Wednesday, April 7, 2010

California Reflections

They say that you start losing your sense of home after only a few days on the road. After three weeks or so, you have transferred your sense of home to some new place or the road itself.

Being gone for 8 weeks, I'm sure I lost my sense of home. In fact, after three weeks back home, I'm still waking up in the middle of the night not knowing where I am.

The first part of my trip, I was moving from place to place, so the road became my home, but the last month was spent in one place in Northern California. I think I got a sense of home and a pretty interesting, close up view of that community.

So I thought I would take the time to talk about the differences between wine country California and semi-rural Michigan.

To start at a 10,000 foot view, Chelsea and Healdsburg don't seem that different. They are both about the same age, started on agriculture, about the same size, and have similar architecture in the old town zone.

However, when you get a little closer, the differences appear. Chelsea has had a mix of industrial and agriculture for most of its life. Recently, its become a little bit of a bedroom community for Ann Arbor and Detroit, but in a middle class way.

In contrast, Healdsburg has had a strong agricultural base since the beginning and, with the popularity of California wine, has become a place to party and a place for second homes of the ultra rich from San Francisco.

Also, Healdsburg is food crazy. Everyone in town seems to be farming something. The dealer carefully grows a rare and delicious orange that is prized by fancy restaurants. He sells them to the restaurants or, in the case of Cyrus, a Michelin 2 star restaurant in Healdsburg, he barters them for dining.

There are said to be 50 fine dining establishments in Healdsburg, along with innumberable wine tasting opportunities and wineries. Some of the old families that have been growing grapes and making wine for generations are treated like royalty. They rank higher on the social ladder than some of the very rich and famous people with summer houses.

And a social ladder there is indeed. It ranges from the owners of Williams and Sonoma or the head of Wells Fargo on down to the poor illegals that were living under a tree behind the dealership. As I am only a professional engineer, I felt definitely below the middle and didn't feel welcome in the fancy establishments downtown. More than that, we were actually turned away from a restaurant, apparently because we didn't look "good" enough.

So most of my time was spent among the little people and eating at nice, but less expensive restaurants. I was curious how Chelsea food would hold up when I got home. I'm happy to say that I still enjoy Thompson's and Mike's and all my other haunts, even if its not as fashionable as Healdsburg.

Of course, the Healdsburg countryside is beautiful. I don't think Chelsea can really compete. Chelsea doesn't have rolling mountain hills or redwood forests or scenic vineyards but then, Chelsea doesn't have earthquakes or mudslides or wildfires or California taxes.

Speaking of taxes, how about 9% sales tax, 2% property tax, 11% income tax, and they are still going broke. It looks like the cost of living is just about 150% of Michigan, only you don't get paid more to live there. Its a privilege to live there and pay.

So Healdsburg is a really pretty place and a wonderful place to visit. But if you like friendly over snotty, if you like reasonably priced, if you like to be able to afford to do more than work and live, then Chelsea doesn't look to bad unless you are already rich.

1 comment:

  1. Jac, As you know I left CA nearly 30 years ago now. My younger brother and his wife moved from San Diego to Tennessee in '08 and have not regretted it for a moment. My other two brothers are planning their escape from CA as soon as business and family obligations allow. CA is my home State, a delightful place in terms of geography and climate, but frankly it is sinking fast so many reasons that I have no desire to do more than visit there when I must. It really is depressing to see The Golden State sink in a morass of everything bad.