My Love-Hate Relationship with Northern California.

It’s been thirteen years. I dumped Northern California because I didn’t trust it any more. There was no way my house was worth the inflated mortgage I was paying. It was the age of rolling blackouts. The company I was working for had been for sale since my first day of employment. I had no idea what middle school my daughter would attend but I knew it would be at least a 45 minute commute. I was a Human Resource executive and California was manufacturing labor laws faster than I could keep up. Doing business in California involved jumping through more and more and more hoops. There was going to be a mass exodus and I wanted to be in the first U-Haul out. So I went ahead and dumped Nor Cal and moved to North Carolina and didn’t look back until this last year.

I’ve had several trips back to California in the last year for training with CRR Global. I’ve had the chance to rediscover all the things I loved so much about Nor Cal and all those things I don’t. It’s like meeting up with an old lover and loving that cute smirk but hating that he leaves the toilet seat up. It’s a love/hate thing. There is the good and the bad. The yin and the yang.
my love hate relationship with Nor Cal

Here they are:

1. Redwood trees. These are the most beautiful, enormous, magnificent awe inspiring groves of trees anywhere in the world. Breath. Taking. There is nothing like looking up at a 250 year old tree that has been around longer than the United States. We actually stepped into a tree (Yes. Stepped INSIDE) that was alive and had a hole that ran through the entire length of the tree and you could see the sky at the other end. They are resilient through fire, earthquake and flood.

What I hate? There is no easy way to get there. Every trip to a redwood grove involves a death defying trip down a winding twisting road. My big brother was behind the wheel so at least I wasn’t attempting the maneuver of the white knuckle drive but as we went to Big Basin State Park I did mutter a few prayers.

2. Pedestrians are king. When you are strolling along the waterfront in Sausalito or Tiburon and you suddenly see an ice cream shop that strikes your fancy, you may safely walk directly across the street without looking for oncoming vehicles because they will stop regardless of whether or not you are jaywalking. And bring your pets too. Because the cars and buses will come to a screeching halt so that you may check out that T-shirt in the boutique that just went on sale.

What I hate? Being on the driving end of this deal. My son and I drove through several towns and it was AMAZING how many folks and their dogs and their bicycles walked blindly into the street without a care as to whether there might be a vehicle within 30 feet. Pedestrians are king and vehicles are just a nuisance.

3. Let the fog come rolling in. There is a natural air conditioning system and it’s called the Pacific Ocean. When I actually lived in San Francisco some 35 years ago, there was no need for air conditioning or bathing suits and shorts for that matter. On the flip side, it was never that cold in the city in the winter as well. So basically, you could have the same wardrobe all year long. And it is ALWAYS 50 degrees at night.

What I hate? As W.C. Fields famously said “The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco”. So you will never need shorts. You will never go swimming at Ocean Beach. Not only is the water temperature too cold but so is the air temperature. And while I’m on a rant. When I would drive from Novato to SFO, I drove through 5 micro climates. From hot (windows up and air conditioner on) to tepid (windows down, air off) to freezing (windows up and heat on) in a matter of 45 minutes. Because it’s 50 degrees when the sun sets; you will be barbecuing in a parka.

4. Diversity is embraced. Every walk of life is embraced in Nor Cal. Language, ethnicity and sexual orientation are all wide open. It’s a live and let live life. Vegetarians, vegans and recycle purists can safely compost without any judgement. The market basket of endless possibilities of organic, farm raised vegetables and fruits is amazing. There is a flavor for every taste. It’s exciting to be able to dabble in all of the culinary choices.

What I hate? This openness and the weather attract a huge homeless population. As I drove my son through Golden Gate park I was shocked to see that at the end of the park some 50 or so homeless at the intersection of Haight Street. And of course the recent kerfuffle over foie gras seems a bit closed minded. But once a foodie, always a foodie.

5. Hotbed of intelligence, progress & opportunity. The amount of creativity in California is rather astounding. Google, Facebook, Apple, Hewlett Packard…they are all here. A stone’s throw from each other. I took a class in the middle of Google’s campus last year and the Google bikes were omnipresent. There is a vibrancy about it. There is progress and innovation on a palpable level. Heck, the Google car drives through my brother’s neighborhood on a daily basis. How cool is that?

What I hate? For all its innovation and forward progress the traffic and parking are almost on the magnitude of LA (not quite but real close). There are insane commutes of over an hour and 30 minutes EACH way. And the public transit is disjointed. I remember being without a car when I lived in Pacifica and had to commute to Santa Clara. It was impossible. My husband ended up taking me to work at 5 AM on the back of his motorcycle to get to work. An hour on the back of a motor cycle in 50 degree temperatures and fog was miserable.

6. Cutting edge food. You can safely assume that I am a devout foodie. And there are endless options from high end French, to food meccas like Chez Panisse and hole in the wall coffee places like Blue Bottle Coffee. The Farmer’s Market at the ferry building where you can actually find foie gras in one of those stalls. Amazing. I’ve lived in New York City and have visited many other cities but the San Francisco Bay Area is the mother lode of food options.

What I hate? It’s frigging expensive. We all went to a restaurant in Healdsburg and some of the appetizers were over $20. That is outrageous. It’s also impossible to get a reservation without 6 months’ notice at some of the more renowned restaurants. So as a visitor, unless you have planned it a year in advance, you won’t be eating at the better places. Of course that saves money on the trip but who wants to travel THE food mecca only to grab breakfast at the hotel buffet.

I do seem to leave my heart in San Francisco every time I revisit. There is something so predictable about not having rain for 6 months of the year and the fog pouring over the hills. It’s just that it all gets jerked around by the steady stream of money out my wallet and the catch 22 of having to drive a car but not being able to park. So how about you? Do you love it or hate it?

What do you think?

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