Growing up in Laurel, our son Andrew did all the stuff most kids do. He attended the Main Street Festival every year, still mourns the loss of the Laurel Art Center and rode his bike everywhere.
Fast forward to now. We are sitting in a Thai restaurant in the Mission district of San Francisco, enjoying a dish called Tom Yum noodle soup. As a new resident of the Bay area, our son has familiarized himself with all things California. He took us to a couple of really decent vegan restaurants, where, surprisingly, I felt sated on a simple menu of vegetables like eggplant, kale and rice.
So what is our native Washingtonian doing 3,000 miles and three time zones from his roots?
In a nutshell, the young man wanted to branch out and embrace a sense of place in an environment that features daily cool ocean breezes and temperatures that don't get much out of the 70s. He also appreciates how people will stop you on the street — get this — "just to talk! That's not to say people back in Laurel weren't friendly," he emphasized. But out here, when you're stopped, your first impulse is they want to sign you up for a seminar on Buddhism," he reports, wrapping his spoon around a medley of sprouts and ground peanut. "I haven't gotten completely used to it."
For three years, Andrew, 27, worked in the Washington office of a nonprofit that rates buildings for their energy efficiency levels. He commuted via subway from various rented apartments around town, nurtured several close friendships and even used a contact at work to bowl at the private lanes in the White House. He liked the buzz of the nation's capital. With the searing heat of the last few summers, though, his enthusiasm began to wane.
"I can't stand 100 degree days and the ridiculous humidity here," he would complain. "There's got to be a better place to live."
Amazingly, he was able to convince his bosses that he could establish a one-person San Francisco field office. They gave him their blessing. So just after Christmas, when we had already been visited by the polar vortex, Andrew loaded up his little Honda Fit and set out for new adventures on the left coast. Of course, the third-biggest city in the Golden State has many problems that extend past the threat of earthquakes and the prolonged drought it is in the middle of.
One is the subway system. "Metro in DC is better," he reported. "BART [Bay Area Rapid Transit] doesn't cover the region like Metro does. The in-city transit here is not so good, and I don't think SF is as clean as it is in DC."
His adopted area, though, wins out when it comes to culture. "DC is too homogeneous."
Andrew happens to have a cousin who also lives in SF. My nephew, Mike, grew up in Olney and for a time lived around Dupont Circle in downtown DC. Mike joined us for dinner and he weighed in with his reflections on his new digs. "There is so much to do here!" chirped the 24-year-old, an accomplished chef. "I was supposed to be here for 10 days, and immediately fell in love with the city. I wound up staying nine months. Then I went home to figure out what the heck to do with myself. I decided to move back. I couldn't resist the reliably cool air, the grinding cable cars climbing the steepest hills I've ever seen, that slower European pace Americans seem to yearn for."
What does Mike miss back east? "That's easy," he said, tackling his order of pu jah, a Thai style crab cake, bejeweled with grounded pork eggs, black pepper and cilantro. "I miss hikes up Sugarloaf mountain, Potomac Falls —and the graffiti on the Beltway overpass at the Mormon Temple that says "Surrender Dorothy!"
Andrew's pal, Krissy, also made the trek west. The Frederick County native, 24, who is using her degree from Towson University in electronic media and film, said she's wanted to move away since he was 19.
"I feel freer in that life is more relaxed here," she said. "I have not felt at all homesick. I looked for a place that was clean, had good places to eat —the vegan food is healthy — and had comedy clubs. I didn't like cold weather, although the weather here today is too cold for me."
Being slightly biased, I gave Andrew the last word. Predictably, it's all about food. "There are a lot of Indian and other Asian places here. And the Mexican food is much better here. The Italian food? It's lacking. Maybe it's because we're so far from the Mediterranean. One thing's for sure: You won't find better Italian food than at Pasta Plus!"
While we're in agreement on the best noodles, he's also promised one more thing: to never, even if he opens a field office in Katmandu, Nepal, give up his allegiance to the Redskins.
That's my boy.