In which my recent media choices of a movie and two books review mine and my husband’s decision to relocate to California.
The day after we got married, my husband flew to the Bay Area to interview with different companies for a new job. Three weeks he had an offer, and we celebrated by going out to dinner and toasting to his successful job hunt. The next day, we had to put my cat down, who I’d had for 18 years. The next week, we were in San Francisco scouring Craigslist ads for a suitable place to live. We ruled out the Tenderloin; too many needles. We found a place in South of Market, (SoMa) a block from my husband’s new job. We returned to Colorado to pack; husband would be there for one more week before he had to return to Cali to begin his job, leaving me in Colorado to finish packing and moving.
During that week, while in a Henry Fonda kind of mood, we decided to watch Grapes of Wrath. I hadn’t seen it since high school, and it’s questionable as to whether or not I actually saw it or just slept through the movie, figuring that having read the book was enough.
There Ain’t No Work
In Grapes of Wrath, the Joad family et. al. move from Oklahoma to California. They load about 12 or 13 people onto an old truck they call a jalopy and drive west. Along the way, they face some challenges, and Pa Joad dies. He’s buried on the side of the road, and the Joad family powers on. Once in California, though, they struggle to find work. Owners constantly work to undercut wages, and there’s so much competition for work—any work—that if you protest what you’re making, you can easily be replaced with the next poor soul. There’s no clear resolution, as the movie ends with the family still poor and un- or underemployed, driving their jalopy around the state looking for work.
As we watched the film, I checked with my husband: You did get an official offer, right? We’re not going to show up and they won’t have a job?
Yes dear, I have a signed employment agreement.
I was still nervous, seeing similarities between us and the Joads. You see, we also had a jalopy.
Ours was a 1991 Honda Accord with 320,000+ miles. Though we probably weren’t going to bring it with us. It likely wouldn’t pass a vehicle inspection in California, as the car was missing a muffler, had at least three major cracks in the windshield, sometimes locked when turning left, had 80% of its door handles, weakly squirted windshield wiper fluid to wipers that floppily smeared the fluid across the windshield, and the back hatch was only able to stay open by propping up a ski pole (a legit Colorado solution to many problems), as the hydraulic arm had stopped working several owners earlier. The radio would come on about once a quarter and play static for 10 seconds, then turn off again, the antenna made a horrific noise each time the car started or was turned off, and the windows mostly went up and down, but the driver’s side window would sometimes revolt.
Unrelated to its performance, the car came with a Smurfs cassette tape, which included such classics as Smurfin’ All Around The World and Smurf Rodeo. We never listened to it since the cassette player didn’t work either.
The car ran, though, thanks to good engineering by Honda, a dedicated mechanic who insisted that 320K miles was “…only breaking it in!”, and my husband’s superstition that fixing anything cosmetic would cause something important and expensive, like a timing belt, to break. Although the car ran, it looked a bit of a mess from hail damage, snow, ice, and a hard-lived life. But it was our jalopy, and we cared about that car. Pragmatically, though, even if we could get our jalopy to the state of California, it would be hard to park in our new neighborhood, the insurance payment would increase, and it likely would be stolen (it was easy to break into), as cars are not uncommonly stolen in San Francisco for their ability to aid and abet criminals as easy getaway vehicles. We didn’t want our car to fall into a life of crime, so we weren’t going to bring it.
But still, the Joads had us worried: Maybe it was a bad idea for us, a family with a jalopy to our names and dreams of working in Califo’nya to give up stable jobs and a home and move everything somewhere else? Was this movie a subliminal bad omen? We decided it was a different enough economy from the depression that we’d risk it. Also, we had a signed contract for employment for at least one of us, and we weren’t taking the jalopy.
Once we were in S.F., I decided one of the important things to do was to get a library card. I walked to the main library, which also happened to be the closest one, and got my library card the same day. Without proof of residency, which I’d forgotten at home, I was only allowed to check out one book at a time, but I was happy. I had a library card and access to a real library! I’d been living in a small town so long, I’d forgotten the wonder a big library brings. So many options! So many authors! I settled on one of my favorites, Laurie Notaro, and used my one book limit on her book “There’s a (Slight) Chance I Might Be Going to Hell.” On a personal level, I thought there also might be a slight chance I might go to hell due to some shenanigans I’ve gotten up to at different points in life.
The book opens with her prodding a dumpster looking for cardboard boxes to use to pack up her home in Arizona and move to a small university town in the Pacific North West–Spaulding, Washington *coughEugene,Oregoncough*. (Despite Notaro insisting that the town described is nothing like Eugene, OR—where she actually does live—it absolutely is like Eugene, and her characterizations are spot on.)
Her descriptions of packing boxes and the endless piles of things that needed to go into boxes rang sharp, having gone through that process only weeks ago. I empathized with wondering where the hell things kept appearing from—do I really have this much stuff? Where did this new pile of things come from? Haven’t I packed enough?!
Once moved, she experienced the difficulties of making new friends in a new city where you don’t quite fit in. In Spaulding, they all aggressively recycle and compost. I, too, am facing this challenge in a city that’s beating all other major cities in the world for its recycling efforts. I’ve never had this many recycling options before! And now we’re composting, too! We got ourselves our own mini-composting trash can.
At a party hosted by her husband’s boos, she gets stuck in a too-small-at-the-neck sweater and scrapes her forehead trying to get the sweater off. Unfortunately, the party is at her husband’s boss’s house, and everyone accidentally walks in on her as her shirt is above her head, belly exposed. Her embarrassment is palpable. Though not in front of an audience, I, too, have scraped parts of my forehead trying to extract myself from sweaters and jackets that were perfectly suited for my neck, but too small for my head! The similarities were uncanny.
She then joined a beauty pageant to make friends, which I can’t really see myself doing. Granted, I’m not yet desperate for friends, so I suppose I may surprise myself, but most of the beauty pageants around here seem to be for drag queens. Having seen the drag queens here, I already know I cannot compete, as their high heel game is on point and mine is stubbornly not. I don’t need to break an ankle to make friends. At least not yet.
I take comfort in telling myself that if my life continues mimicking Laurie Notaro’s book, at least I’ll be laughing a lot, because the woman is hilarious.
“[Company] is disrupting [industry]!” (Fill in the blanks)
Before a flight from SFO to Denver, I picked up a copy of “Disrupted,” by Dan Lyons. At 51, he joins a start-up in Boston after years of reporting on the state of things in the tech industry. He’s old enough, and was reporting on it while it was all happening, to have seen the build-up and subsequent burst of the first dot com bubble. But as a victim of the decline of newspapers (he’d worked for Newsweek, which used to be one of my favorites), he’s forced to find a job as a marketer at a tech company: HubSpot.
I’d heard of HubSpot!—and had my own opinions on it. Dan’s book didn’t dispel any of those opinions, and humorously explored the fish-out-of-water feeling he had working in a company with so many young people. Not just young, but white, college-educated, peppy people who he described as having just stepped out of a J. Crew catalog. I, too, have heard of J. Crew!
While talking about his time at HubSpot, Lyons also discusses the state of tech startups as a whole, the investment, valuation, and IPO-ing process. He mentions DreamForce, Salesforce’s annual conference, which had only wrapped up in San Francisco the week before I picked up his book. He discussed the tech culture of brogrammers, sexual harassment, and the financial success of some people even when a startup goes out of business. He mentions the Millennial coddling–nap pods, ping pong tables, walls of candy, and endless snacks. Just like HubSpot, my husband’s job also has a candy wall! But Lyons’ outlook is a bit grim. To him, it feels like it did before the first dot com bubble burst, only this time, these overvaluations and IPOs-before-profiting can’t continue, and it’s all going to come crashing down at some point. The book was published in spring of 2016.
The people, places, and behaviors he mentions and mocks in his book aren’t abstractions; I live there! The businesses he mentions are all around me. If it all comes crashing down, we’ll be at ground zero for the crash. “What have we done?” I started asking myself again. We’ve now moved to Califo’nya (sans jalopy) to work at a startup, which, if you believe Lyons, may be overvalued, not making a profit, and could go under if the right investor were to swoop in or out. What are we doing?!
At least the food in San Francisco is really good.