July 17, 2004

California and Me, a Short Interlude

by psu

I grew up in Massachusetts, and now have lived in Pittsburgh for about the last ten years. Because I work in the computer industry I am forced to travel to California against my will. I have spent a lot of time in Silicon Valley and even a summer in Pasadena.

All this time in CA has lead to one inevitable conclusion: On balance, I hate the place.

Now, don't get me wrong. Visiting San Francisco is great fun, and we do it often to escape the relative lack of real Chinese Food in Pittsburgh. But aside from the better food environment, there is almost nothing to recommend this area as a place to live day to day. Let us review.

1. The weather sucks.

Sure, it's warm enough to allow one to bicycle almost year round. But, the oppressive non-changing dry boring blandness of it all just sucks my soul out of my eyeballs. Apologists for the area will always bombard you with some pithy remark like "oh, yeah, you must love freezing your ass off all the time in the winter", which completely misses the point. The weather, while inducing suffering, is a reminder that time passes, that the world changes, that summer is different from winter in more ways than just being dryer, that there is a cycle to things. I find this to be reassuring. When I'm in CA, it's like time stands still and has no meaning. I hate it.

2. The cars suck.

The entire car oriented culture is poisonous. Everything is sprawled out along thousands of square miles of paved oblivion. You can't walk anywhere. You can't park anywhere. Today, just to get to the airport cost $100 in a cab. This is ludicrous.

3. The traffic sucks.

I was going to meet my friend at Google for dinner tonight. He calls me at 6:30 (an hour and a half late) saying that he is on the way home. It takes him 45 minutes to get home because of "traffic". Google is in Mountain View. My friend lives in Mountain View. How can it take 45 minutes to get home because of traffic when the longest possible distance that he just drove is a few miles?

4. The housing sucks.

$500,000 buys you a hovel with a tin roof. The only way to buy a decent house is to win the stock options lottery at a place like google and pray you can cash out fast enough.

5. The attitude sucks.

If I get that puzzled look from one more CA fan-boy asking me why any rational person would willingly live on the east coast, I'll punch his teeth out. If you like your little car infested hell hole, then that's fine. Just don't expect me to understand it.

6. The culture sucks.

California encapsulates all the contradictions of modern life in the U.S. In San Francisco, homeless people sleep outside of Nordstrom. The weather is warm enough to cycle and walk outside all year, so everyone drives everywhere. The place is a hot bed of various progressive civil liberties paranoia and identity politics, but you can't smoke in bars. The area has some of the best food and cooking in the world, but the paranoia about the latest diet fads and the complete obsession over minutae like grass fed free range organic vegetables is just exhausting. Finally, the intellectual environment is best described as my friend Corey put it: "the vapid crystal-rubbing health-food and high-colonic culture."

Posted by psu at July 17, 2004 12:16 AM | Bookmark This

I recently moved to Pittsburgh from San Jose (Silicon Valley) and I have these observations:

1) Driving in Pittsburgh sucks. Parking is not readily available. The streets are narrow. It takes forever (20-25 minutes) to drive 5 miles because we have to drive through these narrow, traffic-light infested, neighborhood streets. And yes, some of us have to drive.

2) The culture in Pittsburgh sucks. There is no diversity whatsoever. At least nothing on the scale of California. Like you pointed out, there is quite a bit of dichotomy sometimes. Quite a spectrum of values, preferences, beliefs, etc.

3) The attitude sucks. Many people here are nice and friendly. But I've also seen many assholes honking at each other on the road impatiently when someone is a little slow. Thank god Pittsburgh is not truly an East coast city or the attitudes here might be even more malignant.

I can go on and on. But I'm sure if I open my eyes, I'll find that Pittsburgh may be a nice place to live after all.

Posted by whatever at July 17, 2004 09:55 AM

10 year resident of Pittsburgh and frequent visitor to CA. I find the traffic situation to be similar, just a different scale. Short of living in Shadyside, Sq Hill, or Oakland, you are driving everywhere. With a little forward thinking, I had no problems driving in either. Avoid peak times, be aware of what lanes are faster when, and learn alternate routes... doing this will get you around with a minimum of fuss.

Culture: Eh, I hate most people anyway.

Attitude: You should be honked at for going too slow... especially if you are in the left lane. You have every right to waste your own time, but don't be cavalier with mine.

Check out: Sperling's http://www.bestplaces.net/

They have a quiz that will help you find which cities would be best based on your personal biases and demographic data. Interstingly, it suggested both San Jose (and surrounding areas) and Pittsburgh as my top choices.

Posted by Mark Denovich at July 17, 2004 11:05 AM

I have been living in Pittsburgh a dozen-some of years. I have never, ever been anywhere westward of East Liverpool, Ohio. Specifically that little cafeteria in town that sells deep-fried hot dogs, or possibly the bright orange Vindicator paper box just down the street from it. I grew up in New England. I have never been to California.

I do not like California. I do not like the angels that live there. They are seven feet tall, feathered, and have cruel faces. They glide upon the jet stream to my home here in Pittsburgh, breaking the little glass pane on the back door to let themselves in when we are sleeping. They pour pudding down the drains, making them run slow and counter clockwise, which is the wrong way. I will admit, they are tidy Angels.

California has the good wine, it is true, but they do so by theft and trickery. They send out black vans in the afternoons, traveling closely held byways to east coast vineyards, talking shop with the owners about red wines and offering uniformly bad advices. They laugh to themselves as they leave, hurrying to make a dinner date with the deep cover DeBeers man. They let us have the whites, for the whites are beneath them, somehow.

California is wide and thin. Even here, at the very edge of this country's earliest expansions, there are deep layers of place. Up in the locomotive on training runs for running trains, old engineers teach younger engineers the route: "reduce throttle to forty percent at the pickle factory." When the time comes to power down, the younger engineer is confused, for there is nothing there but a field of weeds. There was a pickle factory, though, a blue chip of years ago.

Sometimes, we get thunderstorms.

Posted by PGM at July 17, 2004 04:42 PM

I love it here but I live walking distance from work, food, coffee, and alcohol. And everything else is just a short drive away, including whatever kind of weather I feel like visiting, and a real city.

As a Chicagoan, I find the complaining about traffic here to be bloody hilarious. I drove from Cupertino to San Francisco every day during WWDC - 45 miles each direction - during rush hour and the roads were almost empty compared to what I'm used to. Even in downtown San Francisco.

Then again, I also stayed in Oakland and commuted to Cranberry when I did a project in Pittsburgh a few months ago; people told me I was crazy, but I barely noticed the commute...

Posted by Chris Hanson at July 17, 2004 07:31 PM

i grew up in new hampshire, went to school in arizona and lived in pittsburgh three years, and murrysville three years (which i count as pittsburgh, in spite of the suburb-ness of it. i have to for my job.) i love pittsburgh- i plan on staying. i do drive to cleveland once a month to go to trader joes though. some west coast habits die hard...

Posted by suzie at July 19, 2004 04:33 PM

I heartily encourage your attitude, as it leaves more California for me. Thanks!

Posted by Selfish Jon at July 20, 2004 05:18 PM

I'll open by saying that California, and specifically the Bay Area, is not place I would list first on places I'd want to live. Maybe somewhere in the first ten, but definitely not the first. It's mostly sterile suburbia outside of San Francisco

That being said, I have a couple of issues about this post, having lived both in Pittsburgh. Of course, I now have a house in the Bay Area, so I may be indulging in a certain amount of self-delusion to justify taking on thirty years of debt in an overheated housing market.

My biggest issue is with the complaints about cars and traffic in the Bay Area. Yes, you do have to drive everywhere. Yes, it sucks a lot during rush hour. I'm blessed with a reverse commute - thank The Great Computer.

On the other hand, thinking about it carefully, I had to drive everywhere I wanted to go in Pittsburgh. Want a decent restaurant? Drive. Want a decent bar? Drive. Want a decent club? Drive. Symphony? Show? Drive. Drive. Pittsburgh is no mecca of public transportation.

Do you walk or cycle to work from your house? If not, why are you grumpy about the fact that whole countyfull of sheep on the other side of the country don't either?

And the traffic? Sure, Pittsburgh has virtually no congestion compared to the Bay Area. Or to Chicago. Or to New York. Why? Because greater Pittsburgh has (I'll guess) less than a quarter of the population of any of those other places. If Pittsburgh was still Steel Making Capital of the world (or indeed anything Capital of the world), I'll bet it would take two hours at rush hour to make the trip into downtown from the residential neighborhoods - a trip that takes maybe half an hour right now.

[And if Pittsburgh was suddenly Anything Capital of the world, with the tax revenue to go with it, the city would probably do something colossally stupid like spend it on two new stadiums, or a taxpayer-funded department store in downtown. Anything but actually doing something sane about transport. I mean, right now, they're talking about a monorail that won't even have a station where the biggest employers in the city are housed. But that's a whole other rant.]

Don't get me wrong. I hardly think the Bay is the zenith of civilization. But if you're going to hate the place, hate it for the right reasons.

PS. And the Bay does too have seasons. Rainy and sunny seasons. Beats winter and construction seasons.

Posted by Dr. Click at July 29, 2004 01:39 PM

Yea Pittsburgh is really great, thats why so many people take their vacations here. I can't wait to leave.

Posted by DanH at April 3, 2005 03:31 PM

Just moved to Pittsburgh from Queens and I absolutely hate it here. You can't walk anywhere, you can hardly DRIVE anywhere because the roads are so freaking illogical (and note, I come from QUEENS), and everything is always under construction. Culture is nonexistant, and it's the only city I've even been to (besides for New York, this counts Philly, DC, Miami, New Orleans, Chicago, and LA) where I can walk into a bar in the middle of downtown and be accosted by football-crazed hicks and blaring country music. And don't even get me started on the accent.... don't even get me going.... I'm moving back to Queens at the end of the year, and I'm NEVER coming back.

Posted by Mike at April 10, 2005 12:38 AM

This is kind of long so let me apologize in advance for such a long post. Stay with me. I've lived in alot of different locations, but Pittsburg does not happen to be one of them so I cannot comment on Pittsburg. 12 years ago my husband's job transferred us to California. I had never been there and I pitched a fit because I didn't want to go out there with all those "fruits and nuts." I was extremely negative about going and told my husband that we had to transfer again ASAP because I didn't want to get "stuck" out there like alot of people do for some reason. Well---- we ended up staying out there for over 10 years -- in San Diego the whole time. We had a GREAT life out there. It wasn't like that at first. It took me a good 2 years to adjust, but after that it was a done deal. First of all --- there are so many people which is an annoyance to some, but I found that it gave me new opportunites each day to meet new people and form new friendships. I found the people in San Diego to be some of the friendliest and most helpful people in the nation. I went out there with no college education and ended up leaving with a Masters degree and several years of work under my belt. After only 3 years at my job, I was making about $60K a year, and I'm nothing special to say the least. There are so many job openings in so many different fields. To me, there is gold in California (the land of golden opportunity). On the surface it looks like California has a traffic problem. Not so. Their traffic is very well planned for and managed. Driving out there is not really that unpleasant. California drivers rarely honk, give the finger, or yell. 99% of the time if you need to make a lane change in heavy traffic, you put your signal on and the car beside you will slow down and wave you in. Let's say you go to a restaurant and they tell you it's a 60 minute wait--- most of the time you will actually be seated in 20 min. San Diego restaurants give the absolute worst case scenario and then add 15min. more when you ask how long to be seated. Service workers know what they are doing in alot of fields and have a good attitude about their jobs. Example: you won't be repeating your order at McDonalds because the people working there actually have a brain and listening skills. Reason: if you don't do your job, you're fired, because there are plenty more great applicants to choose from. Also if you don't like your boss, QUIT -- no problem, you can walk down the street and get a new job the same day. If you choose your neighborhood carefully, you can pretty much walk almost everywhere. Pedestrians always have the right of way and you will rarely find an intersection without crosswalk buttons on all four corners. Sidewalks are wide. There is so much to do for singles or for families, that you can never be bored. You go to the beach in a bathing suit and drive to snow covered mountains in the same weekend. Education --- I know the schools don't have money, but the teachers in CA are the hardest working I have ever encountered and San Diego is packed full of smart, smart kids. The only reason that the schools score low is because the testing requires that the test also be administered to students who don't speak English. Those students just end up filling in whatever bubble. This skews the test results for California. Also, in middle and high schools alot of students have taken to rebeling to the testing by conspiring to fill in whatever bubble, because they are sick of the politics of testing as well. I won't comment on the illegal immigrants, other than to say it is a problem, but that said, I love the Mexican culture there. Also, love the Asian culture. My one pet peeve about California --- my disdain for celebrities and their "my expert opinion counts more" attitude. Uuuugh! ALOT of Californians strongly dislike and are totally embarrassed that so many damn celebrities live there. Also, I just have to shake my head at some of the crazy politics that go on. If you look at the political map of CA, you will see that San Diego is more conservative, more Republican, etc., everything LA and north always make the state go liberal or Democrat in the elections. Two years ago we had to move to Florida, and I HATE it! I will sell everything I have to be able to afford a one bedroom house in San Diego if that's what I have to do. I could write a book on all the stuff I don't like about Florida, but it is pretty strong stuff and I don't like to offend an Floridians reading this. Alot of Californians won't defend their state because they actually don't want more people to move there for obvious reasons, so they just nod or shut their mouth when confronted with California bashing. I love CA so much that it's hard for me to keep my mouth shut in an effort to deceive.

Posted by GoPadres! at June 12, 2005 03:00 PM

I've lived here in California for almost 20 years. I love it here. To the people who live here but do nothing but complain ... Leave. To the people who do not live hear but do nothing but complain ... stay out. Simple really.

Posted by John at July 28, 2005 08:43 PM

The weather may be fairly static, but the scenery is not. Hiking the surrounding parks, biking the urban areas, and water physical activity is the way to go. Time does not stand still when you do not sit still.

This can be your next three months:
Tahoe one weekend, then Yosemite, then Point Reyes, then Santa Cruz, then Monterey. Undoubtedly a Jazz festival and street fair. Big Sur. BBQ get-together at a local park. Wine country. Partying+sleeping. Golden Gate Park drum circle, reading, various facilities.

Posted by Josh at August 8, 2005 04:25 AM

I grew up in Pittsburgh, fled, and like La Cosa Nostra, ...

... "Just when I thought I was out, THEY PULL ME BACK IN."

I can not wait until family obligations are done, and I can flee again.

Ya, CA sucks too, but why is it still growing?

If PIT was so great, why did the population get cut in half, and people are still leaving?

Wish I could put HTML in comments here.

Posted by Amos the Poker Cat at August 9, 2005 09:20 PM

The lone Veitnames sandwich lady in PIT charges $5 for grilled chicken with no pate calling it a banh mi. On Sebak's "Sandwiches You Will Like", in high priced San Jose, Huong Lan Sandwiches (hlsandwiches.com) has a dozen all under $2.

Posted by Amos the Poker Cat at August 9, 2005 09:31 PM

Lucy the Banh Mi lady actually charges $3, $4, or $5 depending on the size of the sandwich you order. And you can get chicken OR pork, if you but ask. I asked her to have the pate next week, and she said "sure."

So yes, there are many things that are not as easy to get in Pittsburgh as in California. But there's more than you think -- if you're willing to take the time and ask.

Plus, for some reason Californians are constitutionally unable to produce a decent hot sausage and pepper sandwich. So I figure we're even.

Posted by peterb at August 13, 2005 11:28 AM

Been in Chicago for 8 years and love it! The architecture, the culture, the park lined downtown with it's nearly 26 mile bike path, the incredible nightlfe, the even more incredible restaurants, and even more incredible neighborhoods (lincoln park, old town, wrigleyville) I can go on and on....the transit A plus, the cabs are plentiful, the buses and l trains 24 hours daily...awesome place.

Traffic f'n sucks ass big time though. Came to Chicago from HELL A (LA) and do not miss LA a all except for the fine ass in manhattan beach. Chicago rocks!

Posted by Tony at August 22, 2005 04:19 PM

I have had banh mi in more places than just CA. The example was because it was mentioned in a tv program than I would expect a number of people in the area would have seen. Lets see, I have had banh mi in Denver, Houston, Cleveland, DC, Atlantic City, and even Munich.

OK, she has different sizes, but what I got for $5 was nothing more than a standard single serving bagette size 6 inch that I have gotten everywhere.

Why should I ask? Should not the business make an effort to enumerate the options? Menu? Signs? OPS, I forgot this is Pittsburgh, and everyone just knows. See Pittsblog and the Custard Class.

Posted by Amos the Poker Cat at August 24, 2005 06:14 AM

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