20 Things I Learned after 20 Years in California

Posted: August 31st, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: California, City Livin', Eating Out, Husbandry, Little Rhody, Milestones, Miss Kate | No Comments »

It’s been a big week for milestones ’round here.

Monday was Mark and my seven year wedding anniversary. Say what you will about this marital mile-marker, but we have thus far experienced no itchiness. Phew.

Yesterday was Kate’s first day of first grade. It was like some meta first-ness. Like first to the first power. But things like this don’t phase my unflappable girl. Within the first minute of being on the playground she was acting like the First Lady of Elementary School. By tomorrow she’ll have the kindergarteners handing over the cookies from their lunch boxes. Bless her heart.

And today is another biggie. Today marks 20 years to the day since I moved to California.

20 years!!! It’s totally unbelievable.

I’ve lived here longer than I lived in Lil’ Rhody. Which must mean that in another bat of an eyelash I’ll be wielding a walker with tennis ball wheels. I plan to have lots of flair on my walker by the way. In-n-Out Burger stickers, fuzzy clamp-on koala bears, and magenta bike handle streamers.

So there’s that to look forward to.

Anyway, in light of my 20 years as a Californian, I thought I’d share the top 20 things I’ve learned since living here.

1. To some people local artisan cheese is Kraft Singles. This is a good thing to think of when you are paying your astronomical rent or mortgage bill and feeling jealous of your friend’s McMansion in Sioux City. Compared to much of the rest of the country, the Bay Area offers many pains, but also many pleasures.

2. Redwood Trees are really tall.

3. Parallel parking is a Darwinian skill that one develops while living in SF. After driving around¬†your neighborhood for 45 minutes on a parking spot quest, you can bet your pins-and-needles ass you’ll wedge your chippy-paint-bumpered Jetta into a space better suited to a Mini Cooper. On a 30% grade hill no less. After living in San Fran, going anywhere that has an actual parking lot makes you feel spoiled rotten.

3 1/2. (Turns out I had more than 20 things to say, so I’m trying to slip this one in here unnoticed.) You know how you go into an ice cream store and you ask the people who work there, “Wow, do you just eat ice cream all day?” and they just squirm and look uncomfortably annoyed because you’re the seventh person who’s asked them that in the past half-hour? You know that? Then they say, “Actually, no. When you work here eventually you get over it.” Well, I never REALLY believed them. Come ON. They’ve gotta be running in the back room stuffing themselves silly with Pralines and Cream, right? Well now that I live so close to Napa Valley I know exactly what those ice cream scoopers are talking about. Napa is stunning,¬† close by, and a world-renowned destination—oh, and it’s overflowing with wine, of course. Yet we don’t go there every weekend. We somehow also manage to not to always bring visitors there. It’s so close! It’s so fabulous! But I’m ashamed to say that we’ve grown to take it for granted. (Wait, you all don’t have hundreds of world-class wineries an hour’s drive from YOUR house?!)

4. Divorce West Coast style means that your father and his wife (who is younger than you) comes to your house for Thanksgiving with your mother and her girlfriend. And not only do they all talk to each other, they’re all best friends.

5. My scariest California rookie experience was ordering a burrito at a Mission taqueria. There’s a huge long counter behind which 15 or so women take orders from a constant stream of patrons. They sputter out questions like, “Black, pinto, or re-fried?” and you must use all your energy to ante up an answer—any answer—so as to keep pace with the next question they’re going to hurl your way. They move down the line two steps to the chicken and meat section where more un-decipherable questions are asked, and you whimper lightly and point. By then, sweating and disoriented you lose track of your burrito-maker, who is down by the salsas bellowing out “Hot or mild?” while a dozen other people are calling back to their nice burrito-making ladies a cacophony of “Pinto! No lettuce! Carnitas!” Then what happens is you start talking to The Wrong Woman. You lose your Burrito Maker and then suffer a sudden crushing white-girl shame because all the long-black-haired Mexican women look the same to you but you don’t want to accept that you really think that because that would be BAD and WRONG. Yet, uh, was that her? In the gray t-shirt? Or the one with the braids? And then suddenly she is back and in your face and yelling something and beckoning you down the long counter because you are creating a hungry human traffic jam so you wave an affirming that’s-great-thanks gesture her way so she’ll just stop asking you questions then you’re shunted to the cash register having no idea what it is that you ordered. And you have also not been handed your burrito. It’s been tossed in a pile with 8 other tin foil tubes that all have different letters scrawled on them. At the register they say things to you in questioning tones like “Super Veggie Burrito?,” or other phrases that include words like “Deluxe” which appear to be names for the kindsa burritos they make, but you have NO IDEA what it is that you got. Someone could offer to pay you $10,000 to tell them what is in your burrito and you’d just sit down and cry and say, “I don’t know! It all happened so fast! And she had an accent that I’m ashamed to say I really couldn’t understand!” But you manage to somehow buy something (that may or may not be yours) and don’t cry from the trauma of it all. And whatever the hell it is you eat it and decide that the holy terror you endured was SO worth it. Then eventually, 8 years or so later, after coming back about once a week, ordering a burrito becomes easier.

6. I sometimes feel un-cool for not being gay.

7. I’m more afraid that one of those Looney Toons anvils might somehow fall on my head than I am about earthquakes. When you live here, you don’t hang pictures framed with glass over your bed, and you don’t think much about earthquakes. Because really, not wanting one won’t prevent one from happening. Besides, we’re all too stoned out of our minds every day to worry about anything other than when the pizza is going to arrive. (See #12.)

8. You have not really gone out dancing until you’re the only woman in a gay club and by the end of the night you find yourself dancing in a black lace bra. (Just kidding, Dad! Well, as far as you know…)

9. It turns out Spanish would’ve been a more useful language to take than my 12 years of French. Who knew?

10. San Francisco Victorians are painfully cold in the winter and summer. They sure may look purdy, but most Turkish prison cells are more comfortable.

11. Everything Mark Twain ever said about San Francisco summers and witch’s tits is totally true.

12. Of my native-Calif friends, some scored pot from their parents with the same regularity and lack of big-dealness that I had hitting my parents for an allowance.

13. Whenever I was home sick from work in New York, I felt like I was the only one in my apartment building aside from the crazy old ladies who never threw out newspapers and bred cockroaches. EVERYONE else was at work. But in the Bay Area I think that people in offices feel like the outsiders. Cafes and coffee shops are thrumming with people hanging out (working? checking Match.com? betting on the ponies?) all day long. And a good drinking game, if you ever need one during the day, is doing a shot every time a man with a baby strapped to his chest walks down the sidewalk past your house. THEY ARE EVERYWHERE.

14. When it rains here it rains and when it doesn’t rain it doesn’t rain. These weather patterns are strictly relegated to seasons and they nearly always play by the rules. This seems odd to you at first, but later when you go on vacations outside of Northern California and after a sunny morning there’s a rain storm in the afternoon it freaks your shit right out.

15. There’s something warm and romantic—but also prone to knocking over your porch plants—called the Santa Anna winds that pass through the Bay Area every once and a while. It’s fun to say Santa Ana winds, and even funner to have an unusual weather pattern crop up that you’ve lived here long enough to recognize. “Oh yeah, those Santa Ana’s are blowin’!” you call out to your neighbor over the bluster while getting into your car some mornings. And you think you’re really cool.

16. Don’t be surprised if you are waiting at a stop light and a man wearing black leather pants, a black leather captain’s hat, and a “shirt” comprised of crisscrossing leather straps, is walking another man across the street who is on all fours, and on a leash. I don’t know what those wacky gay boys are up to, but it seems like good clean fun!

17. Speaking of leather pants, don’t wear those to the Rainbow Grocery cooperative. Really. Take my word on that.

18. And speaking of crossing the street, people in California actually stop for pedestrians in crosswalks! All that time on the East Coast I never knew what those lines on the street were for.

19. The Berkeley Public Library’s library cards look like they’re tie-dyed. Somebody had a great sense of branding (and humor).

20. There is a field of bison in Golden Gate Park and the first time you see them you will feel certain someone slipped you a hallucenogen.

Thank you, thank you, Mark, for a dazzling seven years of marriage, and for being the funniest, smartest, cutest, best-cookin’ husband a gal could ever have. I adore the ground you walk on, and could you pick Kate up from school today? Listen, I’ll just call you about that later.

And thanks to you California, for the wild, wonderful ride these past twenty years. I must have been having a good time, because man, that time FLEW. Here’s to the next twenty.


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