Monday, September 22, 2008

On Being a Regular

As I've mentioned here before, I've lived in a LOT of different places since college. Boston; Chicago; Washington, DC; San Francisco; East Lansing, Michigan. Plus short stints in Philadelphia and Houston and a lot of travel for work to Pittsburgh, North Carolina, Austin, Madison, etc. One of my favorite things about having moved around so much is the way that I was constantly getting to discover something new. Some favorites:

--Alamo Drafthouse in Austin and Houston.

--Diedrich Coffee in Houston - the only time I've ever actually been able to taste the subtle flavor differences in coffee the way I can with wine and beer.

--Reading Terminal Market in Philly. A huge indoor farmer's market in an old train station downtown. It's full of fantastic farm stands, fish mongers, amish dairies, etc. Plus, you can get a killer good cheesesteak at the counter at the front. Just don't expect it to be lowfat :-)

--Capigiro Gelato, whose Pinapple Cilantro and Blueberry Thyme gelato flavors might just be the best things I've ever eaten. So good that I've actually been seriously tempted to spend the $100 plus it would cost me to get 6 pints shipped to me.

-- $2 beer and hot dogs on Thursdays at Lansing Lugnuts minor league baseball games. Their mascot is called "The Big Lug" -- a dinosaur with a bolt through his nose. And they do things like having people down on the field between innings to try to slingshot rubber chickens into a dumpster. Methinks that the dumpster company is, perhaps, a Lugnuts sponsor :-) And did I mention the wading pool behind the outfield lawn and the fact that tickets are only $6? Yeah, you really can't go wrong.

-- Pecan bars at Alliance Bakery in the Wicker Park neighborhood of Chicago. Alliance is also, by the way, a great coffee house for a poor grad student to hunker down for an afternoon with a stack of papers to grade. :-) And so much good food in Chicago in general!

I could go on and on with this list. But back to the point of this post. It's also, of course, incredibly emotionally challenging to move around so much. Just when you finally start to feel like wherever you're living is "home" you move somewhere new and start all over again. When you move a lot, you're constantly having to scour Craigslist for apartment listings, as you try to figure out whether apartments in this town usually include heat and electric, where you'll feel safe walking home late at night, who will take pets. You have to sort out where the hell the grocery store is, and whether it is possible to shop in your new town without having to patronize Safeway (uh, in Rockville, Maryland, the answer is pretty much NO). You have to seek out a new favorite coffee shop -- Starbucks does NOT count. Oh yeah, and then determine out how, exactly, one goes about making friends in Washington, DC or Lynn, Massachusetts or wherever you may be living (my go-anywhere strategy - join a sports team. Kickball totally counts!). While I find all of that stuff really exciting, on one level, it's also pretty exhausting and lonely, at times. Especially when you do it again and again and again. (And when you're not so great at keeping in touch with friends from past residences).

So, anyway, I realized yesterday that I'm coming up on my 2-year anniversary of living in the Bay Area. This is the longest I've lived in a single town since somewhere around 2000 or 2001. Normally, at this point in my "relationship" with a town, it'd already be just a "place I used to live." But, instead, I'm still here, and lately I've been really appreciating the joys of staying put. One of those joys that has really struck me lately is being a regular.

I don't mean to go all Cheers on you or anything, but it IS really nice to go someplace where everybody knows my name. Or at least where the wonderful barista knows my name and that I like my double Americano in the medium-sized cup, not the big one. Where someone greets me by name and with a big smile first thing in the morning.

I've got a few places where I feel like a regular now -- Della Fattoria, the bakery/coffee shop a 5 minute walk from my house. Their coffee is better than the Starbucks on the next block by MILES. And Vanessa really is a wonderful barista. I'm a regular, too, at the fabric store where I've taken sewing lessons, and I'm starting to feel like one at the pizza place in Point Reyes where they make the BEST brick-oven pizzas. Dan and I go out of our way to be hungry everytime we're driving through there so we can stop for pizza and an organic greens salad. Yesterday, the owner remembered us and chatted with us about how we hadn't been in for a while. And it felt good to be remembered.

I've also just started my second season with the same soccer team, I know all the back roads to get anywhere I could possibly want to go in my town, and I'm even starting to get TIRED of some of the same old places in town. I can't remember the last time any of those things happened to me. And you know what? It feels really good to be a regular, for once, instead of the new kid. It's a feeling of belonging that I don't think I've had very often in my life. My parents still live in the same house they brought newborn me home to 32 years ago, but as an adult, I so often feel like the new kid at school, an outsider. Like everyone else has more friends, more people who know their name and smile at them in greeting. But maybe part of that is just a matter of staying put for once. Putting down roots, and seeing what grows.

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