We’ll Find It Over the Hill

There is a chance that is so small it may as well not even exist that we will not be moving before Spring tips its hat in melancholy farewell, making room for the bright blaze of Summer. It is increasingly likely, in fact, that our location change will be enacted before another twelfth of the year has elapsed.

The rationales are plentiful, as they are apt to be. There is always some reason or collection of reasons put forth to justify the expense and hassle of relocation. At this point, eight years into marriage and (ahem) adulthood, with five settlements already under our belts the logic of moving may as well give way to sage-like morsels designed for vagueness and possessing barely tenuous meaning. “It is time,” for example. “The gypsy spirit no longer nests,” perhaps.

The explanation we gave—the list of “pros” as it were—when we moved a couple of blocks from our last location to the one we currently occupy has ceased to exist, or very nearly. It was supposed to be a place that would be “home” where we might expand the family, a collective whose population has remained constant for close to six and a half years now. It represented a firm commitment to our adopted community in certain ways, and it held promise for financial forecasts that used it as a pillar on which to stand.

Things change.

I mean, a sad moment in our history compounded with a dissolution of interest in the physical shelter and a near reversal of affection for this neighborhood… there has been a foundational upheaval in the way we view our “spot” and how we interact with it. What good are the plans you lay when you lose the basic trust in their cornerstones? These aren’t mistakes we’ve made necessarily, merely unforeseen consequences. As a consequence, then, we look for greener pastures. Or, if you prefer, “It’s time.”

We spent the entire day Friday scouring one of two target locations for suitable habitation. We’re still just on the cusp of solid financial footing and having hauled ourselves here through several laborious years we remain shy about such drastic measures as property ownership. A certain part of my brain whose voice I don’t entirely recognize whispers to me occasionally that if we were ever to make such a plunge, now may not be the worst time to do it. I listened to my dad talk sometimes about finances especially as related to significant moves like investments and he mentioned once in a while a sense, like a feeling, that told him what ought to be done. On at least one occasion he ignored that and sought the advice of a “professional” who led him completely astray. I can’t decide if the whisper represents my own version of my dad’s inner wisdom or an echo of the idiot professionals who cling to optimism like a bit of shipwreck flotsam.

In any case, our locational schizophrenia suggests that purchases come with leg irons so heavy we may sink teeth into our own legs to try and escape and I have no interest in that. I don’t even shave my legs. So we trudged from apartment complex to apartment complex, armed with a ream of printouts from Craig and his ubiquitous lists. Our demands are, we feel, relatively reasonable: Washer and dryer in unit, two bedrooms and at least one and a half bathrooms, second floor location and accepting of our pet without forcing us to take second jobs to cover an additional deposit and afford the worst of all landlord atrocities ever conceived: The unctuous “pet rent.”

We certainly have a lengthy list of “like to haves” crafted over the course of a collective seven apartment residences. They range in severity but they aren’t unreasonable either: Included microwave, ample kitchen cabinet space, split sink, medicine cabinets in the bathrooms, security measures, storage space (a garage would be great!), functionally-located cable outlets and sufficient guest parking. Of course there are other considerations that are unlikely to rule out a specific complex but could impact the final decision like hardwood floors (I’m a big fan), spacious balcony/deck, management that is flexible with painting projects and a feasible move-in/out configuration (one place we looked at had three 45° turns in the staircase just to get to the second floor!).

So naturally the very first place we stopped to look had very nearly all the things we were looking for. It boasted reasonable move-in pricing, washer and dryer (full size, I might add), two bedrooms and two baths with a clever layout and no pet rent. It also had a fair amount of kitchen storage, medicine cabinets, an in-unit alarm system, a garage, plenty of guest parking, a huge L-shaped balcony and a living room that was the perfect size for our furnishings. The unit was a “model” which means it is an unoccupied floorplan unit that has been furnished by the property owners to appear lived in, complete with already-on lights and an activated radio. I come close to detesting this method of unit display because its phony veneer of “what it could be” represents nothing of the homes actual humans occupy. Some places go so far as to include casually arranged breakfast trays complete with realistic-looking plastic food on the (made) bedspreads as though someone took the time to get up, make the bed, make breakfast, clean the kitchen and then go back into the bedroom to enjoy it but got called away after a single forkful.


I’m not suggesting that everyone’s house is a trainwreck. As a matter of fact many of my friends and family have wonderfully decorated and organized homes. What I’m trying to say is that these spaces lack even a speck of verisimilitude and instead most closely resemble hotel rooms that have inexplicably been arranged to look like they already have occupants. In some cases they offer helpful visual cues, I confess. One model we looked at had a queen sized bed in it, revealing the extent to which the room’s space dwarfed our current room. But more often they make visualizing the interior as your own almost impossible, akin to imagining what it would be like if you moved all your stuff into the conference room at work.

Anyway, like the diligent consumers we are we didn’t stop there but continued on through one nearly interchangeable room after another, handing over our ID cards and phone numbers in exchange for tours of quasi-functional apartment kitchens, badly outdated cabinet facades, shoddily shampooed carpets and unremarkable window views. We met a variety of characters in our travels including a handsome younger woman with a curious hole in the shoulder of her sweater, a bizarre woman who wore baggy men’s clothing and remained sexually ambiguous throughout the tour, an uncertain temporary employee that decided we should be shown an apartment with another couple we didn’t know and got lost trying to find the model unit and a bewildered elderly lady who lead us down an eerie hallway before trying to unlock the wrong door and had to send us back down the creepy hallway which for a moment I was sure would be cordoned by crime scene tape to hide our grisly murders.

We retired from the expedition, exhausted after these and several other encounters, to the unexpected serenity of a crowded restaurant. As we talked we discussed the window dressing reasons behind the move: Our respective commutes.

Incidentally we just relocated offices at work. Up until last week our main headquarters had been split in half between two buildings roughly a quarter mile removed from each other. We’d outgrown the first location, branched into the second, attempted to make the new place fit the entire staff and finally gave up and picked a new building several towns south of the original location. Technically it’s a longer drive for me in terms of distance: The new building’s location is at a sort of nexus point between Santa Clara, Cupertino and San Jose’s borders. That’s a couple dozen miles further south than the old place in Palo Alto.

But my previous driving options were to take 580 west to 880 via one of the worst bottlenecks in Bay Area traffic and then take the Dumbarton Bridge at a cost of $4 per day to 101 south and then drive up the traffic light-heavy Arastradero whose speed limit is a strictly enforced 25 MPH. Oh, and the two schools near the old building started their days at the same time my shift began which meant I was constantly battling hordes of crosswalk-crowding adolescents and their SUV-clad soccer moms. My other option, which I went with as the lesser of two evils, was a back route over the hills via highway 84. 84 is a winding, meandering two-lane road that skirts steep canyon cliffs and eventually dumps out onto 680, which I’d take south to Mission Boulevard and join the mass of people squeezing from the spacious 680 into a short stretch of surface streets through Fremont’s Warm Springs district and onto 880 south which I’d quickly abandon in favor of the parking lot that perpetually resides on 237 west. After nearly forty minutes of waiting to travel less than ten miles I’d find myself on 101 north, having effectively circumnavigated the Bay where I’d dodge a bit of traffic by using Shoreline Boulevard and cut over to Arastradero via El Camino Real, where the same setbacks applied regardless of the direction I had come on 101.

My commute, therefore, was a steady two hours and change on a weekday and a minimum of an hour and twenty minutes without traffic. One way. Coming home was usually not quite as bad and I could make the trip in just under two hours (I could skip the back route over the hill and go directly via 580 east due to my longer hours putting me on the road behind most of my fellow bedroom-community cattle). Either way I was looking at approximately four hours per day, three times a week and another two, maybe two and a half hours on a weekend shift.

Via simple serendipity my new commute has me following the same path up to 680 but then I pass the Mission exit and keep on trucking, down past the 880 interchange, until 680 becomes 280 south and then just past the 101 and a few exits beyond downtown San Jose I take the Lawrence Expressway exit and get on Stevens Creek Boulevard for half a block before I arrive at my work. The distance is greater but traffic on 680 is a steady clip most of the way, even the worst slow-and-go on 280 lasts for at most ten minutes and the result is a door-to-door travel time that has been averaging an hour and forty minutes in the morning and about an hour and ten minutes in the evening, usually regardless of what day it is.

All of which is a long way of saying the move at work has unexpectedly benefited me as far as my commute is concerned. As we ate our haphazardly prepared food we talked about what we had seen. This was supposed to be one of several expeditions to look at our various options, half to be centered where Friday’s took place and the other half focusing on the South Bay closer to my work. The ambiguity about our final location was based on several factors: Obviously the Tri-Valley area where we looked on Friday is just over the hill from where we live now which means a less drastic change: Social arrangements we’ve been accustomed to for approaching five years now (seven if you count our journey into the dark heart of that burning vista, a place of torment and bile from which only one thing crawled still alive: This site) are more likely to remain in place, Nikki’s employment would not need undergo a drastic upheaval, etc. But at the time we also thought it might not be sufficient to alleviate the pain of my daily excursion to work. After all, as the car drives the Tri-Valley is a mere twenty minutes from where we live now.

But what we didn’t anticipate was the move at work being so beneficial to my commute. Now all of a sudden those extra twenty minutes or so (maybe more depending on how close we end up to a 680 on-ramp) could have a pretty significant impact. My main goal in all of this talk of moving has been to get my average commute under an hour one way. A significant portion of the morning commute for me is getting from our house to roughly the area we were in looking for apartments. Starting from that point would probably get me to work in a little over one hour. Getting home would probably be slightly less, maybe 45 minutes.

Without realizing it, this basically deflated any possible reasons we had for looking out close to my work. Naturally having a breezy sub-fifteen minute commute or an enviable surface-street only drive (or even better, a quick step across the parking lot like Nik once enjoyed) would be superb, but I remind myself that I voluntarily eschewed a six-minute commute to immerse myself back into the Silicon Valley chaos, seeking the higher wages of private corporations versus the fair but unremarkable pay of public service. It hardly seems just to force so much change on my family because of a (let’s face it) greed-based decision I made a few years ago. At this point, I should take my sub-hour commute—respectable for a Bay Area dweller!—and be happy.

I don’t fully understand property management companies, specifically their misguided theory of salesmanship. Maybe I’m misunderstanding but I’m of the opinion that apartments more or less sell themselves. I mean, either a place is what you’re looking for in the price range you like or not. I’m sure there is some negotiation that can happen, but it’s not like buying a car where the product itself isn’t more or less static. A property manager or real estate agent has very little control over the appeal of a complex, maybe a little over individual units but none so much that I feel like these people have to really push the sale. Yet that is exactly what they do. The requisite phone numbers you must provide before getting a chance to peek inside at what may eventually be your home aren’t just given for the sake of trivia: They use those things and they waste no time about it. Our visits to these places were on Friday and on Sunday—Easter Sunday, mind—I was getting calls reminding me that such-and-such a place had units available if we needed, you know, shelter. Nik and I shared number-giving responsibilities and today was her turn to get the deluge of follow-up calls, determined I suppose to prove themselves more anxious to bind us into an infernal lease than the other properties.

The process is far from over. We have more places to look (though perhaps fewer than we originally thought, now that the South Bay seems a remote, nearly forgotten option), decisions to make and then the arduous task of executing the actual relocation. Our last move was carried out in an act of pure will with as little outside intervention as possible. But then our total travel distance was maybe six hundred yards and we’re looking at a considerable step up this time around. Had Uncle Sam not hocked a loogie directly onto my schemes I might have organized a group of over-compensated yet burly men to handle the affair for me this time, but it looks like my lot in life is to spend a month of nearly every year trying to recall why we have as many possessions as we do and committing heinous acts of unjustified revenge on my hapless back.

But when it’s time, it’s just time.

  • Print this article!
  • Digg
  • del.icio.us
  • Facebook
  • Google Bookmarks
  • Netvibes
  • Reddit
  • RSS
  • Technorati
  • Twitter
  • Yahoo! Bookmarks
  • Yahoo! Buzz

2 thoughts on “We’ll Find It Over the Hill

  1. Mrs. Mac

    You’ve– you’ve been commuting four hours a day? It’s hard to describe the disbelief and horror washing over me. California living, I guess?

Leave a Reply