Thursday, February 2, 2012

25 Years as a Southerner in San Francisco

The day I arrived in San Francisco to start a new job, it was cold. The rain was monsoon-like. I picked up a rental car at the airport and drove directly to the office where I’d be working.
“Welcome to sunny California,” a co-worker greeted me.
That was 25 years ago today, on Feb. 2, 1987. And although the flight from Atlanta that day was bumpy due to weather, it was nothing compared to the turbulence I’d experienced in the months before my move from Atlanta to San Francisco.
Let’s quickly rewind to August 1986. Nick and I were living in Atlanta and came to San Francisco for vacation. I loved the city's spectacular hills and bay, its quirky culture, and how different it was from anything I'd experienced on the East Coast.
Less than one month later, my boss told me of a job opening in the company’s Silicon Valley office, just south of San Francisco. Was I interested?
The thought of such a huge move was fairly terrifying. And yet, Nick and I had grown bored with Atlanta. So with trepidation I told my boss “yes,” and soon enough, the job was mine.
I wasn’t looking forward to telling my parents about the move. My mother, never one to hide her feelings, said, “I feel like you’re moving to the moon!” She despaired over never seeing me again; I assured her I’d be home every two or three months. My father, who rarely showed his emotions, simply said, “I suspected you’d end up in New York or California one day.”
The next big hurdle was the gnawing fear, which escalated the closer we came to moving. What in the hell were we doing, moving all the way to San Francisco? What will happen to our friendships back in the South? Can we really afford to live in San Francisco? What if we get there, hate it, and can’t afford to move back? What if there’s a huge earthquake? These questions were on our minds every night as we struggled for sleep, every morning when we awoke, and practically every minute in between.
Fast forward to today. Those particular anxieties I carried with me to San Francisco on that cold, rainy Monday in 1987 are gone. New ones have taken their place, of course. Can we still afford to live here when we’re elderly? If we can't, where in hell would we go? What if there’s another huge earthquake? 
I’m a bit of a worrier (in case you haven’t noticed). No matter where I live or what I do, I’m usually anxious about something. But by moving to San Francisco, I didn’t give in to those worries. I made a bold move. And my goal is to continue making bold moves for the rest of my life. Without them, there is only worry and boredom. Life becomes stagnant.
On this morning, 25 years after arriving in San Francisco, I’m looking out our dining room window at the city skyline. It’s sunny and mild, and I’m grateful to be a Southerner in San Francisco.

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  1. Congratulations on your anniversary and for finding and loving a city so much!

  2. James,

    Thanks for sharing. This reminds me of when my sister-in-law (my wife's sister) and her husband announced that they were moving from Maryland to Connecticut. The family (aunts, uncles, cousins, second cousins, etc.) couldn't believe it. No one had moved away from Maryland, DC, or Virginia... ever. In 300+ years no one had moved beyond an area bounded by Richmond on the South, Baltimore on the north, and the Blue Ridge on the west, and they were leaving for (audible gasps; blue haired women fainting) the NORTH! My mother-in-law commented on how far away Connecticut was from Maryland and that we might never see them again. My sister-in-law responded that Connecticut was only 6 hours from DC-- the same distance as the Outer Banks, where we often vacation. Didn't mattter... New England might as well have been on the moon. It was foreign territory. They were at risk of becoming Yankees! In the end, all has turned out okay... my sister-in-law and brother-in-law have not lost their Maryland accents, they're still Ravens and Orioles fans, and they make frequent trips to the family cottage in the Northern Neck of Virginia. And, we've all come to love having a place to stay when we venture north of the Mason-Dixon Line.

  3. Lovely piece. This is one of my favourites, maybe because we are planning our own move to sunny SF. I can very much relate to the rest of it as well, being a devoted worrier. Who else is going to do it if we don't?

    Happy anniversary!

    --Feisty Cat

  4. Completely understand. What a lovely city by the bay and on Sunday, I'll be experiencing it first hand. Like your father, my friends and family thought Boston was further than the moon. Thank goodness Boston is about as far away as the moon on some issues.... :)

  5. I am hitting 30 as New Orleanian this October....

  6. You write so well. It is a pleasure to read your posts. You made the right decision in making your Bold Move to San Francisco. I only visited San Francisco one, it was about 1979 for a three day weekend. I went on a lark by myself. I was expecting to feel an "Is that all there is feeling?" when I landed in SF. I didn't. I was suitably impressed. I stayed at a hotel near Castro Street. I went down to the Fisherman's Wharf. I walked by the St. Francis Hotel. I walked up and down the hills of SF. I rode the cable car. I LOVED IT! If the opportunity presented itself for me to move to San Francisco, I would not have hesitated one moment. Alas, the opportunity never presented itself so I continued to work in center city Philadelphia another fifteen years. Six years ago I made my Bold Move and moved to southern Delaware. All my life I wanted to live "near the water." I almost went over a financial cliff trying to sell our Pennsylvania house but I made it and we (Bill and I) now live in beautiful Sussex County, Delaware. I've never been happier. I'm glad you found your "place" too.

  7. That's a beautiful photo. It's scary making a big change like that. I'm not much of a worrier, but I know that I'd be worried too to move to a whole other state. I'm glad it worked out for you though!

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