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The Armpit of California

Personal1119 words6 minutes to read

I am now officially a homeowner! Our escrow closed about three weeks ago, and we moved in two weeks ago. The last two weeks have been a blur as we unpack our boxes and move our furniture around. Except for times when I’m working, sleeping, or driving, I’ve been unpacking. That’s it. Unpacking.

I finally got my Windows PC desktop put together earlier this week, and began pulling TV shows from my Tivo so that they didn’t get deleted before I had a chance to watch them. I’m way behind on How I met your mother, Prison Break, House, Supernatural, Lost, Veronica Mars, Alias, Smallville, and NUMB3RS, although I did take a couple of hours last night to watch an episode each of Smallville and Prison Break. Excellent shows, by the way.

Back to the point of the title of this post, I’ve moved from the heart of Silicon Valley to a small town about 1 hour 15 minutes (80 miles) away called Los Baños, which means “The Toilets” in Spanish — ’nuff said. Why on earth would I do such a thing? Three reasons, really.

  1. We were able to get a lot more house for our money by moving to the armpit of California. In San Jose, we were looking at a run-down, 3 bed, 2 bath, 1-car garage, 1,500 sq. ft. condominium for $500k, or we could move to Los Baños and get a 5 bedroom, 3 bath, 3-car garage, 3,000 sq. ft. single-family home for the same price. This was a no-brainer.

  2. Property values are skyrocketing in this little cow-town. People from Silicon Valley and the SF Bay area are moving further and further south as the area gets more crowded. Los Baños is the next town in line as more northerly towns are filling up — and the housing market is showing that. Our offer was accepted at $500k, but the appraisal came back at $525k before we’d even closed escrow. Now, someone down the street is selling a home that is 500 sq. ft. smaller than ours and they’re trying to get $570 for it. We could feasibly make $100-$150k on our home within the first 12–18 months. Schweet!

  3. Lastly was the location. And I don’t mean that I like the smell of the wonderful farm animals at 5:00am, but rather that I’m roughly 1.5 hours from work, 1.5 hours from my hometown of Fresno (and Clovis and Sanger where most of my friends still live), and just a few blocks from my parents and siblings. This is good for me, because I can spend time with the people I care most about without having to drive quite so far.

The most important change, however, has been less a matter of commuting, moving, being half a million dollars further in debt, or any of the other major changes that have been going on — instead it’s been the little things that have been sticking out to me.

  1. Customer Service: Customer service is nearly always worse in a small town than in a bigger city because there tends to be less expected of them. Granted you can run into stupid people anywhere (and I run into lots of them, be sure of that), but small towns are especially bad. For example: I went to 4 stores this past weekend looking for these little plastic things that allow you to hook your coaxial or ethernet cables and nail them to the walls — a great way to run lots of wires and keep things looking clean. I went to Walmart, Kmart, Radio Shack, and the local hardware store. The cashiers at all 4 stores all told me either how much they hated their jobs, or that they wanted to go home, or apologized for having “garlic breath” — no kidding.

  2. Driving the Speed Limit: I drive fast. Really fast. I have a lead foot, and a car that can keep up. I speed almost constantly, usually without even realizing it. But even if I don’t like it, I can’t complain if the person in front of me wants to drive the speed limit. There’s nothing wrong with that, and actually, it’s what I should be doing myself. But here’s the issue: In bigger cities, people typically drive 10–15 mph over the speed limit. In small towns, I frequently get stuck behind people going 10–15 mph _below_ the speed limit. ARGH! And I would totally speed up and go around them if I could, but the problem with that lies with number three…

  3. Bored Cops: Cops in this town will find a reason to pull you over just to give themselves something to do. They’ll pull you over for speeding (even if you weren’t), badger you like you just ran over Mother Teresa, then let you off with a warning after wasting 15 minutes of your life that you can never get back thanks to this idiot cop.

But I can’t only complain about small towns, as there are some good things about them too.

  1. Los Baños has some of the best Mexican food ever. Granted, most of the residents of the town are of Hispanic descent. But I honestly can’t tell the difference between the tacos I get at the local taqueria and the tacos I buy at Rosarito Beach, Mexico every summer when I’m on vacation.

  2. People (when not working at Walmart, Kmart, Radio Shack, or the local hardware store) seem to be friendlier. In our Silicon Valley apartment, we lived there for roughly 20 months, and barely knew our neighbors. We’ve lived in our house for about 2 weeks now, and already know several people around the block. We just passed Halloween, and that night we had a few hundred kids come to the door trick-or-treating.

  3. Other things too, I’m sure. I haven’t lived here long enough to find other good things yet.

Living in the toilets Los Baños has its ups and downs. My body still isn’t used to the hours I have to spend commuting, and we’ve had some problems with Home Depot screwing up orders and deliveries on a pretty regular basis. On the other hand, I’m able to spend more time with friends and family and we have a big, beautiful house. Over time, I’ll get used to living in the armpit of California, and all will be well again.

Ryan Parman

is an engineering manager with over 20 years of experience across software development, site reliability engineering, and security. He is the creator of SimplePie and AWS SDK for PHP, patented multifactor-authentication-as-a-service at WePay, defined much of the CI/CD and SRE disciplines at McGraw-Hill Education, and came up with the idea of “serverless, event-driven, responsive functions in the cloud” while at Amazon Web Services in 2010. Ryan's aptly-named blog, , is where he writes about ideas longer than . Ambivert. Curious. Not a coffee drinker.