This is something amazing. By this point you have probably seen Google Street View. Since it is not yet available in most places where Americans live, I would like to make it relevant for you by showing you our old apartment in California. I know Street View is just a car with cameras on it driving around San Francisco, but to be able to click a link and see someplace you used to live as it appears right now is wild - imagine Thomas Jefferson trying to explain what Monticello looked like to someone while he was in Philadelphia and you start to understand how implausible something like this would have been even ten years ago.
To get to our house, click this link, and then click the "Street View" button on the map menu. On the map that comes up click on the Southeast corner of 25th Avenue and Judah Street. A picture will pop up and you'll be facing north; you might be looking at the N-Judah Muni train. Left-click on the picture and drag to the left so your perspective swings around to the right. On the southeast corner you will see a blue/purple house with a Camry on the sidewalk (it was parked there in 2003 also), and to the right of that house there will be a tan one with a large tree in front of it. Lauren and I lived in the upstairs flat of the tan house.
It seems like a long time ago (I guess it was in the context of what's happened in our lives since) but I really remember living in that house with vivid detail, and I really liked living there. We had two bedrooms, a huge living room, a big kitchen, and a tiny bathroom. In some ways it was nicer than our current house. We seldom needed heat or air conditioning, we could look out the back window at the hills and Sutro Tower and if we felt like going to look at the ocean it was a mile and a half away. In some ways it was like living on another planet because of the fog, which seemed omnipresent, but when it lifted there were stunning days.
If you "walk" north a couple of blocks to the intersection of 25th and Irving Street, you'll find the $.93 store (everything was less than a dollar!), a Blockbuster we rented from until we found Le Video, and some of the colorful stores that make up the main commercial section of the neighborhood. We could buy fresh fruit and vegetables a couple of times a week at the 4 or 5 greengrocers and neighborhood markets, we could get a bubble tea (fruit tea with tapioca pearls) in about as many teahouses. Best of all were bubble milkshakes from the Double Rainbow ice cream shop (hi Gary!). We could get our fortunes read by May over Thai food at Marnee Thai (hi May!) or get coffee, our own blend, at Alvin's (hi Alvin!). I still have the last of our last bag in the freezer, and I can't bring myself to brew it. We could even get sweet and sour walnuts at Shangri-La, the neighborhood kosher vegan Chinese place. We could buy a toaster that would imprint "Hello Kitty" on the bread or glazed ducks hanging in restaurant windows. Once, and only once, I got my hair cut in one of the neighborhood barber shops, and walked out with the neighborhood haircut. Some things ("not too short") apparently don't translate.
There was an Irish bar, a Russian butcher, a Greek supermarket, a Starbucks that we never had to go into, even once, and everything else seemed to be Asian. We could gorge ourselves on sushi for around $20 at Yum Yum fish, get hot noodles at So, and try any number of Chinese restaurants. On mornings I drove to work (ie when I missed the Muni or was heading for San Jose) I would stop first for coffee at Sheng Kee, a Chinese bakery that had $.90 coffee and terrific pastry (rolls, cakes, buns). Want to go to a karaoke bar? 5 blocks. Library? 8 blocks. Golden Gate Park? 3 blocks. Basically, everything you would need in your life was within a ten-block radius. Thinking about it now, when get in my car to go practically anywhere, it seems so unreal. Lauren and I used to put on the roller skates we bought at the Skechers outlet and go roller skating in the park, and she would hold my t-shirt to slow me down since I can't stop on roller skates. We frightened many a picnic.
Leaving - a huge mistake? I almost never talk about the enormous stresses that made us leave in the first place - driving to the south bay all the time for work, not getting promoted when I knew I deserved it (jerks), the isolation for Lauren of moving across the country for my job. Putting some distance between us and the experience washes away a lot of the negativity we experienced and leaves the essence of it - food, nature, each other, learning. The immense natural beauty and wonder of the surroundings - the ocean, the bay, the mountains, the views - have to be weighed against the poverty, the stress, the cost of living, the homelessness. The needing two incomes to buy a house. The green stripes painted on the sides of your driveway instead of a lawn. Everything Midwesterners view as normal - getting around easily, real yards, being close to our families, large portions of bland food - is all flipped out there. On the other hand, we don't really know our neighbors here or the shopkeepers by name. There's no sushi place that happens to have a French charcuterie master on staff. There's just no sense of community that we had in the Sunset, even with the stresses. When you walk everywhere, you can't avoid people, for better or worse.
Could we ever go back? I don't know. I like my job, and it would be tough and maybe cruel to take Noah away from a school he loves and his grandparents. The fact that people do it all the time makes it right for them, maybe, but I would have a hard time disrupting our lives for great fish. Maybe we'll get to retire there - I never really envisioned the next 40 years in Detroit, that's for sure. There's plenty to like here (Dream Cruise, our friends) but ultimately either you are suited for suburbia or not. I am starting to come to the realization that we might need more than a yard, that there is actually have some human interaction available beyond the office and the dry cleaners (Hi..uh, I'm not sure. You don't seem to know my name either, even though it comes up on the screen when I give you the ticket - every week). I know that this is pretty far from just showing you our old house, but who would have thought that looking at some old pictures on Google could have dredged this all up? Anyway, have a look around the neighborhood, let me know if you need a restaurant recommendation.