As I’ve already noted, 2010 was a pretty significant year for my family and me. My wife, Carolyn, and I started out the year both unemployed. But, by late May, she had gotten a new job, albeit one that required us to relocate to the east San Francisco Bay area. For a younger couple, perhaps in their mid-twenties and just “starting out,” this change might have triggered unrestrained joy. We, however, were well-established in Southern California: Carolyn had been born and raised here, and we’d both spent a half-century in the southland. Moreover, the move uprooted us from our home in Rancho Cucamonga, where we’d lived for 20 years while raising our 18 and 21-year-old daughters.
So, we were somewhat … ambivalent … about having our lives so rearranged at this stage in the game. We’d simply never planned on such a drastic move–a transformation not only in our surroundings, but of all the arrangements that were so second nature to us. Suddenly, previously simple concerns, from where we grocery shopped to where we could find reliable Mexican takeout, required research and deliberation. Some changes were so unexpectedly unsettling–such as breaking off our more-than-fifteen-year relationship with our “family hairstylist,” Ruth. (Carolyn still hasn’t made that change. Instead, she’s returned south several times to catch up with old friends, and every trip includes an appointment with Ruth.
(Oh, and we still haven’t solved that Mexican takeout dilemma.)
Still, moving to such an attractive region (I frequently remind myself: People vacation just across the Bay!) does have its benefits. For one, our adopted hometown, El Cerrito is so intriguingly different from Rancho Cucamonga. No longer do we wake up in a So Cal-suburban-style tract house (the kind composed of “tickey-tack,” like those satirized at the start of “Weeds”); our new digs are in a one-of-a-kind, 60-year-old beauty reminiscent of a cottage on Cape Cod. What’s more, from our back yard, high on a hillside, we take in a gorgeous, expansive view of San Francisco Bay.
(And, incidentally, as I write this the local weather is absolutely stunning. Yesterday–February 1st–looked more like a preview of May Day. Here’s a local shot, from late in the afternoon:)
And, we’ve enjoyed getting to know the east Bay. That foggy city to the west grabs the national spotlight, but Berkeley (home to “Cal,” California’s foremost public university) overflows with historic, cultural–and gastronomic–treats. With its hidden paths and stairways threading leafy, venerable (and very affluent) neighborhoods, Berkeley seems the antithesis of our suburban experience. We’re delighted to have a choice of several distinctive and charming shopping districts, with many culturally diverse eateries and coffee-houses. (You can definitely find Starbucks and even MacDonalds. But excellent local establishments, from pubs and cafes to the world-reknowned Chez Panisse, actually overshadow the chains.)
While the entire east Bay seems to bask in its liberal reputation, I’ve been most impressed with the widespread support for the arts and “intellectual discourse,” in general. Throughout the week, it’s easy to find a new exhibition in the many galleries throughout Berkeley, Oakland and their environs. (And, yes, Oakland, for all its seedier aspects, is culturally lively and eclectic.) Independent movie houses also are well-represented. And the weekly cultural calendar sloshes over with a host of plays, lectures, book signings–even bike rides organized by several two-wheel organizations. (And I haven’t even mentioned our proximity to wine country, Lake Tahoe, and charming little towns up and down the northern California coast. I’ll have more to say on that … )
So, despite the hardships of leaving behind friends, a well-broken-in home and our familiar life, I feel fortunate for this chance to experience “how the other half (of the state) lives.” Of course, I will be even more grateful once I find a job (especially considering how much more expensive life seems to be up here). To that end, I’m currently hacking through a jungle of local job-hunt organizations, temp agencies and countless other resources. Most recently, I even sat in on a Web-hosted “open house” to learn about San Jose State’s School of Library and Information Sciences. (Since some friends already consider me a font of trivia, I’m particularly intrigued by the potential title, “information broker”; “librarian” is so old school.)
In the meantime–as I sort through my career options–I’ll continue shuttling my wife and daughters to the local BART station and doing my best in the supporting role, “man of the house.”