California Love [Hate?]

Rewind nearly 3 months to August 20.

It was handy that I had a KN95 mask lying around since it was 2020. I needed it that day and for the next several weeks. We were trapped inside due to smoke and the AQI in my garage office would make your eyes tear.

This was the 3rd year in row that you needed to set your browser home page to if you live in CA. And it wasn’t even the heart of fire season yet, when we could look forward to planned PGE blackouts. Grrr. We already live on a faultline, I didn’t need more Old Testament-style risks on my land.

Sprinkle in the talk of yet higher CA taxes (the state pension situation is not improving despite being the epicenter of a 10 year bull market), word that some major insurance  companies wouldn’t underwrite home policies in the Bay Area, and the fact that WFH meant we could live anywhere and I felt a bit of an emotional tidal wave…

Why do I live here?!

Before I take one step forward let me caveat this. I love living in CA. I won’t list the reasons but I often liken it to a hot girl — you wouldn’t tolerate her behavior if she was less than a 10.

(The less crass version is a paradox of plenty — companies in super profitable industries can afford to be poorly run. Oil-rich nations use resources as crutch to mask imbalances. Byrne Hobart likes to say “never lend money to a country with good cuisine”, No matter how bad CA treats you, San Diego is always 72 degrees and sunny.)

So if I’m not in some smoky, reactionary mood I get why we live here. If it was any less awesome, we’d be long gone. Everyone I know who lives here is aware of the downsides. Every Californian has a wandering eye. Gee, that Incline Village sure has a sexy zero state tax.

But the wandering mood lingered longer that morning. That my entire team just high-tailed it to Denver didn’t help. At dinner that evening, I raised my concerns to Yinh. Her family is here, her mother lives with us. Her perspective always talks me off the ledge.

Not this time. She not only agreed, but having a hair-trigger bias towards action, Yinh texted a realtor friend to come by the next day.

A month later our house was on the market. It sold in a weekend (the city exodus meant a feeding frenzy in the burbs where prices ripped 10-15% in 3 months. A pandemic-spread-via-proximity broke the home price to GDP correlation).

So last week I didn’t write because we were busy moving to a rental in the same town. We don’t know where we will end up. Between distance learning, WFH, and the chaos of 2020 we decided we wanted max flexibility and optionality. The inertia of our script was stirred this year. We didn’t want to waste the chance to embrace the chaos. The chance to reconsider and test our values.

Owning a home requires mindshare and can anchor decision-making. I won’t say that’s true for everyone, but it did for us. We spent a lot of money and effort improving our home over the past 5 years. And yet, I couldn’t manufacture a shred of emotion when we sold it. No nostalgia. Staring at the home my second son was born in, I expected to feel something. Looking at the yard where we threw big summer birthday pool parties or watched Zak learned to ride a bike, I expected more. But alas there was nothing. When I canceled the home policy and signed up for renter’s insurance they asked me how much coverage I wanted. And it occurred to me, I don’t care. There’s almost nothing I own that I actually care about or couldn’t just replace. Everything that matters is either made of carbon or megabytes.

We moved from a cool, modern ranch house to a Boogie Nights-esque 60s style home that has not been updated.  Mirrored walls, black toilet, shag carpeted bathrooms, no closet space and a setup that required us to have the kids share the master while Yinh and I use a small-sinked, hallway bathroom that reminds us of the modest homes we grew up in. We haven’t seen a shower curtain in 15 years. On paper, a major downgrade.

But the ranch has a cabin feel bookended by fireplaces, bordered by old beautiful redwoods and Japanese Maples. It’s so California you want to take a psychedelic dip in the hot tub while White Rabbit plays in the background. I actually love it. And I really do love CA.

I guess I just have commitment issues.

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