California Screaming: Why I hate living in the Bay Area
File this one under “personal life” and “little to do with writing.” But, hey, I resolved a few months ago to be sincere and personal on this here blog, and this is what I’m currently dealing with so, here it goes…
I hate living in the Bay Area. I know. Whenever I say this, people tend to jump back in horror and disbelief, as though I’ve just said I don’t find fluffy, frolicking puppies the least bit cute and/or cuddly or that I’ve never watched TV. But that’s the truth of it, so there it is.
And it’s not that it isn’t beautiful, or that the culture doesn’t rock. I love all the quirky parts of San Francisco. I love walking the beaches of the Central Coast. I even like fact that Trick-or-Treating here has no set schedule. But, oy, what you must endure to stay here.
We moved here early in 2000, during the tech boom. I was newly graduated from the University of Michigan with a degree in Absolutely No Job Market For It, and my husband, an engineer several times over, was recruited by one of Silicon Valley’s Fortune 500 companies to join their new college graduate program. (An aside: Turns out if you get a PhD in something useful, people will actually want to employ you. Wish someone had told me earlier, instead of that “study whatever you want, whatever interests you. If you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life” scam. Please, if you’re reading this and are either in the early stages of academic pursuit or have a child on that path, don’t feed them this bullshit. Yes, take a few classes in what interests you, but you better be sure your ass is getting a degree in Accounting or Material Science or even Education. College is not a place for you to broaden your mind, it’s a place for you to lay the foundation of a killer resumé. Don’t buy in to all that feel good “don’t worry about a major, just enjoy the experience” crap. Unless your family is wealthy or you’re truly a one-in-a-million person who will do well no matter what, you can’t squander hard earned money entertaining your intellect to earn a useless piece of paper. Books are for broadening your mind; college is for making you motherfricking employable. And don’t forget, all those student loans the government foists upon you need to be paid back. But I digress…)
I was reluctant to move to such a different part of the country. In the midst of the Tech Boom, however, Silicon Valley was a perfect place for my husband to grow his career. Back then, we said if we don’t like it, we’d just spend a year or two then move on to somewhere else. I started hating it about the third week in, when I was spending 6-8 hours a day visiting apartments in the area and couldn’t find one available for less than $2000. Back in those days, property managers were enjoying 95% occupancy rates and bringing in tons of money from the .com boomers, whose companies in turn were handing out signing bonuses like they were Kleenex. It took us six weeks of living in a hotel before we were finally able to find a two bedroom apartment we could afford with our pay. Which was twenty miles away from my job. Which, allowing for Silicon Valley traffic, meant I was spending 2-3 hours per day commuting in backups thicker than a polar bear’s fur.
Since back then, housing and weather has continued to be the bane of my existence. Yes, I actually hate Bay Area weather. Every day is so nice, natives take it for granted and don’t appreciate it. I want to slap a bagpipe when I hear audacious Californians complaining about how cold it is today (It’s only 50!) or how hard it’s “storming” (meaning there’s moderate steady rain and maybe a roll of thunder). The spoiled have no idea what a real storm is, when you wake up at 3 AM to the sound of sirens and have to run outside your house through horizontal rain, throw open the doors to your storm cellar, and hope it passes before the rats and spiders get too brave to sample the freshly-laid out buffet.
Several years ago we decided to move out of our underwater home (which lost over 100,000 in value when the housing bubble burst) to a rental in a town with good public schools, “saving” us $2000/month in private school tuition. The property manager assured us she had no intentions of selling, and that we could stay in the house for four years, i.e., long enough to get our older daughter through Ultra Competitive But Highly Recognized High School. In exchange for her assurance (yes, which we STUPIDLY did not get in writing because, damn, we’re honest people and expect others to be as well), we agreed to do some minor repairs and upgrades in the rental house.
What happened next was my fault. This much, I will admit and take on myself. I know my husband; he’s not a half-ass type of guy. My plan was to repaint a few rooms and put new carpet in a small area of about 75 sq feet. Hub’s actions took three months of work (meaning we were renting the house for three months without actually living in it, while paying the mortgage on our underwater house) and costs $25,000. And, yup, you can guess what happened. As soon as we had the house all fixed up and livable (because it was a piece of crap before), the owner moved overseas, put the house on the market advertising all the upgrades we did, and made a huge profit.
And now, here we are. We’re at the end of our lease on a house that’s already slighted us. Again, we must find another rental so that my kids can finish out in their current schools. (Turns out UCBHRHS is very touchy about kids living in the district, to the point where they have several full time detectives on staff to follow up on tips saying people aren’t.) With the new wave of cash croppers bringing in their fortunes from Asia, Google, Facebook, and a handful of other companies you never heard of, it’s gotten to a point where people aren’t only bidding to buy a house, they’re bidding to rent, all with seamlessly endless supplies of cash. We’ve been looking for a new rental for months, and are out of time. Add to this that we have a small dog. Telling landlords in our area you have a dog is like telling an Ancient Phoenician innkeeper that you’re a leper.
We have finally been offered a house. Our rent is going up 50%. My mom’s annual total mortgage payment back in Michigan runs about $4000. My monthly rent will be more than my Mom’s annual mortgage by half. You do the math.
So, yes, I hate living in the Bay Area and I hate the Life Californian. But I feel for the stability of my children I’m obligated to stay here until they finish their high school educations. The day after my younger child finishes high school, I will be packing a moving truck and getting the hell out of here. Me and the dog. Four years, 9 months, and counting….