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A trip home: Visiting the Bay Area triggers nostalgia, but also affirmation 

Every time I make a trip home to the San Francisco Bay Area, I'm reminded of both why I left and why I still love it so much. Driving north on Highway 101 on a Friday through Gilroy, seeing traffic backed up for miles in the other direction with people commuting out of Silicon Valley, I have trouble wrapping my head around why so many people put up with the tradeoffs of living in such a congested, expensive metro area. Have you looked up rental housing costs anywhere near SF lately? It's absolutely mind-blowing.

click to enlarge FOOTHILLS Palo Alto's Foothills Park is a beautiful natural oasis with views overlooking Silicon Valley. - PHOTO BY PETER JOHNSON
  • Photo By Peter Johnson
  • FOOTHILLS Palo Alto's Foothills Park is a beautiful natural oasis with views overlooking Silicon Valley.

But then I arrive, and I see and smell the beautiful SF Bay, I acclimate to the hustle and bustle, I see people wearing Stephen Curry jerseys and Giants baseball caps, I reconnect with family and old friends, I eat a burrito in the Mission District, and I'm filled with melancholy nostalgia for a community I left behind three years ago.

I suppose that most of us feel a strong connection with where we're from. It's natural. I'm probably feeling it more because of a recent death in my family, which has brought me back more than once over the past couple of weeks.

To my friends who stayed in the Bay Area, I can tell that my move to SLO still doesn't make a lot of sense to them. What's in SLO for anybody in their 20s? As I navigate my visit on the last weekend in August, I closely observe their lifestyle and routines. One friend commutes by train two hours everyday to work for NASA. Another drives 40 miles from Marin (north of SF) down to Redwood City (on the Peninsula) as a schoolteacher. They try to convene in SF to have fun on weekends, meanwhile paying thousands each month in rent. Some are thriving; others seem to be drowning.

After a busy two days with family and friends, I spend a few hours on Sunday alone at Foothills Park, which looms on the hills above Palo Alto. A wildfire-induced haze is cast over the valley, making it impossible to see the typically gorgeous far-reaching views from SF to San Jose. The setting feels symbolic of my perception of the area right now—blurred by pain from personal loss, the changing times, and uncertainty about its place in my future.

As I continue to meditate on it, a deeper sense of clarity and affirmation overrides the nostalgia, homesickness, or whatever you want to call it. There's no use in comparing my path to anyone else's or playing the "what if" game. I've decided to experience something new somewhere new, and to pursue a career in journalism in a critical era when it's under attack both politically and economically. I will continue following it here and see where it takes me.

Plus, the traffic is better. And I'll just have to tolerate the nightly Dodgers and Lakers broadcasts. Δ

Assistant Editor Peter Johnson is meditating at the top of Cerro San Luis at pjohnson@newtimesslo.com.

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