Friday, February 27, 2009

I Coulda Married Pittsburgh

When we were still living in Mexico, and had reached the point where we knew it was time to return to the States, I had an excuse to spend hours indulging in one of my favorite fantasies: “What if I lived somewhere else?” After all, that fantasy was kind of what got us to Mexico in the first place. We knew we didn’t want (and let’s face it, couldn’t afford) to live in California again. We were pretty sure that instead, we wanted to try the other side of the United States. We wanted a city, but not a huge one. Not after living in a Mexican village for four years. We wanted a college or university town, with all of its resources and the young people that come with it. I thought water in some form would be a very nice must-have; She is somewhat leery of water; especially rivers. They might flood. She's a Capricorn. The cost of living had to be relatively low, especially in terms of housing. Good libraries, bookstores, a symphony, local theatre, and excellent medical care all figured into the mix. Oh, and the weather. Not too hot; not too cold.

Inspiration came from various sources. The Internet was rife with lists of the “10 Best Places to Retire,” “5 Cities Where The Cost of Living is Low,” “Best Small Artsy Towns,” etc. Good friends were moving to Pittsburgh. How about there? No, they ended up in New Jersey. What about that? My favorite scouting resource was I spent hours sitting up late, when our Mexican Internet connection moved the fastest. If came up with my dream house, the next step was to explore the local paper for that area, Google it, and so on. Sometimes I’d wake She up at 1:00 a.m. to tell her where I thought we should move. In not necessarily chronological order, here are some of the places where we might be living today, and some of the reasons we aren’t:

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania – too much snow
Newark, New Jersey –too much snow
Cleveland, Ohio – ditto
Columbus, Ohio – not much there, there
Baltimore, Maryland – too humid; too big; but great newspaper!
Kerrville, Texas – too hot and it’s, well, Texas
Jacksonville, Florida – there are 11,000 varieties of snakes in Florida. And crocodiles and alligators
Thomasville, Georgia – too small-town; too close to the Floridian snakes
Oxford, Mississippi - too hot
Asheville, North Carolina – friends had moved from there; said it was snooty and over-priced
Fayetteville, Arkansas – dunno why we decided against that one.
Norfolk, Virginia – too military

Isn’t it strange how we can discard a would-be life in the blink of an eye, based on a whim or rumor?

At some point, Richmond came up on the radar screen. It seemed to have all of our “wants,” and the James River was not a major threat, flood-wise. When we mentioned it to people, none of whom had ever mentioned it to us, they all had either lived in Richmond themselves at some point in their lives, or their brother did, or their cousin used to, and everybody loved it. Neither of us had ever seen it before in our lives.

We moved here in December of 2002, and within a year, She was sold on the place and wouldn’t live anywhere else. It took me much, much longer. After the initial delight of a new love, disappointment set in. It was much hotter and more humid than I ever could have imagined. I’m not really that fascinated by the Civil War. The James River not only does not flood (anymore); it is not easily viewable or accessible.

The first city I ever loved in person, and still pine for, is San Francisco. But the Lady of the Golden Gate has been unaffordable for decades. I loved Portland, Oregon dearly, but couldn't take her rainy mood swings. Now that I know I could live with her tears, she's gone and developed expensive tastes that are beyond my reach. Besides, I am (a) too old and tired to ever move again (b) beginning to maybe love this place. I don’t know why, really. And if I figure it out, I’m not telling.


  1. I had to smile at what you said about Asheville, NC, as that's the area I live in. And I must admit, your description is pretty accurate, although I don't have a snooty bone in my body (truth is, I have nothing to be snooty about) and I live in a trailer (thereby proving, I guess, your point about Asheville being overpriced). :-) But, then again, I do live eleven miles out in the country. Not too much snooty out here.

    Your writing about Richmond made me think of one of my favorite memories, and I apologize if I'm taking up too much space here, but I really want to tell this. My parents were not at all spontaneous people--they'd make a plan and stick to it. But on the way back to NC from visiting relatives when I was young, we stopped to eat in Richmond. And my mama said, out of the blue, "Let's stay here tonight, instead of going straight home!" Daddy looked at her as though she had lost her mind, but he loved to make her happy, so we got a room at a hotel and went to the most wonderful art museum. I was a kid at the time, so I don't remember the name, but I do remember that we wandered around for an entire DAY there. Mama and I were in awe of the art there, and Daddy enjoyed grumbling about the abstract stuff ("They call that ART?") So we were all happy and I consider it one of the best days of my life.

    Also, I wanted to say again that I think you are a wonderful writer and I really enjoy your posts, Sharon.

  2. Beth, all I can say about your writing is "ditto." I love reading it! You must have been at the Virginia Museum of Fine Art We rented just across the parking lot from it for 6 months when we first moved here. It's a great museum, and too long since I visited.

  3. hi Sharon....thanks for dropping by my blog...
    we do seem to have some common threads...hope you'll become a regular drop-by...I'm going to put yours on my blogroll...

  4. Columbus--well, I'm not sure what kind of there you're looking for, but it's a good city. And the ice cream! Oh, my!

    Speaking of which, I tried to go to some well known ice cream place in Berkeley. There was a freakin' long-ass line. Really long. Out the door and down a few doors kind of long. So, that didn't happen.

    And I suspect you veto'd Fayetteville, Arkansas due to the fact that it's Arkansas. I mean, I know Clinton came out of there, but have you seen his brother? And sterotypes come from somewhere, so I have to suspect there are a few cases of in-breeding down there. I can't be sure, though.

    I wish Florida's cost of living wasn't so low, because it makes you think, "Could I live with more bugs than I've ever seen in my life?" I don't want to ask OR answer that question.

    Portland's changes make me incredibly sad. I mean, I don't mind a lot of people, but when the Pearl district changed SO drastically, it lost a lot of appeal for me. And I think my old $405/month apartment (expensive, at the time) probably rents for closer to $1,000/month now. Crazy. So so sad. I wish I'd bought property! :-)

  5. I was only in Richmond twice, once in July and once in August. Pretty unbearable, both times. Though of VCU for a doctorate in Social Work. Didn't happen. Tennessee is cheap, I hear from homeowners. Lots of man-made lakes, including one huge TVA lake in our area. I think sometimes of where I'd like to be in retirement. I've got 10-15 years. Sometimes it's a van conversion camper, driving all over.

  6. July and August are pretty unbearable, alright. I can get on quite a rant about it every summer. A few years ago I would have read "Tennessee" "cheap" "lots of man-made lakes" and that's all it would take to get me planning to move there. I really think it's out of my system. And a van conversion camper! About every 3 years I go insane for about 72 hours, believing that somehow we can buy a motorhome and go driving around the country with all The Pets. I had one of those fits just recently, until I remembered that we are 65 and 72, don't drive well anymore, and 2 out of the 3 pets would hate it. Plus, every motorhome I want is at least $65,000. Hah! It's a wonderful fantasy, though. Comes from reading Travels With Charley years ago.