When I tell people the story of why I moved to the West Coast, their response is usually somewhere between a slow and uncomprehending nod, or, if they’re kind, a “Wow, that was bold.” Bold it might have been, but brave it was not. Mostly it was fueled by the overwhelming sense of stagnation that comes from being caught up in the dregs of this shitty economy and the fear that if I didn’t do something drastic to change the course of my future, I would be living in my hometown forever.
So, with the encouragement of my extremely generous friend Merritt who offered me the refuge of her couch until I got a job, I got on a plane and headed to the Bay Area. As I flew across the continental U.S., I was overcome by an uncharacteristic sense of bliss that I was sure was some sort of indication of my manifest destiny. I didn’t know what was about to happen, I didn’t know how I was going to make it work, but I trusted in my ability to land on my feet.
That sense of trust waned and eventually gave was to panic as I scrambled to find work, healthcare, and affordable food. I quickly dissolved into a puddle of anxiety and uncertainty. The Bay Area has a considerably more visible homelessness problem than anywhere I’ve lived on the East Coast, presumably because of the milder climate and the relocation of the homeless during the Reagan administration, or so I’m told. I couldn’t help but be terrified by the plight of the figures huddled in doorways, clothed in dirty rags and reeking of human waste. How many of them started out as twenty-somethings who naively moved across the country and ran out of luck just when they got here?
What kept me from going crazy were the intermittent tales I heard from other people who were “bold” enough to relocate here from the other side of the country. I clung to the gritty details of how they managed to get by when their lives were as uncertain and up in the air as mine.
One woman I met relocated here some twenty years ago from Boston. “I had a hundred and fifty dollars in my pocket, and I slept on a mattress on the floor of some woman’s living room next to her Yorkshire terrier.” She said she survived her first two weeks or by eating nothing but peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, until she managed to land a temp job. She said the first piece of chicken she ate after she had secured her income was the best piece of chicken she had ever tasted.
I met a guy named Ken through a friend of a friend, with a similar relocation story to mine. He was part of a group of almost all strangers I met up with on a Friday night at Fort Mason Park, where gourmet food carts gather every weekend to cater to people with expendable income (read: not me). When the sun set and it got too chilly to stay outside, we decided to relocate. I soon found myself in the back seat of Ken’s Mercedez Benz, being driven in style to the Marina, which I quickly learned was a yuppy paradise for Generation Y; the San Francisco equivalent of New York’s Murray Hill.
I did not expect to have anything in common with Ken, but we happened to sit next to each other, and he grew curious about me when I asked him, “Hey, where am I?” I explained to him that I just moved here, and he told me the story of how he landed here right after college about five years ago, living on his brother’s couch and ending up working for the same temp agency I had just signed a contract with.
“Every few weeks the Temp agency would call and send me a new job offer.” He mimed picking up his cell phone, “‘Yep!’ I’d say, and go off to work for some law firm or another in Walnut Creek. After a few months of that I remember getting off the subway and saying to myself, Ken, don’t do it. Don’t do it man. just turn around, get back on the train. But I’d go anyway.”
And in the meantime, he applied for jobs and networked like hell. “I’d send a thank you email to every single person I met at the places I tempted and told them to keep me in mind if they heard of something permanent.” Eventually he managed to land an interview with an educational nonprofit due to a very convincing cover letter, which he admitted was mostly bullshit, but apparently convinced the hiring manager that being a tutor was one of the most rewarding parts of his undergraduate experience.
He bombed the interview and didn’t get the job. But he had the gusto to call the woman who had interviewed him back and ask her for tips for his next interview. She when a friend of hers needed someone to volunteer as a grip on the set of an independent film. He had the luck to run into the director in the elevator, and he struck up a conversation despite being burdened with a ladder and several pounds of miscellaneous electrical equipment. The director thanked him for his time, and as an afterthought, Ken asked him, “Do you know anyone who might have a job opening?”
The director did, and that’s how Ken landed his job working for some digital animation company, where he stayed for the next seven years, rising in the ranks and earning enough to afford to buy a Mercedez. Ken has significantly more balls than I do, but that’s not the point. The point is, it takes a certain amount of balls to give this cross country relocation a go. And if even if you’re actually just kinda faking it, not to worry: you’ll grow a pair.