Some family friends are looking into relocating from the hinterlands around Pittsburgh, where they have lived for thirty or so years, to Northern California. The wife spent a fair amount of time in the Bay Area when she was young, and their only child, a daughter in her mid-twenties, has settled in Carson City. The parents, from what I can tell, own a house worth something like $180-240k, either free and clear or close to it, and they have a viable combination of retirement savings and pension income; they had very steady work histories, mostly in the public sector, and I have no reason to believe that they were spendthrifts.
This move should be easy and no-nonsense. Realistically, it won’t be anything of the sort. I’ve already heard the first round of bellyaching from my mom about how these friends of ours may not be able to find adequate housing in an adequate neighborhood. The problem, I’m pretty sure, is that I’m being far too practical about the whole thing. The first thing I did when my mom told me about this moving plan was to check Sacramento-area listing prices on Zillow. I’m pretty familiar with Sacramento because, baroque matters of domiciling and current actual residency aside, I live in Rancho Cordova. If you’re wondering why I, of all people, live in Rancho, the correct question is whether you can set me up with a budget studio in Midtown at my earliest convenience without running me through a bunch of credit, rental history, reference, and background checks. Feel free to be part of the solution, not part of the problem.
Anyway, my mom kept telling me, in effect, that the problem with these houses I was pricing out around Sacramento was that they were in Sacramento. Well shit. I’ve been dogfooding Sacramento since at least 2012, and I’ve talked to my parents about it in some detail, but they (and especially my mom) still revert to this high-hat Mid-Peninsula prejudice that Sacramento is east of Eden but—get this—Nevada City is not. As it happens, the nightlife seems to be healthier in the Gold Country (and away from the casinos in Northern Nevada) than it is in Sacramento, especially some oversold mixed-use skid row like #TheKay, but this isn’t at all why my parents object to Tacky Sac. Part of it is this bizarre, reality-optional coastal chauvinism that the Sacramento and San Joaquin Valleys and the rest of the flat part leading up to the foot of the Grapevine are nothing but one massive inversion layer of suck, with Chico maybe being marginally more livable than Bakersfield or Mendota. Again, maybe.
Everybody please stop giving Victor Davis Hansen more ammunition for his flyover country grievance-mongering. Good God, y’all.
A big complication to our friends’ house search is that they may not be able to afford a purchase price of more than $250,000 or $300,000. The good purchase options really start proliferating around half a million dollars, but I don’t know much about their financial circumstances, and my parents seem to think that $500k may be beyond their reach. I’m also assuming that they’re eager to get another detached house like they’ve had in Pennsylvania for most of their adult life, not a condominium or apartment. If these are all conditions of their house hunt, Land Park, East Sac, and Fair Oaks are basically out of the question. So are most liveable neighborhoods in the Gold Country. Tahoe and Truckee are expensive for obvious reasons. They could save a bundle by moving to Northwestern Nevada, in which case they’d probably be within a one-hour drive of their daughter, not a three- or four-hour drive, but my understanding is that they’re specifically interested in California.
The remaining neighborhoods that our friends could definitely afford are liable to stir up all sorts of objections that amount to high bougie status-signaling. Roseville, a pleasant and safe enough city from what I’ve heard and what little I’ve seen of it, is unusually affordable by Sacramento standards, but this is largely because it’s riddled with foreclosures, and the prices still aren’t low enough to move much of the distressed property. My mom looked almost horrified when I described Roseville and suggested that it might be a good option. Parts of West Sac, Rancho Cordova, Del Paso Heights, and Arden-Arcade look sketchy but are mainly just rundown and a bit low-class. Even so, the notion of moving to such a neighborhood presents class and racial considerations that are, with unfortunately rare exceptions, deemed unspeakable by proper college-educated liberals of a certain socioeconomic class. I’ve heard more high-hat concern-trolling than I’d ever care to suffer of New Yorkers moving to the Poconos and a friend of my mom’s who moved to Modesto. Both of these places have fairly good intercity transit connections to nearby major cities. Meanwhile, common carrier service to most of the Adirondacks, where my parents live, is practically nonexistent. But it’s a tasteful and classy vacationing area, or something. You know, not tacky like Winnipesaukee or Tahoe or Clear Lake.
A worrisome amount of electoral power is in the hands of pissant Brahmins who never passed up an opportunity to make a frivolous housing decision and also never passed up an opportunity to make petulant, condescending comments about Vaisyas for frivolously buying their own little bit of extra backyard in Brodheadsville or Toms River or Hemet or Simi Valley or Modesto. On a practical level, it means that people like me end up with our parents moving to places that there isn’t a chance in hell of reaching by bus or train. From fourth grade through college, my parents lived a half-hour to forty-five minute drive from the Lancaster train station. In 2010, they moved to their current place, an hour north of the Saratoga station and its two daily Amtrak runs. They’re an hour and a half north of the Albany Airport, with clear roadways and a heavy foot, but notwithstanding that even this is a pain-in-the-ass drive through an interminable forest that feels like Groundhog Day, it leaves unanswered the question of how the hell I can afford airfare to Albany without hitting someone up for extra money. A quick-turnaround trip from the West Coast, of the sort that I see myself damn near having to make on a regular basis before long on account of my parents’ age and isolated living circumstances, can realistically be expected to cost at least $1,000 in round-trip airfare. The mileage redemption tickets, on American at least, are sparse and usually involve weird codeshare routings through some shit like Philadelphia, Charlotte, Columbus, and LAX. This is exactly the kind of burgeoning logistical nightmare that I was afraid I’d have to face at the time of my parents’ move north.
My parents are far from the only people, late Silents and early Boomers especially, to have made such a foolish relocation, with no rational thought to whether they’d be able to maintain normal social and family ties in their new geography, basically because they were captivated by a solipsistic conceit that the move would show that they had arrived and were people of good taste. This is how one can hear insinuations that Sacramento is too hot in the summer but Nevada City is not, even though both tend to bake all day but only the former regularly gets the Delta Breeze. It’s really that Nevada City has had the good fortune of being overrun by hippie yuppies. So have a number of other places in the Gold Country. Few places in the Valley or around Reno have undergone anything like that. The Boomer settlers of Nevada County may be holistic medicine kooks who perform third eye therapy with amethyst crystals on children at street fairs, but when push comes to shove, they’re good Brahmins. These are places where one can be around one’s own kind.
What’s impossible about so many of these people is that they’re class snobs who refuse to admit that they have any class prejudice or bigotry. More than a few of them, I suspect, are also tacit racists who refuse to admit that they harbor any incorrect racist feelings. They heap contempt on the Fuhrman and Friends Whitey Diaspora to Northern Idaho, but weirdly, they generally manage to live in lily-white neighborhoods of their own and have bad things to say about racially integrated parts of their own states. Of course these bad things have nothing to do with race or class, mind you. Because they’re a lot quicker than I am to condemn a white guy for saying, “Some niggas don’t even have anything to DO with their kids!” That wasn’t racism; it was family values social conservatism. Some of his best friends were black, or at least the two guys with him were, and they seemed to agree that absent fathers were a serious problem for niggas of all races. So what is racist, and obviously classist? For starters, mealymouthed comments about “property values” and “good schools,” i.e., not the kind of thing one is likely to hear on the Sacramento light rail system at off-peak hours.
Of course these people use property values as a class marker and a policy weapon. Prop 13 showed that this was inevitable in California. There’s a lot of weird, mostly unspoken ill will in the Bay Area between those who got grandfathered into the good stuff and those who didn’t. This is a problem in the tech industry, too, not just in housing. My parents caught the real estate hyperinflation train at the Middlefield station in the seventies; many of our friends and relatives didn’t catch it anywhere ever, and of course this is one train where seating is limited because Cat Stevens is not the conductor. Actually, Palo Alto is a preternaturally laidback and cordial town for one whose real estate prices have jumped by an order of magnitude within two generations. Even so, it has inspired more than its share of envy, resentment, butthurt, condescension, sour grapes, and similar vices relating to money.
Wealthy Boomers are champs at timing real estate bubbles fabulously well, but downwardly mobile Boomers are champs at being incorrigible assholes and frauds about downturns in their financial circumstances. I’ve watched people blow well over a quarter million dollars on mismanaged small businesses, come within months of blowing another quarter million in private investments from friends and relatives in an imminent foreclosure, get bailed out on an emergency basis by the same investors, and still fake their way through it all with a smugness that ought to be bodily smacked off their faces, as if they’re still God’s gift to humanity. These people don’t just privatize their profits and socialize their losses; they publicize news of their profits and bury news of their losses. It’s Orwellianism by means of passive-aggressive brinksmanship. They’re all smiles and good vibes until someone rightly (and usually belatedly) calls bullshit, and then they get incredibly ugly in a hurry. They act like it would kill them to say, damn, looks like I fucked up there. It’s impossible to shame them into being plain dealers when it counts, and that’s certainly not something they ever came by naturally. I’ve repeatedly gotten into situations with these people in which a nuclear first srike is the only way to go. They’re so rotten when they’re challenged in the most civil, evenhanded way possible that the only marginal ugliness a Hiroshima Special is likely to provoke is something rising to the level of overt criminality.
The Tea Party/aging hippie dichotomy is rather misleading. Their professed political beliefs are beside the point. We’re still paying for their Medicare and Social Security, they’re still defruading the Social Security and Medicare funds by paying employees under the table and committing wage theft, and they’re still demanding and receiving extra outlays for road maintenance (and often other public utilities as well) for their oh-so-special rural sprawl neighhorhoods. The only thing the Tea Party flavor of these freeloaders is likely to do is to foam at the mouth about how their tax dollars are paying the salary of the district manager from the highway department who is only arranging temporary fixes to the local landslide site because the same pool of state money needs to cover any emergency repairs to 101 if the next landslide happens at the coast, where there isn’t an alternate route.
A huge amount of the mooching and scamming that the Boomers have undertaken won’t shake out until their estates go to probate. From some angles, it looks like the ones who didn’t stumble their way into some major asset bubble tried to keep up with the yuppies through some combination of running their credit lines into the ground, begging for alms aboveboard, begging for alms on the downlow, cheating the help, and running cons on those close to them. These practices are more troublesome than they might otherwise be because their practitioners insist on speaking for the entire fucking generation.
What they’re going to do now, in fact, what many of them are already doing, is to stubbornly insist on aging in place five miles up some mountain, surrounded by oak scrub with no defensible space. The fire department, social services, and home health aides will have to come to them. Many of the Boomers who set themselves up in this fashion when they were younger won’t move into town until they’re unable to walk. After all, why would the Me Generation deign to care about the undue burdens it is placing on government services by insisting on growing decrepit and senile on some out-of-the-way five-acre hobby ranch?
My most sincere hope is that this sort of behavior doesn’t provoke a critical collapse of goodwill and social trust on the part of the younger people who are forced to pay for it. There’s going to be more and more of this horseshit over the next decade or two. If the net contributors to this arrangement become well and truly fed up with it, they could blow the state portion of the social contract to smithereens. The potential for unconscionable collateral damage is huge.
If the rising generation of honored citizens owes us for dishonoring us with its scamming and thievery, we may have to take the matter up in probate court. At least these folks’ estates won’t be so fucking self-righteous and petulant when challenged. Name it and claim it. You think the Boomers have been bashful about taking what was not rightfully theirs?
Mercy. Time to wash my brain out with soap.