Having been born and raised in a quiet, Midwestern suburb, I should have known that the Bay would be a whole different animal. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but California is not, in any way, remotely similar to Michigan. For laughs, I figured I’d share some of the ridiculous, more trivial things that surprised me about the Bay.
1. Are they smoking weed? In the park? Out in the open?
A friend of mine said it best when she said, “It’s basically legal here. Or at least, we’re pretending it is.” I giggle like a teenage boy when I see people openly smoking a joint, and my friends here can’t understand why I find this to be so novel. Never in my life have I seen folks so unabashed about their pot use; go to any local park, and the scent of marijuana isn’t hard to find. Maybe if you follow the trail, you’ll make some new friends.
2. You mean I have to walk up this hill?
Let me tell you something about Michigan: It’s flat. It’s really, really flat. So imagine my surprise when I got to the Bay, and discovered that our apartment complex was built on a rather hilly street. Mostly, I was just confused — how is it that, on one end of the building, I have to take two flights of stairs to get to our apartment, but on the other end, I only take one? How is this safe? How are any of these houses standing? Living someplace hilly felt like a big architectural mind fuck.
3. If you’re into it, there’s a whole community waiting for you.
I’m basically certain that if you enjoy pouring vinegar on your elbows while dressed like a tomato during a sexual encounter, you will be able to find an entire community of folks who enjoy the same, complete with their own Tomato Pride flag and secret handshake. There is a vibrant and awesome kink community here, and the visibility of these communities is really exciting to see. If you can think it, there’s a meetup for it.
4. It hasn’t rained. Unless there’s a rain fairy that creates rain showers in my sleep that disappear by the time I wake up.
If you didn’t know, California is encountering a serious drought and consequently, a freshwater crisis. I knew this ahead of time, but it didn’t occur to me just how weird it would be to go without rain. I am beginning to forget what clouds look like. I don’t even remember what an umbrella is for or why I would need one, though I suspect it has something to do with the rain that HASN’T FALLEN IN THREE WEEKS.
5. DIY culture is alive and well.
Folks in the Bay are incredibly resourceful. There are lots of work trades, skill shares, exchanges, and countless co-ops that have found brilliant and economical ways to cope with the high cost of living in the Bay. Though this culture is born out of the changing political and social landscape of the Bay, including gentrification which has caused rent to skyrocket (while wages remain largely stagnant), many communities and organizations have worked together to create more viable and sustainable alternatives.
6. Septum piercings are the new ear piercing.
I have never seen so many septum piercings in my life. I can’t figure out if it’s a queer thing, a hipster thing, a kink thing, or a queer hipster kink thing, but it’s a thing and I’m not going to complain about it. I think I’ve seen more pierced noses than I have pierced ears, and I’m beginning to wonder if my nostril piercing is even relevant in the Bay or if I need to upgrade this to something more edgy.
7. Trader Joe’s is actually not that expensive, comparatively speaking.
After trying a number of grocery stores in the area, somehow Trader Joe’s wound up being cheapest. If you’re from the Bay, this might seem obvious. But if you’re from the Midwest, Trader Joe’s tends to be more of a luxury, right? Now, all of the sudden, it’s the place where I get all of my groceries. It’s kind of like living in a nice hotel? Like I can’t possibly be allowed to have this many nice things. Why do I have so many nice things in my cupboard?
8. Buses can actually almost be on time! And get you someplace! Almost on time!
In the suburb where I lived, there was no bus system. And in the surrounding cities, Detroit included, if you wanted to take a bus, it was pretty much guaranteed that you would not get to your destination anywhere near the time you intended. Mass transit where I came from was notoriously unreliable. In the Bay, however, I have been able to use the bus system to get around without much trouble. Living without a car is a thing you can ACTUALLY DO! Who would’ve thought? Not me.
9. There’s not six degrees of separation in the Bay. There’s definitely like, two.
Especially in the queer and trans* communities, there is a lot of overlap between social circles. Apparently the blogger that your housemate idolizes is the same blogger that you met at a picnic the other day. And the slam poet you went on a date with is the same slam poet that was engaged to the blogger that your housemate idolizes. And that slam poet was published in a book that your friend edited, which also published the work of the guy who bags your groceries — who also hooked up with your housemate. Once you have found your place in a community, chances are, you are unknowingly connected to a whole plethora of weird, awesome, and accomplished people. You’re also probably connected with some unsavory folks, so be safe out there.
10. Palm trees are not native to California.
And you know what? I feel fucking lied to.