I think if we had said aloud, “We want to stay in the UK for another year, we will figure out a way to make it work”, we would have done just that and very possibly been in the UK to this day still. But that’s not what happened!
Sometimes I ask Lindsay, “why was it we ever left York?” We always have to talk about it for a few minutes before we remember what it was like at the time we made the decision – Lindsay had no more classes or “purpose” in the UK, we hadn’t been home in roughly a year, and the pandemic made the future seem uncertain (In the last post I wrote about living in the UK I touch on this a bit, but barely.). And so, Lindsay decided to start applying for jobs and (semi)unexpectedly ended up getting a job back in San Francisco, and so our next move was decided! I really do think we could have just stayed put in York and lived there happily ever after.
Instead, we left and made a short stop over at our family homes in Michigan before moving back out West to California – Oakland specifically.
When we left California some 6ish years prior (see… well apparently I don’t have much writing about, just On the Road) we left thinking, “the Bay Area is the greatest place in the world.” We maintained that view, and spoke about it often (privately… and to basically everybody else who would listen – sorry everybody!) constantly, for years. It was only when we moved to Japan (and then the UK) that (speaking for myself) I sort of “chilled out” a bit with the …
CALIFORNIA IS THE BEST, EVERYWHERE ELSE SORT OF SUCKS!me
…talk. Still though, in the back of my head Oakland was probably my favorite place we had ever lived. It was just such an exciting, magical place to be, so different from West Michigan and much more vibrant culturally, with every sort of nature you could possibly want within an hour or two drive.
In the back of my head I’ve always remember a conversation I had with a coworker at my first job after College. This was in Grand Rapids, MI, which at the time (more on that later) felt like I place I couldn’t wait to escape – to be stuck in GR permanently was suboptimal to say the least. This person had lived out in Southern California for a few years before they had kids, and then moved back to Michigan. They often said, with great regret in their voice, “I wonder what my life would have been like if I’d stayed in California” or “I wonder what would have happened if I’d moved back to California”. You get the idea. This really really stuck with me, and when we left CA I regularly wondered if this would be me one day, regretful that I never got back to the place that I loved so much. Always wondering what might life would have been like had I stayed.
And so, we moved back to California in 2020.
Packing / Moving
Packing and moving was of course a whole ordeal (optimizing for moving costs is annoying, and of course moving is annoying. We ended up with a U-Haul with a grandma’s attic, and it was pretty much fully packed (we had all of our stuff, plus some of Jordi’s).
Leaving home was sad as it always is. After we got on the road, I think Lindsay and I were both excited to be back on the road heading for a new adventure, though at the time I remember thinking “this doesn’t feel quite the same as the thrilling cross country move when I was 22. I had work to get back to, COVID was on our mind, etc. We had an apartment to find, our stuff to unload, etc.
The drive was overall uneventful. We drove pretty much straight through without any detours. There was one somewhat funny evening where we put up a tent at the Cabela’s, then woke up at 5AM or something because it turns out (this seems so strange to me) they have sprinklers all over the camping area that turn on every night. Our tent was in direct line of fire and water was literally shooting under the rainfly into our tent. I had to run out and find a cup to cover the sprinkler so we could sleep (mildly wet, of course). This review explains my feelings pretty well:
… Sign says sprinklers come on at 9:30 p.m. and to watch where you put your belongings…no the sprinklers come on at 5:30a.m. and are pointed directly at the tent pads so EVERYTHING is soaked. I would pay the extra $10 and go up the roadSomebody from google reviews
The only other notable thing from the trip (which really was a blur) was the fact that somewhere in the middle of the country we randomly encountered a semi that was hauling a BART car.
Again I’ll point out here is that on this road trip we were really lacking a feeling of excitement. This could have been for a million reasons, but the fact remains that the bubbly excitement I felt during our first move out to California was noticeably absent. (this was likely a combination of COVID, us still being sad about leaving York, and the fact that we were going somewhere that we already knew well).
Eventually we got to Oakland, where Anthea and Jordi met up with us to help us unload the truck into a storage unit.
A few weeks with Corie in San Jose
A big giant huge shout out to Corie, for many many things. She picked us up in Oakland (and helped move some of our stuff also, multiple times!) and brought us to her apartment in San Jose. When we got there she had a beautiful dinner prepared for us, even one of my favorite beers cold.
Unloading the big moving truck was not super fun after a long drive, running also to try to make sure the truck was returned on time. We were sweaty, and I honestly can’t tell you how amazing it was to go back to Corie’s place, take a shower, and just sit and relax. Looking at these photos now as simple as they are brings back a really warm feeling for me. I don’t even know if I fully realized how much I miss that feeling, a cozy home with a friend with thoughtful food, a clean body after a days hard work, the smell and feeling of California air (dry, but comfortable, breezy), and knowing you’re both at the end of a long trip but the start of a new period of your life somewhere with a lot of potential is pretty amazing.
Anyway, a two week period followed that consisted of
- Me working from Corie’s place
- Lindsay and Corie going to look at apartments in Oakland
- Swimming, hiking, and generally hanging out in San Jose / Oakland
Moving back to Alice
Eventually Lindsay and Corie found an amazing apartment in Oakland. The apartment was beautiful, perfect in a lot of ways. Most of all it was full of light.
We had a compost bin, a free bin Lindsay loved to check out, a grill, a beautiful garden area in the back and front. Etc, etc, etc. Overall, we really loved the apartment.
It was also $2500 a month, which (depending on when you read this) at the time was a LOT, far more than we had ever paid for housing in the past. This will be relevant in the future, when I consider my feelings about living in Oakland.
But for now, for the time we moved in, the apartment just felt really special to us.
I want to mention that we really weren’t sure about moving back to the SAME street we lived on 6 years ago, but we really love Lake Merritt and being within easy walking distance of Oakland’s Chinatown. Plus, Snow Park (less than half a block away) is a really nice place (generally) to walk to on a Saturday and people watch, etc.
I tend to believe that for better or worse my experiences and opinions are often formed quickly based on sometimes small inputs, e.g. I might still be living in California right now for example if I’d decided to live somewhere else in Oakland, or if we’d moved to San Francisco instead, etc. That said, I have nothing but positive feelings about our time back on Alice street. The apartment was amazing, and I also should give a shout out to the great Nancy the apartment manager for running such a tight and well organized / considered ship.
(Oh, I didn’t mention it specifically but the plant wall you can sort of see in some of the photos was really awesome. I wish we had more before / after photos, because it was honestly a sight to behold!)
Random things we enjoyed
We were in Oakland for about a year, so of course there are too many things that we did to cover all of them, but I wanted to at least post a few representative photos from some happy memories. If I’m honest, I don’t often look back through photos, but having a few curated / annotated photos here is good for the ol’ memory.
A quick word on our Big Sur camping trip for when I re-read this in 15 years and don’t remember anything: Corie, Lindsay, and I went down to Big Sur to go camping on a Friday after work. Lindsay and Corie were not at all worried about finding a spot to camp, but I was concerned, and perhaps overly stressed / uptight. There is BLM land you can camp anywhere, but it’s a bit out of the way and undesirable, especially at night, if you just want to find a decent place to camp and get to sleep.
Long story short, Friday night was tense (tents!) because I didn’t want to camp in the area(s) Corie (and Lindsay?) camped last time because it was gated off and had signs “do not enter”, and I’m a rule follower, especially at night because the last thing I feel like dealing with is being woken up in the middle of the night by the police or park rangers or whatever.
Anyway, that night was a bit rough, I cut my finger open and my thumbnail in half trying to open a beer bottle while frustrated (it was very dumb). But we made it through the night, and the next day, still somewhat tense because of my mood, but Corie and Lindsay were pretty forgiving / gentle with me during my pissy mood. I’m really thankful for the memory of that trip though (thanks Corie and Lindsay <3 !).
One of the great tragedies of our time out in California is that with COVID happening, I didn’t get to see Nicola or other friends very often. I am still thankful that I had the opportunity to at least spend a few days / nights with Nicola, it was just WAY to few given how long we were out in CA for. This particular photo was from a nice hike together, after which we got ice cream.
Speaking of walking, one of the things I’m somewhat proud to have done but also really enjoyed and miss doing, is a lot of walking. Especially before we bought our car (a Honda Fit),
Also, because of…
- COVID, so not going out to eat much
- The cost of going out to eat
- My general love for cooking / baking (when I’m in the right mood!)
- Family baking nights (which we did maybe 5 or 6 of, pretty good really!)
…I did quite a bit of baking and cooking. I got back into making ramen for a few weeks, and made two different tonkotsu broths that I felt were pretty good. I actually ended up spending more time and making more ingredients than the last time I got semi-serious into it (see: https://www.shoelessone.com/tonkotsu-ramen-attempt-one-not-very-porky).
Another HUGE thing that I’m really grateful for is the chance to spend at least a LITTLE time with Anthea and Jordi. I didn’t see them (or anybody) all THAT often, but still once a month or so we’d see each other, and I felt like I had more of a chance to get to know Jordi and spend some time together which was really really nice.
And then of course there is Lake Merritt, the place that was just about as magical and wonderful as we remembered it from our previous time in California. Sitting around Lake Merritt and watching people, eating some food, drinking a beer, listening to the people and music. These are some of the things I miss most from Oakland.
Some other honorable mentions are Berkeley Bowl, still amazing, although I think the additional life experience I’ve acquired took a BIT of shine off for me. For my tastes these days, as much as I can believe I’m typing this, I think I’d rather (probably) have ECOLL Mami (see https://www.shoelessone.com/and-now-we-live-in-japan/ and https://www.ecoll-mami.com/!) than Berkeley Bowl. For anybody reading this that doesn’t know about Berkeley Bowl, it’s an amazing grocery store with (IMHO) the best selection of produce out of any grocery store I’ve ever seen anywhere. It’s really amazing, and I still do love and miss it…. In reality though we went shopping more at Korean Plaza than anywhere I think this time around. I think I miss that store just about as much.
But… COVID, cost, comparison
There is always a chance that had we not had a great reason to get back to Michigan we might still be in California to this day. There is always that chance. BUT. I (and Lindsay I think, but I’ll speak for myself only here!) really did not feel happy when we were out in California this time around. I’d actually say I felt fairly low-grade depressed a lot, and really conflicted. Looking back at the photos and memories above, of course there are some really great happy moments and people that I really deeply miss, but it just didn’t feel like we had hoped we might feel. We had hoped we’d get back out to California, go down to Lake Merritt and have this moment of clarity where we felt like we were in the right place, like we were home, just “know” we were where we were supposed to be, at ease. Or that we’d have a moment camping on the coast where we felt some sort of peace, or somehow settled, etc.
Instead we now had York, and Koryo, and so many other places from so many trips to compare our time to. I still think Oakland is one of the best places in the entire world to live, but it’s certainly not untouchable.
The past years I’ve also struggled a lot to try to think of someway of constant feeling of being “unsettled”, and also tried to think of what is important to me to make me feel happy and fulfilled. One thing I’ve decided I really want is space to do crafts and hobbies – wood working, pottery, electronics, etc. I did some crafts in Oakland, but there was absolutely nothing like Pumping Station: One.
I guess the point is obvious, and it’s not even one I really have to make because I think it’s pretty natural / obvious: I’m older, have more life experience, and am less excitable.
So when we had a sudden and very good reason to rush back to Michigan, it wasn’t too difficult for us to decide that rather than try to make California work, we’d call it quits and try something else out.
I was back in Michigan for two months being with my family while Lindsay finished out her school year (and spend a full month in Iceland on a Fullbright scholarship!) and packed up our apartment. This was a pretty tough period I’d say, and the longest we’ve been apart in years. A few months later I flew back and we loaded up some moving “pods” (what a nightmare – thanks again Corie <3), and drove back to Michigan, out of California for the second (and last, I suspect) time.
p.s. I still think California is amazing. I still miss it, and it turns out I still will always wonder “what if I had never left California in the first place? Would I have found peace/contentment there, would it have been ‘home'”. I think I can now live with these questions though. The answer is, I think, “maybe”, but I’m now more certain it doesn’t need to be California that I find contentment.