sixteen years and moving

2005 was a whirlwind year. I got married, I got on staff at Apple, and we went house-hunting. We had a deal for a place in Santa Clara that fell through because of complexities in financing – it was a hunch, on my part, and one I absolutely insisted on following. Which actually worked out for the best, because in November, we found another place. We made an offer, it was accepted – I found out in the middle of the Company Store at Apple – and after seventeen days at most of escrow, we took possession of the house that has been our home address ever since. That first night, we slept in sleeping bags on what today is technically the dining room, and for a week and a half until the DSL was hooked up, we survived thanks to the good graces of a neighbor whose open wifi access point was called “MrSheep.” Thank you, MrSheep, wherever you are.

And now we are moving – only a few miles, to my wife’s childhood home. It’s not going to be that big a change, with one vital exception: the loss of ready access to public transit, and thereby the loss of ready access to downtown Mountain View, downtown San Jose, and – ultimately – downtown San Francisco. It increases the odds that pub night will be something that happens at home, rather than, you know, in a pub. It means that going most anywhere means driving. And to be fair, these are all conditions that have obtained for the last year and a half, almost – there were enormous stretches when the light rail wasn’t even running, and when it was, it’s not like I could go drink in a pub or go for a stroll around a city that was half shut up against the plague.

Most of my memories of the house itself are of the last year and a half, honestly, ever since the office stopped being the overflow shit-collector for the rest of the house and became my regular daily workspace. Before long I had also turned it into my Sunday night space, with string lights on the shelving and videos of pub ambiance on the iMac, or other soothing backdrops from time to time depending. It broke the pattern established when pub night meant the lower living room and a possible book and shoe shining to go with my two or three pints (almost always two now, and American-sized). It calls to mind the old storage room off our garage, with its worktable and tools for fly-tying or leather-stamping, the place where my father would occasionally retreat and answer the inquiry “whatcha doin?” with “Piddling.”

My other “piddle”, such as it is, has been to finally embrace the walkability of the area. I could go down to the deli, to the coffee shop, get a haircut or a Mexican breakfast or whatever one can get from 7-Eleven (in my case, Coke Zero in 64-ounce fountain servings until they took it off the fountain last spring, and probably for the best). Or I can walk around the expanded neighborhood, with allegedly triple the housing capacity of when we first moved here, and the promise of a little league field before long. I always thought that would become my minor league ball, that I’d drag a lawn chair and a cooler down there and holler “give him somethin’ simular” the way the old guys did at baseball games when my youngest cousin was playing. 

I never got to know any of the neighbors, save for a nice young couple at the end of our street, much younger than us with (eventually) two little girls. Apparently kids or pets go a long way toward meeting people around here. We had one beautifully quiet neighbor on the one side who was highly reclusive, probably an original owner in this development, and a couple renting on the other side whose house would show up on map applications as the home of a couple different tech startups. Be that as it may. Lately, every garage that once had a Prius in 2006 now has a Tesla (or two) instead, and their drivers are rather more asshole (especially at speed in alleyways) than the Prius drivers were. Be that as it may – after all, Tesla is the Bay Area’s BMW as much as the BMW 3 series is the Bay Area’s Camry.

I used to walk around our development a lot more. Always at night. It was quiet, except for the distance roar of the Caltrain and the occasional clang-and-buzz of the light rail. It felt like the days long long ago when I would walk at night around campus, shying away from any other human presence, just alone with the stars. More than once here I wondered whether it would be possible to hollow out a space behind the shrubbery next to the hillside and camp out overnight, before conceding that my snoring would probably bring Animal Control on the dead run. And it occurred to me that during the depths of the pandemic, my imagination would run toward places I had walked before, and in my mind I was always there at night and alone. My old church growing up. My dad’s school. Hell, even around Black Spire Outpost. I don’t know that my neighborhood walks ever had me imagining a larger world, although this time last year, they were soundtracked with the earliest sounds of the Carter Family and Jimmie Rogers. Maybe it’s the same impulse that makes me prefer to drive down 101 toward San Luis Obispo at dusk, letting it get dark around Gonzales.

Other than that, my memories of this place are mostly of people. I moved here long ago enough that the same Saturn I drove my senior year of undergrad was parked in the garage. We used to entertain more in the era of the Castro Street Dining Consortium, when we had half a dozen local friends of recent making and my wife’s army of Cal compatriots. There was a famously alcohol-soaked 37th birthday party for me that was meant to mimic the “parents are gone, have everyone over and turn up” party I never threw or attended (which was as much a catastrophe as it would have been in 1989). There were holiday gatherings, occasionally punctuated with people who flew in from the other side of the country or even the world. There were a couple of cookouts by the pool, with its grill and hot tub that we didn’t have to maintain or pay for (and which were unavailable for the last year and a half, which sort of softens the blow a little). We had housemates on three separate occasions, someone else to watch Celtic FC or Newcastle United or NFL Red Zone, enough people to make it worth cooking dinner and mixing cocktails. And the HOA’s frequent recent protestations to the contrary, not one of them ever got towed for parking on the street.

But all of those local friends or housemates, bar one, have long since moved away. Some over the hill to Santa Cruz county, some to Seattle, some to Texas or Tennessee or Louisiana, some even to Europe. And the pandemic has brought home the fact, hard and fast, that we are more or less the last ones standing from this era of my life, and it’s just as well we move now. And while we will be pressed for space with the accumulated detritus of sixteen years, we’ll have friends living with us, just as we’ve had in the best times in this house. And I’ll have a yard, with a fire pit or two and a Weber grill and a couple of Adirondack chairs and a back porch with an overhang. I’ll recline in a zero-G chair, back to the wall, stack up the storage on either side to form my nook and look out as (hopefully) the winter rain falls in the night as RTE’s Irish-language service plays through my earbuds. And I’ll be right back where I was seventeen years ago, hoping for the same two things: a new VW in the driveway and a new staff job somewhere.

Home is where you make it. The house is just a place to store your shit.

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