I remember my first trip to the Bay Area for my Stanford business school admissions weekend. I had not spent much time in California, yet I felt drawn to moving West. That said, when I arrived, I was a bit confused. I remember sharing with my soon-to-be-classmates: “I don’t know what people see in it.” I was committed to moving West, but I couldn’t wrap my head around the place. The whole start-up scene appeared unhinged from reality. People seemed to do whatever they liked on nearly every dimension, defying convention and practicality. Did they really kite-surf every morning, wear hoodies to work, and drink wine in Sonoma all weekend? Even the arid landscape seemed alien compared to the traditional deciduous forests of my life to date.
And yet, everyone seemed to love this place. Not just the hippies and surfers, but trusted friends (practical, business-type people!) who had already taken their manifest destiny.
So, I packed my bags and caught the train from my hometown of Port Huron. I rode Amtrak’s Blue Water Line to the California Zephyr straight out to the Bay. After sixty-seven hours on the train, I disembarked in my new home, excited for school but still skeptical about this place.
After a month or so, I noticed that I smiled more. I smiled to myself as I walked to class. I smiled to others. I became one of those people who hug everyone. I dyed my hair from brown to blondish-red, an act that somehow lightened my view on the world. I left behind my wardrobe of drab neutrals and bought a bright pink coat. While the palm trees and weather were lovely, there was something even more important about this place: California’s freedom, looseness, and joie de vivre started to seep into me.
I studied entrepreneurship and interpersonal dynamics. I came to differentiate between real Mexican food and other Mexican food. I tried out ecstatic dance, hiked in the redwoods, and held bonfires on the beach. I went to naked hot springs, dabbled in yoga and meditation, and discovered my favorite spiritual retreat centers. I came to have opinions about not only Napa versus Sonoma, but specific ideas about which Sonoma wineries were the best. My love for kale, kombucha, and avocados grew. I had one wardrobe, appropriate year-round, and filled with color.
Beyond what I gained, I also lost things. I lost my concern for appearances. When I left the house, my goal was to look like I wasn’t homeless. And if I was mistaken for homeless (which did happen), it was no stress.
I am sure that freedom also played a role in supporting my ability to come out (previous entries here) and subsequently fall in love with Liz. San Francisco was not just the backdrop to but a character in our love story. On our first date, we lingered over breakfast sandwiches at Slow Club and drinks at Triptych. She proposed in our Potrero Hill apartment, and I ‘counter-proposed’ at a vineyard in Napa. After a week of escorting our guests around to all our favorite Bay Area sites, we were married in the Presidio against the backdrop of the Golden Gate Bridge. We didn’t think twice about how we’d be accepted as a couple — or later, how our little lady would be accepted and loved.
This April, we left the Bay for Connecticut. We were lured away by the promise of new things: a job that offers unparalleled learning and significant impact, less commuting and travel time, more balance and flexibility. It is the right choice for our family, but it is not without heartbreak. Because, beyond everything I’ve described about California, the biggest thing we will miss is the people. The ineffable magic of the Bay Area doesn’t come from the temperate weather and the bay views, but from the people and the culture. We will miss our community above all.
It will take a while to grieve California and adjust to this new place. As I wind my way along the parkways of woodsy, suburban Connecticut, I feel the familiar questions creep in: What is this place? What do people see in it? Like my reaction ten years ago, I honestly don’t understand what is so great about this place. Driving by the green-leafed trees now feels foreign. And yet, just as impossibly as California did, I hope that this place too will grow close to our hearts.
But, for now, I have left my heart in San Francisco. This is my love note to you. Thank you for everything. We’ll be back.