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3 Important Life Lessons I Learned From An Unlikely Friendship

One of my closest friends is a white woman 30 years my senior – a Baby Boomer. We shared a cubicle wall back in the ’00s when we worked in IT at a large insurance company. I hated that job so much that some mornings I’d sit in my car and cry before leaving for the office.

It was the type of job where I had a micro-managing relic of a supervisor whom on a daily basis would periodically stroll by unsubtly peeking at our screens to make sure we weren’t surfing the internet. God forbid we take a break from the mind-numbing, inconsequential grunt work we were doing.

This is the same supervisor who for some reason couldn’t get my name right and would often refer to me by the name of one of the few other black female employees, who looked nothing like me and were at least 15 years older. I would pretend I didn’t hear him; after all, my name didn’t come out of his mouth.

Five days a week, I’d toil for hours at my desk in the large, window-deprived, cubicle farm boxed in by drab, ’70s-brown walls. An inappropriately loud middle-aged man who bang-typed on his keyboard and always seemed to be on the phone with his doctor discussing his various prescription meds, including one for ADHD, which explained a lot – sat in front of me. The back of his head, where unkempt gray hairs fought black for dominance, greeted me each time I looked up from my boxy monitor.

I worked in a Dilbert cartoon.

Sometimes you find friendship in the most unlikely people. | Read more on The Girl Next Door is Black in "3 Important Life Lessons I Learned From an Unlikely Friendship"
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I’d often wonder, as I looked upward, “Why am I here? Why do I have to go through this? I am miserable almost every day!”

I wondered what lessons I’d learn from this job, what I would take away from it. I figured there had to exist a reason beyond the below-market paycheck.

One afternoon, feeling trapped in the office and trying to make it through the day without screaming, I eavesdropped on my surrounding co-workers. To my left, on the other side of my cube wall, my neighbor ranted about yet another blunder of then-President George H. Bush. I heard her say:

“Of course, he’s from Texas. I’ve never met a person from Texas who I like.”

I stood up, peered over the wall and interjected shyly, “I’m from Texas. Well…kinda…I lived there junior high through college.”

My neighbor, JC, a blonde woman with a kind face, bright expressive eyes, and a voice that brings to mind your favorite elementary school teacher replied, “Well, I like you, so maybe Texas isn’t all bad.”

A friendship was born.

As we got better acquainted in the following months, we discovered that despite our age difference we shared more than a few commonalities. Our friendship cemented, when on a Friday night she came out to West Hollywood – risking traffic misery – to celebrate my 27th birthday with me and a bunch of my twenty-something friends. My friends liked her and I loved that she was game for anything – even hanging out with people who whine about being old at the age of 27.

Sometimes you find friendship in the most unlikely people. | Read more on The Girl Next Door is Black in "3 Important Life Lessons I Learned From an Unlikely Friendship"
Me with JC in 2005. One of my younger sisters was in town visiting and JC took us on a nature drive through the Santa Monica Mountains

In the many years that we’ve been friends, JC’s seen me through heartbreak, job changes and career struggles, supported me through growing pains and has taken me in on holidays since I don’t have family in California. She is like family to me.

It’s an unlikely friendship. I notice the curious looks we get sometimes when we’re out in public together – often joined by JC’s husband, to whom she’s been married almost as long as I’ve been alive. It’s difficult to quantify how much our friendship has enriched my life. However, there are valuable lessons I’ve picked up which I’d like to share.

Sometimes you find friendship in the most unlikely people. | Read more on The Girl Next Door is Black in "3 Important Life Lessons I Learned From an Unlikely Friendship"

1. Don’t Take Your Body or Health for Granted

A few years before I met JC, a man having an epileptic seizure while driving lost control of his car and plowed into her parked vehicle where she sat paying bills in the driver’s seat. The accident nearly killed her and almost destroyed her body. She spent nearly a year in the hospital undergoing multiple surgeries as well as physical and mental therapy.

A self-proclaimed nature lover and outdoors girl who grew up in the California desert, JC had to re-learn how to walk and use her body – now rebuilt with skin grafts and enough metal to alarm an airport detector.

Her life as a maven of the outdoors was never the same after the accident. She can’t hike the way she used to. There’s always a mobility walker in the trunk of her Prius which she uses to help with her balance. She suffers through pain almost daily due to lingering nerve damage.

In discussing her accident, JC always reminds me of the importance of appreciating my body, health and youth. Not taking for granted how hard my muscles work just so I can walk, run and jump. To respect the vitality and mobility youth enables. As we all know, that mobility and vitality isn’t everlasting.

Staying physically fit and healthy is a priority for me. I use my youth to my advantage. I want to be that 70-year old no one believes is 70 because she’s bursting with energy and in fantastic shape.

Sometimes you find friendship in the most unlikely people. | Read more on The Girl Next Door is Black in "3 Important Life Lessons I Learned From an Unlikely Friendship"

2. You Can Be Friends with People with Different Belief Systems

JC is friends with nearly everyone. She’s warm, talkative, vibrant and very likable. Souls are drawn to her open heart, even those who don’t share her firmly liberal beliefs, about which she is quite vocal.

Conservative friends of hers will send her inflammatory memes and Snopes-worthy articles which they’ll vehemently debate knowing neither party will budge. Yet, they remain friends, despite their warring political beliefs of the type some friendships fall out over. It’s a testament to the fact that she accepts people for who they are and genuinely wants the best for everyone.

Some of JC’s friends she’s known since her childhood and early adulthood – though that doesn’t keep her from making new friends. With those she’s close to, she keeps in touch regularly – even talking on that device we use to text and check our social media. I aspire to be able to say the same when I hit her age. Maintaining friendships is important.

Sometimes you find friendship in the most unlikely people. | Read more on The Girl Next Door is Black in "3 Important Life Lessons I Learned From an Unlikely Friendship"
In 2012 at Farm Sanctuary’s Animal Acres in Acton, California. JC and I both love animals.

3. Always be Learning and Seeking New Experiences

From time to time JC will remind me of a conversation we had years ago that changed the way she views people in public spaces. She’d invited me to an art festival in Orange County, about an hour south of Los Angeles. If you’re unfamiliar with the OC, many cities there aren’t exactly diverse. Driving to Orange County is sometimes derisively referred to by Angelenos as “crossing the orange curtain” because in several ways it’s the polar opposite of L.A.

Though art is totally my thing, I declined the invite and explained why. I’d had some uncomfortable racial experiences in the OC. Particularly in the region where the festival took place, which was and still is overwhelmingly white. Some people would stare at me like they’ d never seen a black person before or they’d just not even acknowledge my existence. It’s quite alienating.

JC said that she’d never thought about it that way before. She’d never really had to. She’d see a sprinkling of people of color in a crowd and think “ah, diversity.” She hadn’t given much thought to how it’d feel to always be the minority in public spaces and endure the weirdness that sometimes occurs. I laughed when one day she emailed me about an event she’d attended and how all she saw were “old white people.”

We’ve spoken fairly candidly about race over the years. She’s been open and receptive to learning about my experiences and how the world looks through my eyes. Likewise, I’ve learned a lot about her lens on the world.

As an avid traveler, JC’s always encouraged me to see the world. I recall one afternoon visiting her wonderfully quirky, ranch-style home up in the beautiful Santa Monica Mountains and flipping through old photo albums as she narrated.

One album was full of photos taken on an African safari she’d gone on with her husband. As I turned the pages, I imagined how amazing it would be to visit Africa one day. For so long it had seemed like an unrealistic dream. Talking to JC about her experiences made it seem a more real and attainable goal to me.

In 2012, I visited Africa for the first time – Tanzania, specifically – and went on a safari. The entire trip was more incredible than I could have imagined. In the years since I met JC, I’ve visited countries on four different continents. I hope to make it to all seven by my 40th birthday.

Sometimes you find friendship in the most unlikely people. | Read more on The Girl Next Door is Black in "3 Important Life Lessons I Learned From an Unlikely Friendship"
2012: On a safari in Tarangire National Park in Tanzania with zebras grazing in the background.

Sometimes, the reason we’re placed in difficult situations isn’t immediately obvious. I never imagined in all those mornings I wept over how much I disliked my job, that I would one day be grateful for the experience. Without it, I never would have made one of the best friends I could ever ask for.

Do you have any unlikely friendships? What lessons have you learned through your friendships?

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That Time I Almost Accidentally Joined a Cult

All the chatter about the HBO documentary on the Church of Scientology, Going Clear, got me thinking about my own experiences with a similar church I’ll call the Church of OddPhilosophies. Because I would never say anything bad about the Church of Scientology.

I was once on the run from the Church of OddPhilosophies.

Ok, so things weren’t as dramatic as that, but there did exist a time when I had to avoid the COO.

Picture it: the early ’00s, Los Angeles, California. A city of towering palm trees, near constant sunshine, and an overabundance of injectable-filled faces. A twenty-something woman full of youthful energy and naiveté dreams of a brilliant acting career.

(This young woman is me, by the way).

I’d often flip through Backstage West, an entertainment newspaper, looking for classes, seminars, casting notices and odd jobs. On one such occasion I came across an ad that looked something like this:

Fake Ad for Acting Seminar | The Girl Next Door is Black

That’s not exactly what it said, but that’s sure how I read it! Every actor knows there’s big opportunity and money in nationally broadcast commercials. SIGN ME UP!

It wasn’t until I arrived at the Famous Centre on the eastern edge of Hollywood that I realized it was part of The Church of OddPhilosophies.

I should have turned around as soon as I made the connection.

Instead, I parked and entered the estate. I’d driven by the grounds of the Famous Centre before and thought it beautiful and quintessentially old Hollywood. Now I had the chance to see the inside! Besides, I figured other churches sometimes rent out use of their space to non-religious groups as an income generator.

Church of Scientology Celebrity Center | The Girl Next Door is Black
The Church of Scientology Celebrity Centre International, which looks very similar to the Church of OddPhilosophies Famous Centre
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A cheery young blond man ushered a group of about 30 of us hopefuls into a small room with seats arranged in rows facing the speaker.

“Hi, I am Felicia Lister, Denise’s less famous and less talented sister.” What happened to Denise?! Who is Felicia?

For the next half hour, Felicia charmed and dazzled us with motivational platitudes and positive affirmations.

“Maybe your dream is to win an Oscar one day. Your dream is RIGHT WITHIN YOUR GRASP! How badly do you want it though? Do you just talk the talk or do you WALK THE WALK? Do you want success?! Are you tired of worrying about how you’re going to pay your rent?”

Yes! Tell me how!

“I’ll tell you how! Some of our students are today’s biggest stars. We can’t name names because we respect their privacy. But, you know who they are.” Felicia winked.

Most of the actors were focused on Felicia, transfixed by her promises of glory and riches.

“We can help you achieve your dreams! Our methods are highly successful. So, if you’re serious about being serious about MAKING YOUR DREAMS COME TRUE, Chad will take you into the next room to watch a short film.”

Wait – so far, no one has mentioned anything about commercials. When is that going to happen?

I didn’t get the chance to ask as we were quickly hustled into an already dark screening room with about 20 seats. Somehow we’d lost 10 of our original number, so we all fit. I was beginning to feel trapped.

They showed us a 30-minute film that was part history of the Church of OddPhilosophies, and part propaganda documentary, including a direct sell from the church founder J. Don Buzzard.

It’s still one of the scariest films I’ve seen in my entire life.

Chad blocked my attempt to exit after the film.

“We’re almost done.” His smile slowly widened and his eyes glistened, “After this we’ll talk a bit about the program and then you can go if you’re not interested in MAKING YOUR DREAMS COME TRUE.”

I now understood how I people get entangled in cults. Save me.

Help me, Save me - Photo by miamojoline, | The Girl Next Door is Black
Help!

After the film, Chad led us into yet another room. This one grander, with a vaulted ceiling and lots of glittery gold. It was when they told us that for the program to work we’d need to sign a promise to stop taking any and all mind-altering drugs like antidepressants, anti-anxiety meds and the like, that I got my ass out of there.

Holy crap. Even nutritionists tell you to talk to your doctor before stopping any medications. What the hell kinda crazy?

Oh had the tale ended there.

Unfortunately, I’d given my home phone number to the COO when I signed up for the seminar. A week later I received a call from a sugary-voiced member of the church, Mandy. Mandy wanted to know if I would like to finish my consultation and join them on the road to MAKING MY DREAMS COME TRUE.

“It’s not for me.”

Mandy protested, insistent that the COO held the keys to my future bounty, but I cut her off: “Yeah, I am not interested. Thanks, Mandy! Bye!”

In the following six months, I received monthly – sometimes bi-monthly – calls from the Church of OddPhilosophies. This, despite requesting multiple times that they remove me from their list and failing that, flat-out hanging up on them. I told my roommate to regard calls with extreme suspicion if the person on the other end asked to speak to me and sounded unnaturally happy.

It took moving to a new apartment and disconnecting my phone number to finally dodge the COO.

I haven’t heard from them since.

I still screen all my calls though. You can never be too careful.

Let this serve as a cautionary tale, my friends.

GoodBye Weave; Hello Curls!

Little African Girl Having Hair Braided | The Girl Next Door is Black
A little girl getting her natural hair braided with extensions added for length. Source

The beauty shop has never been a place of relaxation or pleasure for me. I associate it with chemical smells, scalp burn, lots of time spent waiting around, listening to catty gossip about the lives of strangers, and hours of sitting in the same chair forced to make conversation with someone pulling on my hair, knowing that any personal details I share might become future salon fodder.

Once, a braider yanked my hair so hard she PULLED SOME OF MY HAIR OUT OF MY SCALP! It’s been years and that hair still hasn’t grown back right.

Up until late last fall, I’ve worn my hair in some form of “protective styling” like braids or weaves. For nearly 20 years I shielded my hair from the elements, the public and myself.

I have never liked fooling with my hair. I would get my hair braided or weaved up and not have to do any heavy styling for at least six weeks. I could wake up, brush my hair or shake out my braids and be done, until I had to repeat the process. Low maintenance. Kind of. Though, not inexpensive.

I always intended to go back to natural, but …

Perma-Strate Hair Relaxer Creme Advertisement | The Girl Next Door is Black
A 1964 ad for Perma-Strate Creme Hair Relaxer. Source

Sometime around age 10, when my family lived in Atlanta, my mom began taking my older sister and I to the salon to have our hair relaxed and styled.

[For the uninitiated: a relaxer straightens curly hair. Commonly, black women refer to it as a “perm,” but this perm is straight, not curly. The relaxer is made up of a chemical compound which, up until recently, usually contained lye and if left on too long, basically burns the crap out of your scalp. It also typically weakens the hair leading to breakage, split ends and other hair horrors.]

I don’t remember making a conscious decision to permanently alter my hair from its naturally tightly coiled state to a bone straight texture. Hair, which now required touch ups every six to eight weeks lest the undesirable curls rise up from the roots and ruin the iron-flat look. Almost every black girl in my school had relaxed hair. The ones who didn’t, got teased and mocked.

If the fuzzy coils returned or I didn’t style my hair “right,” this group of mean black girls in school would let me know by tittering and throwing stank looks and snide comments my way as I walked by. Over the years, I’ve met more of these types  – the self-appointed black hair police who insist on issuing judgmental and cruel verbal violations to those whose ‘dos don’t pass muster in their hating eyes. They definitely were not fans of “nappy” hair.

I learned that white people also had opinions on how I wear my hair. In fourth grade, it was Nick – the blonde haired, blue-eyed 10-year old print model with Tom Cruise hair whom all the girls, black and white alike, swooned over – who looked at my relaxed hair, sprayed with oil sheen to give it shine, and called me a “greasehead.” I rebutted with a passable insult and kept my face neutral, but his words infiltrated and left a bruise.

My hair was in crochet braids when I served as a bridesmaid in my best friend’s wedding in the early ’00s. I’d stopped relaxing my hair by then, no longer interested in the ritual of maintaining unnaturally straight hair. I recall one of my friend’s soon-to-be new family members, a white girl a few years older than me, asking “So, are you going to take out your braids for the wedding?”

Why would I take out my braids? The braids that I spent nearly 4 hours in a chair getting put in? She must be crazy. What’s wrong with wearing braids to a wedding? They’re versatile. Besides, the bride had no issue with my hair, so why should she?

When I interviewed with a staffing agency in Los Angeles, also in the early 2000s, the middle-aged white recruiter inquired, as she looked at my braids:

If a client wanted you to change your hair to look more professional, would you be open to that?

Unlike my more vulnerable fourth grade self, her words didn’t sting me the way Nick’s had; rather, her question offended me.  “More professional?” Who would ask me to change my hair and why?

I emphatically said no in such a way as to shut down that line of conversation. No, I am not changing what is a perfectly normal, common and acceptable style among black women.

Black Sisters with 'locks by Brandon King, flickr.com | The Girl Next Door is Black
A trio of sisters with locs
Source

Her question astonished me, but I soon learned that other black women face similar problems in the workplace, as do black girls in school. Black women have faced reprimands from employers and even been fired for refusing to change their locs, curls, braids, afros or other everyday styles to something “more professional.” Often, “more professional” equated to “more like white women.”

But, my hair does not grow like a white woman’s does. So…

Even men had an opinion about my hair.

While hanging out at a friend’s place in L.A. one afternoon, one of her guy “friends” – a late twenty-something black dude with a gut, receding hairline, bad breath and yellowing teeth – gave me this gem of unsolicited advice:

You know, if you got yourself a weave, got you some long nails and your pedicure hooked up? You’d be perfect.

Black Girl with18-inch_remy_weave | The Girl Next Door is Black
An 18-inch Remy weave. Remy hair is top of the line (think hundreds of dollars) and the longer, the pricier.
Source

So, that guy was an ass.

I did eventually get a weave, but it wasn’t his words that prompted me. I’d noticed that a lot of the black girls in L.A. wore their hair in weaves. Long, straight, flowing hair – much like the white girls. Everybody wanted that Beyoncé hair.

My middle sister installed her own weaves and taught me how to do mine, sparing me trips to the beauty salon. Notably, the type of men I attracted changed once I switched from braids to weaves.

A Black Woman With Natural Hair by kris krüg
A woman wearing her “natural” hair, meaning: no use of relaxer cremes, texturizers, straighteners, hot combs, etc. Source

When I moved to the Bay Area a couple of years ago, it surprised me how many black women wore their hair naturally – in puffs, spirals, coils, locs and twist-outs. No one looked at them sideways for it. Seeing these women confidently rock their beautiful, myriad curl patterns encouraged me. Even at work, in professional environments, quite a few black women wore their natural hair for all to see.

Cool.

There’s no one day when I woke up and decided, “Today is the day I’m going natural!” I’d told myself and others for years, “I’m going natural one day. I am! I just, I’m waiting. I’m not ready yet.”

In the ’90s my mom traded her own relaxed hair for sisterlocks and never looked back. My youngest sister, a true millennial, was the first of all my sisters to make the transition. She did what’s known as the “big chop” and cut off her relaxed hair to start over. She rocked her cute teeny weeny afro with such confidence; it inspired me. Several of my cousins on the east coast also wear their hair natural. I definitely wouldn’t be alone when I finally made the change.

Solange Knowles famously did the big chop about five years ago. She has a gorgeous mane now.

Oddly enough, getting laid off from my job last summer helped propel me to action. The role I played at the office, both professionally and personally, was increasingly at odds with who I am, my beliefs and my values. It felt fake and I was tired of it; exhausted from not being true to myself. I just want to be myself and that includes wearing my hair in its “natural” state.

In November, I went to a salon known for their Deva Cut. My hair hadn’t seen the shears of a professional in years. When I scheduled the appointment, they advised me to set aside at least 2 1/2 hours for the cut. 2 1/2 hours? For a haircut and shampoo?! This is why I hate salons! Still, I went. If I was going to be a natural girl, I needed someone to shape my coif into something cute. Besides, women online swore by this cut and as we know, everything online is true and awesome.

I’d heard rumor of these peculiar places where women of all colors converge to beautify. Seeing it with my own eyes delighted me. Black women. White women. Latina women. Jewish women. All with curls. Curls everywhere!

Black Girl Natural Hair Shrinkage Source blackhairinformation.com
Curls! (Shrinkage is real)
Source

I was a bit skeptical when I met my stylist. A tall, young white woman with bright tangerine hair, absent of any curl pattern, and a ’70s punk rock vibe introduced herself. She is going to help me with this hair?

I’ve walked into “white” salons before and seen the terror in the stylist’s or receptionist’s eyes as I ask, “Do you do black hair?”

“Uh…well…um, we have one girl who does that, but she works the third Friday of every fourth month.”

Or they’ll just eke out, “N-n-noooo, sorry.”

Well, whatever happened to me in the salon, my hair couldn’t possibly look more of a mess than it already did., could it? I can’t say I’d been a poster child of proper hair maintenance.

Two hours  later – after pleasant conversation with Tangerine (not her real name), a very thorough dry haircut and a soothing sulfate-free shampoo and conditioning – I left the salon with expertly shaped cut and new knowledge about how best to care for my curly hair.

I used to say that taking care of  my natural hair took so much effort. In reality, it was taking care of my relaxed hair that took all the time. My natural hair is the lowest fuss hairstyle I’ve worn to date.

When people ask me when I went natural, I’ll say, “November 2014.” Though truthfully, the transition itself took years. It’s a lot of mental and emotional work. You have to unlearn all the negative messages you’ve internalized about your natural hair.

You may have to re-learn how to properly take care of your own hair. I consumed a lot of information through natural hair blogs; blogs which continue to grow in popularity.

You also have to get comfortable with the fact that there will always be people who have a problem with your hair. Screw ’em. They don’t own the hair rules. If such things exist.

This is the hair that grows out of my head and there’s nothing wrong with it. I love it. It’s part of me. I am still amazed that these curls grow from my head. They are so cool. I can’t believe I ever wanted to hide them.


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5 Ways I Stayed Productive (and Kept Sane) During Unemployment

Gordon Creek Road by Luke Detwiler , Winding Road | The Girl Next Door is Black
Photo cr: Luke Detwiler
Text and design by The Girl Next Door is Black

The last time I experienced unemployment was over 10 years ago. I was in my mid-20s, living in the heart of Hollywood, California. I don’t just mean living in Los Angeles, I actually lived in the Hollywood neighborhood. My roommate and I could see the Hollywood sign from her condo balcony. I came home one Friday evening to a message from my temp agency informing me that I’d been let go from my several months long temp assignment. Again? I thought. While this hadn’t been a permanent job, it still marked the third time I unexpectedly and abruptly found myself without employment in a 3 years.

Is this what it means to be in the working world? Absolutely no job stability? I had a feeling I knew what motivated the sudden booting: I think my temporary employers were concerned I’d caught wind of their shady financial reporting practices and might report them to the SEC. I did know. One of their long-term permanent employees gleefully spilled the tea. She despised them, but did a great job of pretending otherwise. I think she wanted me to do the snitching for her. Shady.

One of my new L.A. BF’s was also among the ranks of the unemployed. We shared a lot in common including our age and an aversion to the concept of working in an office and signing our lives away to the rat race. At that time, I hadn’t identified a new career path after parting ways with my attempt at an acting career, so I floundered a bit until I basically fell into my most recent career in tech. I took on a few temporary jobs here and there, but during that economic climate, even short-term temp jobs were drying up. So, my BF and I had a lot of free time on our hands, along with the excitement and Energizer-energy that accompanies early twenty-something youth. Unfortunately, we did not have a lot of cash.

Hollywood Sign View of Los Angeles Basin Photo cr: Mary-Austin and Scott, flickr.com | The Girl Next Door is Black
Photo cr: Mary-Austin and Scott, flickr.com

We’d wake up late mornings and IM each other while we looked for jobs online and concurrently planned out our next bit of shenanigans. We went out most nights as there is always something to do in L.A.: always a party, an event or an opening. I also learned the Long Island Iced Tea, with its melange of liquors, is the best drink for your buck if you want to get drunk for the least amount of money. We found $1 bargain shopping bins at trendy thrift stores, figured out the best ways to score free food, drinks, and swag – free movie tickets are easy to come by in the “Entertainment Capital.”

We were aces at finding clubs giving away free drinks if you were willing to arrive unfashionably early; art gallery openings were a great way to appear cultured and score free wine and cheese. I’d also inherited the role of organizer & events planner for a woman’s social group that I’d joined when I first moved to L.A. two years earlier. I had plenty to keep me busy. I look back on the time fondly even though I was broke and being broke in Hollywood where money = power, influence and prestige, is not easy. It may not have been the most productive way to spend 10 months of unemployment, but I enjoyed it and don’t regret a bit of it.

Now that I am older and, I hope, wiser, my priorities are different. My situation is different. am different. I also realize, having been laid off now four times, that with the ending of each job, something bigger and better always arose. Each layoff propelled me to something greater and more beneficial for me.

This time around, I recognized the opportunity in front of me. The layoff signaled to me, an opportunity to move on to something greater. Maya Angelou said, of an employer firing her and learning to be grateful: “So you fired me. Good on you and very good on me, ’cause what I’m going to get, darling, you would LONG for.” Yes!

I felt a duty to myself to make the best of the situation. After taking care of the basics one does after losing their job, like filing for unemployment, taking care of health insurance (thanks Obama!) and dealing with finances, I set to planning. Here are five things I did that helped me stay productive and kept me sane during unemployment.

1. TOLD MY FRIENDS, FAMILY AND NETWORK

I know some shy away from announcing their layoff to people they know. Maybe they feel embarrassed, ashamed or down. Whatever the reason, layoffs are a part of life. We no longer live in a society where employers keep people on for decades and happily wave you off at age 60 with a cushy pension. There is no loyalty in most workplaces – on either end of the relationship – and at any given time any of us can lose or leave our jobs.

Wood Social Media Icons | The Girl Next Door is BlackI didn’t do anything wrong to warrant being released. I worked hard and have the performance evaluation to show it, so I let people know. As a result, I felt freer; I don’t like hiding things. Friends and family have been emotionally supportive in the aftermath. Additionally, friends and former co-workers from jobs past have referred me when jobs in my role crossed their paths. In many industries, getting the next job is about who you know. Tech is definitely no exception. I am grateful not just for their referrals, but their respect. Most people don’t refer someone for a job if they don’t respect their skills and work ethic.

Being open about the layoff has led to a few uncomfortable moments; but nothing I can’t handle. When you talk to someone who asks, “How’s the job search going?” before they even eek out a hello, that’s a little awkward. You wonder if you’re not looking hard enough and then you realize it’s only been three weeks and did this person forget what it’s like to look for a job? When a person you rarely hear from messages you from out of the blue, “How are you?” and you know what they really mean is, “Have you found a job yet?” because they’re just being nosy, you wish you’d excluded them from your Facebook post.

A recruiter who contacted me, shortly after I updated my LinkedIn profile to reflect the parting of ways between me and the old job, told me his company had their eye on the ex-employees of my former employer, “Fancy Startup”. Who knew? Tech companies compete for good talent here, he said. That knowledge made me feel that much more optimistic about the potential return on my job search investment.

 2. MADE A “FREE TIME” WISHLIST

It’s not often that a 9 to 5-er gets the opportunity to have the entire daytime free. Not just a holiday Monday or Friday off when most everyone else is off too and banks are closed and so is the post office, so it may as well be a weekend. An actual free weekday when TV shows air that you’re never home to see live. When stay-at-home moms and dad entertain their kids who are on summer break. Free time during business hours when you can make the phone calls you need to make!

Free Time Clock Photo cr: Wes Peck | The Girl Next Door is Black
Photo cr: Wes Peck, Flickr.com

I recall during one particularly trying work day, walking down Market Street (a main thoroughfare in San Francisco) and wistfully envying a group of teenagers seated in a circle on a patch of grass laughing and talking. The sun shone brightly and I thought how nice it would be to lay in the grass in the sun in the middle of the day. I think the kids may have been doing drugs together, but still, the sentiment remains.

I set about making a list of everything I could conceive of doing that I could either only do during the day or that’s better done (e.g., less crowded) during the day. Whether I could get to it all, and how much of it was actually feasible mattered little. The list gave me a jumping off point, ideas for keeping busy, small achievements to aspire to, and activities I could look forward to doing.

The first thing I checked off my”free time” wishlist? Laying out in the grass in the middle of the day.

Eventually, I expanded the list to include lower priority items on my to-do list that I now I had plenty of time for. BLO (Before Layoff) so much of my life was either spent at work or recovering from the exhaustion of work. I never had enough time. PLO, I spent one luxurious afternoon cleaning up my junk email box. I unsubscribed from several newsletters (including “Fancy Startup’s”; it took them 3-months to remove me from the list, #fail),  organized items into folders, and cleaned up my social media accounts. I know that doesn’t sound thrilling, but it was glorious  to have the time.

Feet in the Park San Francisco | The Girl Next Door is Black
Here are my happy feet in the park
3. CREATED GOALS AND ESTABLISHED A ROUTINE

As much as I detest the idea of having routines and schedules, I recognize that it’s helpful to give a sense of stability in my life, thus increasing my comfort level. I recall from my earlier unemployment experience how lost I felt some days without the schedule I’d grown accustomed as an office worker bee. I also quickly concluded that pressuring myself to look for jobs constantly would eventually drive me batty. I had to establish some boundaries. Modifying the typical US work week, I decided Mondays through Thursdays are for “work” and Fridays through Sunday are for play (with exceptions considered if I ask myself nicely and negotiate well). I created a loose routine that includes not sleeping in past a certain time (I hate feeling like I’ve wasted half the day), time for job searching & networking, therapy, fitness and a few other items.

My Super Important Goals | The Girl Next Door is BlackIt’s important to me to feel a sense of accomplishment or achievement. I imagine that even when I’m retired, I’ll want to feel like I’m having the best retirement I can. So, I do what do and I made goals for myself to keep motivated and active. Or as I titled it, “How to Not Become a Lazy Bum:”

  • Do something productive at least each weekday – e.g., exercise, read, apply for jobs, etc.
  • Look for things to consider as accomplishments – Sometimes we don’t give ourselves credit for the important things we do each day.
  • Leave the house at least four out of five weekdays – Perhaps this seems odd, but I’ve seen how easy it is to become a recluse over time
  • Keep a clean apartment – My nightmares include dying alone in a filthy apartment that the fire department has to bulldoze through to extract my felineravaged body. I also find it harder to think if there is chaos around me.
  • Keep a journal of the things I’m doing –  I cannot tell you how much tracking my daily accomplishments has helped me from feeling like a useless layabout. I accomplishment quite a bit on an average day.
Glass of Water on ice, Photo cr: StockPhotosforFree.com
Photo cr: StockPhotosforFree.com
4. MAINTAINED HEALTHY HABITS

I’ve worked out in the mornings for at least the last 6 years. At first, it was to ward against the end of day workout killers of “I’m too  tired,” or the “I’d rather go to happy hour,” and other distractions. Now, while I certainly enjoy that benefit, I also like that starting my day with something that’s good for me, mentally and physically.

I didn’t want unemployment to lead to my blowing up Sumo-size. So, I make it a point to continue to work out several times a week and not turn practice trash compactor-like eating. It’s so easy to graze on food when you’re at home. I work out at home and I also find ways to get active outside, to which San Francisco’s weather is usually conducive.

I try to walk as much as I can. When I worked, even though I took the bus, I still got in an extra mile a day just walking to and from bus stops. I didn’t want to lose that advantage, so I use the Moves app to make sure I’m walking enough.

I got into the habit of drinking water regularly in my twenties because of it’s health benefits. At work it was easy enough to keep up the practice with a large water bottle I’d keep on my desk. Now that I’m home, I make it a point to get in my regular intake of water each day. This is one of the ways I know I’ve grown up. I care about my daily water intake.

5. TOOK TIME TO REFLECT

Initially, I was antsy to return to work. After working continuously for over 10 years, it barely occurred to me to think of anything else. A few weeks of disinterestedly applying for jobs, bored senseless by the role descriptions, I realized that by jumping into yet another job, i might be wasting this opportunity to make a change. How many times have I complained that I don’t feel like the office life is for me? That I don’t like slaving away to make some faceless person wealthier. That I find it ridiculous how executives catastrophize situations and trickle down their stress to employees as though the cure for cancer is slipping through their fingers on a daily basis. My 25-year old self knew she didn’t much like working in an office, whether it’s in the confines of the corporate or a fast-paced fancy start-up.  While I’ve managed to fake it well, it’s not who I am. The more time that goes by, the harder it is to survive in a world where I don’t fit in. I felt off-center after the mindwreck of my last job.

Girl Meditating on Water Photo by Abigail Corpus, flickr.com | The Girl Next Door is Black
Photo cr: Abigail Corpus, flickr.com

A friend told me I needed to take time for myself. “I live by myself and the only other creatures I take care of are two cats. Who else am I spending time on?” Upon reflection, I understood what she meant. The very nature of my career involved giving to and taking care of others’ needs. I spent the majority of my days solving other people’s problems. By the end of many workdays and work weeks, I was too spent for much else.

I needed to take this time to get back to WHO I AM. I’d lost myself.

I have savings (having learned from the first time around!) and I figured now is as good a time as any to invest in giving myself a break to step back, reassess and really consider my next steps.

I explored my natural interests and delved in to the activities I found interesting in hopes of leading myself toward my new path.

I made the rounds with my family and friends whom before I didn’t have as much time for. I reunited with several friends, including a few whom I hadn’t seen in over a decade. I knew these friends surfaced in my life at this time for a reason. I figured I had something to learn from them or maybe even something to share. I welcomed these opportunities not just as a chance to catch up with old friends and nurture those friendships, but to see what unfolds as a result. What doors will open for me? What new angles will I notice?

I also enlisted the help of my friends in my search for direction. My career counselor suggested asking friends and former co-workers for their thoughts on what career fit they envision for me, for their thoughts on my strengths. Not only do I think it touched them that I asked for their input, their feedback helped to gel a few ideas that had sloshed around in my head for a while.

Being laid off can rock your world, but it doesn’t have to be a negative experience. I’ve learned a lot about myself as a result of my layoff. I’ve been ready for a change. I’ve undergone a transformation and it hasn’t been the easiest. I got really depressed at one point, but I made it through. I feel like I’ve returned to center. I recognize myself again. For the first time in over a decade, if not longer, I have a true sense of direction, one about which I feel confident. I know what I want to do next. Now it’s just a matter of making it work and having faith that things will work out. I am excited to see how my life continues to unfold.

Have you gone through a layoff or experienced prolonged unemployment? How did you keep busy? How did you maintain your sanity and sense of self?

Scenes from the 2014 Treasure Island Music Festival

Treasure Island Music Festival Stage 2014| The Girl Next Door is Black

When my friend asked if I’d go with her to the Treasure Island Music Festival, I surprised myself when I said, “Yes.” After my one and only experience at the Coachella Music Festival a few years ago, I all but swore off large-scale music festivals. Between the heat, the parades of douchery, the posers (people who literally seem as though they are just there to pose), the flower headbands, the Native American headdresses on non-Natives, the spilled beer, sloppy drunken fools, the long lines to get just about anything and my general dislike of unruly crowds, I must have temporarily lost my memory to agree to this. Of course, it didn’t hurt that my friend’s face lit up as she gushed about how much she loves André 3000 of Outkast, one of the headliners of the two-day concert.

Treasure Island Music Festival 2014 Ferris Wheel | The Girl Next Door is BlackTreasure Island is man-made and sits in the San Francisco Bay just a short drive north of the Peninisula. Smartly, to avoid parking lot overcrowding, they provide (free!) large shuttles to transport concert-goers from the Civic Center to the Island. I enjoyed the bus ride, it felt like being on a field trip with a group of strangers excitedly buzzing about all the fun we hope is in store. We couldn’t have asked for better weather for the event with temperatures in the 70s and a mild breeze blowing from the Bay.

Thankfully, the Treasure Island Music Festival was more like Coachella’s chill baby cousin whose sprinkles their speech with “hella” and smokes a lot of weed. The Bay Area doesn’t hide its love of the sticky icky. There is no “typical” smoker in the Bay. Smokers are old and young, ranging in colors from all over the spectrum, professional and slacker alike, each with their intake method of choice. The air was pungent over that island. Contact highs are real, y’all.

My friend and I attended Saturday’s lineup of shows. We arrived shortly before Ryan Hemsworth’s hopped onstage. He made fans of us by the end of his half-hour set that had the crowd bouncing. My friend and I agreed we liked his set more than Zedd‘s, whose set was too heavy on the “electronic” and not enough on the “dance” side of music for my liking.

Janelle Monae did not disappoint with her high-energy show despite a confusing 10 minutes during which she sang her heart out and the audience heard nothing. The audience chanted, “We can’t hear! We can’t hear!” hoping to get attention from a sound guy, Janelle, a backup dancer, Jesus, anybody! If I miss hearing “Electric Lady” because of this, someone is going to pay.

Janelle Monae @ Treasure Island Music Festival 2014 | The Girl Next Door is Black

Outkast closed out the evening playing all the fan faves like, “Ms Jackson,” “Caroline, “B.O.B.”, and of course, “Hey Ya!” At one point, André 3000 called out, “Seattle!” I guess he forgot where he was. Contact highs are real, y’all.

Outkast | Treasure Island Music Festival 2014 | The Girl Next Door is Black

We had a “hella” good time at the concert.

Other scenes from the festival.

How I Broke Up with Comcast (Well…Kinda)

Circumstances forced me into a relationship with Comcast when I moved here. In Los Angeles, I’d been a loyal DirecTV customer for years. Unfortunately, when I tried to transfer service and have a dish installed in my new place, the DirecTV installer shared his dreadful assessment, “San Francisco sucks for satellite! The building behind you is blocking the signal. Can’t hook you up.” Then he told me I should move back to L.A. because he hates San Francisco. Uh…thanks for the welcome, homie!

Photo cr: Photo cr: Jason Rosenberg, flickr.com How to Cancel Cable | The Girl Next Door is Black

I searched and hoped for other options and came to the sad conclusion that Comcast is my only option for cable here. Internet service options are no better. AT&T was like, “We don’t have cable here yet, but we’ll give you internet for a $200 equipment set up fee!” The hell?. I’ve had financially-vampiric relationships with Time Warner AND Comcast in the past along with shitty service, bait-and-switch package “deals” and calls with customer service so painful they make you want to kick that jerkface who kicked that poor puppy. The worst.

Resigned to my last resort, I grumbled and huffed as I spent two hours – TWO HOURS – on the phone with a Comcast rep trying to get the least wallet-rapey deal on a cable / internet bundle. This fool came at me with $200 a month for a bunch of channels I didn’t want, along with landline service that I had to include to get the best discount even though I said I haven’t had a landline since 200-I don’t remember and then tried to get in my business about splitting bills with roommates and such. Filled with frustration at the foolishness of this whole ordeal, I bit my tongue because I know he’s just doing his job.  My beef is really with his evil overload monopolistic employer. But, dude why are you up in my budget? If I say I don’t want to spend $200 on service I resent ordering to begin with, I don’t want to spend $200, whether I have roommatehomieloverfriends to share in the swindle or not.

Given I’m currently not working, I know the responsible, adult thing to do (sigh) is cut back on some of my non-essential expenses. In my world, television is close to essential. I mean yeah, food, shelter, love, world peace and all that, but it’s TV and I’m a pop culture junkie/former wannabe actress. Cutting cable has always been a last resort to me. For me to even seriously consider cutting off the source of my visual pacifier represents a significant shift in my world. But, homegirl ain’t got no job and Comcast isn’t speaking any my love languages. Ultimately, I decided to put on my big girl bikini, take the plunge and tell Comcast that I needed to take our relationship in a different direction. This relationship is expensive as hell and I can’t even talk to them about it because they know they have the power! It’s wrong.

Photo cr: Steven Depolo, flickr.com
Photo cr: Steven Depolo, flickr.com

I know for some, cutting the cable cord is no big deal. Either they’re not big TV watchers or they have other, higher priority vices or kids who make it impossible for them to even sit through an entire show without distraction. However, if you are thinking of cutting the cord and scared of what life is like on the other side of cable, or if you’ve already cut the cord and want to maximize your viewing options, I’ll share how I did it.

Calling It Quits

I’m sure you heard about the infamously horrendous call from the annals of customer service fuckery between the Comcast customer who tried to cancel his service and a Comcast rep who was like, “But why you trying leave though?” on repeat. I truly wasn’t looking forward to calling and being harassed for trying to save some coin. I did some research before I called. Yes, girl/boy, I RESEARCHED this shit. That’s how serious it is. I learned the following from customers who were able to exit a call with Comcast unscathed:

  • If you want to cut off your service all together, no internet or cable, tell them that you are moving to another country. People swear by this. It’s important that you say you are moving internationally. Down the street or to Kansas doesn’t count. They will insist on following you like some stalker mess.
  • Be kind to the rep.  This should go without saying, in general, but with Comcast’s reputation, I recognize it’s easy to be defensive from the jump, busting out the Vaseline, before you even pick up the phone. Just try to put your stankitude aside and think of the rep who just wants to work, hopefully without headache, and call it a day like the rest of us.
  • Find out in advance if there are “hidden” packages. The package I ended up with, Internet Blast, is one of their cheapest packages and not one they advertise. I got the low down on it from a friend.

I ended up with a cheery rep in Utah whom I charmed with quips and compliments about her disposition. I explained to her that I was recently laid off from my job, knowing that’d score me sympathy points and set the tone for what I am not here for and that’s a $200 package or even its cousin the $150 package. The call took less than 15 minutes and when it ended I didn’t feel like I’d gotten my whole body threaded. I traded in all those channels I don’t care about, as well as HD service and a DVR for a basic basic cable package with high-speed internet, saving myself nearly 60% each month.

Now What to Watch

Cutting the cord has never been easier with all the streaming TV and film options available. Easing my transition is the streaming trio of Amazon Prime Instant Video, Netflix and Hulu Plus.

  • Amazon Prime Instant Video isn’t cheap, but I share my account with a few friends (they allow up to 4 people on one account), making the cost more reasonable. It seems like a good deal of their television content you have to purchase, but they have free episodes of entire seasons of some sitcoms and dramas, as well as some free and cheap movies. You can also buy TV shows by the season. Even if you do decide to by a season pass of your favorite show, the one time cost is still likely cheaper than paying Comcast an arm, a leg and a lung.
  • Between Hulu Plus and Netflix there’s plenty of streaming TV content. Netflix is killing their competition with their indie film and documentary selection. I’ve never heard so many people care about whale welfare until the Blackfish documentary blew up on Netflix. As with Amazon, you can share your account with others, though how much sharing you do is up to your personal ethics. Both services are $7.99/month, which is $2 more than the $5.99 “convenience fee” Comcast charges for conveniences I’m sure I never saw. “Comcast” and “convenience” are words that don’t belong anywhere near each other.
  • iTunes is another option and like Amazon isn’t cheap. However, similar to amazon, they offer the option of purchasing entire seasons of currently airing shows, so if you’re a semi-Bravoholic like I am, that’s an option for staying in the loop of those shows if you want to pay the price…which I’ll reiterate is still cheaper than promising a gaggle of goats to Comcast.

How to Watch It

I bought myself a Roku two Christmases ago and it’s on the list of my favorite electronic purchases. It’s relatively inexpensive and need I say, the one time cost is cheaper than giving one of your silver fillings to Comcast. The Roku allows you to watch your favorite streaming apps (they’re called channels) directly on your TV.  Roku has something like  over 500+ channels available including Spotify, YouTube, Pandora, Crackle, Plex, YogaGlo, PBS and tons more, many of which are free. Lifetime even has a channel and I discovered that you can watch some of their movies of the week.

Apple TV is another option for streaming channels. It is similar to the Roku, but integrated in Apple’s cult network of products.

Roku 2 Photo cr: Mike Mozart, flickr.com
Roku 2
Photo cr: Mike Mozart, flickr.com

The package I settled on includes a standard definition box. I bid a sad farewell to my HD DVR and in its place received transmission so bad I thought it was the ’80s again. What’s next? The Poltergeist screen of “things are about to get really bad for you”? I’m paying for this box and the channels keep fading out. That’s some nonsense. I remembered a particularly frugal friend of mine swearing by his indoor HD antenna. He let me borrow it once when I bought my first HDTV a few years ago. I thought it was cool that I could get these random channels I’d never heard of like Bounce and stations that end in .1 and .2.

There are many options for HD antennas, both indoor and outdoor. They enable you to watch the broadcast and multicast channels in your area. The signal strength depends on your distance from the station’s broadcast tower. You can check the DTV website to see what channels are available in your area. I purchased this one on Amazon and I have 33 channels including ABC, NBC, CBS, etc.  At least 10 of these channels are in Chinese, Vietnamese or Spanish; there’s even French news and a KPop channel; coming in clear, crisp, beautiful HD. Comcast, I’ll be sending back that standard piece of crap you sent me. What a joke.

AmazonBasics Ultra-Thin High Performance Indoor HDTV Antenna  Photo cr: amazon.com
Amazon Basics Ultra-Thin High Performance Indoor HDTV Antenna. It’s black on one side and white on the other.
Photo cr: amazon.com

It’s been a couple of weeks since I cut the cord and while I do admit to missing the ability to flip channels to find random content to watch, and I keep making phantom DVR movements (what do you mean I can’t rewiiiiinnnnd?!), I am surviving. I haven’t melted into a puddle yet. I’m not going through withdrawals. Eventually, I may want to invest in purchasing my own DVR/Tivo, but that’s a bit of a pricier endeavor. I am even at relative peace with the fact that I’ll not be able to watch my biggest TV addiction, The Real Housewives, in real-time, especially given Beverly Hills (real estate porn) and Atlanta (ROTFL-type shade) return soon. I’ll miss my fairly new habit of nerding out to Melissa Harris-Perry’s show on weekend mornings, but I’ll be okay. I’m happier and less cash poor since I changed the terms of my relationship with Comcast.

Have you gotten rid of your cable? Do you have any tips for surviving life after cable? 

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Walk on the Right!

“I no longer have road rage, I have walk rage,” I joked to my friends at breakfast recently, sharing one of the ways which my life has changed since leaving Los Angeles.

“We’re in the city. People walk, take public transportation, taxis, Uber. We’re trying to get somewhere, not take leisurely strolls through the streets.”

Proper sidewalk eitquette makes everyone happy! | Read more from "Walk on the RIght!" on The Girl Next Door is Black
source

Traffic, horrendously douchey driving and my resulting road rage which became way to commonplace for my liking (I don’t think it’s healthy to regularly wish for people to “get his someday, motherfucker!”) top the list of reasons why I left L.A. Now, after nearly two years of living in San Francisco, I can count on two hands the number of times I’ve driven my car. My poor, neglected car which once held way too much import in my life.

My friends, all current L.A. residents, listened with amusement as I continued my mini-tirade.

“I get irrationally bothered when people walk slowly or when they don’t walk on the right side of the sidewalk. It messes up the flow. It’s so annoying! That and standing all haphazardly on the escalators, blocking the flow of people who are just trying to catch their train to work. Stand to the right! Climb to the left! It’s not that hard!”

Rant over, I sat back in my seat, satisfied at having released a string of words suppressed for too long.

Proper sidewalk etiquette makes everyone happy! | Read more from "Walk on the Right" on The Girl Next Door is Black
source

“You’re supposed to walk to the right?” my friend K- asked with mock trepidation.

Wide-eyed, my friend L- added, “Yeah, I didn’t know that.”

I fixed them with a stare of disbelief and looked to I-, L-‘s husband for validation. He nodded at me in agreement.

“Yes! In this country, we walk on the right side of the street if there are others on the sidewalk. It’s like driving. You drive on the right side of the road. I know it’s different in some other countries. Anyway, that way if you’re walking down the street and are walking toward a stranger, you avoid doing that stupid, ‘Which way are you going? I’m going left, no you’re going right! Ok, I’ll go right,’ dance.”

“Oh, is that why that happens?” K- remarked with a half-smile.

“Yes,” I sighed, “do people not know this?? Am I going to have to blog about this?!”

 

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12 Things About My First 12 Months in San Francisco

view of the City from LombardWell, well, well, look who survived her first year in San Francisco! That’s right. She of the woeful posts New City, No New Friends, San Francisco: Not a Treat (Yet) and Making Friends: Paying Dues. It’s been a tremendous year with intense ups and downs and quite a bit of change and growth. Here are 12 ways in which my life has changed in the 12 months I’ve lived in San Francisco, from the mundane to the exciting.

1. I Spent 90% Less in Gas

I drove an average of twice a month in this first year as compared to daily in the Los Angeles version of my life. My main mode of transportation is Muni, the bus line, with some help from BART, taxis, Lyft and Uber. When I drive now, I feel like a brittle, nervous octogenarian, with nodding head and pursed lips, my small frame almost hidden behind the wheel of a giant Cadillac, making exclamations like, “Oh golly, I just, oh my, so many cars, oh no, one-way street, oh jeez, too much! Too much! Abort! I want to get out of this mechanical beast!”

Driving is intense and stressful. I don’t like it anymore. I blame Los Angeles and that hellion of a freeway, the 405. I have post traumatic traffic stress disorder or PTTSD. I told myself I wouldn’t make a decision on what to do with my car for at least a year. It’s been at least a year and have no decision…yet. The Angeleno in me is having a hard time imagining a life without the freedom of my own car.

It’s not always easy on the bus, but it sure beats developing an unhealthy hatred for BMW drivers and contemplating all the fucked up things you’d rather be doing than sitting in traffic.

Guess where the money saved on gas ends up…

2. Rent, Rent, Rent, Rent, Reeeeent

My rent here is nearly double what I paid in Los Angeles. Yet, my square footage decreased by almost 30%. This sucks. I don’t think I need to elaborate further.

3. More Oysters Please

In Los Angeles, some of my friends and I had an unofficial burger club. We’d take turns picking burger spots to check out. L.A. has become a beef-opolis of sorts, with competing burger joints popping up on the regular. I used to eat some form of beef at least once a week. [Obvious joke not intended.]

Me Hog Island
One of my favorite days this year was spent with my sister N at Hog Island Oyster Farm

Burger joints don’t abound here the way they do in L.A. There are, however, plenty of oysters-a-gogo. I’ve grown quite fond of the little suckers. They’re now on rotation in my cravings repository. Burger cravings, however, are rotating around with less frequency these days.

My sister and I went to Hog Island Oyster Farm one weekend – about an hour north of the City – and that day was the perfect culmination of joy from hanging out with my little sister, tasty oysters, refreshing Arrogant Bastard beer, mild weather, bright sunshine and outdoor NorCal beauty. To top it off, one group of picnickers’ weird-ass folk music played loudly enough for us all to hear. Oddly, the bizarre music fit the scene perfectly. A soundtrack to go with the perfect picnic scene.

This cutie chow in a penguin suit won best dog in costume at my job.
This cutie chow in a penguin suit won best dog in costume at my job.

4. Started From the (Corporate) Bottom  The job I have now isn’t the job I had when I moved here. That first job stank like some of the funky people I ride the bus with. I went from the job of my nightmares – which sold itself as a “startup-like environment”, but in reality operated more like a corporate fledgling – to an up-and-coming actual startup.

The start-up world is unique and peculiar. At times, I feel like I’m in a pretty NBC office sitcom. Like when a group of trendily-dressed, attractive, young women walk by my desk laughing with bright white smiles, or a thin Michael Cera-looking engineer breezes by on a scooter, or when I pass by the kegerator in the lounge, or when there’s a costume contest for employees and employee dogs on Halloween. I can’t tell how old anyone is at my job. Everyone looks some vague age between 22 and 45. The person that looks 25 could be a director. There’s talk of venture capitalists, competition and IPOs. It can feel surreal. As I share tales of the workplace with my sister N, she often asks incredulously, “Do you actually do any work there?” Heh. Absolutely, they just reward us very well for our hard work. I feel lucky to be there.

5. Try Walking in My Shoes 

Thanks to my trusty FitBit (which, devastatingly, I recently lost on a Muni bus, RIP Bitty), I know that I walk an average of 1 to 1.25 miles more per day compared to an average day in Los “Your car is your BFF” Angeles. Let’s hear it for walking!

6. Shake-Up in the Shoe Game

Last year while shopping with my friend Z at Loehmann’s, I picked up a great pair of rose-colored Franco Sarto wedge sandals with ivory embroidered trim.

“Don’t you already have a pair of wedges that look like that?” she asked me with a teasing smile.

“Yeah, kind of, I mean… not really. At least not in this color!”

I purchased the sandals and we’ve been very happy together. We’ve shared many adventures on foot and receive many compliments. A girl can never have too many pairs of wedges (or boots, scarves, hats, jeans or dollar bills). I like to wear wedges because they give me and my itty-bitty legs height without the feeling that I’m going to break my neck if my ankle rolls that I get with a skinny heel.

Since I’m walking more and in cooler weather, I need comfortable, cute (a must, obviously), non-toe-freezing shoes versatile enough for dashing over puddles of water to dashing away from the man with weird facial tics angrily muttering to himself about “the enemy.” I don’t wear sneakers (or tennis shoes for those of you down South) out unless there is a workout involved. So, those were a no-go from the get-go. I am not a fan of the ubiquitous, shuffling ballet flats and I couldn’t get away with wearing boots year round, so I needed options.

Sperry Top-Sider Audrey . Very comfortable, versatile, do not recommend for walking long distance due to limited ankle support.
Sperry Top-Sider Audrey: Very comfortable & versatile, do not recommend for walking long distances due to limited ankle support.

Like a hypocrite and a sheep, I turned to the boat shoes I once scoffed at: Sperry’s. At some point, they became cute to me. It could be that everyone seems to have a pair here, men and women alike. Isn’t that cute? A shoe that both women and men can wear! I’ve seen couples out in boat shoes together and it’s a sickeningly adorable.

I also am thankful for the moto boot trend, as I now have a legitimate fashion excuse to wear boots year-round. I just vary the height of the boot depending on the time of year and day. And the wedge bootie? Best shoething ever! Anyway, I could go on, but I don’t think you’re here for the shoes.

7. My Cats are Even Bougier

It's good to be a cat in San Francisco
It’s good to be a cat in San Francisco

My cats already ate well, but the pet stores here sell San Francisco-type goods and food. You know, all trying to be responsible, earth-friendly, healthy, free roaming geese and pigs and all that. So the cats now poop on corn-based litter instead of clay. I mean, who poops on clay these days? What is this? 2012? Am I right? Their new brand of can food has kitschy dish names such as “Two Tu Tango,” and “Kitty Gone Wild.” Ain’t no Friskies touching the tongues of these cats.

8. I Have One of These

The yellow squiggly is the Timbuk2 logo. Photo cr: timbuk2.com
The yellow squiggly is the Timbuk2 logo. Photo cr: timbuk2.com

Being the little observer that I am, while riding on the bus early on, with all the other worker bees, I noticed many people seemed to have cute or rugged messenger bags and totes. Makes sense if you don’t have a car to use a storage unit. I’d been looking for the perfect bag that could double as a gym bag and hold my work laptop. I kept seeing the brands Timbuk2 & Rickshaw, two bag companies native to SF. The Timbuk2 bags had heaps of positive reviews and cute designs, so I supported a local business and got a great gym/laptop/weekend bag.

9. I Know You!

At a friend’s party in L.A. last year, pre-move, I got to chatting with friends of hers, a couple whom had recently moved to L.A. from San Francisco. I told them I’d been considering moving to San Francisco and asked them how they liked it.

“It’s cool. But…it’s a really small city.”

“How so?” I asked.

“Well, you sometimes run into people you don’t want to see. Like ex-boyfriends or ex-girlfriends…”

I remember that conversation each time I run into someone I know here. I don’t know that many people here. I couldn’t even scramble enough people together to have a flash mob. So, it amuses me that I’ve run into an average of one person I know every 2 months. I went years in L.A. without randomly running into anyone I know.

I did have the misfortune of running into a woman from the nightmare job. A woman whom I intensely disliked and whose presence seemed to make my awful days that much worse. Her nose seemed permanently in the air around me. Ugh. I saw her one afternoon while I was shopping downtown with two of the 20 people I know in the City.

“Shit!” I told my new friend J, while trying to hide behind a clothing rack, “I know that girl. Don’t look!!! I know her from work and I can’t stand her. The last thing I want is to see her on my work-free weekend. Ack, I hope she didn’t see me! I’m gonna go over there!” I pointed to a section on the far opposite end of the store, which was thankfully, very large. I don’t know if she ever saw me. She never said anything to me about it later. My life will be fine if I never see her again.

10. Reuse This!

I have a new hobby. It’s called “collecting reusable bags because I forget to bring one I already own and end up buying another.” It’s ridiculous. As I mentioned, San Francisco is all about being good to Mama Earth, and as such we’re encouraged to bring our own reusable bags to the grocery store. If you forget or don’t have one, you can pay $.10 for a non-reusable bag from the store. Paper only. Plastic bags are banned here. The plastic bags which I like to use to dispose of cat litter.

I always forget to bring a damn reusable bag with me to the store. I end up spending the $.10 on a paper bag I have no use for. A few clerks act like an admonishing Principal Strickland as they dutifully tell you with mild judgment, “I’m going to have to charge you 10 cents per bag.” Damn, I get it. Let’s move on. Don’t bag-shame me.

Admonishment, judgment and bag-shaming seem to have no effect. I forget to bring my reusable bag, 9 times out of 10.

11. Buying Eggs is a 10-Minute Task

Organic, free-range, free-range organic, brown free-range, brown organic, cage-free, vegetarian-fed, cage-free brown, OMG, how many freakin’ egg choices are there?! Which one makes me seem the most humane? I suffer from analysis paralysis a lot more here. There are so many options for food!

I'm practically running unofficial egg taste tests in my kitchen.
I’m practically running unofficial egg taste tests in my kitchen.

My sister and I went to a farmer’s market one Saturday morning where she wanted to buy an avocado.

“One avocado please.”

“Sure,” said the vendor, “do you prefer a sweeter flavor?”

“Yeah, that sounds good!”

He rooted around the pile of avocados in front of him.

“Will you be eating in this in the next day or so, or a week?“

“A day.”

More rooting around.

“Hmm, will you be cooking it or eating it raw?”

“Raw.”

More rooting.

A beat. “Here you go, this should do it!” He presented the winning avocado with a slight flourish.

And all of that was just to buy one avocado, which to his credit, my sister said was very, very good.

12. Who are you?

The foggy days get old quickly.
The foggy days get old quickly. (View from Sea Cliff)

I yammered on in the early days here about how people didn’t make eye contact on the street. Like a puppy eager to make new friends, I smiled at people whose eyes I caught and they’d look away, down or through me. I now recognize my irritated response as part of the rejection phase of cultural adjustment. About three to four months into the move my attitude toward San Francisco was that of a woman carping about the guy who hooked her and then disappeared. As anthropologist Kalvero Oberg observed, “At this stage the newcomer either gets stronger and stays, or gets weaker and goes home (physically, or only mentally).” I got stronger and stayed, I am pleased to say. Also, I make eye contact with few people these days; I’ve learned well from my citymates. I’ve adapted to the culture and feel like San Francisco is my home.

Folsom Fair
The very naked Folsom Street Fair was…eye-opening and made me want to bathe vigorously.

This is by no means an exhaustive list. Honorable mentions go to: my growing dislike of bikers who wantonly disregard pedestrians and road rules; my growing love of Oakland; attending more festivals and fairs in one year than I have in the past five; way more time spent waiting in line at restaurants; seeing triple the number of publicly nude people (up from 0); my expanding collection of hats, scarves, sweaters and coats; getting better at figuring out what’s compostable; and finally, significantly increasing my knowledge about wine thanks to several visits to nearby Napa Valley.

This City didn’t make the adjustment easy on me. We fought and it was really tough at times. I persevered, made it through and I really like it now. I forgot what it’s like to genuinely have fond feelings for the city you live in. Moving here goes the list of “Great Life Decisions Made by Me.” I can’t wait to see what the next 12 months have in store!

With The Painted Ladies
With The Painted Ladies

I Woke Up Thirtysomething

photo cr: Alan Cleaver, flicrk.com
photo cr: Alan Cleaver, flicrk.com

 

“As you sit in your rocking chair at the age of 100, what might be a regret you will have if there was something(s) you did not do/achieve/try?”

I stared at the question on the work/life reflection worksheet given to me by my career counselor. One of several questions aimed at helping me find my “passion.” The idea being once I discover this elusive passion, I can direct my efforts toward an endeavor I’d truly find satisfying and meaningful, instead of middling through a career that like a perfunctory meal, provides nourishment, but doesn’t inspire, isn’t particularly memorable or something you want to effusively praise to your friends.

Things I’d regret not doing? I don’t even know what I’m doing 6 months from now! Since I stepped onto the other side of 30 it seems time hurtles by like it’s in a foot race. Occasionally, the race is interrupted by brief pause, an allowance for me to catch my breath. During one recent pause, feeling particularly present, I realized: I am not sure how I even got here. Whose life is this? One day I woke up with a career, a recruiter describing my resume as “impressive” and people asking me for advice because they think I know things. When did that happen? Was it not just yesterday when I moaned to my friend that no one seems to take you seriously in your twenties? But, that was years ago now.

I ask myself, what do I want my life to look like at 40? That’s my next major birthday milestone. It’s a tough question. In younger days the path was clearer, the choices more binary. Each phase ended with a right of passage: a graduation, a year ending dance, an exam of life-altering importance.

Then it’s welcome to adulthood! You’re in the real world now, baby! The paths are many: crooked, narrow, hazy, smooth, booby-trapped, newly paved, yellow-bricked or bumpy. There are fewer guideposts along the way to center you, fewer checkpoints that allow you to ask, “Am I going the right way?” Seemingly endless options, and like a menu with too many entrees, at times overwhelming. If you don’t choose well, you risk waking up after another blurred lapse of time wondering, “How did I get here?

photo cr: Lululemon Athletica, flickr.com
photo cr: Lululemon Athletica, flickr.com

When thirty neared, I had a serious crisis of confidence. During the post-college years I’d spent pursuing an unconventional life of meaning, deciding to pursue a longstanding dream of being an actress, a great many of my college friends had spent their time building careers, marrying and starting families. While I plodded through jobs unfulfilling jobs – to me, the kind of work I took on was for survival, not intrinsic satisfaction – my peers were taking glamorous international trips, buying their first homes, continuing on to grad school, talking about 401ks and life insurance and I was doing…what? Nothing I was proud of. After a few years, I recognized that the business of Hollywood isn’t for me and felt lost. Now what? For quite a while, I viewed the period I spent pursuing  an acting career as a waste, a decision that set me back.

I enjoy reading autobiographies and stories about other’s lives. They are fascinating and often inspirational. In my twenties, reading bios detailing all the incredible accomplishments other people have achieved, I often feel like I’d done nothing to feel prideful over. Being surrounded by the conspicuous consumption culture of Los Angeles and living paycheck to paycheck didn’t help. Near thirty, I realized that I wasn’t being fair to myself or giving myself enough credit for all that I had experienced, seen and overcome. I climbed out of my well of self-pity and focused on the trajectory of my life for the next few years. What did I want to create, see, and do? Who did I want to become? I created a vision board. Make fun if you like, but I’ve been able to strike through a lot of things on that vision board because I’ve achieved them.

If there’s one important lesson I’ve learned about life in my 30+ years, it’s that it’s full of surprises. I may set the framework for what I hope for in my life, but the actual content is harder to predict and I’m mostly okay with that. Some aspects have unfolded in ways I would never have imagined. I would not have predicted that I’d live in Los Angeles for over a decade, quickly tire of Hollywood shenanigans, dump my starving artist life and return to the world of business. I wouldn’t have guessed that today I’d be single, childfree and living in San Francisco working for a tech startup. I enjoy and appreciate my life, but it’s not the one I thought I’d have. At 22, I thought by now – mostly due to the narratives we’re told through books, visual media and society – that I’d be married, have a couple of kids (a boy and a girl, of course) and have a high-powered job doing something worthwhile.

photo cr:  Lel4nd, flickr.com
photo cr: Lel4nd, flickr.com

When I attempt to write the story of what life will be like for me at 40, I come up blank. I’m still on the fence about having kids. Some days I want to, other days I don’t and time isn’t on my side, Halle Berry’s amazing uterus notwithstanding. [Though, if I do decide to remain childfree, San Francisco is apparently the best place to do so!] I am realistic enough to consider that I may not find that life partner to share my future with and I have to account for that in my vision. Even my past dreams of owning a home are up in the air. I no longer think about owning a home in the suburbs because the word “suburb” scares me. I don’t know what kind of job I want or in what field. I’d love to live outside of the United States in France or Brazil or many other places and travel the world meeting interesting people, having stimulating experiences. I’d like to be fluent in at least one other language. There is a long list of things I’d like to accomplish, but no comprehensive story.

For now I’ve come up with simply this:

When I’m 40, I want:
  1. to be happy;
  2. to feel proud of my accomplishments;
  3. to continue having awe-inspiring, thought-provoking experiences;
  4. to continue learning;
  5. to feel like I’m progressing as a person;
  6. to have love in my life, whether that be the love of family and friends or them + life partner and children.;
  7. to keep traveling internationally (and domestically);
  8. a dog (and for my favorite cat to be around and kicking in his geriatric years).

Whatever it takes to get to achieve these things, I’ll set the stage and life can flesh out the script and fill in the cast of characters. My role is to stay focused on my goals and remember as often as I can, not to take the days for granted. Time isn’t going to slow down for me.

You have to live life deliberately. It’s all too easy to put things off, only to find one day you’ve lost precious time that you can’t recover.

 

I Admit It: I Love L.A.

Giant Blue Bear on 405 Freeway Los Angeles | The Girl Next Door is Black
Seen on the 405S while on my way to work one day. The traffic was so insane it took me 2 hours to go 4 miles, with 13 miles more to go. I was so tired of being in my car. But, I got a good laugh when I saw these bears on the truck bed in front of me.

I couldn’t wait to get the hell out of Los Angeles by the time I left in 2012 after over 10 years of calling it home.

My biggest complaint about L.A. is the heinous, constant traffic. It’s terrible and it’s a regular topic of conversation in L.A. Few cities in the US compare.

I moved to San Francisco full of hope and relieved to live in a true walking city.  No more daily near-death incidents on the freeway! No more road rage! No more wondering why everyone in a BMW seems to drive like a tool.

My how things have changed.

Watts Tower Los Angeles, California | The Girl Next Door is Black
I was homesick for L.A. | Watts Towers in South Los Angeles

By the end of the my second month in San Francisco, I was pretty depressed. I had no friends, the job wasn’t what I thought it would be, my apartment building is old and seems to have no noise insulation whatsoever. I pay what’s essentially a mortgage to hear my upstairs neighbors’ every elephant-ine moves and sometimes entire conversations (sadly, nothing interesting).

In a very dense city of close to one million people, I felt lonelier than I have in a long while.

Around the same time, I had to head back to L.A. for my dear friend’s bridal shower.

It was exactly what I needed.

Three months in San Francisco allowed me to see Los Angeles with new eyes again.

When I picked up my rental car at LAX, the agent asked , “What kind of car would you like? Do you want a car that gets good mileage?”

I scoffed.

“No, I don’t care about that! Which is the fastest in this class?”

He pointed me toward a cute, gray VW Jetta with a V6 engine Sorry, Earth.

Roosevelt Hotel's Tropicana Bar pool Hollywood Los Angeles, California | The Girl Next Door is Black
The Roosevelt Hotel‘s Tropicana Bar pool. Look at those trees! | Hollywood

As I sped toward my old neighborhood, in the warm sunshine, with the windows open, letting the breeze circulate, singing at the top of my lungs to a song on Power 106, shaking my booty in the seat, I felt so at peace. On the freeway. On the awful 405 freeway that I’ve written scathing yelp reviews about and I felt at peace.

It was comforting. I missed the benefits of solo time spent in my car. I can’t sing at the top of my lungs in my current apartment – everyone would hear. I still have my car, but I drive so rarely these days. I didn’t realize how important that personal time was.

The palm trees were as gorgeous and magnificent as I remember thinking they were when I’d moved there over a decade ago.

I thought: the sun really does love this place! How can it be so impossibly beautiful, warm and bright?

A friend who’d lived up in Berkeley for undergrad warned me when I told him I was considering San Francisco, “You’re going to miss the weather.

“Yeah, yeah, I know, everyone says, ‘the weather is so amazing.'”

I liked it, some days even deeply appreciated it, but, I realize now just how much I took it for granted. I really think the sun sets up camp there and just visits other cities from time to time.

The trip went by in a blur. I met up with former co-workers and other close friends, including my older friend J___ who is almost like a surrogate mom to me. We, the bridesmaids, pulled off an excellent bridal shower and made the bride happy.

I’m so glad I went back.

I released the pent-up emotion that had built since I moved to San Francisco. Being back in L.A. made me feel normal. My friends’  warm welcomes reminded me that I I’m not alone. I am loved. That I am someone people want to befriend.

I understand Los Angeles. I once functioned as part of the city. A sense of inclusion in your city is more important than I ever realized.

"Home Is Little Tokyo" mural at 1st and Central in Los Angeles. http://www.publicartinla.com/Downtown/Little_Tokyo/home_little_tokyo.html cr. The City Project, flickr.com
“Home Is Little Tokyo” mural at 1st and Central in Los Angeles. This mural reflects the rich history of Little Tokyo. When Japanese-Americans were forced into internment camps, a number of African-Americans repopulated the area, including Charlie Parker. cr: The City Project, flickr.com
Golden State Burger Los Angeles Fairfax | The Girl Next Door is Black
A group of my friends and I had a “burger club.” We tried to taste as many of the gourmet burgers in L.A.’s ever-growing burger scene. | Golden State Burger, Los Angeles

When I left L.A. that weekend, I said and felt something that I so rarely did in the time that I lived there: “I love Los Angeles!”

I love that in a city largely ruled by the entertainment industry, we clap as the credits roll at a movie’s end.

I love that there is so much amazing food of all types of cuisines.

I missed the unique/break-the-rules/bold/relaxed/trend-setting fashionI forgot how seeing the way others dressed inspired me to push beyond my fashion boundaries.

Was it my imagination or did some of the guys get cuter since I left?

I miss the train-wreck-style “entertainment” of high-speed car chases.

I miss the morning show on KROQ and waking up to the cheery crew at KTLA Morning News.

I liked that I didn’t see hipsters every.where.I.looked. Hipsters have their own neighborhoods in L.A.

Hearing people argue about which eatery in the city has the best Mexican food never stops being amusing.

One thing that hasn’t changed: I still hate LAX.

I knew I didn’t want to move back though. At least not until I give San Francisco at least a year. Even then, I left Los Angeles for a reason and I didn’t make the decision lightly. Moving back might feel comforting at first, but eventually the same elements that made me want to leave will probably arise again. It hasn’t been the easiest move, but I know that the experience is good for me.

I really needed that trip. I needed a reset. I needed closure with Los Angeles.

When I returned to San Francisco, I felt reinvigorated.

I owe Los Angeles an apology. I didn’t appreciate it enough when I lived there. I spent most of my 20s in L.A. and I will forever be linked to the city via my memories.

I now find myself protective of Los Angeles. I will defend it.

It’s not the kind of city you can live in for a year, or even three years, and think you get it. You cannot possibly get it. The city is huge!

If you’ve only been to Hollywood, Santa Monica and Venice, you probably don’t know Los Angeles. What about Echo Park, Monterrey Park, Baldwin Hills, Burbank, Studio City, Leimert Park, Pasadena or Highland Park?

There’s an ad that plays here in SF, sponsored by Discover Los Angeles. I used to think it was beckoning me to return. A female voiceover says – and I’m paraphrasing:

Just when you think you’ve seen all I have to offer, there’s more.

Thank you, Los Angeles. I owe you a lot. Now, it’s San Francisco’s turn.

Los Angeles Snowglobe | The Girl Next Door is Black
Kisses & Hugs L.A.

A Day in the East Bay

Damn my need to experience things for myself.

When I announced I was leaving Los Angeles and heading up to the Bay Area, a few people encouraged me to consider living in the East Bay.

[For those unfamiliar with the area, here’s a simple analogy. San Francisco is like Manhattan. It’s the flagship city of the area. Oakland is like Brooklyn, a sister city across the water, that is sometimes very underrated, a city ‘snooty’ residents of the flagship city wouldn’t consider even visiting, and one that has its diehard fans who will passionately defend its superiority.  It’s affordability. It’s lack of pretentiousness. Both cities are experiencing a growing gentrification that dismay it’s original residents and is often attributed to the uptick in the overflow people who can’t afford to live in Manhattan or San Francisco. Then there are the other ‘boroughs’ like Berkeley and other surrounding small towns. 

I should note that I am from Brooklyn.]

When I got a headache looking for apartments in the City, my very sweet friend, Kat, offered, “My friend has a great apartment in the East Bay! His rent is pretty good. I can ask him if there are vacancies in his building?”

“Thanks, but I don’t want to live in the East Bay. I don’t want to live to far from work. I want a short commute.” 

Another friend, Jackie, excitedly suggested, “You should move to East Bay. I love it here!”

“I’m sure it’s great, but I want to live in San Francisco at least for a year.”  I’m six months in. Some days I wonder if I should have just moved back to New York.

I’d been to some parts of the East Bay before like Emeryville, Pleasanton and Walnut Creek, but I’d been wanting to explore more. So, when Jackie suggested we go for a hike one weekend and asked, “East Bay or the City?” I answered vehemently, “East Bay, I get enough of the City everyday!”

I met Jackie at a party four years ago in Los Angeles. She’s big into the outdoors and co-hosted an awesome hiking group through which I met several good friends.

Last Saturday I hopped on BART and met her in downtown Berkeley. Jackie gave me a micro-tour of the East Bay that I wish I could have had in San Francisco. Not a hokey, touristic double-decker bus ride, but the kind of tour only an enthusiastic resident can do justice. It was a great weekend for it with record-breaking high temperatures for this time of year (I believe somewhere in the 80s), which was perfect for me since I am sick of feeling cold and like I have to wear a parka all the time.

We began in Berkeley.

We saw the Berkeley Rose Garden
We saw the Berkeley Rose Garden
She took me to a hidden waterfall (it's on private property!).
She took me to a hidden waterfall (it’s on private property!).

We hiked for about two hours in Tilden Park. On the hike, Jackie began her sales pitch of the East Bay. “So what do you look for in a city?” she asked.

“I don’t know, lots of things to do, culture, diversity, people with progressive views, friendly people, weather that’s not too hot or cold, great food options…”

She smiled at me with satisfaction and stated, “Hmm, that sounds like Berkeley.” It certainly was an appealing city.

After the hike, we had lunch at Cheese Board Pizza. It's a pizza collective! It's located in the ironically named "Gourmet Ghetto." They make one type of pizza per day.
After the hike, we had lunch at Cheese Board Pizza. It’s a pizza collective! It’s located in the ironically named “Gourmet Ghetto.” They make one type of pizza per day.
We visited the original Peet's Coffee location.
We visited the original Peet’s Coffee location.
The renowned Chez Panisse is temporarily closed due to fire damage. It's been named one of the top 50 US restaurants for many years. Reservations are always in high demand.
The renowned Chez Panisse is temporarily closed due to fire damage. It’s been named one of the top 50 US restaurants for many years. Reservations are always in high demand.

While in Berkeley, I played an habitual game of “I see black people.” As I take in my surroundings, I scan for others that look like me. It’s a way of quickly assessing just how much I may stand out and the probability of me needing to put on my self-protective armor. I don’t usually think about it much. Like I said, it’s habitual. But, after six months in San Francisco, I do it a lot. It’s not so I can segregate myself from others. I know other people of colors do it too. There is comfort in numbers. Jackie got in on the fun too, pointing out a cute black girl on our hike. I, of course, had seen her long before she neared us. Black-dar? I like when my non-black friends join me in the game. It indicates to me that they understand the crux of the issue or are at least sympathetic. If you’ve never had the experience of being the only obvious minority in a place, it may be hard to understand just how alienating it can feel. Berkeley’s makeup reminded me a lot of San Francisco’s, which is to say, I wasn’t impressed. However, when we crossed over into Oakland, there was a noticeable change in demographics. “I see MANY black people! And a black beauty supply! Hello Yaki!” Jackie grinned at me. Jackie is half-Latina, half-Armenian. Oakland has more than once been named “one of the most diverse metropolitan areas in the US.”

We grabbed drinks at Beer Revolution. Their website boasts: "Only Quality, Non-Mainstream, Beer Is Supported & Served!"
We grabbed drinks at Beer Revolution. Their website boasts: “Only Quality, Non-Mainstream Beer Is Supported & Served!”

After Beer Revolution, we moved on to Heinhold’s where a quartet of locals joined us. (Friendly people? Check!) They had all once lived in San Francisco and didn’t like it. They said it’s full of rich hipsters. Or lame hipsters? Rich, lame hipsters? Either way, hipsters and unpleasant. They were ebullient with their love for Oakland and then realized they might be inadvertently encouraging yet another San Franciscan to invade their city and drive up the rent prices. I told them I wasn’t all that in love with the City and that it wasn’t the same city I first visited over a decade ago. They agreed.

I cannot express how comforting it felt to meet people who weren’t falling all over themselves to praise San Francisco. I felt validated.  I’m getting tired of defending my less-than-excited & surprising even to me, reaction to San Francisco.

Between the acrid reaction I had to my year in San Jose over a decade ago, and my almost daily tension with San Francisco, I was beginning to think I am allergic to the Bay Area. But, my jaunt to the East Bay gave me renewed hope. I am not quite ready to declare an impending move east, though I did feel immediately more comfortable in Oakland. There is still part of me that hopes to find this magical neighborhood in San Francisco that makes me love it and unable to entertain the thought of leaving.

I moved out of Los Angeles, in part, because I felt like my life was stagnating. In San Francisco, I am growing, learning, becoming a stronger person, yadayadayadaimtiredoflifelessons. My life is definitely not stagnant, so the city is giving me what I asked for. As I told Jackie, “I am glad I moved to SF first. Because, if I hadn’t, I know I’d always be wondering what it would have been like.” But, San Francisco better be careful not to push this “growing pains” stuff too far, cause the East Bay is waiting in the wings to swoop in and grab me. And for now, the rent is cheaper over there.

I leave you with a ditty I came up with on a day when I was particularly NOT in love with San Francisco. Forgive the language, I came up with it while in physical discomfort.

Sang to the tune of “The Farmer in the Dell”

It’s always fucking cold,

It’s always fucking cold,

What the hell is wrong with this place?

It’s always fucking cold!

 

A Friending Frenzy

Friendship Knot in Little Tokyo, photo by Sam Howzit, flickr.com
Friendship Knot in Little Tokyo, Los Angeles, photo by Sam Howzit, flickr.com

I’ve been living in San Francisco a little over four months. I had five immediate goals when I arrived:

  1. Unpack box-partment and decorate within six weeks of move in – Did it in five.
  2. Don’t get fired (or maybe it was “do well at work”. Still, end result is, don’t get fired.)– still employed
  3. Find a gym – found
  4. Make friends – well, see…so…but I, err…
  5. Possibly finally trade in bitchy, useless, freeloading, ungrateful second cat.*

 *still debating this one

The sun loooves SoCal!
The sun loooves SoCal!

Numbers 1, 2 and 3 are going well. Number 4 hasn’t been as smooth, which I foolishly did not anticipate. When I moved to San Francisco, I was full of hope and enthusiasm. In just two months, those feelings were replaced by boohoo and what the hell did I do?! Los Angeles was a perfectly fine place with beautiful weather, wearing of open-toed shoes and sleeveless tops almost year around and a world I understand, for good and for bad. I miss my friends, my burger places, Koreatown, ramen, mid-priced quality sushi, seeing and hearing Spanish everywhere, cheaper rent and not sobbing when I write out my rent check and not being the only upwardly mobile black person for miles. So what if I felt suicidal in traffic some days? There are plenty of doctors willing to prescribe me drugs to handle those emotions!

I get asked a lot whether I like it here. Sure, it’s a beautiful city. But so are many others I’ve been to or lived in. What’s got to make San Francisco stand out from the places I’ve lived and visited is the people. My default answer is usually, “I don’t know yet,” and I’ll explain that I’ve found it difficult to meet people. I’m either met with looks of confusion (how is it possible that you don’t love it here?!), nods of understanding and agreement or the not at all novel: “Have you tried meetup?” An L.A. friend who is a former SF resident shared that it can be hard to break into a clique in San Francisco, but once you do, the friendships you make will be more genuine than you’ll find in Los Angeles. That’s…comforting?

Playing Nice

Volunteering a couple of weeks ago, I went out for lunch after with some of the other volunteers. I met a lifelong Bay Area resident who, once I told her I moved here from L.A., delighted in telling me how much she hated SoCal and the people in it. “They’re so fake.” You know how you can talk all kinds of shit about your crazy uncle who wrecks family events on the regular, but let someone outside of the family chime in and you’re cracking your knuckles, ready to throw down? That was me; hiding my hands under the table. can talk shit about L.A. all day. I earned that right as a long-term resident. She, however, visited once or twice and dismissed it. Humph! 

“What are you unsure about?” she asked me.

“Well, it’s supposed to be diverse here, but there are no black people here (I waved my hand around the black-less the restaurant as I said this) and that’s kind of uncomfortable for me.”

I laughed to lighten the weight of my words. Uncomfortable chuckles from the group followed. It’s funny how awkwardly some people react when a minority brings up race, especially blackness. Sometimes I just wanna say, “Blackitty black black afro negro blackish black black blaaaaack. I AM BLACK! Feel better? Now can we move past your discomfort and talk about this?” It’s like they’re afraid you’re gonna know they secretly rap the “n-word” in hip-hop songs when no one black is around. The SoCal-hater had an immediate solution to my discomfort, “It’s plenty diverse here. Just go to the Tenderloin. Ha!” I thought to myself, “Did this chick really just tell me to go to the Tenderloin to see black people? The Tenderloin where everyone warns you away from due to the huge likelihood of being asked repeatedly for money, seeing someone pooping on the sidewalk or seeing a drug deal go down, Tenderloin? Does she think it feels good for my soul to see downtrodden black people?”

I told her, “Yeahhhh, there’s that…but, I think we have different interests.” This dumb, clueless chick. Diversity isn’t just about counting numbers of people of the same group. How well are those people represented and integrated among the population being measured? I just can’t with her foolishness. But, when meeting new people it’s better just to grin and bear it, put on your happy face and complain to your out-of-town friends about her flippant tone. I don’t tell her I’ve heard complaints that San Franciscans can be snooty and pretentious and that her bitchery isn’t helping to disprove that stereotype. Be nice now, save Keisha Fierce for later. 

Guerilla Socializing

MWF Seeking BFF - reading this reminded me just how much I appreciate the wonderful friends I have
MWF Seeking BFF – reading this reminded me just how much I appreciate the wonderful friends I d0 have

In response to one of my posts a few weeks ago, a blog reader suggested I check out Rachel Bertsche’s blog (thanks!), which led me to her book: MWF Seeking BFF (I recommend it if you’re in the friend-shopping business). In the non-fiction book, Rachel is a late twenty-something relatively new to Chicago, having moved there to be with her husband. Upon realizing she’s lonely and lacking in close girlfriends, she vows to go on one new friend date a week for a year. Throughout the book she details – often hilariously – the women she meets and their dates. Interspersed throughout the book are interesting friendship factoids and tidbits such as: “minorities are more open to friends outside their race than white people are” (ch. 7). Did I mention that San Francisco is almost 50% white? Oh, this will be fun. Good thing SF has a large Asian population and a smaller Latino population!

A co-worker moved here a little under two years ago. She told me that while she’s met people through activities here and there, she hasn’t yet found anyone that she’d call up for last-minute plans or to confide in. That’s…sad, and unacceptable for me. Another couple of women told me they felt it took them three to four years (one said six!) to feel they had a good circle of friends and felt comfortable here. Ain’t nobody got time for all that! I know there are other places where the weather is warmer and so are the personalities of the residents.

Inspired by Rachel Bertsche’s tenacity and my own rebellious nature that refuses to accept it taking years to find good friends, I decided it’d be fun to see just how many friends I can amass in a year. If I make it a competition (with myself), it’ll be more thrilling. Because, trying to make new friends once you’re out of school, is not really a joyride. Once it becomes a conscious effort it becomes work, especially when you’re seeking to create a social circle you don’t have. When you’re hoping to meet at least one person to be the Gayle to your Oprah (or better yet a Blanche, Sophia, Dorothy, Rose quad!), you’re putting in work!

I’ve been friending my ass off. Well, maybe not friending as much as meeting-new-people my ass off. I was out socializing five out of seven days last week and I had a couple of moments of fun, but mostly it was work.  Last week alone I met or re-met so many new people I was exhausted come Thursday and I wasn’t even done! Sunday was my day of rest, cocooning in my box-partment. The groundwork I laid a couple of months ago is finally paying off. When I started my job, I made it a point to eat lunch with people I want to get to know at least twice a week. Every meeting is a chance to show off my stunning personality. People need to know what richness they are missing.

At a work Valentine’s Day party, we had to meet at least one new person to be allowed to enter the raffle. I used it as an opportunity to speed meet people. People are starting to wave and smile at me in the halls! I’ve even gotten a few lunch invites. Unexpectedly, a co-worker, L –  with whom I’ve rarely interacted except during a training class and a few run-ins in the kitchen – invited me to happy hour last Thursday. My first happy hour invite! I could have cried. I double-checked the IM to see if she really meant to send it to me and not someone else. She meant me!  At happy hour, K, with whom I’ve gone to lunch once and was also in training with me and L, told me, “I loved how during training you told HR “no” when they asked if we thought the training was helpful. That was awesome! You go, girl.” L, the girl who invited me, nodded in agreement. Yep, that’s me: no bullshit. This no-bullshitter could be your friend!

A few weeks ago, I joined a women’s group that helps connect women looking to build female friendships. I’ve been to a couple of small events and met some cool women. A few of them have given me their phone numbers and invited me out outside of the group – unprompted. If I were a straight dude, I’d really be feeling myself. I’m getting those digits! I also joined an adventure group that seems promising. My calendar is slowly filling up again.

coffeeOne of the new women I’ve met asked me to go for coffee sometime. Coffee is not an activity, it’s a beverage. It’s the means to a caffeinated end. Why coffee? Why not drinks? I’m skeptical when people suggest going out to drink beverages and the beverages don’t include at least the option of alcohol. Recovering alcoholics get a pass. But, I’m wary people who don’t drink because they just don’t drink. I don’t drink anywhere near as much as I did in college or in my mid-20s when I was trying out every single club in L.A., but that party girl is still in there. She’s lying dormant, judging my more sober lifestyle, my “please God don’t let my friend have her birthday party at a bar-ness” and old lady o’clock bedtime. But, she’s ready to get the party started if the moment presents itself. It’s fine though, as the intro to MWF mentions, there are different types of friendships and they are all valuable. Maybe she’ll be my friend I do healthy, productive stuff with. Like I’ve said before, friendless beggars can’t be too choosy. 

At the same volunteer event where I met the snooty, clueless girl, I met A. I liked A right away. She was warm, lively and very sharp. When we talked about diversity in San Francisco she passionately said, “Oh, it’s bull! Everyone talks about how many Latinos are here, but they’re all Mexican. I’m from Central America. I’m from the East Coast where there are people from different Latin countries all over the place. And the food? I can’t get good Central American food to save my life! My boyfriend’s family has lived in the Mission for generations and the techies with money are probably going to price them out.” She worked in youth outreach in Bayview-Hunter’s Point and has seen first hand just how segregated and economically lopsided this city can be. With each word, I swooned. She gets it! She gets me. We exchanged numbers and email addresses. A few days later, I emailed her offering to grab a drink (with alcohol) or dinner. It’s been a month and she hasn’t replied. Maybe I scared her off? Maybe she thinks I’m a lesbian, read my email and thought, “Oh hell no!” Or maybe she’d rather go out for coffee? Can’t win ’em all. 

Who Will Stand Under My Umbrella (ella, ella)?

I'm not giving away any friendship bracelets just yet.  Photo by ilovememphis, flickr.com
I’m not giving away any friendship bracelets just yet. Photo by ilovememphis, flickr.com

All the people I’ve met have been nice, but as Rachel said in her book’s introduction, “I can be nice, but I don’t want nice friends. I want funny, gregarious, sarcastic and smart friends.“ To that I’d add: socially conscious, opinionated, adventurous and easy going. If you’re a pop culture fan we’ll probably be insta-besties. My ninth grade English teacher lectured “nice” out of our arsenal of adjectives. And she was right too: nice is fucking boring. However, I know it can take time for some people to warm up, chill and let their good crazy show. I am learning to be patient. 

I haven’t yet hit that pivotal moment of friendship with anyone, when you crossover from perfunctory greetings and awkward small talk to this is my homegirl, ride or die. You’ve heard of Bonnie & Clyde? We’re Bonnie and Bonnie! Psychologists call it: self-disclosure. I can vividly remember those tipping points in many of my cherished friendships. You feel all warm and fuzzy and bubble up with joy around your buddy. It’s a wonderful feeling. I can’t wait to experience it again. 

Despite this not being the smoothest transition, I’m glad I moved here. Shaking things up is healthy. I’ve amped up my friendmaking ventures. I am meeting people, I’m not exactly having fun yet, but it’s gotta pay off at some point. I eagerly await the moment when I can rush up to a new friend and say, “You will not believe what just happened to me! I couldn’t wait to tell you about it!”   

New City, No New Friends

Friendship meaning

I forgot how hard it is to move to a new city where you know virtually no one. It’s my sixth time doing this. I think it gets harder each time.

When I moved to Los Angeles years and years ago I dreamed about the fabulous life I’d have hobnobbing with celebrities, meeting other actors, falling in love with my hot male castmates in all the leading roles I’d get and generally just living a flyass life. None of that happened. The closest I came to meeting a celebrity that early on was during planning for a charity event. We were looking for star power to amp up the interest; someone offered, “My friend is friends with Ryan Seacrest. Maybe we could get him to host?” At the time, Seacrest was a drivetime DJ for Star 98.7 in L.A.. He declined the offer. The next year, he signed on as host of American Idol; of course he wasn’t going to host our rinky-dink, ill-planned, never-happened charity event.

I threw myself into friend-making in Los Angeles. I met some weird people the first couple of years. I attached myself to a social butterfly through a women’s group I found. She knew a lot of people, was exceedingly outgoing and talked a lot about things that were foreign to me yet intriguing like reiki and chakras. But, not too long after I met her, I found her “crazy”. (Everyone has something “crazy” about them, it’s just a matter of deciding if you can deal with their brand of crazy.) She hooked up with the boyfriend of the sister of a friend (got that?). When confronted about her trifling behavior, she said, “I am friends with her, not her sister, so I have no loyalty to her sister.” This was my first encounter with “LA Logic”:  basically it’s illogical, full of specious arguments, but allows one to justify behaving like an asshole. I, and the friend believe(d): you hurt people I love, you hurt me. I also soon realized she was a bit of a flake, a wee bit too new-agey for me and always seemed to have a relationship with a “soulmate.” Problem is she seemed to have a new soulmate every few months. After a while, I stopped caring about her latest soulmate, how she finally found love and how her life was now complete. Oh and she might move to another state to be with the latest one! She was like a starter friend. A friend to help make the transition easier, show you around, introduce you to other new people and generally make your new home a little less lonely. Then as time passes, you gradually part ways. I would like to skip over the starter friend phase here in San Francisco and just find friends.

One year early on in elementary school, I was transferred to a new class for the “gifted and talented.” (I know they meant well, but how the heck does that make the kids feel who aren’t in those classes? Slow and awkward?) One of the popular girls in class invited me to her birthday slumber party. My life was made. At that early age I was already strategically navigating my social life. I figured if I could get in with her and be entertaining at this party, I would be guaranteed invites to the other kids’ birthday parties. I really wanted everyone to like me. We had a great time at the party. People laughed at my jokes. The next morning the birthday girl said to me, “Keisha, you are fun! I want to have you at every birthday party!” Who was the winner? The winner was me. I had this. I would be popular. A couple of months later, my family left New York for the promise of a safer life in Georgia. All that work and I had to start all over again. Sigh.

I’ve been in San Francisco for two months now and I have no friends. Now that I’m no longer spending my weekends getting my apartment together, I have time to think about this. Zero. Zip. No click for anybody to fuck with. Okay fine, I have one friend. But she’s busy, she has a man, her family lives here and I don’t want to attach myself to her like a canker sore. “Take me wherever you go. Don’t leave me! I’ll make you feel pain!” I’m a big girl, I can fend for myself. But, it’s lonely. I spend too much time with one of my cats (the other one is a useless, skittish, waste of fur and cuteness). A few weeks ago, I was taking a bath. I never take baths. I am not that wine, bubbles, soak, cucumbers-on-sockets, bathtub-time girl. I like showers; no sitting in my filth. This cat I’ve had for 10 years has only seen me take a bath a few times, so when I hopped in a tub full of water, he was curious. I watched him pace around the tub examining the water and the bubbles, reaching up to peer into the tub. He looked at me as if to ask, “Is okay I jump?” “No, kitty, no jump.” I could just imagine the ensuing hilarious hijinks once he realized he was voluntarily in a tub full of water. If by “hilarious” you understand I mean “a naked, painful, mauling by cat incident.” He didn’t jump in. But, the fact that he thought about it led me to the conclusion that he and I are spending too much time together. He’d probably be speaking English and quoting rap lyrics along with me if his mouth could form the words.

I network. I smile at (almost) everyone, including the guards at all the banks in the financial district on my way to work. I’m probably now on some government watch list. People who case banks for robberies probably act all friendly and shit. One guy likes it though. He always gives me a big grin and a “hi” now. Weekdays, people in the financial district brisk their way down the street like work drones. No smiles, no stopping to look at the architecture, no flashdancing; just singular focus on getting to work. Why? The office ain’t going anywhere. Sometimes I like to smile widely at people just to throw them off. Yeah, I smiled at you. Boo! h

I’ve no problem doing things solo. But, I prefer for that to be a choice, not the default option because I have no others. Last week, when my hormones decided to hijack my brain, I had a mini meltdown. I saw a posting for an event I would have loved to attend: SantaCon. People dress up in Santa suits and go pub crawling. How awesome.is.that?! Then I realized I had no one to go with (let alone a Santa suit just hanging around) and I threw a fit…to myself. I have no friends to throw a fit to. Now I have to wait another 362 days before SantaCon rolls around again. I better have some Santa-suit-wearing, pub-crawl-loving friends by then. I do not want to spend another SantaCon weekend Michelle Tannering it: “This is nooo fun, noooo fun, looking at the waaaallllll.”

Ask anyone how you make friends outside of school and they’ll say: “Join a church group!” “Have you heard of meetup.com (as if this is 2005 and a revolutionary idea)?” “Take a class!” “Make friends at work!” Always said with exclamatory enthusiasm.

I don’t go to church. I’m not going to church. So, that’s out.

I’ve joined a shit ton of meetup groups. I’m not sold on meetup.com though. In L.A., I attended a few meetup groups. I met a few people who ensured I would be scared to go to another meetup again. You know the type: no social skills, weird ticks, creepily interested in you and every detail of your life, or the gross guy who is clearly there trolling for women. You’re at a women’s brunch, mofo, why are you here? Perhaps SF meetup-ers are of the more uncreepy variety? We’ll see.

I started taking a Spanish class a few weeks ago. For myself. I am tired of being a monolingual American. Bonus if I meet people. It’s a group class for up to eight people. As luck would have it, there are me and two other girls in the class. Just three people. Girls. I specify girls because a question I’m frequently asked by inquiring friends (in other cities!) is, “Have you met/seen/smelled any hot guys there?” No/No/No.

Work is…cliquey. I’m sure people don’t mean act as such, but they are not exactly inclusive. I bet karma is behind it, cackling at my plight.  The bitch. I am told I was in a clique at my last job. It wasn’t on purpose; I promise! I am proactive. I have targeted a few lucky people that I have decided I want to be my friends. They are people that I have or will ask to lunch or potentially smile at too often, making them think the new girl is creepy. Nope, the new girl just has no friends. One of my younger sisters said to me with 95% seriousness, “Keisha, you’re pretty, who wouldn’t want to be friends with you?” Ha! No one can blow smoke up your bum and make you feel momentarily less like a loser than a sister or a good frie…awwww (tear).

I just want a buddy.
I just want a buddy.

I’ve made progress! Last Friday in the kitchen at work, I ran into one of the girls that is actually outwardly friendly to me. She asked me if I had any plans for the weekend. My response: “I don’t really have any plans because I don’t have any friends here yet.” Why lie? She took pity on me, having been new in SF once herself, and invited me out. Last Saturday night, I actually had legit plans with someone who lives in this city. It turned out to be a pretty good-sized group, so I met a few new people. I had a great time! I danced, I drank, I friended my ass off. Now I await their verdict. Am I cool enough to be asked out again? I can’t seem too eager, but I can’t play it too cool. It’s elementary school all over again.

I’m on my way. I’ll get there. I’ll find my buddies. Getting there is the hard part. When I do finally have friends I think I may allow myself one really good Sally Field Oscar moment (“They like me! They really like me!”) and then dorkshame myself.

If you know of anyone who lives here whose personality you think would mesh well with mine, feel free to send ‘em my way. Yes, that is how desperate I am. I am trolling for friends on my blog which is read by people from the United States to countries I’ve never even heard of but am now intrigued to visit.

The Great San Francisco Apartment Hunt Continued

Two weekends ago I began The Great San Francisco Apartment Hunt. I’m leaving sunny (and sometimes downright hot as hell) Los Angeles for foggy San Francisco in search of a less trafficky-lifestyle (and thus reducing the chances that I commit a road rage-induced homicide or suicide). I also wanted an escape from gaggles of women who speak with a Kardashian-perfected vocal fry, ending declarative statements with like, a questioning, inflection? Who spend more time talking about their manicures and expensive designer handbags than the current Presidential election.

The “why L.A. is making me grossly unhappy” list is a lot longer, but again, I’ll save that for another post.

Having had not much luck the first search (that kiss-ass girl with the yappy dog got the apartment in the Marina, boohiss!), I flew up this weekend armed with a new strategy and attitude: I’m here to find a place and I will cut a bitch for an apartment. My Asian-American friend (why I’m mentioning her ethnicity will become clear shortly), V-, who is also lucky enough to be looking for an apartment, suggested we create bios. For all my moral grandstanding and highfalutin’ attitude I was willing to amp up my sales tactics to secure an apartment.

I created a flyer, hoping a photo of two cute kitties and my obvious pandering for sympathy due to our impending homelessness would soften the hearts of sittin’ pretty managers and agents.

Finding an apartment to rent in San Francisco is harder than finding a job! | Read More on The Girl Next Door is Black in "The Great San Francisco Apartment Hunt"
You know you want to rent to us 

V- and I met up for an early breakfast at Golden Coffee Shop to power up for the serious business of the day. I was armed with the listings for seven open houses, three of which started at 11am. Do I look like I can be at three places at one time? What is up with 11am?

I asked my friend, “How many Blasian friendships do you think there are in San Francisco? I mean if we go to open houses together with our ‘we are the world’ friendship, that should help us stand out more, right?” As awesome as trading on our beautiful Blasian friendship sounded, we both had open houses to see in different parts the city. I did, however, join her for one open house at 9am.

We took a taxi to Noe Valley, as we’d lost time by getting on a BART train going in the wrong direction (the joys of being a city newb). Our taxi driver was quite chatty and upon finding out we are relocating to SF, informed us that the rents are steep (what? no way!) and asked if we’d considered the East Bay? What about Oakland?

My brain heard: “You won’t be able to find an apartment in the city!” Why do so many people seem to think I should give up before I even start? Sounds like a…CHALLENGE! A challenge I accept!

The apartment was on the bottom level of a Skittles-purple Victorian-style duplex with pink trim. An “in-law” unit, they call it. It was carpeted (blech) and on the darker-side due to its near-subterranean location; a place well-suited for a vampire. If I thought Ian Somerhalder might visit me there, I’d have applied.

The owner seemed stunned when my friend, after looking around and asking a few questions, said a quick “Thanks,” indicating she was done and not interested. Yeah, that’s right, SHE turned YOU down, buddy. The listing had “charming” in the title. We should have known. She said ultimately it bothered her that the manager would be living right above her.

We parted ways and I killed time at a Noe Valley Starbucks while I waited for an 11am open house nearby. While there I spotted more baby strollers and mini-people (you might call them toddlers) than I see in a year in L.A. (I’m convinced children are zapped when they try to enter urban L.A., ’cause they are a rare sight.)

The clientele was mostly white. It reminded me of Santa Monica: clean, yuppie-tastic, populated by people with punty-dogs, teeming with families and monochromatic.

Finding an apartment to rent in San Francisco is probably harder than finding a job! | Read more on The Girl Next Door is Black from "The Great San Francisco Apartment Hunt"
Noe Valley, photo by flippinyank on flickr.com

 

I loved the apartment I saw at the open house. 750sqft., lots of light, beautiful new hardwood floors, balconies, a bedroom that didn’t double as a cave, and parking for a small additional amount. I was second to arrive after a white guy who appeared to be in his late 30s. I looked at him and thought: stability.

When I met the manager, I was secretly thrilled to see that he was a black man. Generally, I don’t try to cash in on shared ethnicity, but all most bets were off during the hunt. Sometimes it can work against you if you encounter a self-hating Negro who wants nothing to do with you and your Negroness. I thought I had an in until the stable white guy said, “So, my partner and I…” Dammit, he’s gay! And I’m pretty sure the manager is gay. Gay trumps black! Gah!!! Go away with your stability and your black-trumping card!

I amped up the charm and told the manager I’d love to apply and tried to hand him my carefully compiled application packet, with fancy bio, but he turned his nose up at it. “I’m sure you can understand that we’d prefer to have tenants fill out consistent applications.” Well, I, understand that. Tell that to your comrades who seem to foist all the legwork on their potential residents.

This was apartment choice #1.

I then had to cab it a couple of miles north and west, for an 11:45am showing. I arrived early and took a short stroll around the neighborhood. My assessment? These motherfuckers are rich. What the hell am I doing here? By 11:45 there was a crowd outside the building where the OH was scheduled. %#^#$*%#^& Where did these assholes come from? There were a few single folks and two couples. Oh lord, now I’m competing against people with TWO incomes?

I liked this apartment too: a 1-bedroom, corner unit, lots of light as it faces south, and…and…and a WASHER AND DRYER IN THE UNIT! The only downside? It’s a junior 1-bedroom, meaning the bedroom fits a bed and not much else. I’d emailed the listing agent beforehand, including a little jazzy info about myself and my moxie. She replied the morning of and directed me to download her company’s application.

Unfortunately, no one has invented a printer that prints from thin air, so I didn’t have time to print the app. Instead, I handed her my rental packet of winning and she smiled and said, “Oh, how cute is this?” Noticing the cats: “Oh they are so cute!”

The 20-something girl in front of me, trying to shoehorn her way into my performance time, gave me a look of death. Yeah, bitch, I did that! Whachu got? From the looks of her bare hands – nothing. I thanked the listing agent and moved on to the next, shooting daggers of hate at the vultures congregating outside the building. This was apartment choice #2.

Finding an apartment to rent in San Francisco is probably harder than finding a job! | Read more on The Girl Next Door is Black from "The Great San Francisco Apartment Hunt"
Homes in this neighborhood are valued in the millions.

A few open houses later, I had applied for two apartments, opened up a P.O. Box where I could forward my mail in case I am still homeless by the time I move up. I felt dejected and in great need of some spirits. I sat on the bus feeling sorry for myself and wondered just how far I am willing to debase myself to find an apartment in this city. However, I didn’t have much of an opportunity to wallow as I was more entertained by the antics of others on the bus.

An older, molestor-looking gentleman, boarded the bus with a white cat in a fabric carrier, who was howling, “Goddamit asshole, let me out of this before I scratch the crap of you!” I’d howl too if my owner sat his molester-looking self down and put a duffel bag on top of my carrier, essentially smushing my mid-section. A hipster girl sitting beside me looked apoplectic and whispered to me, “That poor cat.” To my other side, an adorable 6-month old babbled in-between cat howling.

On a second bus – I had to transfer – I overheard the following conversation between two men whom I was scared to look at due to the content of their chat:

Man 1: “Man, you ain’t go to worry about it. Just pee on anything!”

Man 2: “But…”

Man 1: “No man, just pee on anything! A stick, a piece of paper, a bag of chips…”

Man 2: “But, I walked in and he said, ‘I am not your parole officer.'”

Man 1: “Man, fuck that. Those POs are all the same. Assholes.”

Thank you, sketchy gentlemen who have parole officers for reasons I don’t want to find out, for keeping me from spiraling into an apartment hunting depression. I returned home to Los Angeles and the obsessive checking of my email and phone began.

—-

Update: Ladies and gentleman, I am happy to announce that I was offered an apartment in the city of San Francisco. Not East Bay, not even Oakland, but in actual San Francisco. This will soon be my living room. Challenge complete!

Finding an apartment to rent in San Francisco is almost harder than finding a job! | Read more on The Girl Next Door is Black in "The Great San Francisco Apartment Hunt"
My new living room! Look at all that light!

The Great San Francisco Apartment Hunt

I’m relocating from Los Angeles to San Francisco imminently. Bye, Los Angeles. It’s been…well, I’ll save the “sentiments” for another post.

This past weekend I flew up to the Bay to scout apartments, hoping to find a place before I officially move up. What a freaking mess it is up there! It’s not apartment hunting, it’s a cattle battle and the winner gets a drastically overpriced apartment fit for an oompa loompa and oompa loompa-sized furniture.

FInding an apartment in San Francisco is sometimes harder than finding a job! | Read more on The Girl Next Door is Black from "The Great San Francisco Apartment Hunt"
photo by idleformat on flickr.com

Here’s how it works:

  1. You check Craigslist maniacally – because Craigslist is really the only way to find a place – looking for a listing that fits your criteria: clean, pet-friendly, not in crackhead row, no gross carpet from the ’60s because you’re a hardwood floor snob and large enough for the harem of men you plan to acquire
  2. Many landlords and rental agents hold open houses. Silly me, I thought open houses were for HOUSES. As in, I’m ballin’ and I’m going to buy property in one of the most expensive-ass cities in the world. Nope. Open house is where you and 20 other desperate mofos pile into a clown-car apartment and compete to see who gets to stay for good
  3. If there isn’t an open house scheduled, you email the decider about your interest and hope for a response. When you don’t get a reply after 10 different emails, you begin to wonder if you’d have better success if you said your name is Sally instead of Keisha. Then you think to yourself, “Don’t go there. They are probably just REALLY busy.” Right, that’s it.
  4. Landlords in SF have it easy. A Craigslist listing might read: “This 400sq ft. studio is on the bottom level of a decaying building. The unit gets no light so if you have SAD this isn’t for you because you’ll be more sad. Hope you like insects. Roaches live here too. They have a basketball league. There’s a murder every other day in the neighborhood, but not directly in front of the building. This charming place is a steal at $3250 per month! Open house scheduled from 11 – 11:06am on Saturday morning SHARP. Bring your pay stubs from the past 10 years, a credit report from 10 different agencies, your dental records, 4x the monthly rent for a deposit and the name of your first-born child whom you haven’t given birth to yet. Oh and you’re desperate so bring your own damned rental application. We ain’t got time to be printing out sheets of paper.” You read it and think, “This is great! It doesn’t say anything about mice or rats. That’s my deal breaker!”
  5. If you apply (often along with an application fee of at least $25), you then wait on pins and needles with hope that you’ll get a callback. It’s worse than waiting for a guy you like to call you. Instead of: “Why hasn’t he callllllled meeee? I thought we had a connectiiiiooooon?” It’s “Why haven’t they called meeeee?! I thought we had a connectiiiioooonnn? I don’t want to live in crackhead roooooooow!”

The first apartment I visited was in the Marina, apparently otherwise known as the neighborhood where former frat boys and sorority girls go to live out their fratty / sorory post-collegiate life. Not my preference in neighbors as I can imagine it just means having to hear the 2012 version of the Dave Mathews Band, Gnarls Barkley or Gotye played on repeat until I want to kill every member of said band.

When I arrived at the building, no one else was there and I thought, “Yes! I am first. I will meet the landlord, charm the pants off him (and maybe add him to my harem if I like what I see) and I will get this bitch!” That is until an attractive young couple showed up. I resisted the urge to mean mug them. I’m generally a nice person, but when presented with a competition, my baser instincts kick in.

“Is this the open house?” the girl asked me. I’m thinking, “Bitch, do you really think I want to help you out?! This ain’t friendly neighbor time. I’m about to cut you for this place I haven’t even seen yet!”  Instead I said crisply, “Yes.”

Then another young woman and her mother showed up. Motherf… Finally, the landlord arrived, all smiles, because what does he have to worry about? He’s in the power position.

Inside, the apartment is small, but it receives lots of light. The hardwood floors are newer, and although the kitchen is practically on top of the living room, the countertops are granite and it’s in a clean, quiet neighborhood. I decided to apply.

I chatted with the landlord for a bit as he grilled me about my qualifications, “Where are you working? What do you do? Why are you moving from Los Angeles? Is your cat neutered?” During our conversation, another competitor showed up. This time a young woman with whimsy that I immediately found a turn off because I could tell she was there to kiss ass.

And kiss ass she did: “Oh, hello Jonathan. I’m Kelly. We spoke on the phone. I love this, ohmigod. I’m going to apply. I have a dog. Do you want to meet him? He’s outside. He’s so cute. You’ll love him! He does tricks!” Girl, stop. I see right through you and your dog is not that cute. Not cuter than my cat! I turned in my application and left.

I’d seen one place and was already exhausted and feeling dejected by the process. But, I’d made a goal to see at least six apartments that weekend and had at least four other open houses to attend. Well, that plan didn’t work out so well.

My POS phone died. Without Google Maps, I didn’t know where the hell I was going. So, I had to make a trip to my hotel to charge it meaning I had to miss an open house. But, it’s okay; I’m pretty sure it was smack in the middle of Homicideville. The price was way too good and the listing used “charming” to describe the unit one too many times. I told myself to buck up. People do find homes here and there’s no reason I shouldn’t be one of them. I later drowned my worries in a few pints.

That weekend I saw apartments in the Marina, The Mission and Noe Valley
and I applied for all three. I didn’t even bother to step inside one in the Civic Center, the street just looked like one of death’s hangouts.

The last one in The Mission was perfect, but the agent said the owner would prefer no pets. I told him, “Ah yes, but my cats are really sweet and very well-trained.” He looked skeptical. I blame irresponsible pet owners for the bad reputation cats and dogs get. Some of us do have well-behaved animals that don’t rip places to shreds.

I don’t have high hopes for that one, as beautiful as it was.

Finding an apartment in San Francisco is almost as difficult as finding a job! | Read more on The Girl Next Door is Black from "The Great San Francisco Apartment Hunt"
Look how cute we are! We make great tenants!

It’s Monday and I haven’t heard a peep from the owners of the apartments I liked. I even pestered followed up with one via email to see if he’d made a decision yet. No reply. I have a lot of packing to do and I hope I don’t have to fly up again this weekend to apartment hunt.

I don’t want to live in the East Bay. I am moving to San Francisco to have a short commute and experience the joys of walking instead of watching my ass spread as I spend hours driving in my car – among other reasons for the move. I definitely do not want to live in the South Bay. I’ve been there, done that and hated it. If I don’t find something before d-day, the kitties and I will either be on the street, secretly living under my desk at the new job or living in $4000/month temporary housing. Joy! Say a little prayer for me.

Update: Read The Great San Francisco Apartment Hunt Continued