As a child, when people asked me what I wanted to be, I said a writer. If they pressed further I'd say I want to write in a big city. Didn't matter which one at the time--Chicago, New York, Los Angeles--I just wanted to be near the pulse that comes from an urban environment.
Then I went on vacation to San Francisco, and decided right then and there that if I could live anywhere I'd been, that would be the place. I wrote letters to friends promising that one day I would move to San Francisco. I put the dream on the about page of my personal blog.
Then it happened. I was offered a job, writing, in San Francisco just a few months shy of my 30th birthday. Just when I thought I might never leave the Tennessee town I grew up in, I got the call of a lifetime. It was finally on.
This crazy parrot-having place I landed in could not be more different than where I lived for the entirety of three decades. When I think of trying to put down into words how it makes me feel to to see a palm tree in my peripheral vision, I go numb. Which is crazy, it’s just a palm tree. What could be so fabulous and compelling about a palm tree that I cannot manage to convey its impact in writing? The issue isn’t the tree itself, it’s the unexpectedness of it. It’s purely foreign to me. A palm tree, to a girl who always lived in Tennessee, is an exotic thing. It is a large, looming figure of otherness; an iconic beast that exists in postcards and at the movies and on vacation. Never when you are walking the dog. So, when I see it out of the corner of one eye my chest brims with the thrill of not just something new, but a regular something new. Something different from what always was, and I can see it whenever I want. I just walk outside.
I am still experiencing culture shock a year and a half later. I am often stopped where I walk. I am struck still by a brand new experience almost every day, some as tiny as a speck of glitter. But, oh, do they shine. They are made up of elements I've seen before, but each behaves in a way that I am completely unfamiliar with. It's kind of been like being on vacation for a long time (and just as expensive!), save for all the working and chores and washing your own towels stuff.I have skills now I never would have gotten had I not moved. I don't have as much street smarts as I'd like, but I've learned how to walk through sketchy neighborhoods at night without too much fear of harassment. I can almost always hail a cab, provided they are available, and after some time I'm finally able to tell the driver which route I prefer. "Mission or the freeway?" Now I know, depending on what time it is, whether or not it's Critical Mass and if there are any protests planned, which way to tell the cabbie. After some time, I know when riding in the back of a speeding cab when to brace myself. Sitting in back, the taxi taking jutting hills at break-neck speeds, I find my breath trapped in my lungs. Sailing over the crest of the hilltop, all my air is tight in my chest. Sometimes I swear the tires leave the pavement. But sometimes after topping one of San Francisco's notorious summits the bay waters will spill into sight. Then I exhale.
All the thrills, the sights, the people, the bay air: It all feels like what I thought home would feel like.