I’m Not Dead Yet

Well if finally happened. After almost a year and a half after being told I needed bypass surgery I was able to have the surgery and as you can tell if you’re reading this…I survived.

I will say that it wasn’t the most pleasant thing to have done to me, but that was just over two weeks ago and I’ve lost over 10 lbs and feeling much better, even if I’m a little slow still.

I won’t be able to drive for four weeks and was told I wouldn’t feel back to normal for about 12 weeks, but hopefully I’ll be able to milk some of this time to be able to sit down and write a little more.

I’ve been keeping an eye on San Francisco and talking with friends who are still there and I am both happy and sad with the few businesses that were still around that helped give the City it’s name closing and new companies moving in selling ridiculously overpriced food and goods that not so many people in the City can afford.

My happiness isn’t a form of schadenfreude, but more a feeling that I am glad I moved when I did. Raising a family was pretty much impossible and it would have gotten even worse if we had stayed.  Yes, there are some unpleasant things here like winter which you like the snow at first, but then after three months of cold and snow you’re pretty much done with it, but we have a new car with a very nice heating system and going outside in the snow to go shopping isn’t so bad. Things move a bit slower here so when you call for a doctor’s appointment don’t expect to get one next week and if they offer to book your next appointment six months out then you jump on it.

Things are less expensive here and the crime rate compared to the Bay Area even in the worst areas of the Pioneer Valley are still better than San Francisco and Oakland and income inequality [while some people bring it up here too] is nothing like in the Bay Area.

It’s a change than not too many people would be willing to do, but I’ve oddly enough met quite a few people from the Bay Area who have moved here. You can easily buy a 3 bedroom/2 bathroom house here from $200k-$400k and if you’re a renter you can easily get a nice apartment for $1000/month here [cheaper if you know where to look].

I read about the ridiculous heat wave everyone got a couple of days ago and realized that the old adage of, eh, you don’t need AC in San Francisco. is no longer true. The City gets more than just a few hot days a year and we never used to get hot in June. As I’ve suggested to everyone who complained about the heat, they should just get the $150 window AC unit. You’ll be happier, most of you are apartment dwellers that don’t pay utilities so it won’t cost you anything to run as well. Just cut out a few trips to that local overpriced deli and it’ll be affordable and might help Make San Francisco Great Again. Here when it’s hot everyone has AC and you wouldn’t even know it’s in the upper 90’s outside because it’s a cool 68°-72° inside. Hell, our basement that is six feet under is constantly around 65° year round.

From a distance and after seeing what you can and do outside of San Francisco I do think the City needs to step away and look outside the box to fix some of their problems. Even though most people in the City are now from somewhere else the City makes you forget how you used to deal with problems and seems at times to make them worse. I’ll just leave it at that while I look at what else is going on. 

From The 415 to the 413

One year ago today we packed up and left the house where I was raised, grew up and moved into again after 55 years of living in San Francisco. When the house was finally emptied and we had packed up the car I knew that in driving away I would never see this house in person again.

It was a sad day for me. I had never lived in any other city than San Francisco and while this was an exciting time, it was a terrifying time as well. I hadn’t been on a plane since 2002 I think and our daughter had never been on a plane let alone sleep anywhere else.

The trip went better than expected and I assume you’ve been following along so it was fun to discover new things and re-visit some places I hadn’t seen in 22 years. Overall I’ve been happy with the move and being out of debt and feeling financially secure for the first time in I don’t know how long. 

The people of Northampton, MA have been extremely welcoming and helpful to someone who moved from San Francisco, CA unlike what you hear about the reception of San Francisco residents who move to Washington or Oregon. They gave us lots of tips for surviving the hot summers [not really needed since we have central AC] and dealing with the snow in the Winter [not a bad one and we have a Gardner who plows snow for you in the Winter].

I still miss looking out my dining room window and seeing the Pacific Ocean and the smell of the beach [well, maybe the smell of the beach from when I was a kid], but things have been much better for us since we arrived here. The food is good and inexpensive generally, but it’s kind of like pizza places have swapped places with Chinese restaurants here. You can walk down the block and pass 4 pizza places, but you’ll have to drive a bit to find a Chinese restaurant. Mexican food isn’t as bad as people said it would be [because this is Western Mass, not Boston]. Indian food is off the hook here.

Our daughter loves her school and the teachers have been there for years because they can actually afford to live here. The schools as well as the people are very accepting of all students which is nice when you’ve got an autistic daughter that sometimes was looked down upon in SF. The schools are actually helping our daughter to move forward and learn new skills and abilities and to be a part of the school.

So now I kind of have a decision to make for Baghdad by the Bay. I’m not in San Francisco anymore and can’t really experience the things I used to write about in the City. So what should I do now? If you have ideas you can email me any suggestions you might have or comment below. I’m definitely not going to remove the site and all the work I had done, but I’m thinking for now I’ll keep going with the comparison and contrasts of what I’ve seen here.

I also had developed while living in San Francisco a bit of a heart problem in that I’m going to need to have bypass surgery done in the near future. My doctor’s are confident that I’m young and healthy enough to come through it fine, but while I’ve been a bit sparse here, I might be a little more sparse in the near future as I have the surgery done and go through the recovery, but I assume if I’m spending a lot of time in bed that I might have more time to write as well.

Merry Christmas And Happy New Year

We’re finally settled into our new home in Florence, MA and I do have to say that after a bit of a snowstorm on Thanksgiving [which really wasn’t that bad] it’s been rather mild here compared to what I’ve been told by my neighbors. 

Normally we should have snow everywhere, but we’ve only had two days where the snow has actually hung around. Thanksgiving was the worst because we did have to dig out our driveway and school was delayed a couple of hours, but otherwise it’s been business as usual.

The seasons have come around full circle now since we got here for the tail end of winter and saw lots of bare trees only to see them all come back in bloom within a month for Spring then into the hot summer, the lovely colors of fall and now back to winter full force…sort of.

Our coldest morning so far was waking up to 8° which sound pretty awful for people in the Bay Area, but you go to your warm car and then to a warm building, shopping center, grocery store and you only have to deal with it for a couple of minutes. The big thing is the wind. You understand wind chill factor here and learn quickly that it’s a big deal vs. San Francisco weather. 8° is cold, but it’s not as bad as 30° on a windy day. That can just suck all the warmth out of you, but we don’t have windy days too often.

To end out the year I decided to put together a little montage of things I’ve done and seen around Northampton, MA…check it out!

On The Differences Of New England and the Bay Area

We’re entering fall now here in Northampton and I get to wake up to  temperatures around 28° that on a good day warm up to 60°. This is unlike San Francisco where the morning and afternoons are pretty much within 10° of each other.

Before I moved here I read what people didn’t like about San Francisco and oddly enough the New Yorkers always said that it was the change in temperature and after being here for six months I’m sort of…WTF?!?!

I’m adapting well, but it is a bit odd walking out to put my daughter on the school bus at 7:27am [on the nose every day] and it’s really cold compared to San Francisco, but not so bad because people understand how to heat and cool a house. I only need to be exposed to the external elements of hell for a less than a minute so I’m good. Later in the morning when I venture out we have a car which I can remotely start up and warm it up and melt the frost and ice off it and I even have built in ass warmer seats so the ride it quite comfortable compared to San Francisco on a cold day when you started your car in 48° weather and got in freezing your ass off because we don’t think about warming up the car from a distance because the gas tax in California makes it expensive to sit and let your car run without driving it, let alone all the pollution you’re putting into the air.

Well, my fair readers there are a few other things that I have learned after Labor Day that may perhaps shock you. There are changes that occur that those of you out west may be horrified by.

First off, my daughter likes a daily trip to a local chain called Friendly’s after school.  She has a thing for bacon and we go there every day even though I feel I could make it just as well at home. The price jumped $4 after Labor Day and I asked and they said, Oh, that was our Summer promotion pricing. Apparently things are cheaper in the Spring and Summer other than  Fall and Winter. In my mind you would want to make prices cheaper in Fall and Winter when it’s colder and a lot harder to get people to leave their nice warm homes than to give them a deal when it’s warmer and they’re going out of their house anyway. This isn’t just a Friendly’s thing as there are stores that the prices have increased as well. I suppose it could be because transport in the Winter is more costly because of snow, but I haven’t seen any snow yet…

There are seasonal businesses that shut down after Labor Day. Mostly these are the roadside shacks that sell ice cream or seafood that aren’t the warmest and don’t have an place to sit down inside. Luckily, I’m happy with my ice cream from a pint carton or one of the local restaurants to get my clam strips.

On the other hand, holidays are huge here. We have a lot of distance between homes here, but there are tons of people who have gone all out decorating their houses for Halloween and in talking to my neighbors there are a lot of kids who come knocking at your door. This is interesting to me since I suspect you’ll have to drive the kids or be a marathon runner to get more than a few bite sized bars, but we’ll see. I’m working myself up to take my daughter out. We’re a week away from Halloween, but now it’s hard to find anything to do with Halloween available in stores, so I guess they expected you to buy it all by now.

Yet, Christmas stuff is everywhere and this is a big area for Christmas. Not that Jesus born in a barn in the Middle East Christmas, but more of a Germanic/Americanized trees, ornaments, FOOD sort of thing. There’s way less religion here oddly enough. 

Lucky for us we’re finishing up the remodel which was easily affordable here so if we’re stuck inside for a day or two it won’t be so bad. When it’s finished I’ll have a full video to post of it, but things are not so bad here considering all my friends from the Bay Area have been telling me, It’s looks really nice, but I couldn’t deal with Winter. Honestly, Winter doesn’t suck when your community is prepared for it. We’ll be inside and doing lots of cooking and watching lots of movies…

Speaking of movies, here’s one I made of a drive through my neighborhood that’s about five minutes away from downtown Northampton. It was 37° when I shot this video, but rather pleasant in the car…


The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

While a lot of what I’ve been posting lately is about how wonderful and rosy everything is here. I do have to admit that there are a few things I encounter here that I didn’t encounter in San Francisco that take a little getting used to. So let me tell you about them.

The following is a list with comments I’ve put together that aren’t in any particular order, but it’s a comparison and contrast of living in San Francisco to living in Northampton, MA that is taking a little getting used to:

  1. You’ll drive more to get places: but you’ll get better gas mileage and it’ll take you less time to get there.
  2. It’s hot and humid in summer and cold and dry in winter: Make sure any place you think of getting has central air and heating. You’ll thank me for that advice.
  3. Did I mention it’s humid?: It rains a lot and you’ll get wet, but in the summer it can be like getting in a shower.
  4. Snow…it freezes and gets slippery: You’ll need an SUV for the family and definitely snow tires for the winter.
  5. Bugs: We got them. BIG BUGS. You’ll have lots of mosquito bites when you get here, but luckily most bugs don’t come inside. See picture above. I had to get rid of a wasp nest in front of our house in the first week.
  6. Vermin: It’s cute here. Chipmunks, squirrels, bunnies are all over, but they can do the same damage as mice and rats.
  7. Gender fluidity is really fluid here: Sometimes you’ll be talking to someone and you just can’t figure out if they’re male or female. It’s not unusual to find women with mustaches and men with breasts who are still actually female or male. I kind of got hit on by a lesbian who didn’t realize I was male.
  8. Healthcare is either free or really cheap: But it’s a headache to get set up right.
  9. Doctors are different: They seem more interested in asking about your sex life and sexual partners than whether or not you physically feel OK.
  10. People are different: They’re really, really nice and helpful and don’t have a chip on their shoulder. That’s a good thing, but it’s weird compared to San Francisco.
  11. People are people: There’s way less us vs. them here. It’s a bit homogeneous, kind of like the Marina in SF and people put themselves before their ethnicity. Pride day wasn’t trying to make a statement so much as being a celebration for all.
  12. Food: There are farms everywhere so fresh produce and meat is pretty easy you just have to check out a few places to find the best deals. While we live ten minutes from downtown Northampton and thirty minutes from Springfield, MA there are farms that sell direct within five minutes.
  13. Eating Out: Mexican and Chinese food can be had, but it’s a bit of work to find it and don’t be surprised if you see a pulled pork burrito or Philly cheesesteak egg rolls. Those are a thing in Western Mass.
  14. Walmart: You’ll end up loving it and hating yourself for loving it, but the people are paid pretty well here and get a 401k as well, unlike in other parts of the country that you hear about in the news.
  15. Clothing: You’ll need a lot of it for the different seasons. It’s not uncommon for the basement of a house to have a cedar lined room for your winter clothes
  16. Houses: Closer to town is more money, but usually older and might have a few problems. You can get newer houses 5-10 minutes from downtown, but you still need to check the year it was built. Some can be awesome, others will definitely need work. The most striking part is that because the houses aren’t butt up against each other they look small, but when you read the stats of the houses they’re actually bigger.
  17. Schools: They’re great especially if you’ve got a special needs kid, but you just have to learn the language they speak because it’s a little different than in California. As mentioned before gender identity is a really big thing here, even more so than in San Francisco.
  18. It’s so “White” here: Actually it’s not. Hispanics are included as Caucasian, Spanish Surname. Yes, compared to San Francisco it’s going to look a whole lot more white, but it’s really a whole lot less Asian until you notice the large East Indian population that’s here as well and the fact that the population while diverse is a bit more homogeneous and adaptive.

That’s a good start for now. I’m sure there will be more added to it over time. I have yet to experience anything really abhorrent here, but there are a few things that we’ve needed to adjust to. I’m still not sorry I had to move, but the Connecticut River isn’t quite the replacement for the Pacific Ocean and yes, there is sourdough bread here, but it’s not as sour as in San Francisco. If anything it makes me question how special San Francisco sourdough is since it doesn’t taste too much different here.

Problem Solved

Hi Everyone. Just thought I’d post a short little note to let my readers know that part of the reason I haven’t had a post in awhile is that the site had been hacked and I was working with my provider to fix the problem which…for the most part has been fixed. The only remaining problem was because it was hacked my site was put on a black list so I can pass along [and neither can you] on Facebook or some of the other social media platforms at the moment. I’m working to fix this and now that I’ve got this problem solved I’ll be putting together some more articles for the site. Just a little update. Continue… Oh yeah, that’s Felix our new cat that didn’t hack the website, but he did ruin the ceiling in our basement that’s about to be redone.

We Found A House!

It’s been awhile since I was last able to post and part of that is that we were able to find a house here in Northampton, MA. We got to move in the beginning of May so we’ve been kind of busy settling in.

The first thing I have to say is that this house actually spoiled us. It cost us 1/5th of what we got for our home in San Francisco and it really needs very little work. It’s a three bedroom/one bathroom house at the moment, but we’re going to change that. The way houses are sold here is a little bit different so I’ll have to explain a bit.

The listed size isn’t really the size of the house. Our house was listed as being only 1334 sq. ft. which compared to the 1511 sq ft we had in San Francisco sounds smaller, but the concept of livable space is a little different here.

  1. There’s a room connecting the garage to the house that is sort of a mudroom/laundry room. It’s 300 sq ft, but isn’t considered livable space so it wasn’t included in the overall size of the house.
  2. Basements are in pretty much every house and not considered livable space. We have a finished basement that we’re adding in a 4th bedroom, full bathroom, office/studio, media room and storage. Total area of the basement after we’re finished is 900 sq ft. Even though basements aren’t considered livable space they are used for more than junk storage here and it’s not unusual to find bedrooms and bathrooms and workshops, game rooms, movie theater, man cave, etc in the basement. 
  3. Total square footage for the house is actually 2534 sq ft.

The house itself is on 1/3 acre of land to compare that to our home in San Francisco, we could fit four and half of our old home plus the backyard into the space we got here…for 1/5 the cost of what our house sold for in San Francisco.

It’s a pretty quiet neighborhood about five minutes from downtown Florence [a village that’s a part of Northampton] and eight to ten minutes from downtown Northampton or Easthampton. The people are all very nice and friendly around here and there is plenty of wildlife running around. I get up in the mornings and pour myself a cup of coffee and look out into my backyard and notice the tons of squirrels and chipmunks and rabbits running around our backyard. We inherited some bird feeders and bird houses so we have blue jays, cardinals and chickadees holing up in them and having babies right now.

Probably the best thing about the backyard is that it really is usable unlike our overgrow terraced backyard in the Sunset District. I do miss looking out my dining room window to see some of the ocean, but looking out into a forest isn’t that bad either. I’m sure people who live on the hills in SF would agree with me.

The summer has been a bit on the warm side being in the upper 90’s for a week, but now we’re down in the comfortable low 80’s. Luckily we have central air conditioning and heating so heat and cold aren’t a problem for us. In addition to that little downside there are bugs. Ants are different here. We don’t have any coming into the house, but we have tons of little ant hills outside in the front and back of the house. There are also little gnats which are only annoying when they buzz up to your ear and you think it’s a mosquito or one of the wasps that there are quite a few of as well. I’ve heard there are ticks here, but I haven’t seen any yet. 

As for getting down to dollars and cents, houses around us run around the $230k-$500k price range. They’re a little newer on poured concrete foundations. As you get closer to town the homes are a bit more on the historic side so they’ll have brick or fieldstone foundations and have been messed with over the years because it’s not unusual to found homes built in the early 1800’s here. When you look at the layouts of these homes you’re reminded that people lived a lot different back then and while there’s been a lot of remodeling there are still a few odd quirks you can find in the houses.

I’ve almost finished getting my video studio up so the videos will return shortly.

Driving Through The ‘Hamptons…

I’ve been debating telling people that I’ve left San Francisco for an easier life in the Hamptons because it’s less expensive. I’d be sort of correct, but not exactly talking about the same Hamptons they’d be thinking about.

Today we took a drive through the ‘Hamptons. Note the apostrophe. We drove from Northampton down route 5 to Easthampton and then continued on to Southampton, but we didn’t make it quite as far as Westhampton today because we were getting hungry and well, Easthampton was the best choice for food [close to the only choice as well outside of Northampton unless you wanted to eat more Dunkin‘ Donuts.

Easthampton is an interesting town. It’s small, but they’re working really really hard to make it a hip and artsy place. We stopped in at Eastworks which oddly enough is also the home to the Department of Motor Vehicles as well as lots of hip cafes, bars and art spaces. Like everyone else we’ve met here everyone was nice [except in the DMV, or RMV as they call it here which is it’s only little slice of hell.] They were happy to talk to you even if you were going to buy something. It’s just the way they are here.

If I had to come up with a label for the locals here I’d have to call them working class hipsters. There’s lots of factories here, not necessarily steel mill type factories, but most of the people, women included have a look like if you got into a fight with them you’d probably get tired of punching them because they’d just be able to stand there and take it. There were lots of piercings, tats and non-naturally colored hair like you were walking around Haight Street in San Francisco, but there was no waifishness to any of the locals. They were all really passionate about what ever it was they were doing. One was the owner of Crooked Stick Pops who was telling me about how he gets some of the ideas for his creations…I think you might be able to guess if you click on the link.

We were hungry though and decided to stop in at the Easthampton Diner. Diners are a big thing here usually, if they’ve been around a long time you can see the remains of the train car that they started as. This place had a rather large menu and I should have learned that if I’m paying $10.95 for something at lunch it’s going to be a lot more than I can eat. I ordered the Buffalo Chicken Quesadilla and it’s so far served as lunch and dinner and probably lunch tomorrow as well. Things like my quesadilla are typical here. They aren’t exactly traditional in anyway like you’d expect, but none the less they’re pretty darn good. Check out the menu on the link above and you’ll see for yourself. 

Easthampton was about a five minute drive from Northampton and in those five minutes there was some beautiful scenery along the way. I think we’ll be going back there often. Here’s a few pictures of the Easthampton Diner you might enjoy it’s quite popular with the locals.

Walking In A Winter Wonderhell…

I knew it would be cold when we moved to Massachusetts, but we didn’t think we’d see any snow. We were wrong and we learned about several variations that came down on us since last night that caused a few minor problems today.

Last night we looked out the window and it looked like snow was on the cars, but we didn’t see any snow falling. My wife informed me that it had iced over which means the air isn’t cold enough to freeze the waters but the ground is so rain drops hit the ground and splash up breaking apart and then freeze. It made things kind of dry rain if something like that can be said to exist, but it wasn’t unpleasant even though it was 30° out last night. I stood out talking to a friend of my on a phone call for about 10 minutes and while if was cold I didn’t feel like I was freezing.

Apparently overnight the rain stopped and snow fell and there was a couple of inches of it on my car and lots of other cars in the morning. It stopped raining so it was pretty out, but hard to walk since it was still cold and the ice that remained was slippery. This caused us to hold off driving anywhere since our California Honda Civic LX didn’t have tires suited for this type of weather and we didn’t want to risk it.

Then the rain came back. The problem was it was daylight and warmer so we didn’t see any icing over, but instead the warmer rain came down very slowly melting the snow creating slush. It was like a 7-11 slushee machine exploded all over the area only it was fairly dirty if it was on the streets. As the rain melted the snow there were suddenly huge puddles everywhere. As the rain continued through the day it got a lot heavier and appeared close to what the El Niño rains were like in San Francisco. It wasn’t that bad to drive in, but there were still remains of snow and slush from earlier in the day that you had to be a little careful of.

So the last 24 hours have been a bit of a work out, but for me who’s a big kid down deep inside it was a lot of fun. I’m getting used to the colder weather which isn’t that bad I figured out because cold and clear feels a lot warmer than cold and overcast which explains why I used to complain about 50° weather in San Francisco, but 30° with the sun out isn’t so bad.

Here’s a few photos from the past 24 hours:

Stop And Shop

I always like to visit grocery stores when I’m in a new place because you can learn a lot about people by what they buy and eat. Stop and Shop is the grocery store for people on the East Coast like Safeway is to the Bay Area. Sure there’s also Big Y, but Stop and Shop has more coverage.

For the most part you won’t see too much different than you would in San Francisco other than the price, but there were a few things that stood out to me.

  1. Cannolis: They are everywhere around here and in Stop and Shop you can buy a bunch of prepackaged ones. I’m sure they aren’t the greatest, but you know, if you want a few cannolis after ripping a few bong hits of some newly legal Massachusetts pot then they’re do.
  2. Fried Raviolis: I rather smugly thought I was the only one who ever did this and I find $5 boxes of breaded and fried raviolis here. Again, I can guarantee they aren’t as good as when you make these appetizers yourself, but if you’re lazy and hungry they’d fit the bill.
  3. Marshmallow Fluff: This is a staple of Massachusetts. You can put it on ice cream, or on bread followed by peanut butter to make a fluffernuter sandwich. My Grandmother used to make them as a treat for me which is funny because she wasn’t from New England even though she did have New England sensibilities at times. If you haven’t tried one…try it. You’ll like it.
  4. Local Ice Cream: Friendly’s is a local chain that used to be a burger and chicken place that sold sundaes and milk shakes, now they’re pretty much an ice cream place that selling a few sandwiches. You can find their ice cream and ice cream cakes at the local grocers and Stop and Shop was no different. There’s nothing great about it, but it’s the standard.
  5. Specialty Ice Cream: Since there are several local creameries here and people in these parts take their ice cream seriously you can find pints of ice cream that are of the handmade, artisanal, gourmet variety. Prices tend to be cheaper than in San Francisco, but the ice cream is very good and rich tasting, almost gelato like.
  6. Coffee Syrup: What in God’s name is this? Apparently it’s a coffee flavored syrup that people like to mix with milk to taste like a cold regular coffee or something like that. I still can’t figure it out, but it wasn’t with the ice cream topping so I don’t think you would do that.

Probably the biggest thing about Stop and Shop is its size. The place is huge like a Walmart, but it’s focused on groceries. Not everything like a Walmart. After taking a walk through here I found I’ll have everything available that I need here [even Mexican Coke!]