A Tale of Three Cities

Image result for need directions images

“I started thinking about what my life was going to look like when I was 50.”

This week, I stumbled across an article I can’t stop thinking about: Bright Lights, Small City. In it, Jami Attenberg discusses the consequences – expected and unexpected – of relocating from New York City to New Orleans, after 18 years, at age 42.

The article immediately struck a chord with me, because I also recently moved to a new city (Chicago) from one I’d called home for more than two decades (San Francisco).

Both the author and I are single, with no children — and if there’s a gene behind long-term personal life planning, we were both born without it. For us, “Living day by day (has) always seemed a valid way to operate.” Now, we’re questioning that operating model.

Like Attenberg, I lived in New York after college, and felt like I was at the center of the universe. Everything comes to New York first – every fashion trend, every indie movie, every play. It can be exhilarating, but also wearying. And very lonely.

Image result for california or bustAfter graduate school, I hurried to San Francisco. It felt cozier and friendlier, until an influx of tech money — BIG money — triggered a seismic shift in demographics, median income and cost of living. Life began to feel hard for “the rest of us”, just as it had in New York.

Borrowing again from Attenberg: “I wanted things to be easier and sunnier and I wanted to own a house.” That was never going to happen for me anywhere in the Bay Area.

Family obligations brought me East in 2018, and I chose a city where I knew I’d feel welcome. Sweet Home Chicago is vibrant, interesting and diverse with a rich history embraced by proud residents. Anthony Bourdain summed it up perfectly in a 2016 Medium essay:

“It is, also, as I like to point out frequently, one of America’s last great NO BULLSHIT zones. Pomposity, pretentiousness, putting on airs of any kind, douchery and lack of a sense of humor will not get you far in Chicago.”

I’ve blogged about the uncertainty I’m facing these days. An untimely job elimination has me in professional and personal limbo. When I’m especially anxious, I find myself scrutinizing every aspect of life in Chicago. Am I happy here? Should I try someplace new? What if this city is just too big for me?

Image result for The second mountain imagesToday I saw New York Times columnist David Brooks speak, as part of the Chicago Humanities Festival, to promote his new book, The Second Mountain: The Quest for a Moral Life. He posits that 50 years of American individualism, and a focus on personal achievement, have spawned a lonely population that lacks deep personal connections and a sense community belonging.

Brooks shared this stat: Just 8% of Americans say they’ve had meaningful conversations with a current neighbor. That hit home, because last night I bumped into my neighbor as he was moving out of his apartment. Not only did I not know his name, I realized I’d never given him more than cursory eye contact and a perfunctory “hello” in the hallway. He’d lived next door for an entire year, and this was our first (and last) conversation.

Yes, Chicago is enormous. I can sometimes feel lost and lonesome here – but I must own my part in that. To feel settled, like I belong, there’s more I can do. It’s not as if I don’t have time! Even the most committed job seeker needs distractions.

I’d love to say I’m exactly where I’m meant to be, like Jami Attenberg in New Orleans. A lot depends on where my next career opportunity takes me. I must earn a living, and there’s a chance I’ll need to relocate to do it. Chicago is a wonderful city, but it’s not the only one.

Meanwhile, it’s time I begin the awkward (for an introvert) task of planting my stake in my current community, and building deeper connections here. For starters, when my future neighbor moves in, we WILL chat, and I WILL commit his/her name to memory, damn it!

Sometimes in movies, a sickly character will discuss his impending demise – philosophizing that everyone dies. He just happens to have an ETA.

If I’ve learned just one thing in the last two years, it’s this: EVERYONE’S future is uncertain, but most of us just don’t know which shoe is about to drop — or when. Our only choice is to go with what we know.

Maybe it’s time to go forth, and find my Chicago tribe. Wrigley Field on a sunny day seems like a great place to start…

Carpe Diem! — John Keating (aka Robin Williams)

Image result for Chicago cubs fan images

Route 66: A journey of 2,000 miles begins in Bakersfield

Moving boxes in an apartmentLast week marked my two-month anniversary as a Chicagoan, during which time life has at turns felt rushed (the cross-country drive) and plodding (unpacking box and after box). It’s been exhilarating (everything is new!) and stressful (new things are hard!). I haven’t had time for homesickness for the Bay Area.

I left San Francisco – and the little Russian Hill apartment I’d inhabited for nearly eight years – minutes after the moving van drove away. I surprised myself by NOT sobbing as I headed down Highway 101. It probably helped that I had a six-hour drive (read: crawl) ahead of me, and a 10 p.m. ETA in Bakersfield, CA. That left little time for sentimentality.

Tip #1: Driving from San Francisco to Bakersfield with few breaks is an ideal way to experience “highway hypnosis”. I don’t recommend it, but I was eager to kick off my Route 66 road trip as quickly as possible.

Tip #2: I spent my first night as a nomad – no longer a San Franciscan, but not yet technically living in Chicago – at the La Quinta Inn & Suites in Bakersfield.  I’d never stayed in a La Quinta before. This one was affordable, spotless, peaceful and the mattress could rival any swanky Westin bed. Options for accommodation in Bakersfield are a bit limited. This one deserves a shout out.

I asked at the front desk whether the hotel had been recently renovated – what else would account for the lack of wear and tear? The clerk said no,  it had been nearly a decade. “We all just try really hard, Ma’am.” I loved that.

Ideally, I’d have meticulously planned my stops along Route 66, but I didn’t have that luxury with so much packing to do. A friend who had recently made the trip had some suggestions, including “The Route 66 Adventure Handbook”. It was a life-saver for someone who, aside from calculating drive times and booking hotels in advance (a must-do, even in the off season), was pretty much flying by the seat of her pants.

Every night, I’d bookmark the section of Route 66 I’d be driving the next day, and pick out a few highlights to visit. I missed some big ones (like Cadillac Ranch), so I’ll hang on to the book in case I try the drive again.

From Bakersfield, I headed to Flagstaff – see you in retirement, fabulous Flagstaff! – then Monument Valley.  This was my second time visiting Monument Valley in less than two years. It is not on Route 66, but it’s one of my favorite places, and I couldn’t bear to be so close without staying at least one night.

I did it for the photos.

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

Next up: Winslow, AZ, and La Posada – a landmark Harvey Hotel. Then Santa Fe, my favorite small American city.

In Tucumcari, NM my luck with accommodations ran out. The “authentic” Route 66 motel I’d booked was… well, it was no La Posada. I ditched that reservation, in favor of a La Quinta that looked less… infected.  I paid for two hotel rooms that night, but have no regrets.

It’s worth stopping in Tucumcari for its classic Route 66 neon signs and kitsch. At the risk of being unkind… they are really the ONLY reasons to spend time there.

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

Amarillo, TX lies just beyond Tucumcari.  The thing I’ll remember most about Amarillo is, unfortunately, the smell. Driving along the highway, I was tempted to pull over to photograph one of the many astonishingly-huge cattle yards but… I could not bear the odor. It made my eyes water, and my throat raw. But further upwind, the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum was acceptable consolation. (It has AC and the windows are kept CLOSED.) I would love to go back.

To the museum, I mean.

My movers phoned mid-trip to let me know they were ahead of schedule, so I had to speed through the latter half of my drive. I didn’t have time to explore Oklahoma as much as I’d have liked, so I chose to focus on just the Oklahoma City National Memorial, and Tulsa’s historic Greenwood neighborhood (America’s “Black Wall Street” until a race riot of 1921) and National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum.

Seriously, can anyone who has ever MET me think I could drive past a cowboy museum without stopping?

The National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum has ample movie memorabilia and galleries devoted to fabulous art, as well as more lassoes, saddles, cowboy (and cowgirl) attire and barbed wire than you can shake a fence post at. Another highlight is a replica cattle town at night: Prosperity Junction. The “sky” is filled with stars, and the air smells exactly like a summer evening. Not sure how they accomplished that…

I’ll never forget the excitement of entering Chicago after my Route 66 road trip, my car so stuffed I could barely see out the back. My GPS instructed me to drive nine miles north on Lake Shore Drive to my exit. I had never even driven in Chicago before. Nine miles!?!?! This is a huge city!

I had a similar feeling – a thrilling combination of fear and possibility — watching my Dad drive away, after helping me move into my first post-college studio in Manhattan.

Fast forward a lot of years. I wandered around my empty Chicago apartment, and stared out at Lake Michigan, completely alone.

The journey to get here was epic. I’m hoping my adventures in Chicago will be just as exciting – with a little less fast food consumed.

Watch this space…

 

 

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

When the Spirit Moves You

Chicago Skyline

“I give you this to take with you: Nothing remains as it was. If you know this, you can begin again, with pure joy in the uprooting.”

― Judith Minty, Letters to My Daughters

Throughout 2017, I lived a life of not-so-quiet desperation. Of fear and loathing, even. Life is short, so I’m not someone who wishes time away… but I was relieved to see this December 31 roll around.

In January, I watched hopelessly as Donald Trump took office – cue the “fear and loathing” — then marched through sideways rain with 100,000 other Bay Area citizens to protest the man and his message.

Over the summer, I lost a cousin to a heart attack, and an uncle to cancer. At the same time, as Trump and Congress threatened to repeal Obamacare, I was blindsided by a breast cancer scare.

When the biopsy finally came back negative, I locked myself in the photocopy room at work and sobbed with relief. (I am blessed to have employer-sponsored insurance, yet more than six months later the medical bills keep rolling in.)

Finally, in November my 78-year-old mom suffered a significant stroke. Life has been stressful and crazy ever since.

So HELL yes, I am hopeful for a happier — if even more chaotic – 2018. That’s good because in March, after more than two decades in San Francisco, I’ll be relocating to CHICAGO.

I’ll be nearer my family in northeast Ohio — a 6 hour drive vs. a 6 hour flight? No brainer! – but there’s more afoot than that. For the past year or so, I’ve had a gnawing sense that it’s high time I SHAKE THINGS UP.

View of Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco BayI moved to San Francisco straight out of grad school in New York. I had an apartment, but no job and just one friend in the Bay Area. When I tell that story, folks remark on how risky/brave it was – which never occurred to me back then. I had confidence that I’d find a job in a few months and meet new people. Everything would be fine, if I took it one step at a time.

So I did. And it was.

Since then, though, I slowly lost some of my pluck and sense of adventure. I became cautious, and looked for a perfect confluence of circumstances — professional and personal – when considering a big change. I was too comfortable. I was feeling stuck.

Now it’s like I’m changing tires on a moving bus, which is both exhausting and exhilarating. I’m working (my job is coming with me), while simultaneously managing my mom’s medical appointments from 2,500 miles and three time zones away, purging my closets and researching moving companies.  I’m also breaking up with dentists, doctors and hairdressers I’ve been with for 20 years. (For some reason, those are the decisions that make the move seem most “real”.)

Northern California LighthouseI’m planning a farewell tour of the Bay Area, but know I’ll barely make a dent in two decades of favorite restaurants, neighborhoods and friends. I’d like to slip up to Seattle for a few days, but may not have time.

Every day, I wake up a bit more excited about my Chicago adventure. I’ve signed a lease for an apartment on the North side, and started watching Bulls games. I bought a big, puffy down coat that reaches my knees.

I’m also mapping out my cross-country drive on Route 66. That drive is on my bucket list. CHECK!

Sign above the Cowboy Bar, Jackson WYIn my bones, I’m a Western girl – with the boots and old western DVDs to prove it. It’s tough to leave, but I figure there’s a condo in Austin, Santa Fe or Flagstaff waiting for me – in retirement, or maybe before. Who knows? The only thing that’s constant is change.

I’ll take the future as it comes, and keep an open mind — because change is good.

“A bend in the road is not the end of the road…Unless you fail to make the turn.”

― Helen Keller

 

Old abandoned cars along US Route 66.