Move to SF and hate it?

I spent some time skimming this post and feeling pretty irritated about a variety of comments.  I’ll try not to get all irritated on you, but I didn’t want this particular brainstorm to go to waste, especially as it helped me crystallize a few things I’ve been stewing on lately.  Perhaps this content is better suited for our blog, as it pertains to our life here in A2, but I wanted to be clear that these are my thoughts and do not necessarily reflect the rest of Team Beers.

The question that kicked off the post I liked to was this:

Have any of you moved to the Bay Area for tech and hated the atmosphere? How long did you stay and where did you move to after?

The response that seems to be getting the most traction cited the cost, lack of casual food, abysmal parking and public transit, hordes of tourists and gutter punks, and lack of seasons. The author of this response left SF to return to A2, finally settling in Chicago. I haven’t lived in SF or Chicago, but do feel fit to comment on A2 after a year of living here.

Most of the times people ask us about living in A2, we give sunny responses. And they’re mostly true. There are a lot of very good things about A2, but there are also frustrating things, and I’d like to list some of both of them for you here.  Many of my points will refer back to the post response mentioned above, as that’s what’s kicking around my head at the moment:

The Good:

  • There are jobs – unlike much of the rest of the state – and the median family income is keeping pace with the national average.  Many of those jobs are at a top-tier research institution.
  • People are educated.  Extremely so – 71.3% over 25 have at least a college degree, compared to 27.4% nationwide [1].
  • People are green-minded.  The city composts, single-stream recycling was implemented this summer, and there are at least 13 community gardens available to residents for a pretty reasonable price.
  • As usually goes with the above, it’s a very liberal city.
  • There’s a very active local food movement, with three farmers’ markets during the week, several “underground” food collectives or organizations focused on local food, and restaurants that focus on farm-to-table.
  • Public transportation covers most of the city, and Amtrak runs to Chicago a couple of times per day.  The Detroit airport is easily accessible by car and shuttle, though I haven’t taken the latter.  I can’t vouch for the availability or cost of cabs, as I only ever see them on campus.
  • There’s a lot of green space, between the Arb and the many surrounding parks. I heard somewhere that you’re never more than 10km from a natural source of water in Michigan, which is pretty cool.
  • Access to great (an affordable, if you work for the U) healthcare at the U of M.
  • Great schools.  When Shane interviewed here, he was told that there are no bad school districts, just good and better ones.
  • Relaxed attitudes towards marijuana, if that’s your bag.
  • Michigan is an amazing state for beer.  We tried to drink west coast beers exclusively when we were in California, and were told a few times that there’s more that they can’t get from Michigan than that we can’t get from California.  So, go us!

The Bad:

  • It’s expensive.  Not as expensive as a big city, but more expensive than a small city deserves to be.  Median home values are higher than the national average – $245,000 compared to $192,400 – and monthly owner costs run to $1908 if you have a mortgage, $697 if you rent.  How can anyone afford to buy a home when the median home value is five times the median income? [2]
  • Lack of racial diversity.  This is a very white town.  Like, whitebread white.  Pure driven snow white.  72.8% white and 14.7% Asian, with the remaining 12.5% divided amongst all other racial groups, including those people who identify as bi- or multi-racial.
  • No good music venues.  OK, there’s The Ark, but it caters to a very specific audience, and frankly, we’re not that audience.  I know we got spoiled by the 9:30 Club, but if Champaign can put together an impressive line-up for a festival less than five years old, Ann Arbor really should be able to have a decent show once in a while.
  • The roads are in terrible condition.  This is an endemic problem in a depressed economy, of course, but my boss has lived on our street for 15 years and said that for as long as she can remember, we’ve been on the list for repairs that never seem to happen.  Sure, you can ride your bike to work, but you’ll be safer doing so on the sidewalk because at least the homeowners are held liable.
  • Along with the relaxed drug laws, you get things like Hash Bash.
  • I love Big 10 football more than all other sports combined, but the crush of traffic and humanity on game days here rivals anything we experienced in DC, including Obama’s inauguration.
  • I can’t fairly complain about the weather.  I mean, I could, but we moved to Michigan, and that means months and months of snow and cold.  I can complain about the “homeless” kids that hang out downtown as soon as the weather turns nice, though.  It’s one thing to be actually homeless, and it’s another to play at it, gutter punk style.
  • Lack of neighborhoods in the city sense, though they exist in the suburban sense.  The only exception that I know of is Kerrytown.
  • There’s no Galaxy Hut – or any reasonable equivalent.  And by that I mean, there are no casual bars.  Or at least none that we’ve found.  You want to go grab a beer and maybe food at 5pm?  Good luck.  Most days the patios of the downtown restaurants are already full when I walk or ped by at 4pm.  Expect an hour wait if you want to get dinner at 6pm.
  • And because it’s expensive, there’s little hope of a Galaxy Hut opening up.  It’s too expensive to charge reasonable prices if you have good beer, good ingredients, and good real estate.

The Mixed Bag:

  • There are seasons!  But along with the gorgeous spring and fall, we get a hot and humid summer – nearly as hot as in DC – and a cold and snowy winter that feels like it will never end.
  • Ann Arbor meets both the positive and pejorative definitions of ‘foodie’.  There’s a whole lot of good food, but it’s expensive and (often) pretentious – or at least over priced.  There’s no reason for a brew pub to charge $6 for a beer made in house.  There’s no reason to have multiple delis charging $10+ for a sandwich, even if it’s an excellent and quite large sandwich .
  • On a related note, there are ample excellent grocery options, but many are priced accordingly.  There’s a co-op, but you generally can’t do all of your shopping there.  There’s a Trader Joe’s, but it’s on the opposite side of town from us, and you also can’t do all your shopping there.  There’s no reason we need two Whole Foods locations, but we’ve got ’em.
  • Along with all of these good things comes attitude like nobody’s business.  It’s an extremely self-satisfied town.  In fact, I think it’s fair to describe Ann Arbor as the Brooklyn of the Midwest.  Move here, get your hippie-crunchy on, and don’t let anyone forget that we have great food and pot is legal.  Buy and proudly wear your Keep Ann Arbor Weird t-shirt.

When we first moved here, my eye doctor – a long-time resident who has been in practice in the area since the early 70s – told me that Ann Arbor used to be better.  It used to be more inclusive and less judgmental.  It’s as if the city moved too far to the left, and now anything to the right – in terms of politics, greenness, food, transportation, etc – isn’t good enough.

And I think that’s what’s rubbing me the wrong way.  I like Ann Arbor a lot, but I don’t love it.

[1] All statistics, unless otherwise cited, are from the Census Bureau’s 2006-2008 American Community Survey 3-Year Estimates, by way of American Fact Finder
[2] Interestingly, CNN has totally different numbers for both household income and median home price.  They’re probably more up-to-date, but I have a hard time believing that the median household income has nearly doubled in the 2-4 years since the American Community Survey.

Eating my way into 30

One of the things I learned shortly before my birthday is that in Ann Arbor, there are a number of businesses that give away free things on your birthday.  While this may be the case elsewhere, it is so prevalent here that there’s a whole page on the ArborWiki dedicated to free birthday items, and organized in such a way as to maximize your freebies.  After some consultation and careful planning, and in the absence of any other significant birthday plans, we decided to rack up as many free things in 24 hours as we could.

Let me preface this truly ridiculous list by saying that Shane and I split almost every single thing on this list, and some of the items went straight into our freezer for later consumption.  Still, I think I could not eat desserts for a month and be OK.

1. We started the morning off with a free ridiculous coffee beverage at Caribou Coffee – a sugar-free turtle latte with whipped cream and Snickers bits, to be precise.

2. Up next, free aero-press coffee at Zingerman’s Coffee Company, obtained while picking up beans.

3. And then, free “John-do-ya” gelato at Zingerman’s Creamery. We tried many flavors, but this was literally like frozen Nutella – therefore the obvious winner.  The gelato guy congratulated me on having a birthday in the best month of the year. His is next week, I think. We ate about 1/3 of the gelato before moving on to the next stop.

4. A free 1/2 dozen bagels at Zingerman’s Bakehouse! The bakehouse folks made sure to remind me to get the other 1/2 dozen at the Deli later.

At this point we took a break from the free stuff to enjoy a very lovely brunch, complete with croquembouche, at our friend Shana’s. More on this later!
5. On our way home from Shana’s, we stopped for the second free 1/2 dozen bagels at Zingerman’s Deli – it was too busy and crowded for photos, so one from home will have to suffice.

6. Having rested up and returned a few phone calls, we moved on to get a free chocolate-covered strawberry cupcake at Cake Nouveau. It was tasty, but had nothing on any of Buzz’s cupcakes. I miss you, Buzz Bakery.

7. Next door, I picked out my free tea at Tea Haus – a cup of the Vietnam Yen Bai.  The woman who made my tea recommended that we check out the birthday deal at Weber’s, where she very nearly got a free lobster on her son’s 2nd birthday.

8. We’re not huge fans of Arbor Brewing Company, but they offer a free appetizer, so we stopped in for dinner. We had free nachos, played some shufflepuck, and drank a couple of beers before rolling on.

Several restaurants offered a free dessert, free logo pint glass, and free $10 gift card for birthday people – however when we tried both Grizzly Peak and Cafe Habana, we were told that the purchase of an entree was necessary. After all of this free stuff, though, neither of us were hungry enough for an entree, so we made a mental note to edit the ArborWiki page and moved on.
9. …to The Arena, where you get a free shot with purchase. Any purchase. I have no idea what my shot was called, but I know it had Bailey’s and I know it was on fire. Shane took one for the team and purchased a beer for our required purchase.

Once we were firmly wrapped up in our alcohol blankets, we wandered around downtown, stopping in at an art gallery and a record store, where Shane bought Remain in Light, before continuing on to our final destination for the night.
10. …Ashley’s, where we got a Free Tollhouse sundae – freshly baked chocolate chip cookie, ice cream, chocolate syrup, etc. Sooo good.

11. On our walk back to the car, we stopped in for my free scoop of ice cream at Ben & Jerry’s. This was, I might add, the first time all day that anyone had checked my ID to confirm that it was my birthday.

In addition, I might add that the following free things were obtained either shortly before or shortly after my actual birthday:
1. Free entree at Noodles & Company, split for lunch earlier in the week
2. Free “creation” at Cold Stone Creamery
3. Free scoop at Baskin-Robbins

All told, a pretty ridiculous way to spend one’s 30th birthday, and that’s without me describing the pastry-building process that took place just before brunch.  I was feeling pretty blue about not being able to celebrate my birthday with family and old friends – but I think we totally made up for it in fun and food.

First impressions

We arrived in Ann Arbor Thursday night after a minimally stressful 10 hours in the car. Everyone seems to be settling in well, though Mina is still pretty skittish and frequently takes refuge in the cabinet under the bathroom sink. We’ve spent the last two days getting acclimated to our new digs (sans furniture, which will arrive mid next week) and figuring out how to get around. Some first impressions while Shane puts a second coat of paint on the NAVY BLUE CEILING in one of the bedrooms:

  1. It’s very dark here at night! We’re used to well-lit – or at least kind of lit – city streets, so driving around at night in what is arguably a suburban neighborhood can be tricky, especially if it’s raining.
  2. The farmers’ market is great, cheaper than any of the ones in DC (even when I was getting a sweet discount), and full of life on a Saturday morning.  It reminded me of going to the market in Urbana and seeing at least a handful of friends every weekend – except without the friends part.  I kept wanting to buy things and then realizing that I had nothing with which to prepare them.
  3. I’ve realized over the last two days the extent to which I take my kitchen for granted.  I went to make pasta for lunch yesterday, except that I had nothing in which to boil the pasta, and no can opener with which to open the tuna.  I made the former work, but not the latter.
  4. Running in a suburban neighborhood is different than running in a city that is on a grid and/or that has excellent rails-to-trails trails available.  My 3.5K run today included a park “trail”, a stop by a “tomato free-for-all” garden, and a bout of thankfulness for noticing street names.  Tomorrow I’ll stick to clearer routes and will not think about running by the river.
  5. Hard wood floors are much noisier than carpet. Prior to our apt in Alex, we were die-hard hard wood fans, but both the comfort and sound insulation of that apt spoiled us. Shane is downstairs rinsing out the paint tray, which I know because I saw him go down there, but also because I can hear him clanging around right below me.  We will be investing in rugs soon.
  6. On a similar note, I didn’t notice how quiet our apt complex in Alex was – even though we were right off the GW Parkway – until we moved into an apt on a semi-busy residential street.  I think it’s partially that we haven’t been able to sleep with our windows open in a looong time.  Did I mention it’s been in the 70s with lows in the 50s?
  7. Oh hello, Midwest seasonal allergies.  I’d forgotten about you guys.  It’s always seemed like a cruel joke to me that my favorite season – fall – also gives me the worst sneezes.

Almost Go Time

We leave for Michigan in four days. I can’t believe it’s already time. My last day of work was Friday, and tomorrow is Shane’s last day.  The movers are coming on Tuesday to pack up our apartment, and then our stuff leaves on Wednesday. Our going away party is Wednesday night at the Galaxy Hut, where we’ll be DJing – and then Thursday morning we’ll load up the car and the cats and be on our way.

At some point I imagine we’ll stop to reflect on our time here – but right now we’re both in a bit of a daze.

The good thing about this move – as opposed to other moves – is that it’s been relatively low stress up until this point.  We’ve had relaxed evenings of dinner and conversation – an afternoon lying on shaggy carpets with babies and friends – a long, lazy overnight at the lake with friends and good beer and sunshine.  This is the way to go out.

Midwest Tour, part 4

Day 6: Rockford, IL > Ann Arbor, MI
States: Illinois, Indiana, Michigan

We had to get on the road first thing in the morning in order to get to Ann Arbor in time for a 4:30pm apartment showing, which meant limited lingering over brunch with the extended family, much to my disappointment.  It was nice to get to see everyone – hopefully next time we won’t be so rushed.  After a quick stop for hugs at Jenn and Bill’s, we were on the road a little after 11 and motored on around Chicago, dipping down into Indiana before hitting Michigan’s glorious 70 mph highways, rolling into Ann Arbor just in time.

Apartment #1 was a 2 bedroom with a basement located in a tree-filled neighborhood about 1.5 miles from Kerrytown and the U of M campus.  The landlord’s dad gave us a tour, mentioning along the way that the current tenant worked at the library.  On our way out, we noticed a stack of articles about institutional repositories on his coffee table.  What are the chances, right?  We had some time to kill before apartment #2, so we made our first trip to Zingerman’s.

Zingerman’s!  Sigh.  The stuff of dreams.  Walking around Kerrytown felt like going home to Champaign – neighborhood-scale streets, friendly people, good food.  We immediately found a co-op and I literally leapt for joy – or would have, if I hadn’t felt totally brain-dead from the driving and the hangover.  With two days ahead of us, though, we decided to save some exploring for later, and went to check out apartment #2, which was closer to the fun stuff but also much smaller and weirdly laid out.  Satisfied with our house-hunting, we checked into our hotel, signed the lease, and headed off for dinner.

I really can’t describe to you how happy we were that evening.  The weather was perfect.  We had a new apartment, and along with it a huge weight off.  We wandered around the downtown area, settling on Blue Tractor for a totally adequate dinner, then heading back to our hotel to pass the hell on out.

Day 7: Ann Arbor, MI
States: Michigan

We’d expected to have to do a bit more househunting, so with a lease signed and sealed, we found ourselves with a full day free in Ann Arbor.  We started off with breakfast at Zingerman’s – polenta for me, and the Kentucky King Platter for Shane.  The rest of the morning was dedicated to lazy walking around, exploring little shops in Kerrytown, and sitting in a park and feeling sleepy.  We had a late lunch at Red Hawk on campus, then went back to the hotel for a nap.  I ❤ vacation naps.

After a bit of driving around, we decided to park ourselves at a coffeeshop in order to enjoy the beautiful weather and our books – then ended up at Ashley’s for dinner and, as it happened, trivia.  Shane went to Ashley’s for dinner when he was in Ann Arbor for his job interview, and was so enamored with their drafts list that he insisted we go back.  This turned out to be a fortuitous choice!  We had our books sitting on the table, and a girl came up to ask Shane if he was, in fact, reading Infinite Jest.  She said that she was part of a book club participating in Infinite Summer, and invited him to join them for their discussion in the future.  Fun and random, right?  Well, as the evening progressed, we inadvertently eavesdropped on her conversation and learned that not only is she a nice person who invites strangers to a book club – she also works at the U of M library in a department that Shane will be working with!  Upon discovering that, we exchanged contact information and exclaimed about the coincidence!  That made two totally random encounters with library people – or library people’s stuff – in two days, which to me feels like a pretty good sign that we’re moving to the right place.  In addition, thanks to my otherwise totally useless knowledge of The Doors, we came in 2nd in trivia, winning a $10 gift certificate to Ashley’s that we look forward to using once we arrive.

Back at the hotel, we were in for an interesting night.  We turned in around 11, hoping for a good night’s sleep before a long day of travel.  We were definitely not in luck.  From 11-1, we were treated to unending noise from our upstairs and other nearby neighbors.  It wasn’t a lot of noise – just enough to keep us both awake.  Shane tried to call the front desk – no answer.  I finally got dressed and went to talk to the management, only to discover that they closed up shop at 11.  Perfect timing!  I guess that’s what you get when you’re paying $50 or less for a hotel.  I went upstairs to knock on the hotel room door, and instead ran into three cops dusting for fingerprints on a busted vending machine.  I have no idea what they were really doing there – but whatever it was, it quieted down our neighbors, and we finally got some sleep out of the evening.

Day 8: Ann Arbor, MI > Alexandria, VA
States: Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia

The final day of our trip was also the longest day of travel – for Shane at least.  Having used up all of my earned vacation time for this trip, I had made arrangements to work the late shift on the day of our return.  Not knowing how much time we’d need in Ann Arbor, though, we’d talked it over and I’d booked a one-way flight home from Detroit.  After breakfast at Zingerman’s (trip #4, including a stop for a beverage and Caroline’s coffee), we drove to the Detroit airport.  I wheedled my way onto an earlier flight, putting me back in sweaty-sweaty DC at 3pm – just enough time to cab home, take a shower, feed the cats, and turn around and head back into DC for work at 6pm.  If anything noteworthy happened on Shane’s long looong loooooong drive home, I’m not aware of it, as by the time I got home at 9:30pm, he had been home with enough time to unload the car and bottle his beer.  I owe him one – a big one – for that trip.

So, all told, we logged 1837 miles in 8 days, acquired several cases of beer, saw a lot of family and friends, found a new home, and made it back in one piece.  We were patient and kind to each other, despite forgetting both camera and iPod chargers.  There were no major incidents of any kind.  A successful trip!