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.

Successful landing!

The past few weeks have been a whirlwind of activity, and my blog reading and writing fell off completely. The road trip was short and stressful. Sister and I drove over 2,000 miles in 3.5 days. Because of predicted snow in the Sierras, we took the extreme southern route through Missouri, Oklahoma, the Texas panhandle, New Mexico, northern Arizona, and then into California.

Expressways are built for high-speed traffic and sister was apparently determined to take advantage of that fact; as her fiancé put it in a text, we were “breaking land speed records” when she was behind the wheel. 😉 I meant to write a blog post on the road, but I just couldn’t squeeze in the time. We drove a minimum of 10 hours a day and basically fell into bed at night.

Hannah dog did remarkably well. I had to take off her travel safety harness on the second day, though, as it apparently inhibited her ability to move enough that she was getting stiff. I noticed her limping during walks, tried re-arranging her “nest” of cushions in the back seat, and only noticed improvement after I completely removed the tether from the harness. I thought the tether was pretty generous in length, but I guess old dogs need to adjust themselves in more ways than the manufacturers had envisioned. I’m taking Hannah to her new vet on Friday and will talk to her about my observations. It’s possible she has a touch of arthritis in her legs.

So where are we, exactly? Napa, California.

I’m a bit surprised that I’m living way up at the far northern edges of the Bay area, too. I never thought to look up here for a place to rent, but I simply couldn’t resist the opportunity when it was presented to me.

About two years ago, sister and her (now)fiancé bought this cute little cottage in Napa, CA. They want to live in Napa during their retirement years, and thought they would get a jump-start on that by moving here a few months after purchase. Sister works for the same company I do, and had already talked to her boss about transferring; her finance thought to find a job in the area since his skills are usually in a high demand field. But their plans didn’t work out due to family issues, so they took on tenants instead of moving in themselves.

When I started talking about moving to the Bay area, that got the wheels turning in sister’s head. She suggested I lease the house and take over care of it from the property management company. I had to admit there were some positive aspects to the deal: they were OK with me bringing my dog, there is a small fenced yard for the dog to stretch her legs,  and I will be able to garden in the yard, too. The only negative I could think of was that commuting into San Francisco would take at least 1.5 hours.

I confirmed that the rent fit my budget and then talked with my boss about continuing a heavy telecommuting schedule. Everything checked out, so here I am.

The first week I was overwhelmed with unpacking, cleaning, getting my internet and TV service set up, picking up some basic household stuff I had not brought from Chicago (like bed pillows), and figuring out the town. Sister stayed for several days and did some house maintenance tasks that the management company seemed to overlook (such as cleaning the gutters and fixing some loose boards in the fence).

The second week I was focused on getting back to work and being productive. I have many reasons to be grateful to my employer, but trying to keep a schedule that sort of worked in the Central time zone has been incredibly difficult out here in Pacific time zone. Virtual conferences and meetings that started at 7 AM CT have necessitated cruelly early wake up times. It’s true that I don’t have to allow for time to dress and commute, but if a meeting starts at 5 AM local time, I need to be up at 4:30 AM so I can get some coffee down my gullet and splash some cold water on my face to wake up my tired brain and body.

Now that I’m in my third week here, I think I’m adjusting. Hannah dog and I are establishing a routine of pre-dawn rousing, morning walks after the early meetings are over and the sun is up, and then nap breaks in the early afternoon. At some point in the afternoon we’ll take another walk and/or I may run some errands.

Eventually I’ll find a dog walker (wish me luck in interviewing a third person this Friday!) and can start setting up a schedule of days in the office. That will likely call for more body clock flexibility since my wake time on those days may start a bit later. I’ve already tested the commute to San Francisco by meeting my South Bay friend in San Francisco my first weekend. The route involves a drive down the valley on a relatively fast highway, then a ferry ride. I really enjoyed the ferry ride, even if it did take one hour. The seats are comfy, there are plenty of power outlets and free wi-fi, and the view is incredible.

But how am I liking Napa? So far, so good! All the people are very friendly, it’s easy to get around town (even “heavy traffic” here is nothing like a Chicago rush hour), and the weather has been…well…interesting. After three years of drought, we’re experiencing what I guess is a traditional winter here with plenty of rain. A new acquaintance who also grew up in Chicago said that during her first winter here she felt cold all the time because it was so damp; I can completely relate. In Chicago I could hang a load of clothes to dry inside at night and they would be ready to put away the next morning. Here it took nearly two days for my jeans to dry while hanging on the drying rack inside.

Moving to a new climate and new town is giving me lots of topics to think about and write about. Now that I’m reasonably settled there should be more frequent posts.

So what’s new in your world?