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, 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


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!


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.