a second to let that sink in. At various places on highways for which the speed limit is around 60 mph, you can be forced to merge with the lane of cars beside you with no chance to bail out on the curb if you can’t get in. Have fun with the following when four solid lanes of traffic going 60 are in this:

I met two of those bad boys going from Cupertino to my office in Menlo Park.

Now the good: Metered highway entrances. This idea is so good and so effective that I can’t believe major metropolises around the country aren’t required to do this by law. I’ve never seen it anywhere else, but the only other major cities in which I’ve driven are Philadelphia, Baltimore, DC, and Seattle. So, lots of them. The concept is simple. At most (but sadly not all) entrances to the major highway, which in the Peninsula (Silicon Valley) is US 101, there’s a stoplight. The stoplight periodically flashes green, then goes back to red, allowing exactly one car onto the highway. The genius of this is obvious the first time you pass one of these entrances while you’re on the highway—no gigantic pile-ups at every damn entrance. It’s even more obvious when you get to the occasional on-ramp that doesn’t have a meter, and you see a huge traffic jam. Now, there are still lines of cars behind that stoplight, but the pile-ups are pushed back onto the feeder roads, where they belong (and where they are way less frustrating). It’s okay to have stop-and-go traffic on a little road. It’s enraging to have it on the freeway.

Even going north on 101 at 5:30, which I’ve had the misfortune to do a few times now, the traffic in the Bay Area isn’t nearly as bad as traffic on the Capital Beltway. Cars move, even if only at a crawl.

Outside of traffic, you also have other little things that stand out. For instance, the obsession with sorted trash is almost hilariously omnipresent. I don’t mean sorted recycling—that went out of style years ago all over the country. I mean the ever-present tripartite trash consortium of landfill, recycling, and compost. Everyone, everywhere, does compost. Even in Costco.

There’s also the elephant in the room. Housing. Housing is absolutely stupidly expensive in the Bay Area, even if you keep out of San Francisco itself (which I did). I went from a 2100 square foot house in downtown Raleigh to a 754 square foot apartment, and I’m paying more on the apartment than I was on my mortgage. Most of the places, particularly in the northern parts of “The Peninsula” are pretty old. You can blame this on a lot of things, but most of it has to do with the Bay Area’s general aversion to building over things (because they’ll “lose character”) and the lack of incentive for anybody to replace things. Why build a modern apartment building when you can charge people through the nose for the one you already have? Why sell your house for denser stuff to be built on top of it when the rent you’re getting from tenants is double the mortgage you took out on it fifteen years ago? Central heating and air are foreign here. For instance, my apartment (that is relatively nice, but not top-of-the-line) has a heating unit that looks like this.
Old heating unit
I say heating, because there is no AC. In theory, we’re almost never going to need AC, and to be fair, we don’t really need a more robust heating system, as the two of those little units work just fine for the incredibly mild “winter” we’re experiencing.

It all adds up to a very weird feeling. I’ve never made more money in my life than I am right now, but I’ve also never lived in a place this small since I was a graduate student. Actually, my grad student apartment in Philadelphia was bigger than the one I currently live in, even considering square feet per resident, but the landlords at my current place are nicer than the people who ran the mostly-students building I lived in back in ’05.

There are other things: food is spicier, though it isn’t labeled as such. Sriracha is everywhere, on everything. Pretty much all craft beer is IPA, which is really starting to piss me off. Don’t get me wrong—IPAs are great, California, but branch out every now and then, okay? Stouts, sours, porters, ambers, wheats, Belgians… anything. Come on!

There have been good parts and bad parts about moving. Mostly, I’m just glad to be living in a place I can sort of call home again after two months of living out of suitcases. We’ll see how the California experiment turns out.

About the Author

Written by MRM

I'm a speculative fiction writer that spent lots of time trying out new places to live before finally settling in NC. I love code, craft beer, football, and fiction - in no particular order. My currently running works of serial fiction can be found on Kindle, Nook, and Smashwords. If you're comfortable moving files around to your ereader of choice, always pick Smashwords as your e-bookstore of choice - they give authors a much bigger slice of the pie!

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