Home, again

Readers of this blog will remember that a while back, Patrice and I took a long trip that took us to Europe, Southeast Asia, and the Far East including Australia and New Zealand. Since that five-month journey, starting in mid-2017 and ending in December of that year, during which we stayed at over 40 different B&Bs and met countless fascinating and friendly people, we returned to the U.S., first stopping in Los Angeles to spend the holidays with our daughter Kathleen, then traveled north to the San Francisco Bay area to spend a few days with my sister, Joan, and then headed up to Portland, Oregon, where we stayed for three months in an Airbnb in the Northeast part of the city.

Our travels had a twofold purpose: one, to see places that intrigued us; and two, to find a place to retire to, a permanent place to live.

There are a lot of ways to measure the desirability of a place. U.S. News published a list of best places to live in 2018, basing it on responses from readers as well as data collected from the U.S. Census, the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the FBI Uniform Crime Report, and other data. Researching places is useful, but in the end, you have to rely on your own feelings about a place. In our many discussions of the most suitable place for us, one thought that preoccupied me was that I had always lived in the Northeast part of the U.S., and that it was time for a complete reset. The West called us, with its huge mountain ranges, its lattes, and its relaxed, friendly people. But there were lots of other places we could call home, or so we thought before thinking them through more carefully. While traveling overseas we kept a skeptical eye on places that looked and felt congenial, like Scotland (rainy, very rainy), or New Zealand (perfect in many ways, but way too far away from family).

But we wanted to take a serious look at the West. That is how we found ourselves in Portland, OR, in January. Visiting it in summer and loving the sunshine and ideal temperatures, we knew it wasn’t like that year-round. We wanted to experience the Northwest in winter, the rainy season, to give us an answer to the question: How awful could it be? It wasn’t at all awful, as it turned out, but it wasn’t exactly home, either, and we had business to conduct back east, including my son Derek’s wedding in Connecticut, which took place in July, where all the guests were treated to a New England summer shower; actually a deluge, really, with rain straining the tarps over our heads as we enjoyed the festivities.

Following the wedding, we continued our quest. We got back on a plane, taking the one large suitcase and one smaller one that functioned as our traveling home, and headed for southern California, where we spent several weeks in Pasadena, followed by a few weeks in Monrovia, a half hour up the coast. It was lovely, there was lots of great hiking and sightseeing, it was very, very hot and dry, but as with Portland, it just wasn’t home.

I want to take a moment here to stop and look at exactly what is meant by “home”: We were in quite comfortable surroundings, especially in Pasadena, where we stayed in a large (for California) house with a wonderful yard filled with fresh fruit growing on trees that had been lovingly watered, weeded, and trimmed to keep them alive in that desert environment. And people were nice enough. But we would have left behind something very important, so important that we decided that it outweighed all the other attractive qualities we found elsewhere. That was connections: friendships, and for us, as musicians we relied on good accompanists, churches that would hire us to sing and play. And finally, I think I realized that I missed the quirky, unpredictable weather of New England. As Mark Twain, a long-time Hartford resident, said, “If you don’t like the weather in New England now, just wait a few minutes.” That turns out to be a point of pride for many of us New Englanders.

To be fair, there are aspects of New England culture that are a bit of a challenge. One is the incessant, persistent movement of people everywhere. On the sidewalks, on the highways, people are always passing one another, rushing to get ahead. This seems to be tied to the Protestant Ethic that is so famous in this part of the country: this is a region of Doers, getters of things done, movers on to the next thing. At times it seems that drivers and pedestrians are oblivious of one another, and might collide at any moment. Sometimes they do. In a residential district of West Hartford, on an otherwise quiet street, I saw a stop light ringed with powerful, blinking lights. Beneath the stop sign was another sign that said, “Look left and right – twice”. No doubt there was a good reason the road department had singled out that particular intersection. On almost any street, narrow little residential back-street or wide, flat drive, people are likely to travel as fast as the road surface will tolerate, much faster than the speed limit.

Anywhere in New England, one has to watch out for surprises. It’s almost like a reflection of that famous weather. It’s the land where change is the norm. And here is where I have so many friends and colleagues that keep me young, as we continue to pursue the endeavor known as Retirement. Don’t care for retirement now? Just wait a minute. And by the way, that includes taking the occasional trip back west to experience the mountain ranges, the lattes, and the relaxed, friendly people. And, as it happens, the city of Hartford, very close by our city of choice, was ranked in that same list: number 46. So our personal preferences align with statistics. That counts for something.