Monday, January 18, 2016

"Evan, This Town Makes Me Wanna Puke!"

Matty came from far away
From New Orleans into the East Bay
He said this is a Mecca
I said this ain't no Mecca man, this place is fucked

 -Rancid ("Journey to the End of the East Bay")

And we'll sink with California
When it falls into the sea

-Youth Brigade ("Sink With California")

Jonny and I got out of the car in downtown Boulder a couple of summers ago and I immediately thought, 'Ugh but this place is barftastic' (we seldom venture downtown) only to have a couple turn the corner and the woman blurt out, 'Evan, this town makes me wanna puke!!  I have to get out of here, NOW!!!'.  After they passed out of earshot Jonny and I burst out laughing.  Because DUH!  If you want to know why, we turned the corner and encountered a store that sells antique European chandeliers.  I wish I was joking.

Lest you think these chandeliers are scooped up by the mainly tourist crowd that frequents downtown, I have a neighbor with not one but two gigantic pretentious chandeliers.  And the gigantic pretentious house to go along with them.  Now I don't begrudge the business for existing.  But I can't believe that I live in a town that is so wealthy and snooty that it can support such a business.  Especially downtown where rents are astronomical and most businesses cater to tourists walking around looking for knick knacks that can be carried home on the plane.

I could easily spend a month of posts making fun of Boulder, posting pictures of the gigantic 3,000 square foot McMansions that have sprouted up on my street and neighborhood in general.  SO many examples of the day to day arrogance of the wealthy people here.  But that would depress me and probably you already know that Boulder is rich and snooty and pretentious.

This is nothing new.  When I moved here in 1990, a whopping 25 years ago, yikes!-I ran the Bolder Boulder which is a huge 10 K race on Memorial Day and loads of people line the race course including bands.  I remember turning a corner and a punk band was blaring away, shouting the eloquent lyrics of 'Boulder Sucks!  Boulder Sucks!  Boulder Sucks!' over and over and you get the picture.  Once again I burst out laughing because even though I'd only lived there a year or two I had to agree.  When I made the decision to move here to go to grad school with the intention of staying, a good friend of mine suggested that maybe Fort Collins would be a better fit for me.  And he was totally right.  But the university there was appallingly bad, at least in structural engineering, and CU Boulder was in the top 20 or so in the country.  It was a no brainer and a good decision.  I had great professors and got a great education there.  Whereas the CSU structural engineering program (the school in Ft. Collins) was on the verge of losing its accreditation several years after I graduated.  Not sure if it ultimately lost it but school is expensive and I'm glad I went to the better school.  Got a job within a week or so of getting my degree.  Anyway, Jonny's job and our house were in the Boulder area so that's where we stayed after I graduated.

I know what you're thinking.  Is she really complaining about living in Boulder?  Srlsly??!!  I totally get it.  The very epitome of first world problems.  I'm not complaining at all, I've loved living here, especially coming from Chicago.  Relatively mild winters, trails a couple blocks out my front door.

Nothing like this in Chicago, especially not close enough to do as a 'before work hike'

Looking down on Wonderland Lake

So many other pictures I can and have posted of the trails right out my back door or within 20 minutes drive.

In town skiing not even 10 minutes away at North Boulder Park when there's enough snow which admittedly is only a couple few times a year but still.

One of the best masters swimming programs in the country with zillions of workouts every day and open water swimming at the Rez in the summer.

I live in a great location too, 6 minute walk to the best grocery store in Boulder, an Open Space trailhead 2 blocks away, library, coffee shops (not that I'm drinking coffee any more but still) a 6-10 minute walk, a playground 2 blocks away for body weight workouts, office 2 miles away (6 minutes by car, 10-12 by bike), 6 minute drive to the pool.  I have no right to complain, especially coming from Chicago where I had, um, none of this.  Also I hates driving.  Hates it.  I've managed to fashion a life here that doesn't require a lot of driving for day to day living.  I can go a couple few days a week without getting in my car.  But the driving to get to out of town/quieter trails, especially for mountain biking?  It's starting to reach a fever pitch.  Would so love to live somewhere with quiet trails out my back door.  Because the trails out my back door are anything but quiet.  Yes, I get it, First World Problem.  Yes, I am thankful to have trails out my back door.

But Boulder has become a wee bit cozy in the past 25 years, especially so in the past 5-8 years.  And around about then my neighborhood had a significant shift in demographics.  Boulder has always been a wealthy place relative to the rest of the Front Range but my neighborhood had a reasonable population of regular middle class folks.  People who got up in the morning and went to work and were not obsessed with Stuff and Huge Houses and ugh.  But a good chunk of those folks sold up and moved out during the last housing bubble and now the neighborhood is, well, different.  A lot of Money From Somewhere folk who do not get up early and go off to work.  One neighbor has 4 cars and 2 drivers and the one next door, not to be outdone, has 5 cars for 2 drivers (and a camper and a huge flatbed trailer that he left parked in front of my house for over a year because rich people don't park their crap in front of their own houses).  But I guess since 2 of the cars are Priuses they can carry on with their delusion of being Uber Green.

The neighborhood used to have a semi-rural feel to it, lots of big empty lots, sheep, horses, even a white donkey.  But in the past couple few years construction has exploded and the lots are disappearing.  A whole entire city block at the end of my street was developed this past year with houses renting for $4000 a month and selling for just under or just over $1 million.  I prefer the big bull elk that hung out there and the deer to the big ugly 3000 square foot McMansions.  But nobody asked me.  My street and the couple few blocks around me have changed so much so quickly that I'm confused about where to turn into my street any more.  I know, o.k., First World Problems.

But I'm paying what is to me a lot of money to live here.  Thanks to skyrocketing real estate prices and rich people voting for every possible tax like, oh, taxes for more art downtown because you can never have too much ugly yuppie art, my property tax has doubled.  Which is where California comes into all of this.

Part of the explosion here in Boulder is due to skyrocketing real estate in Silicon Valley.  This lady here has a lot to say about that.

At 17:34 she talks about the folks fleeing California for Portland, Seattle, Austin, and oh yes, Boulder.  'Places where middle class folks can still afford homes.'  Which makes me laugh and snort and roll my eyes because unless you consider a family middle class with a budget of $500,000 for a small starter home then they can't afford a home in Boulder.  And I don't consider of budget of half a million to be middle class, sorry.  I could never afford even a condo here if I was starting out today.  In fact Jonny and I would qualify for Boulder's Affordable Homes program if we weren't already buying our home.  And we would be spending about what we spent for our house to get a condo under that program.  A condo on the regular market?  No way.  Even the towns surrounding Boulder are becoming out of reach for the middle class, if they aren't already.  Never mind the ever increasing commute times and brown cloud.

And with Google putting in a major expansion and building a huge shiny new campus the prices will be going even higher.  Plus the lady in the film says the Silcon Valley exodus isn't even half over.  And Boulder and more importantly the trails will be getting even cozier and having the same problems as California.  The city is talking about making more allowances for taller buildings and tighter housing density.  This is not what we signed up for.

It's not just Boulder either.  The towns surrounding Boulder have nearly doubled in size since we moved here 25 years ago and the sprawl in the Front Range area (Fort Collins/Boulder/Denver/Colorado Springs) is even worse.  So much land turning to subdivisions, everywhere.  Traffic on I-70, the main road into the mountains/ski areas, has gone from crowded to epic.  We stopped going on it during the winter and summer Sundays maybe 10-15 years ago.  Even the week days are becoming crowded.  And driving through the ever increasing bottle neck of Golden to get to 285, the other road we take a lot to go mountain biking in Buffalo Creek?  This has reached fever pitch as well.  The week days are like the weekends used to be and the weekends?  Forget it.

But worst of all are the trails.  So many people.  Too Many People.  What's the point of access to all these trails if you can't enjoy them because Too Many People?  Then there's the ever growing Brown Cloud which is only going to get worse as the Front Range explodes.  It's not what we signed up for when we moved here lo the many years ago.  I know, I know, First World Problems.  I get it.  But nonetheless it's hard not to mourn the degradation of your quality of life even if it is still pretty awesome compared to living on a garbage heap in Haiti.

So the thought has crossed our minds that we're not necessarily stuck here.  There are places in Colorado that are way cheaper, have incredible trails and are not crawling with Too Many People.  Why pay a ton of money to live in Boulder when we can live somewhere we'd rather be for less money?  Let the rich folk have the place, crowded trails, traffic, brown cloud and all.  There are complications to moving to a more rural place like how to make money but I become ever more convinced there are ways to work this out.  We don't need a big house or lots of Stuff and can live frugally.  There has to be a way, other people move to these places and find ways to thrive.  So that's the goal for the year - trying to find a place to move to and figuring out what we'll do once we get there.  This may take time, more than a year probably a few.  And we figure we may as well wait for the Google bubble anyway, not sure when that is supposed to happen but I know they've broken ground on the new campus.

The past 2 years we've taken trips with the idea of looking at places to move to.  Salida, Pagosa Springs, Durango so far.  Even Ogden, Utah is a possibility but yikes the air quality there is something awful never mind the sprawl all the way to Salt Lake.  Some friends of ours are having similar thoughts so I'm going to have a little Thelma and Louise type road trip with one of them to check out the southwest area of the state again in a few weeks if the weather cooperates.  Pagosa, Durango, Mancos, Cortes, Delores and points in between.  It's a long drive - 6-8 hours to hit all those places - and finding a window of clear roads/weather will be challenging.  But we want to see these places in winter and hopefully again in spring.  Though maybe we're overthinking it all.  Just up and go.  When I moved to Boulder I didn't have a job or apartment lined up and I'd only visited twice and somehow managed.  Hard to have the same carefree attitude at 51 though.  Maybe a few more trips can't hurt.

Edited to add:

 BTW, I forgot to point out what a skeezebag the realtor in the movie is.  At about 20 minutes he starts talking about buyers vs sellers of these million dollar shacks in Silicon Valley, portraying the sellers as schoolteachers/blue collar workers in a formerly middle class neighborhood and the buyers as 'brilliant people' with advanced degrees and an IQ 20-30 points higher than the sellers.  Nice. 

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