Last February, we joined the estimated 3.5 million people who left California over the first half of this decade. Armed with home equity and a desire for an inexpensive life with more time for sensuality and family, we left California and what’s allegedly America’s finest city–San Diego–for Pickerington, Ohio, home of the Motorcycle Hall of Fame, a long street full of chain stores, and a whole bunch of deer. It’s been a change, that’s for sure. But based on the quality of life indicators discussed below, I think we’ve taken a step up, or at least I’ve managed to convince myself of this.
San Diego’s a majority-minority border city and a popular destination for international newcomers, so you find pretty much everyone there, though unfortunately very few black folks. Pickerington is mostly white, maybe 15 percent black. There’s also a Latino family across the street who waves when I see them cooking tortillas in the garage. Columbus, our closest major city and the 14th largest city in the country, is 20 minutes away and doubly black/African. In addition, there’s a growing populations of Asians and Latinos. Bonus: There are a lot of interracial couples here. Columbus may very well be the swirl capital of the United States, or at least the Midwest. It’s nice to get supportive head nods from fellow “cornball brothers” while at the store buying pumpernickel with our wives. Still, I miss the international vibe of San Diego and my dear Tijuana.
In Ohio we have this strange phenomenon called seasons, which result in horrendous weather from November to February, if not longer. During this four-month period I’d say about 30 to 40 of the days are brutally cold. So cold that my dog refuses to take a dump outside.
But, as I remind San Diego friends who post pictures of themselves at the beach in December, all shirtless with crusty nipples showing, technology has advanced to the point where I can press a button in my house or car and become as warm as I want within minutes.
The biggest adjustment to winter after 15 years of California has been getting the kids bundled up, especially since they have to ride in car seats. Amber and I don’t see eye-to-eye on this, but I’m always like, “You don’t need to wear a coat, hat, gloves, and scarf. We’re walking from the parking lot and to the store. Takes 10 seconds! Wear one of your hand-me-down sweatshirts!” The cold ain’t that bad.
Our house in Chula Vista (San Diego County) was a 3 bedroom, 2.5 bathroom townhome in a recently built planned community. The front yard was more of a porch and our backyard was a street where neighborhood kids would play dodgecar. We bought the place for $200,000 during the Great Recession and it nearly doubled in value before we moved. Our new home has the same number of bedrooms and bathrooms, but also has a big ol’ loft, dining room turned craft room, finished basement, deck, front yard, and a backyard with a bootleg Japanese garden thing going on. It’s more room than we need, but the kids have space to fight and run around without bugging me. And if I ever make new friends (more on that later) we can entertain at home. We bought the house for $219,000 and should be mortgage-free in the next four years. A similar home in San Diego would have ran us at least $800,000 and would have been paid off in 2000-never. Not to mention property taxes in San Diego were more than twice what we’re paying now. And oh yeah, HOA fees! We were paying our association $200 a month to have a landscaping company care for a yard that didn’t exist.
Well, as of now, I don’t really have a social life or new friends. I say what’s up to the mailman and I once held a conversation with the cashier at Whole Foods, but if I’m not traveling I mostly stay inside. I just like my house and Netflix and lots of wine. The family’s pretty cool, too. And of course the internet never gets old. My best friend asked if I was depressed. I don’t think so. I’m just really comfortable, a condition for which the big drugmakers are not currently selling prescriptions, but you never know.
Amber and I do go out together out once a week. (She has friends nearby, so she’s out more often than I am.) The nightlife here seems to be centered around craft beer, much like San Diego. Our favorite restaurant foods–tacos and sushi–are easy to find and the only difference is the price, with the cost of both inflated the farther one goes east from California. I have gone to a nightclub twice (the same club that plays ’90s hip hop once a month) and I enjoyed it. However, if I was single and childless, I’d be more willing to pay the So Cal premium to enjoy bar hopping options every night and beach wandering during the day. Roommates could help reduce the outrageous costs, but I’m not sure I’d want to be leaving Do Not Disturb signs on my bedroom door at 38.
My employment connections were well-established in San Diego and outside of one or two bad gigs I was respected as a pleasant guy who brings a lot to the table. This was not the case in Columbus. During our first few months here, I was just another name in a stack of resumes, constantly interviewing but unable to land a well-paid contract. Thankfully, I still had a job in San Diego and I was able to commute until growing tired of the travel in May.
In September, I started drinking wine before interviews and landed a three-month work-from-home contract with a large healthcare company (in addition to a gig with a social justice organization in California). The healthcare contract was renewed for a year in December and now I’m making as much as I ever made in San Diego, but paying an Ohio cost of living. Amber substitute teaches once or twice a week and may go back to teaching full-time once our youngest is in first grade. As long as we refrain from buying brand new cars and other forms of po’ folks kryptonite, we’ll be financial independent. I’m not sure this would have happened in San Diego.
I’m glad we moved to Pickerington, Ohio and I think this will be our permanent home, though we’re looking forward to spending a year or two abroad once the kids get a little older. (I’ve been making the case for Portugal, Amber wants Spain. Maybe we’ll find a city on the border of the two countries.) Obviously you can’t replace San Diego, its perfect weather, and the optimism you feel when moving there or just visiting for a weekend. But if you’re thinking of cashing out and leaving California, Ohio and many other parts of “flyover country” offer a pretty good quality of life, even more so if you rarely leave your house.