On Leaving California

It’s hard to believe I’ve moved away. I thought I would live in California–or San Francisco for the rest of my life. I have spent more time on the West Coast of the United States then I have on the East Coast, the place of my birth. Minus five years in Seattle and a bit a of traveling, Northern California has been my home as adult. I moved there at 19 and it is now 24 years later.

There was a point where I was so settled in my San Francisco Mission digs that I felt that my hip city life would just keep going until old age. I got to live in San Francisco for three years. Now I can’t afford it.

I tried to stay in the Bay Area. In 2013 I felt Oakland could offer something positive. San Francisco was changing. I was hopeful that I could find my own apartment in Oakland and enjoy living alone. My search was just on the cusp of the Bay Area Real Estate greed explosion–one of the reasons I am leaving.

That summer there were still studios around Lake Merritt going for $1000 a month. I got close to getting one several times but nope. There was this one Adams Point apartment where I was shown another apartment in the building because the tenant of 16 years hadn’t yet vacated. If I had just gone for it and signed the lease place unseen…

I had hoped a new Oakland life would develop similar to the one I had in San Francisco that was social and allowed for creative expression. I tried events like Tourettes Without Regrets but I was offended. I liked the Sunday music at Cana but everyone was drinking lots and there was no room to dance. I searched and searched for the right Oakland home—even one with roommates but it just never came together. Not only has the housing costs in the Bay Area risen but there are also a shortage of possibilities. So no– you can’t just move to Oakland anymore.

As you can imagine a place where one “grows up” and spends a huge span of time, it has been extremely formative. So many aspects to my life would not have been possible if I hadn’t lived in Northern California.

In the year 2000 I went traveling and ended up back east with my family. But even though I come from a progressive town in central New York state, I realized I needed to go back to a plethora of alternative life, activists and counter-culture. My soul was calling me. I needed to go back to place where a gay black man could walk around in a skirt and no one gave a fuck. That was progress and where I wanted to be.

It’s not that aren’t other places in the United States aren’t open or educated or left but certain things exist on the West Coast more than any other place that I’ve been so far in my life.

In 2016 Northern California those elements are still there. But I wonder how much of them will remain as it becomes one is of the most expensive places to live in the United States and continues to be the hotbed for the Tech industry–a whole different kind of culture.

I’ve only been gone a few days but I miss Rainbow Grocery co-op in San Francisco because I want the option to buy things in bulk. The past few days I have followed the fight of the #Frisco5 fasting for the firing of the Police Chief of San Francisco because of multiple killing of young men of color by the SFPD. It gave me hope that radical element is still there and not being swallowed up by the wealth of the tech industry. But deaths that likely gentrification contributed to.

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Perhaps I will return to California after sometime away, as yes it feels like home. I can’t imagine not living around people who think the way I do. So many things in the Bay Area that perhaps get taken for granted.

Some of us that are lucky to live in these bubbles of forward thinking talk about how maybe what is needed is to leave the bubble in order to spread certain values.

Maybe that’s what it is time for.

But at the same time it’s tough to leave because we need these things in our lives.

It’s going to be a challenge. See my prior post about keeping true to your values while traveling. 

Stay tuned for my memoir of stories about my years living in Northern California full of all things alternative.

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4 thoughts on “On Leaving California

  1. Dear Erin, I was moved by reading your post. Like you, I was born on the East Coast but have spent all my adult life on the West. Also like you, when I moved to San Francisco, I thought I would never leave, but I also only ended up living there for three years. Then I moved to Berkeley — a chapter of your life you omitted from this narrative!

    I know you’re enjoying your adventure, but it’s possible that the Bay Area may call you back home some day. Perhaps by that time the tech industry will have moved on and returned the Bay Area to the rest of us.

    Buena suerte / Boa sorte.

    Laura

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