By guest author Ann Melious
This morning I hiked beside the San Francisco Bay, crossed a ridge and followed a trail through a seasonal wetland. I stood within ten feet of a Great Egret that eventually tucked her neck into an S-curve and sailed over the cattails.
As in the Adirondacks, there is wildlife in California, but you have to seek it out and it is mostly comprised of skunks. I have encountered them while walking the hills and their aromatic activities in my subdivision means I have to keep my bedroom window shut most evenings. Or maybe I’m shutting out the pong of medicinal marijuana. Hybrid weed stinks like skunk to me. If someone asked me to tell them what California smells like, I wouldn’t say orange blossoms. It smells like skunk. Apparently many, many people are sick here, because they are smoking marijuana on the streets and in their vehicles.
After living and working in the Adirondacks for 25 years, I now reside in the East Bay area of California. My husband received a job offer he couldn’t afford to turn down, so we now find ourselves in a community (I use that term loosely) backed up against the golden hills but only a couple miles from the bridge that leads to Palo Alto of HBO’s “Silicon Valley” and Stanford University fame. North of us are Oakland and Berkeley; south of us, San Jose (tenth largest city in the United States) and Cupertino (planet Apple).
I wander the Bay Area a cultural schizophrenic, living in a very nice tract house that is only an arm span away from the tract houses on either side. The sun DOES shine almost all the time, but since it is omnipresent, the blasé natives rarely go outside. If they have a tiny patch of earth behind their homes, they don’t tend it themselves, because there are armies of landscapers to mow, blow, and trim. Bay Area residents should all have to spend March in Saranac Lake. I love Saranac Lake, just not in March.
The sunshine is why I save my shower water to flush my toilet. It also gets poured on landscape plants, shampoo scum and all. The drought here almost defies belief. This El Niño winter has yet to provide enough moisture to recharge underground aquifers and Hetch Hetchy, the dammed source of the San Francisco Bay area’s drinking water. At night I dream of cool Adirondack lakes ringed with achingly green cedars.
My husband and I successfully competed against four dozen families for our rental since we are target tenants: good credit, no children, no pets, non-smoking. Young people either live with their parents who bought real estate before garden sheds started selling for $1 million, or they have many roommates.
A few of these young people will become tech billionaires, but the overwhelming majority won’t. If you can’t write code or don’t hold a technical degree, there are always bar-tending and retail jobs, you’ll just need to get more roommates.
Still, people flock to Silicon Valley. It doesn’t seem to matter that there are more jobs than there is shelter, or that highway systems and public transportation were conceived for a population only half the size of the present number of residents.
I drive on ten-lane freeways, hating them like everyone else. Traffic is mostly constipated. Some commuters work wacky shifts to avoid moving along at 15 miles an hour. I generally try to drive between the hours of 10 am and 3 pm using surface roads, but that doesn’t always prevent hitting congestion.
The Peninsula (south of San Francisco) and much of the East Bay is just suburban sprawl. Hundreds of miles of concrete houses, strip malls, office high rises, and (dying) landscaping. On the plus side, we dwell with people from all over the globe. There is a Chinese Buddhist hostel under construction across the street, a Thai temple two blocks away, and a Sikh Gurdwara six blocks down. I can go into a store and never hear English except “thank you.”
I keep thinking that this particular job market and the resulting inflated real estate market has to be a bubble. If nothing else, the west’s critical shortage of water and housing should result in a disbursement of some of the wealth to other parts of the country. Yet, still more people come and the newbies of last year complain about prices, traffic, crime, air quality, and the fact that you can’t get decent deli meats.
You don’t need to ask. Of course I’d rather be in the Adirondacks.
Ann Melious moved to the Adirondacks in 1988 where she worked in tourism and economic development until she left for the left coast in 2013. She served as the Marketing Director for the Adirondack Park’s Visitor Interpretive Center in Paul Smith’s, Executive Director of the Adirondack Regional Tourism Council, and Director of Hamilton County Tourism and Economic Development. During that time, Ann enjoyed the outdoor recreation and solitude the Adirondack region had to offer, when she wasn’t busy telling the rest of the world about it.
Ann now resides in the East Bay area of California and is an author. Ann released her first book, set in the Adirondack Mountains, “Out Like a Lion: A Calista in the Wild Mystery,” last August. Her second book in the Calista in the Wild Mystery series, is due out any day.