When people find out I'm from California, they sometimes assume I live in Munich under duress or out of some kind of obligation (z.B. I'm a trailing spouse).
I love California. I'm a third generation Californian and the place is in my bones. As far as I'm concerned it is the best state and the only place worth living in the U.S.
The car kills me.
I'm writing this from Norcal (Northern California to those of you not in the know). Once a year, we set up operations in my parents guest house in the funky little town of Sebastopol in the Sonoma wine county region about an hour north of San Francisco.
It's got all California has to offer: the ocean, incredible food, Oakland, Berkeley and San Francisco nearby, liberal politics, funny people, amazing landscapes, In-N-Out Burger. In short, we're livin' the dream.
The thing is, you have to drive to all of these things, and I HATE it.
I'll try and spare you the rant, but in the 1960s through the present, shitty decisions were and have been made about public transportation throughout the Bay Area. That means, where we are in the North Bay there is no practical public transportation option to get to San Francisco or Berkeley/Oakland. They are planning a 'Smart' train that will go from Cloverdale in Sonoma county to Larkspur in Marin county, where you'll be able to take a boat (a boat!) over to San Francisco. In other words, you'll be able to take a 2-3 hour trip to a destination that should take about 50 minutes.
Indulge me for two more paragraphs about Bay Area public transportation.
The situation gets even worse if you want to go from the North Bay to the East Bay. Last week I went into Berkeley to attend a Pam Slim workshop (for another post). I made plans with a dear friend to meet for brunch an hour before. She came in from her town of Walnut Creek to meet me there. Unfortunately for us there was a big truck accident on the Richmond bridge. This meant I had to sit in standstill traffic for over an hour until it was cleared. My friend sat in the restaurant as long as she could and then had to leave. I barely made it to my workshop in time.
Everyone gets stuck in traffic jam from time to time, even in Europe. What frustrates me here is the utter lack of options. Could I pull over and hop on the S-Bahn? No. Could I jump out of my car and take a bike? No. No, no, no. I just had to suck it up and sit there motionless in the blazing sun, while a friend who I rarely get to see sat in a restaurant by herself for an hour.
Last paragraph on this! A friend visiting from New York is staying with friends in Oakland. Trying to figure out how she can get here without a car is literally impossible. She can't even take the boat! Well she could, but she'd have to take the boat to San Francisco, then switch boats to get to Larkspur. I could drive an hour and pick her up at the Richmond BART I suppose, but still a lame solution.
Folks, we are talking about distances similar from going from the Munich Flughafen to Starnberg, all of which you can do with the U-Bahn and S-Bahn. If you need to go a little further you can hop on the BOB or a regional DB. The point is you aren't fucking stranded or held captive in horrific traffic. Even if you're in paradise, being stranded or tyranized by an out of control, automobile-centric country sucks.
So back to the title of this post. I miss Munich. What do I miss specifically?
Being able to walk out of my door and walk a along a gorgeous river for hours that is almost completely removed from any and all car traffic.
Meeting a friend for coffee or lunch during the week and it rarely taking longer than 20 minutes by foot, bike or public transportation.
Walking to the market to pick up groceries every day.
Competent service, not always friendly, but competent.
Public spaces likes parks and beer gardens that aren't compartmentalized from the rest of the city. Where you can meet single friends, married friends, or friends with kids, all without having to think about parking, planning to avoid traffic or complicated directions.
Not having a car.
Going for days without seeing ugly parking lots and eyesore strip malls.
Urban planning that confirms my value, centrality to society and worthiness as a human being.
Lingering over a meal at friends house, enjoying a pleasant buzz from probably too much wine and not worrying about having a designated driver.
I'm sure I'll get back to Munich and start missing a lot about California (no planning for rain! friendly service!) I've accepted that this is my lot in life.
I was having sporadic daydreams about moving back to California before we left. But this trip put the kibosh on that. It's really driven home how important to me these quality of life items are. They don't sound particularly sexy, but man do they make a difference in the day-to-day.
Sorry, guess I didn't spare you the rant.