Since I’ve lived out here, people have said that the San Francisco Bay area has little seasonal variation. To someone who’s come from the northeast United States, perhaps this is true; to someone from Florida, it certainly isn’t. The seasons here seem to come late—fall never gets underway until November. This year it came abruptly. The summer had been unseasonably cool, leading to an unusually warm October followed by a cold snap. In a single day, trees around where I live jumped from green and a little yellow to red, orange and shedding, thick drifts of brown leaves blowing across roads and gathering soggily in gutters after the rain.
At least, this happened where I live now, in Santa Clara, back in the heart of Silicon Valley. In Foster City, just 30 miles north up the peninsula, I don’t remember this happening. This may be the fault of my memory more than of Foster City—as I write this passage, I’m on a train bound for San Francisco, the same train I used to take into work at times. Right now it’s in Menlo Park and there are—well, some fall colors, although certainly not as pronounced as I saw in Santa Clara.
When I got to the peninsula it seemed much nicer than the South Bay: more urbane, with walkable downtowns and fewer chain restaurants and more history. It would be closer to hills and closer to parks. There was one right down the street!
All true. But Foster City itself had no downtown at all, and only a few restaurants (chain or otherwise). It wasn’t easy to get into the hills except for residential neighborhoods. The nicer downtowns were some distance away. Nearly all of my friends live in the South Bay, and I found myself making new ones there that I could rarely visit.
And there are no first class coffee shops anywhere between Mountain View and San Francisco. Trust me.
Don’t get me wrong; Foster City is a pleasant place. Sure, it’s aggressively nondescript in a way that only the exurbs that sprung up in the last fifteen years top (and which were the clearest sign of the recession-to-be: when people are spending $300K to live in house farms 60 miles from the metro area they work in, something’s going to give). But it had a great location and made taking a job in San Francisco a lot more bearable than it would have been if I’d stayed in San Jose.
When I first moved to California a friend complained I kept saying everything was better in Florida. I don’t think that was a fair complaint, though. I was guilty of comparing things here to what I knew in Tampa, yes—but looking back is hardly the same as wanting to go back. There are things I miss (as anyone who’s moved from a place they grew up would have) and I love my friends in Florida, but it’s never been a place I’ve pined for.
I didn’t realize until this very move, looking back on my other moves, that this is hardly new for me. I rarely think the grass is greener on the other side—the grass is greener wherever I happen to be. The SF Peninsula was clearly better than the South Bay until a month ago. Now the South Bay is clearly better than the Peninsula and I was an idiot to think otherwise. So it goes.
Today, though, is the last day that my office is in San Francisco, and while I won’t miss the commute I’ve had for the last several weeks—I’m very much looking forward to the shortest commute I’ve had in five years!—I’ll miss being in The City. After spending a year riding in four or five days a week, it’s a different place for me: less intimidatingly labyrinthine, but no less magical. There are dozens of spots from little cafes to funky neighborhoods to world-class bars that you’re unlikely to visit, or even find, unless you live or work there.
There’s a curious mental barrier between SF and the South Bay. It’s only 45 miles away from where I’m living now, which is—yes, this is a comparison to Florida—is a shorter distance than that between my college in Sarasota and the neighborhoods in Tampa I visited frequently. But SF is much harder to get into and get around in until you’re familiar with public transit. I doubt I’d been into San Francisco more than a dozen times in the seven years before I started work up by Market and Embarcadero.
So this colors this move in a strangely unexpected way. I am going to miss working downtown despite the costs involved. (Between no longer paying for monthly transit and parking passes and not having the “Financial District tax” on lunches, I’ll probably be saving upwards of $200 a month.) Yet I have a curious feeling that the South Bay is more my home than the Peninsula ever was. This has made me think—not for the first time—on just what “home” means to me. Maybe I’ll have an answer before I retire.