Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Fear The Heat

In June, I wrote a blog entry about whether severe weather should be a deal breaker in choosing a geographical mate. I was in Arkansas at the time, and hail storms were the big story.

Seeing hail damage everywhere, I wondered if I could handle living in a place with baseball-sized hail. Then I wondered if every place you go simply has its own mix of natural disasters. California, after all, is known for earthquakes, wildfires and mudslides. Isn't that just as dangerous?

Well, the question has finally been settled. A new study by the University of South Carolina has compared all natural disasters across the country according to mortality. The surprising top killer? Heat and drought, which cause 19.6% of all deaths from natural hazards. Second was thunderstorms, and third was winter weather. All three are rather mundane when you think about it.

Having just read The Science of Fear, which is all about human fondness for exaggerating low-risk things and ignoring high-risk things, I found it interesting that the exotic hazards we seem to fear most - like tornadoes and earthquakes - are not really the big risks. In fact, as you can see on the study's "Death Map," California, Arizona and Nevada are ranked as one of the safest areas of the country in terms of natural hazard mortality, along with Northern New England.

Where is it deadliest to live, you ask? The upper Midwest, which is affected by flooding, severe weather and winter weather, followed by the South, which is affected by heat, lightning and flooding.

Who'd have thunk?

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Most Cold-Hearted of All My Exes

I spent Halloween weekend in New York this year, and it gave me a chance to reflect on my former beau. As some of you know, I lived in Manhattan from 1998 to 2000. I was poor, but I felt like I was at the center of the universe. Any New Yorker knows what I mean. Below is a shot of me on Stanton Street on the Lower East Side (LES), just a few blocks from (one of the places) where I used to live.


Despite the swanky boutiques and hip restaurants that have opened all around my old abode, I am proud to report that my rickety LES loft building remains the not-up-to-code eviction palace of a decade ago. The door is still covered with graffiti. There is still no buzzer system. The tattered “Fabrics” sign still points to the time when it was a textile factory. In fact, the only difference I could see is that the pay phone outside the door, which my friends would have to use to call up to me (because no one had cell phones yet!), has been yanked out.

Having visited about once a year since I left, I usually feel pangs of joy...followed by stinging rebuffs. This was a pang of joy. Another was Halloween evening, where literally 98% of the people we passed on the streets were in costume. No city does Halloween as unanimously or passionately. The atmosphere was magical. Plus, where else can you go to a random party populated by professional trapeze artists? Here are two of the most agile ones making everyone else look out-of-shape on the dance floor.


But before long, the rejection and disorientation began. It’s almost like the city is the kind of lover that strives to erase all memory of you once you’ve gone. How? By changing just about everything you adored – including your favorite restaurants, storefronts and bars. They’ll just disappear. So, to try to stay fresh, you make new discoveries on your trip, but a year later, you can’t even count on those. It can be demoralizing.

Here’s the perfect example. On Saturday night of Halloween weekend, we were meeting up with several friends for dinner. I suggested Bao 111 in the East Village and pulled up the restaurant’s website to show my boyfriend. He gave it a thumbs up, so we called to make a reservation for eight people. No problem, they said. But when we arrived at 111 Avenue C, the sign said Arcane, not Bao 111. Flustered, I thought, this can’t be right. I must have the address wrong. But I didn’t. It was just New York letting me know once again that once you’re out, you’re out.

As it turns out, Bao 111 had closed a month earlier, and the new restaurant simply took over the phone number. After getting over my mortification, I just followed the current New Yorkers’ lead and rolled with it. Fortunately, Arcane ended up being a great find, and the ebullient French-Caribbean owners were eager to please. My lime chicken was fantastic, and the evening turned out just fine.


The moral of this story? Once you leave New York, it moves on, whether you like it or not. You can no longer be an expert on the city even a few months later. So this time, I officially let it go. From now on, it’ll just be a familiar stranger who I run into and experience anew. The good thing is that I know I can’t fall for it again. Too expensive, too crowded, too many people. When you’re in a great mood, you love all eight million of them. But when you’re in a bad mood, you’re ready to commit homicide if someone bumps you.

That’s not right for me anymore. I want a place with fewer bumps and more room to breathe. And it looks like 2009 is going to be when I finally decide on where that is. Huzzah!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Cape Town Is "Marriage Material"

That's the word from my boyfriend, who recently returned from 10 days in Cape Town, South Africa.


It seems that not only has he picked up the lexicon of my blog (scoring major points, I might add) - but he's developed his own expatriate fantasy as well. As he regaled me with stories of his trip, I was reminded of how I sounded after coming back from Buenos Aires last year. Flush with enthusiasm. Enchanted by the "dream life" I'd seen others living. Infected with new thoughts of what it's all about.


Not surprisingly, Cape Town and Buenos Aires share one thing that never fails to get Americans' attention: a staggeringly good exchange rate that makes everything damn cheap. Right now, one dollar gets you 10 rand in South Africa. To my surprise, that's an even greater steal than Argentina - and since that's my benchmark for living large on pennies, I was duly impressed.


But if the bargain factor won't get you, it seems Cape Town's beauty surely will. My friends Ali and Katie have raved about it in the past, and well, just check out my man's photos! With the distinctive backdrop of Table Mountain and the stunning coastline (complete with penguins!), Cape Town is a looker. A medium-sized city (3.5 million) with serious physical assets. My boyfriend was also taken by the friendly people, great restaurants and rapidly evolving culture.


We'll see how the infatuation progresses, but a return trip has already been thrown out - with both of us going this time. Thank goodness, because I think I'm experiencing an acute secondhand crush.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Close Your Offices...But Keep Your People

As you probably heard, over 500,000 jobs were lost in November - the biggest one-month drop since 1974. With the exception of healthcare, layoffs are now a daily occurrence in every industry.

But do they have to be?

In a rather compelling blog post I read today - entitled "What's An Office For?" - the author proposes that companies should consider telecommuting before layoffs. In other words, why not shut down your physical offices and transition to a remote workforce to save money?

As a telecommuter myself, of course I'm biased, but it sure sounds like a win-win to me. Companies could cut their overhead dramatically, employees could bid a happy farewell to their gas and lunch budget - and everybody could stay afloat. Plus, let's not forget that research shows that telecommuting produces 22% higher productivity, 60% lower absenteeism and 20% less turnover. Hello!

Yet strangely, as the blogger points out, no one seems to be talking about telecommuting as a way to save the day (or the planet). That's sad. While it might not work for the Big Three auto makers or the manufacturing industry, it could rescue a LOT of other companies, especially those that are service-based or web-based.

As they say, human capital is the most important kind. People, not machines, are the source of creativity and innovation. Shouldn't they be prioritized?

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Forget Red or Blue. How About Fat or Skinny States?

Louisiana is the least healthy state, according to new rankings from the American Public Health Association. In fact, the South as a whole is in bad (that is to say, flabby) shape. The bottom ten states include Mississippi, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Florida, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Nevada and Georgia.

Coming from LA, the land of power yoga, macrobiotic food and insanely fit people, I wonder about moving to a "fat state." As you know, I have crushes on cities in South Carolina (Charleston), Texas (Austin), Mississippi (Natchez), Louisiana (New Orleans) and Arkansas (Eureka Springs). Would I slowly abandon the healthy lifestyle I started here in California? Shrug off a jog because it's too hot - or there's a "12 free wings special during happy hour"?

And what about the lack of smoking bans in bars/restaurants in many such states? Having teared up like a funeral attendant in Arkansas' hazy bars, I seem to be rather sensitive now. Is that something you can get used to again after living in a smoke-free state?

I guess it comes down to how much the "norms" of your environment really influence your habits. I certainly weigh less, eat better and exercise more in California than anywhere else I've lived. But that could also be the product of the dawning awareness that hits many of us in our late 20s / early 30s.

At the moment, I am thinking (perhaps gamely) I could hold onto my waistline even in the South because the money I'll save in cost of living pays for the gym and Whole Foods (if there is one!) combined. As for the smoking in bars, that still stinks. Literally. Like my hair and clothing the next day. But there are other ways to socialize, right?

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Do Freelancers Have More Job Security?

Michele Goodman of The Anti 9-to-5 Guide made an interesting argument recently on her blog. She posited that freelancers have more job security than nine-to-fivers - and are actually better equipped to survive the current economic crisis . Naturally, this got my attention.

I'd read last week how the government has extended unemployment benefits by seven or more weeks, and it got me thinking (a little morosely) how freelancers who work on a 1099 "independent contractor" basis like me don't qualify for unemployment. That gave me a little anxiety. The phrase "lack of a safety net" came to mind.

But Michele's perspective turned my thinking around. Because the serious upside for a freelancer like me is that I can't get laid off, ever, and if I'm good, I shouldn't need unemployment because I have the ability to adapt to a changing marketplace. In other words, to apply my skills to new industries (like the booming green space, my newest foray) and "follow the money."

Here's an excerpt of the four things she says make freelancers the ultimate survivors:

* Our checks come from multiple companies rather than just one. If one client tanks, we replace them with another.
* We’re endlessly flexible. If one market dies off, we adapt. Diversification is key, even when the economy isn’t taking a nosedive.
* We’re old pros at interviewing and selling ourselves. Freelancers are constantly “interviewing” on a monthly, if not weekly, basis. Plus, we have the most up-to-date bios, resumes, and portfolios around.
* It’s still cheaper for companies to hire freelancers than employees. If a company has 100 hours of work that no one on staff has the time or expertise to complete, they’re going to outsource it.

One final thought that applies to everyone. Whether you're full-time or freelance, you have a skill set that goes with you. So even in an era of layoffs, just remember: you don't always need an employer to have employment!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Someone's Been Kissing My Crush

Meg Cooch, that's who. But I can forgive her because she sent me this great scouting report on New Mexico after visiting in October for the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta.

Here's what she had to say:

J and I had a fabulous time in Santa Fe and Albuquerque. We spent two days in Santa Fe at an adorable bed and breakfast off the center square called Madeleine Inn, which is also home to the Absolute Nirvana Spa. We loved the fresh cookies daily plus wine and cheese at 5:00 p.m. in front of the outdoor fire.


Overall, the food in Santa Fe was amazing, the art fabulous though depressingly expensive and the people super friendly. October is a great time to go - high 70s during the day, low 60s/high 50s at night. The only thing that made us pause was that there is little nightlife beyond 11:00 p.m. or midnight. It is a pretty slow town, but gorgeous. Albuquerque was good as well - far less quaint, but they have a great area near the University of New Mexico, which felt funky and cool. Again nightlife was less active, although there is a strip of bars/lounges in downtown.


The balloon festival was a sight to behold - hundreds of hot air balloons in the sky. Watching the balloons glowing as the sun went down was amazing. One downer was that it rained two days in a row so we missed the mass ascension because we were flying out the next morning, but apparently rain is very rare, and they had never really canceled festivities before this year.


Takeaways?

--Less-than-kicking nightlife, which I had heard before and am debating how much of a factor it is to me. Probably not a major one at this stage.

--The spa culture and New Age sensibilities? Groovy. Bring on the zen, even the eccentricity, I say. I like places that embrace individuality, and I plan to get a little kooky in my old age.

--Not much rain. I'm used to that in California. No biggie. (In LA, we average 15 inches of rainfall per year. Santa Fe averages 14 inches per year.)

--And finally, from her lovely photo of the changing Aspen trees, I was reminded how much I miss seasonal change here in LA. It's a big draw to have that again. (I'll recant once I'm buried in snow.)

Bottom line: No real deterrents. Only fuel to my fire. My crush remains alive and well!

Thanks, Meg!

p.s. For more photos of Santa Fe in autumn, check out this blog I recently discovered (and plan to follow regularly): http://choosing-santa-fe.blogspot.com/. It's about a woman who decided to leave the big city (Boston, in this case) for Santa Fe in 2006.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

It's the Economy, Stupid

There's a new poll in the right sidebar. Take it...now!

Essentially, I want to know how the current recession (let's just call it what it is) is affecting your ability and/or desire to break up with your current city and jump into bed with your dream town. My hunch is that homeowners and renters will have very different responses.

Speaking to a good friend last week, she described feeling stuck as a homeowner. In short, she didn't think there was any way she and her husband could sell their home and move as a result of the down market. There would be no takers. Then there's those in "upside down" mortgages - meaning, who owe more than their home is currently worth - who couldn't sell even if there was a buyer because of the huge loss. An estimated 12 million Americans are in that predicament, according to this sobering article.

But renters may be more apt to move, I suspect. Layoffs and declining business could drive those not tied to a home to areas with better job prospects or a lower cost of living. For me, the economic crisis has only underscored why it just doesn't make much sense for me to live in the city with second-least-affordable housing in the US.

You see, LA and I just don't have the same financial values, and we all know that's a deal breaker in relationships. LA believes in million-dollar mortgages and mountains of debt. I don't. And frankly, I can't. I'm self-employed, which means my income can fluctuate. Therefore, the lower my overhead, the greater my ability to weather any storm.

Fortunately, excepting a handful of cities, anywhere I move is going to be cheaper than LA, and I can have the things I want (oh sweet, sweet spare bedroom) without paying (much) more. Now that's an equation I can get behind. Hurray for telecommuting!

Got a related story? Think my theory has holes? Please chime in. But most importantly, take the poll!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Do You Feel My Stress?

Forbes does.

They’ve ranked LA as the fourth most stressful city in the US, based on criteria like affordability, population density, unemployment, gas prices, air quality and a few other things. (Rounding out the top five are: 1) Chicago, 2) New York, 3) San Francisco and 5) Detroit. In other words, a short list of where I won’t be moving.)

Here’s the description of LA’s “stressors”:

Individuals living in the City of Angels deal with a 7.5% unemployment rate, the second least affordable homes relative to income in the country and the worst air quality in the country. Angelenos also have to fret about health concerns and often need to stay indoors when the smog gets really bad. Throw in expensive gas and this car-dependent city has a lot to stress about.

Now, I knew LA was going to be high on Forbes’ list, which also includes some surprises like Salt Lake City and Providence, once I saw that affordability was one of the factors. I mean, we’re the worst value for real estate in the country, and we are just behind New York and San Francisco in exorbitant rental rates. More than gas prices (because I don’t commute), unemployment (because I am self-employed) or smog (because, I swear, it has never affected my health or activities), this is what causes me stress in LA.

When I look at renting a larger place here (at least $25/square foot in my neighborhood nowadays), or buying something the same size or bigger (still at least $400/square foot in my neighborhood), I simply can’t justify giving up my rent-stabilized apartment of seven years. The jump in price per square foot is just, well, stupid.

Which means, if I really want things like a spare bedroom and a better home office (which I crave the way reality stars crave fame), I can’t afford a long-term relationship with LA. Because if you can’t upgrade during a severe housing recession, when can you?

Try nev-er. Ooof.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Familiar Places, New Validation

First off, I apologize for the long gap between posts. Work got busy, and then I came down with a severe case of election fever. I know many of you hear me on that.

But I’m back – and I pledge to post more regularly in the coming months. Fortunately, there will be much to report and analyze. Let’s just say that geographic longings have stirred, old flames have resurfaced, and new “city dates” have been scheduled.

Starting in January, be on the lookout for a rekindled romance with Charleston, South Carolina; an extended first date with Jacksonville, Florida (where I will be telecommuting from); and a weekend fling with the polysyllabic spelling bee stumper, Apalachicola, Florida. Yes, I will be a snowbird again this winter, thanks to the peripatetic career of my lovely boyfriend, who works in the film industry.

Until then, there’s still much to discuss – such as my recent dip back into the well with New York City (full post on that coming soon) and the fascinating, on-point recommendations on where I should live from FindYourSpot.com. As I teased in my last post, I was astonished to find that half of their suggestions hailed from two states that were already looming on my blog. It gives credence to their questionnaire, which I think anyone who daydreams of moving must take.

Which two states, you ask? None other than New Mexico, home to my leading crush, Santa Fe, and Arkansas, where I randomly and serendipitously found myself this summer. Turns out my love affair with Eureka Springs, Arkansas, was not just chemistry, folks. Believe it or not, it turned up in my 24 recommendations, which means that according to FYS’s formula, there’s long-term compatibility too.

Without further ado, here are the 24 places FYS thinks I should consider living based on my input:

1. Silver City, New Mexico
2. Salisbury, Maryland
3. Truth or Consequences, New Mexico
4. Holiday Island, Arkansas
5. Eureka Springs, Arkansas
6. Charleston, West Virginia
7. Fayetteville, Arkansas
8. Mountain Home/Bull Shoals, Arkansas
9. Milwaukie, Oregon
10. Shreveport, Louisiana
11. Natchitoches, Lousiana
12. Salem, Oregon
13. Hot Springs, Arkansas
14. Cherokee Village, Arkansas
15. Las Cruces, New Mexico
16. Hagerstown, Maryland
17. Morgantown, West Virginia
18. Las Vegas, New Mexico
19. Heber Springs/Greer Ferry Lake, Arkansas
20. Little Rock, Arkansas
21. Carlsbad, New Mexico
22. St. Helens, Oregon
23. Corvallis, Oregon
24. Frederick, Maryland

Now, I should remind you that among other criteria, I requested a temperate to warm place (meaning, no extreme cold weather), very low cost of living (below national averages) and a small population, as I’ve been feeling drawn to small towns. And as you can see, those three choices reflected heavily in my results. Knowing me, I will probably re-take the quiz several times using different criteria, but this was my initial stab.

A few reactions (with more possibly to come in subsequent posts)…

• Equal to the eerie satisfaction of seeing my affection for New Mexico and Arkansas validated for me was the initial bafflement I felt at seeing Maryland appear three times. But then I remembered Arkansas and checked myself. Because what I learned during my time there was that it’s unfair to prejudge any place you haven’t really given a fair shake. As an intern, I lived in the Maryland suburbs of DC for two summers, but I've not revisited since I shed my DC biases, nor have I been to the three towns in question. I'm guessing it's quite different (especially in cost of living) once you leave the burbs.

• I admit, I felt sheer delight to see five small towns in New Mexico pop up. I also had a bell ring with Truth or Consequences (population 7,163). Who could forget a name like that? Turns out I had read a profile of it in Budget Travel’s Ten Coolest Small Towns 2008 issue. Upon further poking around, I discovered that Silver City (population 10,545) had been featured in Budget Travel's list the year before. As for the other three towns, which I know little to nothing about, you better believe I'll be scouring for scoop. Anyone been?

• Given my growing intrigue about New Mexico’s quirky small towns – and especially the description of Silver City as “the new Santa Fe” – I feel compelled to incorporate them into my still TBD trip there. It really warrants more than a weekend at this point, so my boyfriend and I are hoping to find a week in the spring (after we return from Florida) to do a proper road trip. Stay tuned!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Finding Your Spot

Here I am doing all this research about where I should move, and it turns out there's a relocation site that'll figure it out for me! It's called FindYourSpot.com, and I was (and still am) dumbfounded that I'd not heard of it. (A big thanks to Amy Mulert for tipping me off.)

FindYourSpot is quite comprehensive. Not only does it recommend a whopping 24 places based on their proprietary quiz, but it provides you with four-page summaries of each locale. The cost? Zip. (Access to more in-depth city reports will set you back $9.95, however.)

Here's an excerpt from the FYS "About Us" page:

You may be like millions of other Americans who are choosing where to live based on quality-of-life factors that really matter to them. Thanks to technology and "portable" skills, those movers can often plug their skills into a meaningful career in the place they really want to live.

And from the "How It Works" page:

FindYourSpot is the best way to discover your perfect hometown...just tell us your ideal and we’ll find the best candidates for you. We don’t have the bias of your Aunt LuLu, we don’t have mounds of useless data for you to sort through, and we don’t have the gall of "best places" lists that tell you what your priorities are. What we do have is the most accurate automated recommendation system and the most pertinent information.


Could FYS be more up my alley? Even the name gets at the heart of my quest. I'm not just looking for any cheap spot. I'm looking for MY spot. My geographical mate, if you will. How will I know it? It should feel like the place that fits the person I've become.

What I enjoy about FYS's approach is that they see where you live not as a strict consequence of your job or your place of birth, but as a true choice in today's jetsetting, increasingly online world. A choice that influences your lifestyle, your activities, your culture, your quality of life...and quite possibly, your happiness. Here here!

The quiz takes about 10 minutes, with questions broken into the following categories:

1. Climate
2. Culture
3. Schools/Hospitals/Airports
4. Outdoor Activities/Sports
5. Population and Geography
6. Predilections and Organizations
7. Religion and Churches
8. Taxes and Housing/Rental Costs

For me, the hardest parts involved selecting my airport preferences (am I willing to drive a few hours to reach a major airport?), my population preferences (small or medium-sized towns?), my weather preferences (how much snow, humidity and rainfall can I stomach?) and housing caps (what is my max home price or rent?).

Ultimately, I threw in my lot with sun-soaked small towns that are within a few hours of the airport and have a very low cost of living (below national averages). I'm still processing my recommendations, but let's just say the results are uncanny. Two states already on my radar represented half (12!) of the selections.

Which two states? You'll find out in my next post, where I dissect and deliberate on the 24 picks.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

It's No Wonder I Want to Leave

The news for Angelenos just keeps getting worse.

First LA was ranked last for traffic, intelligence and friendliness by Travel + Leisure. Then it was revealed that our fair state has the largest budget shortfall (22 billion dollars) in the country. Now, to cap everything off, Forbes has picked LA as the worst value for real estate in the US.

Naturally, I am aware that LA has an obscenely overpriced housing market. I also know that California has the second highest cost of living in the US. But to have LA home prices down 23% from a year ago and still be ranked as the dumbest place to buy a home in the entire country? That really put things into perspective.

Accordingly, a sizable exodus has begun, and several cities in the Northwest (including my crush, Portland, ranked 10th for "Best Bang for your Buck" by Forbes) are prime beneficiaries. To quote Forbes:

"Los Angeles' misfortunes, however, have helped boost the economy in cities like Portland, Ore. It and Seattle have become attractive alternatives for those looking to leave California in search of affordable housing and lower costs of living."

Looks like I won't be the first to seek cheaper pastures - or the last.

p.s. The "Best Bang for your Buck" city according to Forbes? None other than another crush of mine - Austin, Texas. In fact, four different cities in Texas made their top ten list.

p.p.s. Other cities in the ten worst values list included my recent date, Washington, D.C., and not surprisingly, my old beau New York City, who I am likely visiting at the end of this month.

Monday, October 13, 2008

The Fallacy of More Time

National Geographic Adventure's September issue has a wonderfully candid article about the realities of leaving the big city for a small town - in this case, moving from Brooklyn, New York, to Brattleboro, Vermont, a place where you can't get cable TV, cell phone coverage or late-night sushi but you can get to know every single one of your neighbors (and their junk piles), grow a vegetable garden and become a part of a caring, tight-knit community.

(Photo credit: Alex Di Suvero, National Geographic Adventure)

What I love about the article, however, is that it doesn't buy into the fantasy. In fact, it debunks the idea that moving is a panacea. Here's the cautionary paragraph that really resonated with me:

Changing your physical location is the easy part; changing what’s in your head is much tougher. For some reason, I had convinced myself that I’d automatically have more time once I got up here. But I still work too hard, I’m still far too caught up in getting things done. And just as I never took full advantage of New York, I don’t spend enough time biking, hiking—or simply watching the changing world right outside our door.

The author, a freelance writer with a wife and two kids, makes a great point. We all imagine having more free time in a new place, especially if it's smaller and "slower" than our current city. But that's a fallacy. Only we can create (or perhaps more accurately, reserve) more time in our lives. Our environment can't do it for us.

This is a good lesson to ponder, and the very reason I am blogging today. I have the day off - because I decided to take Columbus Day off. It was a personal decision and a business decision. I have been working really hard, and I needed a day to myself to regroup. A day with zero set plans. The pile of work is still there, but I am employing a philosophy that I often struggle with. The idea that it can wait. So today I shall relax. Tomorrow I shall crank again.

For those of you who have today off, enjoy it to the max. For those of you who don't, create your own holiday at the next opportunity.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

A Tale of Two Evenings: Vegas Part II

FRIDAY:

Within an hour of arriving in Vegas, we’re at the grand opening of SUSHISAMBA at The Palazzo. The party is a kaleidoscopic swirl of glitz and grandiosity – as it has to be to make a blip in this town.

We’re talking dancers in full Carnevale attire, colored mood lighting, thumping Brazilian beats, paparazzi cameras flashing and endless food trays bearing sushi, scallops on the shell, “mango tacos” and mini-donuts with chocolate dipping sauce, among other things.

Best of all, the specialty drink of the evening – the delicious “strawberry basiltini,” with muddled strawberries – is really make a splash with our entire group. This is where the cavalcade of “freeness” started…only to never really let up.

Though I failed to glimpse of the cast of “Entourage,” who hosted the party, and wasn’t even aware that one of my favorite NBA stars, Baron Davis, was there until after the fact, I was still rather pleased to interlope at such a star-studded affair. (My friend Carita, a reporter for TV Guide, got us on the list.) I also kept thinking with every free drink: “I just saved $14.”

But the bounty didn’t stop there. Soon the party migrated to the adjacent "boutique club," SUGARCANE. (A boutique club is only 4,000 square feet, I later learn. Only in Vegas.) Here, a live band was getting the crowd whipped up, there was plentiful seating and everyone had room to move on the dance floor – things I would come to really appreciate by the following night.

Amidst all of this frenetic festivity, we bumped into a group of guys from New York who were there for a bachelor party weekend. It soon became clear that the groom-to-be had a thing for redheads (always a bad pickup line, I might add), his best man was rather keen on Tejal and that he and his pals wanted to merge with our she-group in more ways than one.

Eventually we had to politely, and then firmly, decline. This classic Vegas encounter made me reflect how – even in the most upscale places – a woman can’t come to Vegas without getting hit on. I also pondered the strange mixed message of a “no-strings-attached” town with an overwhelming number of wedding chapels. It’s as if you’re supposed to come without strings – but leave with them? Any theories on this contradiction? Comment away!

SATURDAY:


After a day spent lounging at the pool, it was hard to imagine that anything could burst my bubble. We took our time getting dolled up and headed out for our big evening – this was the night we had a limo, after all.

The first stop was dinner at Shibuya, the MGM Grand’s swanky, glass-walled Japanese restaurant, where we devoured high quality fish (near the level of some of Southern California’s best sushi restaurants I would say) and then were flummoxed to find ourselves the recipients of the four free desserts I mentioned in my last post. My favorite, rather unexpectedly, was the tofu crème brulee. Doesn’t sound all that tantalizing, I know, so you’ll have to trust me.

Next we climbed into the limo, picked up three extra girls from Ireland who were also in Vegas that weekend and headed down to Fremont Street in the heart of old Vegas. A cacophony of giddy British (two of the girls in the group live in the UK), Irish and American accents accompanied our drive.

Inside the tunnel of lights there, we gawked at the brightness and posed for photos with firefighters and Chippendales. (In my defense, I was powerless to stop it. I was with a gaggle of girls, after all.). I did get a chuckle out of the huge lifts – at least two inches – in the shoes of one height-challenged Chippendale, though. In Vegas, everything is an illusion.

From there, we headed to our final destination – Tao, one of the most popular megaclubs at the moment. Things started smoothly thanks to our “Sex in Sin City” package guest-listing. That meant no wait in line (thank goodness as it was a substantial one), and no cover. But from there, my good mood started to wear off at an alarming pace.

The main reason? People. WAY too many people. This is a club with a 4,500+ person capacity(!), and it felt like all of them were in my personal space. In my crankiness, I started to notice how bored all the dancers looked – especially the ones half-dancing in bathtubs filled with flower petals. (Again, only in Vegas.)

To escape the constant jostling, we relocated from the dance floor to a balcony, only to be told we had to move down 10 feet. Minutes later, I was told to move again – and to put my shoes back on. (I’d given my feet a quick break.) That was the final straw. Tao and me were on the outs from there, and I was thrilled to make my exit. I had found my kind of Vegas, and this was not it.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Now THIS Is My Kind of Vegas

Last weekend I went to Vegas with five girls, and it was a completely different experience than any previous trip. If I had to sum it up, I would say: less sleaze (slightly less – I mean, this IS Vegas), more sophistication. And yes, I got a little seduced. Not enough to stay for a full week, and certainly not enough to move there, but more than enough to consider another weekend in the near future.

At the heart of this change is Vegas’ newest trend: the all-suite, no-casino luxury hotel. Several of the Vegas behemoths, including the MGM Grand and The Palms, have built these smaller (relatively speaking) hotels adjacent to their main properties. By getting rid of the casinos, they are able to offer suites with stellar amenities like more space (about 100 square feet more), separate bedrooms, two flat screen TVs, private balconies and full kitchens at around the same price as a regular room in the main hotel. As far as I’m concerned, it’s the way to go. Tejal, who is taking a call on our spacious balcony in the shot below, would seem to agree.


Our she-group stayed at the Signature at MGM Grand, which bills itself as a “private retreat in the heart of the Vegas action.” Usually, I would regard such a statement as hyperbole. I’m a copywriter, after all, and I get paid to write such embellishments. But the fact is, it did feel like that. I barely noticed the crowds and the chaos.

With the exception of a few claustrophobic hours on Saturday night at Tao, The Venetian’s multi-floor megaclub (see my second Vegas post for that story), all of my usual peeves about vacationing with multitudes – such as having to get to the pool by 9 a.m. to get a lounge chair – were non-factors. We had our own private cabana for crying out loud. See the photo below to check out how much poolside privacy we had, as well as a huge hot tub practically all to ourselves.


Now, part of this royal treatment stemmed from booking the “Sex in Sin City” package, which included chocolate fondue in the room (see the photo below), cozy pink robes, the poolside cabana (which came with free pitchers of Mojitos), in-room continental breakfast, massages and all-day spa access, a fantastic sushi dinner at Shibuya, three hours in a limo on Saturday night and guest listing at Tao.


The other part? Pure luck. That’s all I can figure, anyway. Most people refer to luck in Vegas, and they mean winning big at the blackjack table. But for us non-gamblers, our luck was freeness. A free fourth hour in the limo. Four free desserts at dinner. Free goodie bags. A smorgasbord of free appetizers at the pool. It felt a little too good to be true at a certain point.

Perhaps it was because we were six cute girls, or perhaps it was because Vegas is no longer recession-proof, and they really appreciated our business. Who knows. But we took it for all it was worth!

Stay tuned to hear about our escapades Friday and Saturday night at the SUSHISAMBA restaurant grand opening fete and Tao, respectively. Because you can’t come home from Vegas without a few stories.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

My Love/Hate With Vegas

I love to hate on Vegas. (To be clear, I could never, ever live there.) But that's not keeping me from going this weekend.

Here’s why…

--Five hour drive from LA
--Someone else is driving
--Highs in the low 90s this weekend
--We have a poolside cabana all day Saturday
--The cabana includes free drinks and an attendant
--We’re going to a party hosted by the boys of “Entourage” (HBO)

Need I say more? Full report to come on my “hate date” with Sin City.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Travel + Leisure's America's Favorite Cities 2008

The votes are in, and my current geographical mate, Los Angeles, has placed last. In the "Traffic," "Public Transportation and Pedestrian Friendliness," "Safety," "Intelligence," and "Friendliness" categories, that is. Ouch. The only thing LA even did fairly well in was "Luxury Boutiques" (#3). Ahem. That's just super.

Fortunately, my future potential mates did much better. Here's how some of my Top 15 Geographical Crushes stacked up in this annual survey of America's Top 25 Cities:

PORTLAND
#1 in Environmental Awareness
#1 in Public Transportation and Pedestrian Friendliness
#1 in Cleanliness
#1 in Public Parks and Access to the Outdoors
#1 in Safety
#2 in Traffic (meaning the least traffic)
#2 in Farmers and Specialty Food Markets
Worst showing: Luxury Boutiques (#24) and Winter/Christmas Destination (#20).

AUSTIN
#2 in Live Music
#2 in Friendliness
#2 in Active/Athletic People
Worst showing: Luxury Boutiques (#23) and Museums/Galleries (#18).

SANTA FE

#1 in Peace and Quiet
#2 in Art Galleries
#2 in Relaxing Retreat
Worst showing: Wild Weekend, Cocktail Hour/Lounge Scene, Late Night Scene/Clubs and Singles Scene/Bars (#25 in all four).

CHARLESTON
#1 in Friendliness
#1 in Traffic (meaning the least traffic)
#1 in Antique Stores
#2 in Romantic Escapes
#2 in Thanksgiving Destination
#2 in Noteworthy Neighborhoods
#2 in Peace and Quiet
#2 in Vintage Stores/Flea Markets
Worst showing: Late Night/Club Scene (#24), Wild Weekend (#23), Singles Scene/Bars (#21).

NEW ORLEANS
#1 in Live Music
#1 in Ethnic Food/Cheap Eats
#1 in Vintage Stores/Flea Markets
#1 in Destination Restaurants
#2 in Wild Weekend
#2 in Singles Scene/Bars
#2 in Late Night/Club Scene
#2 in Antique Stores
Worst showing: Cleanliness and Active/Athletic People (#25 in both).

What does this tell me? LA continues to get a very bad rap, warranted (traffic) or unwarranted (safety???). Santa Fe and Charleston, despite being smaller cities, are nationally recognized as great places to live the good life. Their primary downside is sleepiness, as demonstrated by their reputation for anemic nightlife. Portland offers superior quality of life for everyone (including regular working class folk who don't shop at luxury boutiques), New Orleans dominates gastronomically (to the detriment of one's health and girth), and Austin has cool people who strive to be as fit as Lance Armstrong.

One other finding about Portland, New Orleans, Austin and Charleston that affirms why I am so hot to trot about them. All four placed in the top 10 for "Affordability". As you know, that turns me on a LOT these days. Santa Fe was middle of the road at #16. Something to ponder.

Finally, to indulge yourself in some geographical daydreaming, you should vote for America's Favorite City in T+L's fun, sports-bracket-style game. Be warned: there are some tough choices. For example, Portland meets Austin in the first round. Doh!

p.s. Your random trivia of the day. Cities with the most attractive and least attractive people? Miami and Philadelphia, respectively.

p.p.s. Click here to see how my recent beau, DC, performed. Strikingly, to follow up on my discussion of its high taxes, it came in #21 in Affordability.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Revisiting and Reevaluating: My Date with DC

Last weekend, I took a second look at our nation’s capital, the closest metropolis to me while growing up in Virginia. Back then I considered it a real snoozerville. Didn’t really give it the time of day - not even when I spent two summers interning for The Discovery Channel in Bethesda, Maryland, a suburb of DC. Today I’d have to say I found its political underpinnings appealing (instead of vexing), its historic rowhouses quite comely and, yes, its pulse quickened.

I stayed at my friend Ali's apartment on Corcoran Street, a lovely shaded street of brick rowhouses in the Dupont Circle area. Over the course of the weekend, I learned that people in their 20s and 30s are moving into the city in droves, gourmet restaurants are opening everywhere, the walkability and public transportation are great (although having a car in DC is actually fairly manageable), and all in all, quality of life seems quite copasetic – if you can afford the taxes, that is. (In the mid-Atlantic region, DC is known for its high taxes on sales, income and property, although this Washington Post article argues that the reputation is not entirely warranted and that certain suburbs in Virginia and Maryland actually face higher tax burdens.)

In a city where you can inadvertently pass the White House while strolling (as the photo above proves), I found myself taking in all the sites and monuments anew. There’s a reason so many tourists come here. It IS something to behold. I also checked out the World War II monument for the first time. The photo came out quite moody.

But what really caught my attention was the food. Our memorable meals at Urbana, Proof, Cork and Cashion’s Eat Place demonstrated that DC is stepping up its culinary game.

In particular, I have to cite Proof as the strongest evidence – pardon the pun – and the most standout meal. The photo below shows a few of the fab appetizers, from local heirloom tomatoes to the roasted beet and kaleidoscope carrot salad to the ahi tuna tartare served with a tasty seaweed crisp. But that’s wasn’t all. My amazing five-spice roasted Peking duck on a bed of charred green onions was worth returning for in and of itself, and we all swooned over the unusual sticky toffee cake. Oh, and yes, the wine was pretty good too.

Clearly, I’m still licking my lips. Does this mean I could live in DC? The answer is yes. I’m not bumping it into my Top 15 Geographical Crushes, but if I wanted to return to the mid-Atlantic region, I would have to consider it, especially the desirable Dupont Circle area. Consider my longstanding biases shed – once and for all!

Sunday, August 31, 2008

The Most Bikeable Cities in the US

In a recent post about DC, where I will be going on a date next weekend, I mentioned how the city's new bike-share program is the first of its kind in the country. Well, now I discover New York City is striping 200 miles of on-street bike lanes by 2009. Which left me with this thought - if you can bike safely in Manhattan, you can make any city bikeable. (Safely, however, is the operative word.)

According to the League of American Bicyclists, here are the top five bike-friendly cities in the US currently:

Portland, Oregon
Davis, California
Tucson, Arizona
Madison, Wisconsin
Boulder, Colorado


Notice how two of my Top 15 Geographical Crushes appear on this list? I did too. Portland and Boulder have just earned some bonus points.

Perhaps the best example of bike-friendliness, Portland has long been the trailblazer (pardon the pun) in this arena. Lance Armstrong says in the aforementioned article, "More people would be riding to work in this country, but access and safety are still a problem." He lauds Portland because "they build a mile of bike lane for every mile of road."

He might be right. According to Newsweek, Portland has over 270 miles of bike lanes, 40 bike shops and over 150 bike-related businesses. What's more, 16% of Portland residents commute on two wheels instead of four, and bike traffic over the city's four main bridges has increased 21% since 2006. All sounds great, right? Well, unfortunately, the surge in biking has also produced "pedal versus metal" road rage. Read the Newsweek article for a full account of recent altercations between drivers and bikers. I personally love the assault case where a bike lock was used as a weapon.

Next weekend, I hope to bike DC's beautiful C&O Canal trail. We'll see just how easy it is to rent my bike, not to mention get to the trail without bodily injury!

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Foraging for Culture in Park City, Utah

By Guest Blogger Jessica McCleary

Note: This is the third installment in a series of posts by OTPYG Guest Blogger Jessica McCleary. Read her first and second post. She'll be sharing her firsthand experiences with moving to small town America in April 2008. How is the relationship faring? Stay tuned!

For anyone from a big city like LA, New York or San Francisco, any other city seems like a cultural wasteland.

To be fair, culture was only about half way up my list in terms of must-haves for a new city. But that is slowly changing here in Utah. What I’ve found is an amazing offering. Major concert acts stop here and the best part is that you can actually buy tickets because there aren’t 5 million people trying to get into the same venue. Deer Valley has a Utah Symphony Series in the summer in the outdoor amphitheatre. They also sponsor free concerts every Wednesday with a few thousand people in attendance. On top of that, there are free concerts in Park City almost every night during the summer.

One of my favorite bars in town, The Spur has great musical acts every weekend. Last weekend I saw Band of Heathens, who just won the South by Southwest award for best new band. A couple of weeks ago, I went to the Park City Kimball Arts Festival – one of the biggest arts fests in the US. Not only was Main Street packed with booths, but there were three musical stages too. I’ve been to my fair share of so-called “Arts Fests” over the years and have found that it is usually a forum to sell a bunch of junk. But this fest featured genuine gallery-quality art. Here's a shot of the street scene at the arts fest.


Of course, the headliner is the Sundance Film Festival in January, which more than 45,000 people attend each year. Having premiered over 700 independent films since its inception, Sundance is considered the primary incubator of new and upcoming film talent in the US and abroad. Sundance films are shown year-round, usually for free at different locations.

Since Park City is a resort town, there is a vibrant social scene with restaurants that rival the best of San Francisco. Robert Redford owns a restaurant on Main Street, and it is one of the places to see and be seen during the film fest. The menu prices on Main Street equal San Francisco’s top spots, and while there aren’t as many restaurants of course, the ones that are here are all really good. So far, I’ve enjoyed fabulous Southwestern, French, pan-Asian and Japanese cuisine, as well as great steaks. The wine lists are fairly decent—not the variety that I am used to in the Bay Area—but no other city has that, in all fairness. There is even a Michelin two-star rated restaurant at the Stein Erickson Lodge in Deer Valley. Utah will never be on the culinary cutting edge, but it satisfies all my requirements.

So yes, there’s culture here in Park City, and it’s been a surprising plus in our fledgling relationship. It’s something I didn’t know I was looking for, but something I’ve enjoyed here more than ever.

Monday, August 18, 2008

I've Seen The Future - And It's A "Deskmill"

A desk + A treadmill = A "deskmill"

One of the things I like about working from home is that I can take exercise breaks when I need them. I’m not confined to lunch hour.

These days, I take exercise “time outs” when I’m frustrated, experiencing writer’s block, unable to concentrate or feeling sluggish. If I want to go to the gym mid-afternoon, I can, time-permitting. Other times I go on a jog, take a quick walk around the block or run an errand on foot. Getting off my tush even for just a few minutes helps me reenergize and refocus.

So things are a much better than when I worked in an office – from a flexibility and blood flow standpoint – but the sedentary nature of my job still bothers me. Like many, many people, I sit in a chair and look at a computer screen 40 hours or more a week. It’s kind of ridiculous when you think about it. Our bodies were designed to move, not sit still. But unless I’m going to change careers and become a tennis instructor (I wish) or a landscaper (yeah, right), what to do?

That’s why this article about “walkstations” (or "deskmills," as I prefer - sorry, occupational hazard) really grabbed me. Thanks to Scott Elder for the forward. I’d never heard of upright workstation-treadmill combos that allow you to walk at low speeds while you work on your computer. The idea sounds a little preposterous, even challenging, at first. I mean, what if I drop my pen, it gets stuck in the treadmill belt, and I go flying?

But upon further reflection, it’s not nearly as crazy as workers sitting motionless all day, letting their muscles atrophy, their spines get out of whack and their weight balloon to the point of illness and disability.

On that note, I'm going for a jog.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

My Top 15 Geographical Crushes as of Today

Full disclosure: Some of them I’ve dated. Others I’ve never even met.

The similarity, though, is that I get a little tingly thinking about them. Fantasies run amuck. I envision a certain kind of life. I even imagine being a better, more evolved person. Anyone know what I’m talking about?

1. Santa Fe, New Mexico*
2. Buenos Aires, Argentina*
3. Charleston, South Carolina*
4. Austin, Texas
5. Portland, Oregon
6. Asheville, North Carolina
7. Eureka Springs, Arkansas*
8. Boulder, Colorado
9. Natchez, Mississippi
10. Ketchum, Idaho
11. Wilmington, North Carolina
12. New Orleans, Louisiana*
13. Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica*
14. Los Alamos, California*
15. Montreal, Canada*


I’ll periodically update this list as my feelings shift. Not that I'm fickle, ahem. I’ll also be taking a more critical eye to the candidates in the coming months. How do they compare in terms of cost of living? Are they too big…or too small? Which meet my “tolerance standards”?

In other words, does the reality live up to the fantasy?

*Places I’ve had at least one date with.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

From Nauseated to Neighborly in Park City, Utah

By Guest Blogger Jessica McCleary

Note: This is the second installment in a series of posts by OTPYG Guest Blogger Jessica McCleary. Read her first post and third post as well. She'll be sharing her firsthand experiences with moving to small town America in April 2008. How is the relationship faring? Stay tuned!

My first week in Utah, I felt like I had a hangover. Which would be impossible, of course, since all I was drinking was the 3.2% alcohol beer you can buy at the grocery store. (It tastes like beer, and has all the calories of beer, but none of the day-after side effects.)

What I was actually experiencing was altitude sickness, which, as it turns out, is a very real thing. On top of this physical discomfort, I was living in temporary housing until I could find a place in Park City. Most of my time was spend trying to find a state-run liquor store where I could buy wine and missing Walnut Creek and warm weather.

But then things started to pick up. One of the first things I’d heard about Utah is that people are “abnormally nice.” Well, it’s true. People have a genuine friendliness that I didn’t experience in Walnut Creek, where I was used to working with rude, unappreciative, snobby and standoffish people. In contrast, people here ARE abnormally nice and thoughtful, which has made the adjustment so much easier.

Case in point: when moving into my new condo (200 square feet bigger than my old place, plus W/D and garage, for about the same rent), my landlord introduced me to all the neighbors my first day. A woman I work with put me in contact with one her friends, who lives right around the corner from me. An old high school friend asked me to dinner. A family friend invited me to join a tennis league.

Suddenly, after only a few short weeks, I had a busy social schedule and was getting involved with new groups that I had met through neighbors and Meetup.com, a site that connects you with local groups that share your interests.

My neighbors Jimmy and Jessica (yes, slightly confusing!) are starting a relationship with Park City too, so the three of us explore together. We’ve gone hiking – at one point walking through several feet of snow – to see some mountain lakes at sunset. We’ve gone to hear free concerts at Deer Valley. We’ve mountain biked on all the trails around town. The photo above is from a hike we took in the Uinta Mountains, part of the Wasatch National Forest (1.6 million acres).

It is easy to love a place that welcomes you with open arms. Sometimes the big city gives you the cold shoulder, and it can be difficult to find your place. Maybe Salt Lake City (population 1 million) would be just as friendly, but I doubt it. I’m glad I chose Park City. I haven’t formed any lifelong friendships yet, but I am developing a close bond with a town that has demanded nothing…yet given me the freedom to explore and redefine myself. The best relationships are like that, so I have a feeling we could be together for a while!

Monday, August 11, 2008

Outside Magazine's Best Towns 2008

Well, I'll give it to them for changing things up.

Every August Outside puts out its "Best Towns" issue. Last year, the editors focused on the top 10 small towns in America for outdoor enthusiasts, and they got many an "oooh" and "aaah" out of me. Most of the finalists, including my leading crush, Santa Fe, were beyond winsome. They were legitimately drool-worthy. Readers admitted their own crushes on Santa Cruz, Portland and Burlington.

This year, all bets are off. The criteria of a population under 100,000 is gone, and the new formula for inclusion is "civic reinvention" with a side of adventure. According to the editors, the 2008 selections embody fresh ideas, dramatic transformations and an active population. They range from towns as small as 1,600 people to cities as big as 701,500 people.

Here are the finalists:

Washington, District of Columbia
Chattanooga, Tennessee
New Orleans, Louisiana
Ogden, Utah
Portsmouth, New Hampshire
Tacoma, Washington
Ithaca, New York
Louisville, Kentucky
Eureka, California
Crested Butte, Colorado
Columbia, Missouri

I'm still figuring out what to make of these eclectic selections, but I can tell you that seeing D.C. (population 581,500) first on the list surprised me. (My apologies to everyone I know who lives there.) Having grown up in Virginia, about an hour and a half south, perhaps my old biases get the best of me. But in particular, I was interested to read about the city's new bike-share program, the first in the country. The word that comes to mind is progressive. There. I said it.

So guess what? I'm going to give D.C. a second chance. I will be there the first weekend of September with a group of friends, and I've decided that it's now officially a date. I will pack my heels, peel my eyes and soak in all the changes, from new organic restaurants and bakeries to blossoming late-night spots. You'll get the full report.

Finally, speaking of the mid-Atlantic, I was pleased to see Charlottesville, Virginia (population 40,300), where I went to college, recognized in Outside's "Best of the Rest" list for its growing environmentalism. Green roofs on City Hall? Urban forest management? I couldn't be prouder of my ex.

Proud enough to get back together? It's crossed my mind. I know several fellow UVA alums who have moved back...and several who wish they could. We went to school in a bona fide dream town. If we didn't know it then, we certainly do now.

Friday, August 8, 2008

An Arranged Marriage with Park City, Utah

By Guest Blogger Jessica McCleary

Note: This is the first installment in a series of posts by OTPYG Guest Blogger Jessica McCleary. She'll be sharing her firsthand experiences with moving to small town America in April 2008. How is the relationship faring? Stay tuned!

My first date with Park City, Utah, got off to a rocky start. I was in route to Salt Lake City for a job interview, and the woman sitting next to me on the plane performed the fateful introductions. Her first comment was, “How can you think about leaving the Bay Area – it is so wonderful and has everything to offer.” Her second comment was, “If you take the job, you should live in Park City. It will make the transition to Utah much easier, especially if you are not of the faith.”

Things continued to be shaky when I found two inches of snow on my rental car. I had been wearing shorts and t-shirts for a couple of weeks, so snow was a shock to my thin California blood. But I forged ahead with the interview (which went very well!) and drove up the mountain to Park City for dinner that night.

What I found was an utterly charming mining town that had been all dolled up for the rich and famous. Main Street has old buildings, and old-looking buildings, all of which feel like they came out of the 1880s mining rush. Park City is one of the few towns in Utah not founded by the Mormons, so streets have actual names, and there is no grid system (or temple for that matter). There are galleries, restaurants, tourist shops, bars, hotels and condos discretely tucked away, and big houses on the hills. The ski resort is at the base of town – there are even runs that allow you to ski right down to Main Street. You could say Park City is a little slice of heaven at 7,000 feet.

I received the job offer and had a tough decision. Do I stay with my current town (Walnut Creek, California, a suburb of San Francisco with a population of 64,000), that has walkability, the ocean, a major city nearby, mountains a few short hours away, wine country, fabulous restaurants, friends and family, good bartenders, great weather…the list goes on and on. Or do I take a chance, live in a small mountain resort town, work at a dream job and start life all over again?

The cons were obvious – no support system was available to me. I knew almost no one there, and I would be two hours away from home by plane if I got homesick. Plus the strong Mormon culture sounded a bit bizarre, and the strict drinking laws were enough to turn off anyone who enjoys a good cocktail (like me).

Ultimately, I decided to take the leap, break up with Walnut Creek and pursue my career goals in Salt Lake City. The main reason came down to great job in Salt Lake City or no job in Walnut Creek. So I had a tearful goodbye and committed to start a real relationship with Park City.

How did the first few weeks go? Was there a spark? Could she find a glass of wine? Be on the lookout for a second installment about Jessica’s move to Park City (population 7,300) next week!

Photo by Bobak Ha'Eri

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Suburbs Make You Fat

A new study has found that people who live in new suburban neighborhoods weigh more than people who live in urban or older suburban areas. The key difference is walkability, according to the authors, and they say modern zoning may be to blame. New suburbs are often built with car traffic – and not foot traffic – in mind.

To quote a WebMD article about the study:

Neighborhoods built before 1950 tended to have sidewalks and other characteristics that made them more accessible to pedestrians, including being more densely populated and having restaurants and other businesses nearby, lead researcher Ken R. Smith, PhD, tells WebMD. In general, newer neighborhoods offered fewer opportunities for walking.

How walkable is your neighborhood? Find out by entering your address at http://www.walkscore.com/. You’ll get your score as well as a list of destinations within a half-mile radius. Impressively, my neighborhood (Beverly Hills Adjacent) scored 89 out of 100. A “walker’s paradise” is 90 or higher.

While people may be surprised to hear this about LA, which is not known for walking, I am pleased to report that I hoof it to the following places: the dry cleaners, the mini-market, the pharmacy, the bank, the bookstore, the hair salon, the doctor, the nail salon and a number of cafes/restaurants. As a result, I do about 60% of my errands a pied. It’s good for the planet, it’s good for the body – and it’s a lifestyle I hope to continue when I relocate.

Applying this principle to a small town, however, could be a challenge. I see I would probably need to live downtown or in an older neighborhood. To have walkability, you need to be in the heart of things. Yet another factor to add to the list!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Quote of the Day...and Its Takeaway

THE QUOTE
"Travel is fatal to bigotry, prejudices and narrow-mindedness."
- Mark Twain

THE TAKEAWAY
I can't just live in any small town. After everything I've learned living in the South (Virginia), the North (NYC)and the West (LA), as well as South and Central America (Argentina and Nicaragua), I know I can't live in an environment that is intolerant of people who are different, whether because of ethnicity, sexuality, religion or otherwise.

So for me, the right small town has to be one that satisfies the following equation: small-town friendliness + (a bit of ) big-city open mindedness = home.

My recent dates with Eureka Springs, AR, and Los Alamos, CA, suggest such a thing does exist. I see now that I am looking for a small town that enjoys some diversity of people and thought, as well as an infusion of well-traveled transplants and sojourners. Santa Fe comes to mind as a leading candidate in this vein. (I am working on scheduling our second date!)

Stay tuned as I use this filter to narrow down my geographical crushes. We'll see who makes the cut!

Monday, July 28, 2008

Have You Found "The One"?

According to a survey in this month's Outside Magazine, only 27% of readers report that they are living in their dream town. That means that 73% are, like me, still looking for it.

Similarly, the "city satisfaction poll" on my own blog (thanks to everyone who voted!) finds that 80% feel something less than "true love" when it comes to their current city. 40% state they are "enjoying themselves for now." 20% think "it's a mixed bag." 20% "know it isn't the one."

These numbers support a theory I've been tossing around. Compared to our parents, who may have worked at one company and lived in one home for decades, I believe we are a constitutionally itinerant generation and a product of our times. We change jobs and addresses frequently - sometimes by choice, sometimes not (i.e. layoffs).

We have less job security but a wider canvas for global job searching and opportunities. We have more career flexibility but also more concern with career fulfillment. We are both enthralled by the choices and daunted by the burdens that come with deciding how and where we ought to live. Thus, to me, it's no wonder it takes us a while to find a place we want to commit to.

One last thought. It seems I am not alone in thinking "the one" will be smaller. Outside's survey respondents (the majority of whom reside in cities of over 1 million people) voted that a population between 10,000 and 50,000 was the ideal size for a dream town. Runner-ups were 50,000-100,000 and 100,000-250,000.