Tomorrow morning I fly out. 4 years after leaving my hometown, I’m finally moving to Chicago, the city I had originally planned on being my ‘next’ destination after what was supposed to be only 6 months in Charlotte. Instead, I spent a full year in North Carolina, then took an 18 hour bus ride with two back-breaking bags of clothing and arrived in Philadelphia.
It was in Charlotte where I first felt I had emerged as a fully realized person. I was on my own, away from family and friends of the past. I was dating at will, working two jobs and living in my own apartment that I got with my own money and without anyone else’s help. And it was a pretty bad-ass apartment. It had a spiral staircase for godsake. As one of my coworkers remarked, it was the kind of place they’d film porn in. I do miss my porn apartment:
But while Charlotte was a fun year, it wasn’t until Philadelphia that I really felt challenged, and thus, completely self-sufficient, like I was truly the island I had wanted to be since I was a teenager. I’ve always said, if I fall on my face, at least I’ll do it in pursuit of what I want, not living some easy life I can’t stand. Philly was a tough city, especially because it’s a city that makes no bones about wanting to kick your ass. My apartment, on the first floor of a West Philly house, was not even the size of my bedroom in the Charlotte apartment. I shared that little hole with a family of mice and whenever my landlord watched television in his part of the house, I got to listen in. A man was shot right outside of my window on the street and police were a regular sight.
I felt Will Smith’s pain.
Though there was much that was shitty about the neighborhood I lived in, a lot of cool aspects existed, as well. There was a wide variety of inhabitants that made for a diverse community. Also, tons of great little places for cheap food filled the area which was in the general proximity of two universities not far off. Mostly, though, what gave the neighborhood its vibe was the plethora of houses that served as breeding grounds for a wide array of bands formed by college dropouts and vagabonds who had ended up in Philly for no particular reason. It didn’t have the glamour or, let’s face it, the talent of the NYC underground scene just 2 hours away, but it had a passion to make up for it. I stumbled home many nights from one of those shows, only vaguely aware of what direction I was going.
I would never say I was part of the scene (it was a very exclusive crowd), but I floated at the periphery and observed a great deal.
Besides, I was merging into a different scene at the time. Thanks to an online writing site, a loose group of miserable, narcissistic addicts had sprung up across the country under the banner of “Writers” and they had gotten it into their heads to meet in person. For obvious reasons, I was not for this idea, this ridiculous notion that more than 2 writers in a room at any given time could lead to anything but razor blades or, worse, poetry. But then they paid for my plane ticket and I agreed to join them in L.A. 48 drunken hours later, the group had solidified into something: A high school. Flirting, fighting, fucking and occasionally writing, that initial meeting in Cali and the following ones in New York did something I thought was impossible: Create sustained friendships and relationships out of the ether of the internet.
From that initial meeting in L.A., the groundwork was laid for me to move to SoCal, though I would never have guessed it then. A friend from the writing group had an extra room available in her apartment and as I was coming near the end of my year in Philly, my thought was, “Why the hell not?” I had no urge to live in L.A. (I’ve never liked the city much) and even less desire to live in Orange County, but it was my very lack of interest in it which made it sound like the exact thing I should do.
So I did.
My year in SoCal could probably be summed up with one word: Whiskey. There was plenty of drinking during that year (and some months). The roomie and I went out probably far more than we should have, but I’m not complaining. First off, guys bought me my drinks at bars just so they could hit on my roommate, so it was a pretty good situation for me. Plus, now I can say I’ve biked drunk to work at 8 in the morning. So, I mean, positive experiences all around.
Plus, I spent a lot of time splayed out on the beach, so solid living, I’d say.
Orange County itself is pretty much as vain and shallow as you would expect, but like any place, the people you meet are what make it, and I managed to work and generally surround myself with the type of people who would probably be considered ‘outsiders’ by the general O.C. population. I have no urge to ever return to SoCal, but I know there are plenty of worthwhile people scattered within the dross.
And then it was time to move again, and for the first time I moved with somebody. Taking my girlfriend with me (even though we’d only been dating for 2 months) was one of those bad-idea-on-paper kind of things, which is why I did it. And amazingly, we’ve survived the year. Right now, there are a bunch of oddsmakers in Vegas who don’t know what to do with themselves.
Now, to those people who question if moving from SoCal to NoCal counts in my 10 cities/10 years goal, I must say it is obvious you’ve never been to SoCal and NoCal (plus, it’s my life, I make up the rules, so fuck off). It’s essentially like moving from Fox News to MSNBC. They could be totally different states (I imagine SF would jump at the chance to secede from the land that Arnold runs).
My year in SF has been filled with plenty of tough times, not least of which was being unable to find work for 4 months. But a range of new experiences came of it. I got to participate in a 2 week drug trial and fight a losing battle with boredom while sitting in a hospital room for the entirety (but, hey, now I can say I’ve stayed in a hospital). I was screened as a possible a sperm donor and got to practice self love in a sterile room with old Playboys and a collection of rather tame porn DVDs. Amazingly, it was not as fun as you’d think. I’d say my experiences here in SF have been as varied and unique as any I’ve had in my other cities.
Some lessons I learned this year:
Don’t room with a crazy couple.
Don’t room with a couple if one of them is Australian.
Don’t room with people who own dogs.
Don’t room with anyone. Period.
Cats are cooler than dogs (but I knew that already).
Despite what might sound like a lot of negative, it’s been another good year. SF is a great city with more opportunities than I had a chance to participate in, but some of the better ones included: Lit Crawl; seeing Martha Wainwright live; the artsy movie theater at the Embarcadero Center; seeing Milk at the Castro Theater; the little pizza shop that sold $1.75 slices. And plenty others. If nothing else, it’s been a good year because I somehow managed not to fall on my face. Yet. Maybe I’m lucky, who knows. There was a point 6 months ago when I thought there would be no way I’d have the money to make another move so soon. But tomorrow I’ll be in Chicago, and a year from tomorrow I will hopefully be packing up my bags for another city. There is truly no way for me to know what comes next.
And, really, isn’t that the best part?