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Confronting fear

Nicoleandmaggie over at Grumpy Rumblings had a post yesterday titled Do something every day that scares you. It was very timely for me because I’ve been meaning to write about how my recent move to the Bay area puts me in that position frequently, although not every day.

For years I’ve had intense anxiety around driving over high bridges and along twisty roads with steep drop offs. I also get anxious walking over high bridges and hiking along trails that take me along steep ridges. There are lots of big bridges in this area, and many roads that twist and turn through the hills and mountains. Bay Bridge, Golden Gate Bridge, and Highway 1 are probably the ones that most people can identify but there are more.

I’m fine inside skyscrapers while behind sturdy glass, in elevators, or in airplanes. But while driving I have this fear that I will somehow lose control of the vehicle (by sneezing or something) at just the wrong moment and go plunging off to my death. While hiking I fear a misstep will tumble me down the cliff to my death. It doesn’t help my hiking confidence that I’ve injured myself more than once simply walking along a minor slope, either.

Growing up in the “flatlands” of the Midwest I had little exposure to navigating hilly territory by foot or car. We took road trips through eastern mountains when I was a kid (Ozarks and Blue Ridge mountains), but I wasn’t driving back then.

My first exposure to real mountains as a driver was during a road trip with a friend between Chicago and the Grand Canyon. We took interstate expressways all the way there, but on the way back we had a bit more time and decided to take a more scenic route through Colorado. As we set off from Durango and picked up the “Million Dollar Highway” towards Ouray, I found my palms sweating and my heart racing as I drove up and up and up along the switchbacks. Once we came to a wide shoulder/observation point I pulled over and told my friend she absolutely had to take over driving, despite her discomfort driving a manual transmission. I found the entire route terrifying, even as a passenger. As she exclaimed over the views, I squeezed my eyes shut and clutched the armrest.

That was probably my most extreme reaction, but I’ve had lesser (although no less debilitating) ones on the narrow bridge over the Mississippi between Cairo, IL and Missouri (I missed a turn and wasn’t supposed to drive over that bridge), my first time driving the Chicago Skyway, and along Highway 1 between Monterey and Big Sur.

I knew that moving to an area surrounded by mountains and with many long, high bridges was going to challenge me. But I also knew that it was one of those “price of admission” things I would have to learn to deal with. So I am.

Arriving in the Bay area that first day, I had to negotiate the Altamont Pass on I-580 through Livermore in a heavy fog. The fog likely helped as it hid visual cues of our height from me. (Also, the fact that the route had four or five lanes, so I could drive in a middle one helped, too). Sister drove the I-680 bridge across the Carquinez Strait to get us to our final destination, but once she left town I was on my own.

I managed a trip across the I-680 bridge both ways just a couple of weeks later without a lot of anxiety. I carefully trained my gaze to the road in front of me in each direction and sang to myself as a I returned across, just to make myself a little more at ease. (Something along the lines of “I’m crossing the bridge, I’m crossing the bridge. Look how well I’m doing!” in a chipper voice.)

My first trip across the Bay Bridge was as a passenger in a casual carpool. This is one of the reasons I was so excited to learn about the casual carpools, in fact. They allow me to build familiarity with the surroundings in a lower risk way since I’m not the driver. Being in a car with others who find the trip uneventful and routine is great. I’ve now taken five carpool rides across the Bay Bridge: four outbound from San Francisco, and one inbound to San Francisco. Now thinking about crossing the Bay Bridge as a driver gives me almost no anxiety.

Last weekend I drove with guests both ways on the Carquinez bridge as we went to and from Oakland. I had a momentary blip of anxiety as I saw the bridge risers, but was able to quickly shove it aside.

Seeing the bridges as a passenger on the ferry is also helping me become familiar with them, and reducing my anxieties. Every ferry ride brings me under the massive Richmond-San Rafael Bridge and gives me a clear view of the Golden Gate Bridge. I crossed the Golden Gate Bridge in a car as a passenger a few years ago, and made it partly across on foot back when I was married. (It took a LOT of convincing from the ex to get me to walk to the first upright from the San Francisco side. I emphatically refused to walk or stand anywhere near the railing, though, despite his desire to take a photo of me with the Bay in the background.)

Before I left Chicago a therapist recommended that I get a book called The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook. I’ve only read a bit of it, but it seems that this desensitizing that I’m doing is right on track with the professional advice. Next weekend I’m considering going on a hike that includes a small amount of “ledge walking.” I’m trying to decide if I’m ready for that yet and have some time to figure that out.

So that’s my answer to their question: Do you do things that scare you? What’s yours?

Moving: the incidentals

In my last post about moving expenses I noted that there have been expenses related to furnishings and incidentals. And how!

I down-sized and got rid of a LOT of stuff before the move, not just in my (failed) attempt to fit my belongings into the smallest shipping container, but also because the items weren’t worth bringing along for one reason or another. Some things just needed to be replaced after years of use (like bed pillows), others were damaged (like the bed sheets and duvets Hannah dog had chewed holes in), and some items were unlikely to fit into the smaller space I was moving to (like the dining room table and chairs, sideboard, large chest of drawers, mismatched bookcases, etc.).

I haven’t moved as often as some of my friends, but I have learned that moving large pieces of furniture from place to place often doesn’t work out. So I expected to buy new bookcases, a smaller kitchen/dining table, and end tables. I also planned to buy a new bed frame and night stand.

The bed frame that came with my awesome Tempurpedic mattress was a very simple one and required the use of a supportive base like the Tempurpedic platforms. I really didn’t like the platforms, which raised my thick mattress too high for my comfort zone and preference. I wanted a lower profile bed frame with a support system that allowed me to ditch the Tempurpedic platforms. So, I planned for my bedroom furniture to be a splurge. I haven’t purchased a real grown up bed frame ever, and I had decided I deserve one now that I’m closer to 50 than 40.

In December (my first month here) I spent $2,900 on stuff classified as furnishings for the new place. Gulp!

The really nice bed frame and night stand (plus a down payment on a special order media console) from Room and Board was about half of that. Some of it was also necessities like bed pillows, sheet sets, and a plush blanket at Target; a duvet and cover at Kohl’s; and a toilet paper stand and hangers at Home Goods. I probably could have waited to purchase a pair of those little padded storage cube/try top thingies for the living room, but I like to have a place to put my feet up while I’m sitting on the couch working. (My living room is my home office right now.) I ordered those from Kohl’s through Discovercard and earned extra cash back, plus used a coupon, so I got them at a reduced cost.

My list of things to pick up when I arrived was long and varied: kitchen towels, a drying rack for dishes, a drying rack for clothing, a shower rod, a hair screen for the tub, shelf liner, organizers for the kitchen drawers, and on and on. Then there were the unplanned expenses like rubber stair treads and a large rubber mat for the front porch. The porch is painted concrete and is slicker than snot when it’s wet. We had nearly two solid weeks of wet when I moved in, so I was anxious to do something about the slick steps so I didn’t end up getting hurt. (I’m really quite clumsy.)

This town has a lot of consignment shops and some thrift stores, so I scoured them looking for furnishings and found a perfect set of end tables. I also bought a few odds and ends at one of the local consignments shops that weren’t strictly required, but that I knew I’d find uses for like plain cotton napkins, a lazy susan (which is now inside one of corner cabinets, making it easier to organize my pantry goods), and a pretty wooden serving tray (totally unnecessary, I know).

I’ve been back to those same consignment and thrift stores (and more) looking for a kitchen table and a rug for the living room, but I am still stuck with using the makeshift desk I brought with me from Chicago (actually a piece made from a separate top and legs from Ikea) as a dining table. I’m hosting two guests next week and since I only have two folding chairs, we’ll have to eat our meals squeezed around this little table barely big enough for two, with one of us sitting on the exercise ball (that would be me). I don’t know why it’s so hard to find a small kitchen table and a couple of chairs.

January isn’t quite over yet, but according to Mint I’ve spent about $1,800 on home furnishings. The biggest expense was the balance on the media console from Room and Board. (All I can say is I really love fine wood, and that will be my last Room and Board purchase for a long while.) I also bought a wool rug from Pier One for the living room (it was on clearance, but still wasn’t the bargain I was hoping to find), and mattress pads for the air mattresses. (See note above about guests and know that sleeping on an air mattress feels really cold at night without some insulation. I found that out first hand. Brrr!)

I really should have restrained myself from spending so much in December, but in my exhausted yet exhilarated state it was difficult to determine what I really needed right away from what I could wait for. The bed frame was not only a splurge, it could have waited. I could have kept sleeping on the mattress placed on the floor, but I had been doing that since the estate sale back in October and I was really tired of it. (In fact there was a mix up and the bed frame was delivered two weeks later than it should have been and I actually started crying in frustration; I wanted off the floor that badly.)

I’ve been trying to space out my furnishing purchases for a few reasons. One of them is because of a Discovercard challenge I signed up for back in November. The challenge requires a card holder to charge $3,000 a month from December through April to earn an extra cash back bonus of $500. I’m not sure if I’m going to be able to sustain this level of spending without damaging my savings account, but trying to keep my home furnishing purchases in line with this challenge is imposing some discipline on me. (Note that I am also trying to meet this challenge by charging gas, groceries, and other bills to the card, too. If I could charge my rent it would be easy to meet, but I’m not clear on the fees they charge for credit card payments so I’ll call to ask them about it next month.)

Another reason is that by not rushing out to furnish the house quickly I am able to think about whether I really need any of this stuff that is still sitting in boxes. I’ve already taken one small stack of books to Goodwill and I’m questioning whether I still need some of the books I used in grad school over 10 years ago or 30 year old high school yearbooks. Clearly, my downsizing is not done yet.

I’m nearing the end of my list of desired furnishings, and while it would be easy to keep buying “stuff” or splurging on fancy meals (I did some of that in December, too, when my friend R visited over Christmas), I’m not so committed to the Discovercard challenge that I want to spend more than I truly need to. It’s just nice to know that if I do end up continuing to spend so much every month it will result in a nice cash bonus.

When February 1 rolls around I start a new “allowance” for furnishings. I’m trying to decide if I should prioritize bookcases so I can unpack some book boxes or get a kitchen table and some chairs before the guests get here.

Thursday while I was at the office I was bantering with one of the IT people as he fixed my laptop privacy screen (which is essential now that I’m working during my commutes on the ferry). He mentioned that he commutes daily from Vallejo. “Yeah, so I do I,” I said. “Do you take the carpool?” he asked. When I responded with a puzzled no, he proceeded to tell me about the casual carpool, which he has been taking into San Francisco for a very long time. And which costs him $1.25 per ride. Say what?!!!

My cushy ferry ride takes one hour and costs $9.75 each way, and that’s with the Clipper Card discount. Less than $2 round trip sounds outrageously cheap, so I ask him to give me more details. One of the two pick up and drop off locations in Vallejo is conveniently around the corner from the ferry terminal and parking lot where my car is located. As he filled me in with the details, it occurred to me that we could do better than just a conversation; since we leave the office around the same time, he could show me the casual carpool system that day. He agreed to be my guide, and so I had a great adventure that afternoon!

Casual or ad hoc carpooling has apparently been going on for many years, and there is a robust infrastructure supporting it. At the edge of the Financial District — on Spear Street between Howard and Folsom — there are a series of permanent signs marking where the queues begin for the various drop off points: Alameda, Berkeley, Emeryville, Fairfield, Oakland (multiple points), and Vallejo. We queue up and he introduces me to fellow passengers he has met over the years who patiently wait their turn. Cars pull up every minute or two, picking up people from the front of the queue.

There are two stops in Vallejo that are commonly used: Lemon and Maine. My office pal offers to ride with me to Maine — the stop near the ferry parking lot — even though he usually goes to Lemon. After about 15 minutes of waiting we finally get lucky when a mini-van pulls up, the driver holding up his hand fully extended and wiggling his fingers: he can take five passengers. We hop in, passing forward our neatly folded bills and coins. He carefully stashes the money away, then we’re off to the nearby carpool lane entrance to the Bay Bridge.

This is the impetus behind casual carpools: carpool or HOV lanes are faster and the bridge tolls are reduced. Filling your car with other passengers who are willing to give you a dollar or two not only gets drivers to their destination faster, it also covers the toll and may give one a buck or two more for fuel. Passengers benefit by paying much less than the standard public transit fare. A ride on the BART to any East Bay stop is at least $3.00, but you can get in a casual carpool for less than that and you may make better time, too.

Because we were trying to stick together in the same vehicle my work pal and I missed a few opportunities to get to our destination more quickly. If I had taken the ferry this time I would have made it to my car about 10 minutes earlier. But I wouldn’t have experienced my very first trip across the Bay Bridge, and the running commentary about the communities we passed through on our way up 880 to Vallejo. I learned a lot about the area, met some fun people, and had a great adventure. All for $1.25. :-)

Sunshine beats fog any day

It’s winter in the Bay area, which seems to mean that many mornings will start with fog. By midday, though, there is usually sun. It’s a good metaphor for my life now.

Most of the comments on my last post pointed out that the doubts I was experiencing were just short-term and temporary (the fog), and that the jitters would come to an end (sunshine). Of course that’s right, so here are some things that I am loving about the area and the move.

I get to commute by ferry! Doesn’t that sound awesome and sort of romantic? Well, it is!

On the days I go into the office I have a short drive (no more than 30 minutes) to the ferry port in Vallejo, and then I get an hour to do whatever I want on the ferry. I can work (and I mostly do that in the morning) since there is wi-fi, but also: I can read, I can knit, I can nap, or I can just look out the window at the beauty that is the Bay and the ever-changing interplay of sky, sea, and bird life.

I get to see sea lions lazing about on the buoys at times, but it’s mostly birds I see such as cormorants, gulls, and pelican making wild dives into the waters to catch fish. At the end of the ride I stroll up Market Street from the Ferry Building and get lots of people watching in. End of day I do this in reverse, but so far it is not boring at all. :-)

Vallejo ferry terminal at sunset

Vallejo ferry terminal at sunset

Our office in San Francisco rocks! I never thought I’d enjoy being in an office environment, but this is a super cool one. We have a room with walking stations (aka “treadmill desks”) and I’ve been able to snag a spot every time I’ve been in the office for an hour or so. I usually use the conference calls to do my walking time; it breaks up the day and gives me extra exercise.

Walking workstation at the office

Walking workstation at the office

 

There are also well-marked stations for recycling AND composting in the office, and the coffee machine uses real beans instead of wasteful little pods or packets. All the utensils are compostable, too. Sweet little amenities like real milk and soy milk for your tea or coffee are provided gratis. There’s a small fitness room. There are Wii and gaming terminals on each floor (not that I’m really a gamer, but it seems pretty cool), as well as a foosball table in the break area. (Not that I play foosball, either, but…)

Most everyone works quietly around you in the open office space and uses the privacy rooms appropriately, so if you need to make a personal call or be on a conference call where you’ll do lots of talking you can do it away from others. Not everyone respects the workspace reservation system, but I’m firm and they know I have righteousness (and the office authorities) on my side when I tell them I reserved that space and they have to move. :-/

Food is fantastic in this area! Veggies, fruit, and seafood are fresh and plentiful. There are fantastic dairies and ranches really nearby that produce delicious yogurt, cheese, ice cream, and meat. There is a lot of very good wine. :-)

Hannah dog and I can go for walks every day. Well, technically we don’t do this since on the days I go to the office since at this time of year it’s dark in the morning when I leave and at night when I get home. This will change as the days lengthen and we’ll be able to add to our once or twice daily walks that we take on other days of the week.

Hannah dog on the walk

Hannah dog on the walk

We like to walk the river. Walking there and back is nearly 2.5 miles and the views are usually quite stunning.

Coast Guard boat on Napa River

Coast Guard boat on Napa River

And the weather is usually perfect. :-)

Is the bloom off the rose?

It’s been just over a month since I packed up and moved over 2,000 miles to live in Northern California. One month is a really short period of time to form a valid opinion about such a life-changing decision, but I’m starting to feel some discomfort and doubts. This post is essentially just a dump of my stream of consciousness/thoughts.

  • Will I ever make friends locally?
  • I enjoy going to weekly knitting group and have met some nice people, but I’d like to do more than just a once a week thing socially.
  • I need to figure out a stable to go to. Getting back into riding will connect me with some friendly people.
  • But if I spend time riding, that’s more time away from Hannah dog.
  • Poor Hannah dog. She looks so bored a lot of the time. I’m her only companion now.
  • Is it fair to leave my dog alone so much? Am I giving her a good life?
  • Stop the guilt trip about the dog! She has a comfortable home, she gets regular attention/exercise/meals, and when you adopted her you saved her from almost certain death!
  • Still, I need to make more “special time” with my dog. Maybe I can take her to the big park today for a walk.
  • How is walking my dog by myself helping me make more local friends?
  • Too bad Hannah isn’t tolerant of other dogs; if she was I could socialize with other people walking their dogs, or take her to the dog park.

———————

  • I can’t believe how much public transportation costs around here!
  • I can’t believe how much housing costs around here!
  • Damn, the new state payroll taxes are more than twice as much as my old state taxes!
  • Can I really afford to live here?
  • Of course I can, I just need to make some adjustments to my budget.
  • Hmm…will I be able to afford to ride regularly here?
  • Too bad I don’t have someone to share expenses with, like a roommate.
  • Getting a roommate here would mean sharing a bathroom; I’m not so keen on sharing a bathroom.
  • Too bad I can’t get back into Airbnb to earn some side cash (because of that whole “share the single bathroom” thing that I want to avoid).
  • Maybe there are some more things I could sell, just to downsize a bit more and to free up a little cash.
  • OK, I’m not really poor. I earn a really good salary compared to most of the people in this country. Although, most of the people in this country don’t live in an area with such a high cost of living.
  • I wonder how people with lower incomes in this area manage to live here.
  • It very likely involves sharing their bathroom.

:-/

Moving: the tally revealed

I’ve been planning to write more, but there is lot involved in settling into a new place. I don’t normally consider myself a clean freak, but when I move into a new apartment or house I like it to meet fairly exacting standards of cleanliness. So in addition to unpacking boxes and figuring out where to stash my stuff in this little house, I’ve also been fitting in bouts of extreme cleaning.

Digression — Let me tell you, while jetted tubs may sound fantastic, they bring a whole new level of grossness to light. The last video in this article shows what I was cleaning out of this tub myself while wearing my thickest rubber gloves! It was so gunky I had to remove the jets, soak them in bleach water, and scrub them with a small brush to get them completely clean. Luckily there was a very nice Home Depot worker who knew how to fabricate the tool I could use to remove the jets, too, or I would have been SOL! The next big cleaning job will be tackling the oven. — Digression over!

Everyone knows that moving is expensive. With a long distance move the costs really go up, too. Thanks to Mint it was fairly easy to tally up the expenses, at least. Now, let’s dive into the nitty-gritty details.

My total tally for direct moving costs was $4,318.27. By direct costs, I mean that the following items were included in the total: moving supplies (boxes, packing paper, wrap, etc.), shipping container, and movers.

I could have economized on each of these by locating used boxes — either from someone on Craigslist or retail establishments — not using movers, and going with the cheapest shipping container. I actually did get some boxes from my niece who works in retail clothing and I used a few boxes I had saved from shipments, but I purchased most of the boxes I used from UHaul. I also could have skipped the movers, but my energy had been stretched to the limit by packing, shifting my possessions around the house, illness, and stress. In my above tally, also included the amount of money I paid in tips to the movers.

Finally, the shipping container I chose was not the cheapest available. My reasons for going with the slightly more expensive company were scheduling availability and customer service. I used 1-800-PackRat, but I also checked out PODS and Door to Door. The friend whom I had helped move to south Bay area a few years ago highly recommended Door to Door, but they didn’t serve my move area. I also looked at UHaul because they offer moving/storage containers, too, but their product is designed for people who will be towing the container themselves; there was no way I’d even consider driving a trailer or truck over 2,000 miles myself even if I was assured I could do it with my little Prius!

PODs quoted me a cheaper price than 1-800-PackRat, but they couldn’t commit to a delivery window time until the night before. This didn’t work for me because I needed to schedule the movers for the same day the shipping container arrived. 1-800-PackRat did lower their initial cost estimate once I told them how much PODS had quoted me, but what really drove up the cost of the shipping container was that I was limited to only two shipping container sizes since I was making a long distance move. This was true for both PODS and 1-800-PackRat. I could only choose between an 8-foot container or a 16-foot container, as the 12-foot containers were only available for regional or local moving and storage.*

I tried very hard to downsize my possessions to fit into an 8-foot container, but I just couldn’t get rid of enough stuff that I could be assured it would definitely, positively fit. If I had some wiggle room in my container packing and pick up schedule, I may have given it a try, but I absolutely needed to get that shipping container delivered and packed on a Saturday and picked up the following Monday morning. Having only one day to get rid of anything that didn’t fit in the moving container was cutting it too close for me.

Of course there are other costs involved in moving across the country: hotels, fuel, and food. Again, there are ways to economize in each of these categories. If one has enough stamina and/or craziness, it’s possible to drive straight through without stopping at hotels, or only stopping at rest areas to sleep in the car. Maybe if I was 20 years younger I would have attempted such ridiculousness. Sister and I managed to spend only three nights in hotels during our drive out here, at a cost of $213.47. (It’s interesting to see my progression of “comfort level” adjustments in just those three nights, too. Night One was spent in a Motel 6, Night Two in a Red Roof Inn, and Night Three in a La Quinta Inn. Even though we were simply sleeping and bathing in the room, I decided after only one night that I needed a bit more “comfort” than Motel 6 provided, like slightly larger and thicker bath towels, and slightly thicker walls, too.)

To be perfectly fair, I need to add in the costs of the Airbnb lodgings I stayed in for a few nights while I was between places in Chicago. While my friend A had been extremely generous and kind by offering to let me stay at her house with my dog for the two weeks prior to Thanksgiving, I had to be out of my house by Sunday, November 9th and couldn’t move into her guest room until November 12th. So I boarded the dog with the dog-walker (I’m not including that cost in my tally) and booked myself into an Airbnb lodging not too far from my old home for four nights. That cost $314.00 and brings the total lodgings bill to $527.47.

Fuel totalled $179.74. I was very lucky that gasoline prices were dropping as I drove westward. Between the lowering fuel costs and my hybrid car’s fuel efficiency, those costs seem pretty small to me.

I’m not bothering to tally up food costs for the journey for a few reasons. We packed a cooler and ate our breakfasts and lunches from it. We did this not just to economize, but because sister and I both try to eat healthy food and that is very hard to find along the interstate expressways. We purchased bottled water, the occasional piece of fruit, and some groceries at one point. We also ate dinners out each of those three nights, but I’m not bothering to add any of that in here. Sister treated me to dinner most of those nights, and we didn’t truly spend any more money on food than we would have at home.

So, the grand total for all of the above (moving supplies, movers, shipping container, lodgings, and fuel) came to $5,025.48. (Note that I was only moving myself and my dog; moving more people may up the tally due to increased costs for packing supplies, lodgings, fuel, mover time, and possibly another shipping container. Families that move a lot — like military families — must surely get some sort of moving allowance or they must be perpetually saving for the next move!)

This was pretty much consistent with what I had budgeted in my head for moving costs. But there’s more to a relocation than just moving stuff from Point A to Point B. There are also costs associated with furnishing and setting up a new household. I think I’ll save that for another post, though.

*As it turned out, it was lucky to err on the cautious side and go for the 16-foot container. There were a few pieces of furniture that didn’t sell in the estate sale and so I chose to bring with me since I had the flexibility with a larger container. And it’s actually worked out pretty well for me to have those pieces of furniture at the new house, too. The couch and loveseat fit in the little living room, the small china hutch my grandmother gave me works for holding office and hobby supplies in the second bedroom/guest room, and the small chest of drawers fit in my bedroom closet and is storing my t-shirts, socks, and underthings. This has decreased the amount of money I need to spend on furnishings at the new house. Despite the additions of these furniture items, though, I could have comfortably fit all of my stuff in a 12-foot container if it had been available.

Living in vacationland

When I first mentioned to my boss that I had an opportunity to rent a house in Napa, he seemed amused. “Let me get this straight: you’re moving California and you’ll be living in Napa. That’s just great,” he said with a chuckle. I didn’t understand his reaction, but when I mentioned it to someone else who lives in California (like my boss, who is a Los Angeles native) it was explained to me that he likely found it amusing — and perhaps enviable — because many Californians look at this area as a place to vacation.

While I am living in what may be considered “vacationland” even by other Californians, there are quite a few year-round residents here and they typically fall into two groups: those that are somewhat wealthy and likely retired, or those that support the tourist and wine industries.

I was invited to a party yesterday afternoon, and the other guests skewed mostly in the former group. That wasn’t a total surprise to me considering that the hostess was throwing a big open house to show her neighbors the results of an extensive (and expensive!) remodeling of her house. There were servers filling glasses, passing around hors d’oeuvre, and tidying up as guests came and went. It wasn’t exactly haute, but most of these people didn’t seem to be struggling to pay their bills. Although I know it’s sometimes true that some seemingly prosperous people are carrying a lot of debt, and I did meet one woman who started bemoaning her recent layoff from the local hospital and observed that she may be forced into an unwanted early retirement as a result.

Around town I see this dichotomy reflected quite a bit. I’m living in an area full of older homes, and not far from downtown. Most of the houses are small, but still pricey. Sister and I viewed a house just down the street that isn’t much larger than the cottage I’m living in and listed for $550,000. The house next door which is about as big as that one and sits on a fairly large swatch of green lawn was finally occupied (briefly) this weekend. When I met the owners (an older couple, one of whom is retired) they explained that their primary residence was on the Peninsula, which was why they weren’t around very much.

A few blocks away, the Health and Human Services department — the agency administering food stamps, WIC, and programs for low income families — is so large they have a veritable campus of permanent buildings and trailers, and there is a busy Head Start program based in the large park just up the street. There are neat houses with landscaped lots sitting next to houses that are more disheveled looking and occupied by people of more limited means.

Some houses still sport “yellow tags” from the earthquake that hit here last August, and about two short blocks away I saw a severely damaged, red-tagged house.

Red-tagged house in Napa

There was still a lot of broken glass on the sidewalk leading up to the door.

It’s no surprise that there is a large Hispanic population here. After all, this entire area used to be part of the Spanish empire. I see plenty of markets and businesses that serve a predominantly Spanish-speaking population, based on their signage and ads. For six years I lived in a Chicago neighborhood that had a large number of Spanish-speakers, and seeing the panaderias, tacquerias, and lavanderias brings back memories. It seems I may have plenty of opportunities to practice my Spanish as I stop in to pick up a tamales, fresh salsa, avocados, and other items that experience has shown are better purchased in ethnic markets.

Street art under Old Sonoma Road

As I meet people and seek out services, I’m careful to note that I’m a working resident here. While looking for a massage, for example, I told people I wasn’t seeking a “vacation spa” experience, merely a way to work out the kinks in my back that developed from many days of stress and driving. I enjoy the fact that there are upscale restaurants in town and nearby, but I can’t afford to eat at them regularly (or perhaps not at all…I suspect a meal at The French Laundry will forever be outside my means). Nonetheless it’s nice to know I have the option.

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