I spent the first 25 years of my life living in rural Upstate New York (NY). Contrary to popular belief, there is a world outside of New York City; as in 2/3 of the rest of the state of New York. There are smaller cities and lots of farming communities. I come from a small town, yes town, not city. It’s a semi-famous town. I was at the base of the mountain that Rip Van Winkle supposedly went to sleep on, there’s a famous boxer that left our town and made it big. If you can figure the location out from there, you get a bonus point.
My adult life has been complicated with a capital C. Without going into details, I accepted a sales job in CA. The company paid my bus ticket and my mother saw me off at the Greyhound station one brisk April morning. No one knew I was leaving except her (see the complicated sentence). So with a new jean jacket and one suitcase, I started my journey to California.
I had never traveled by bus before. It’s a long journey, to be sure. Greyhound stops in the most remote locations where you’d never imagine a commercial bus would stop. I met a couple of guys along the way. We stayed together for most of our journey. There was even a moment when I considered an offer not to continue to CA, but to continue on with one of the guys I had met. That didn’t happen because you’re reading I did end up in CA.
We finally pull into Sacramento, CA. This was not my destination, but just seeing all the palm trees lining the street made me feel as if I was in Beverly Hills. Yes, I know those two locations are worlds apart. Can I help it if my exposure to California had only been via the movies? We continue on and I had about another two hours to go. I was headed for Hayward, CA; the armpit of the East Bay. No offense to Hayward, but it’s not the nicest of cities and compared to surrounding cities, via a 30 minute drive, it’s sort of a dump.
Needless to say, I safely arrived. Now, to find my ride. It seems the person sent to pick me up was also picking up someone else. We managed to connect. I had made a comment that I didn’t know what I’d do if we didn’t make our connection. He told me, “well you could have taken B.A.R.T. to the motel”. Now, being an out-of-towner, Bart is a kid on the Simpsons. What the heck was he talking about. As it turns out, B.A.R.T. is short for Bay Area Rapid Transit system. In East Coast terms, this is a cross between the subway and El Train. I wouldn’t learn that for a few more days. Then I asked, “why didn’t you say it was the subway”? That just got a laugh. As I would learn years later, having to commute via B.A.R.T., it’s anything but rapid and it does service (most of) the Bay Area.
Fast-forward a month or so. That sales job did not work out. All sorts of reasons why not. I end up in a homeless shelter in Newark for a couple of weeks. I was able to find a job as a live in maid. Yup, this white girl was a maid. Working for rich people has its own challenges. One thing I did learn, many Californians eat dinner late. Back home, dinner was at 5:00 or 6:00 o’clock max. Here, eating at 6:30 or 7:30 is normal. I attribute part of that to commuting. Commuting here can be a nightmare. Six lane freeways are often multi-colored (car) parking lots. Nothing like having an hour commute, going 65 mph and it taking you 90 minutes because of slow traffic.
Being new to CA and desperately needing coffee, someone took me to Starbucks. This began my dislike of the company I now refer to as the “Evil Empire”. If you don’t know, people from NY typically have a low tolerance for nonsense. We are very straight-forward and many of us swear and think nothing of it. I am one of those people.
At the cash register, where you place your order, there there stacked coffee cups; small, medium and large. Where I grew up, we didn’t have coffee houses – so this was new for me. I ordered a simple, “medium” coffee. The young employee (20ish), responded, “Grande?”. I said, “no, medium”. He again replied, “Grande?”. This was quickly turning into a bad Abbott and Costello routine. I needed my caffeine fix and this kid was asking if I wanted a large coffee when I was clearly asking for a medium coffee. I took Spanish, “grande” means large. Little did I know how backwards the Evil Empire was with its terminology. I leaned in close, pointed to the medium cup and said, “I don’t care what the f*ck you call this size cup, fill it with coffee and take my money for it so I can leave”. He suddenly got the picture that this name-game was over. I received my coffee and got my fix. I wouldn’t return to the Evil Empire for many years. I actually boycotted them before it became fashionable to do so.
Later, I went to the grocery store. Now back East, you can go into any grocery store or convenient store, such as Stewart’s, and grab a “hard roll with butter”. I ordered that at the deli and the person with me and the deli clerk looked at me as if I had sprouted three heads. Oooooookay….that obviously wasn’t right. I explained to my friend what I was looking for. A “hard roll” is sort of like a kaiser roll, with butter on both sides, put together. In retrospect, it’s like a round butter sandwich. Either way, it’s the breakfast of half up the town I grew up in. Ok, back to my job….
The maid job only lasted so long. I was actually let go by the office receptionist. My boss told her to call and fire me. It’s ok, the kids in that house drove me nuts. No accountability for anything. I then lived in a motel for a few weeks. Found a waitressing job in a pizza restaurant that paid the bills. I was actually hired because of my experience and because I was a NYer. Yes, my boss told me that. He said, NYers have a good work ethic and they do their jobs well. I was like “sweet!”. Shortly after, I was able to rent a room and had met someone; we began dating. He started showing me California.
Now, going over the Bay Bridge into San Francisco was interesting. I got to see Alcatraz from the bridge. The place I’d read about, the place where Capone was sent; I was giddy. I’m a history buff and I thought that was absolutely fascinating. Years later I would work a catering gig on Alcatraz. I would see areas that are not on the general tour. Fascinating!
My boyfriend showed me San Francisco and did the touristy stuff with me. He grew up in San Francisco and hated the tourists. Coming from a tourist town, I understood that. We visited Ghirardelli Square (must for chocolate lovers), Pier 39 (home of the dock seals), Coit Tower and even road a trolley car. I was impressed that I could see some rooftops. In NY City, that’s not really an option. The buildings are ridiculously tall. I don’t know if my boyfriend had ever seen San Francisco through the eyes of a tourist before. He got a kick out of all the comparisons.
As for the food, I miss NY for that. Luckily, I am a good cook and can replicate my favorite dishes. I don’t make a “like NY cheesecake”, I make NY cheesecake. There is a difference. Bagels I have found a couple places that do them justice. However, trying to find a salt bagel out here can be challenging. Pizza, I’ve found a local joint that knows how to make real NY pizza. CA pizza just sucks. There is no comparison. One food I have discovered out here, that I absolutely adore is ube ice cream. For those of you unfamiliar with ube, it’s a purple yam from the Philippines. The ice cream is a beautiful shade of purple, my favorite color, so that’s just a bonus for me. I will order ube ice cream at every opportunity. I don’t get it often and buying a small container of it isn’t cheap.
I’m going to fast-forward a lot of years. I married my boyfriend who I first met shortly after arriving in CA. We have been married 10.5 years and have a 9 year old daughter, a house, two dogs and two fish (dang carnivals). Life still is not easy but I’m working on making it manageable.
Thank you for walking with me down memory lane.