Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Riding the Reverse Wave

From the gold miners of 1849 through the farm workers of the recent past, California has been a destination for migrants seeking opportunity for generations. In the middle part of the twentieth century, population growth in California was largely fueled by the abundance of affordable housing, jobs, and mild weather.

However, sometime around 1980, things started to change. Incomes were not keeping up with housing prices. Traffic was becoming a daily grind. Efforts to produce affordable housing were opposed by no growth interests and environmentalists. Younger Californians were caught in the middle. A new trend started. Young, educated Californians started leaving the state.

Most of them didn't move too far. They headed for Oregon, Washington or Nevada, then Idaho and Montana. But mostly, they stayed west. Often, when they arrived in their communities, they were not welcomed and met with resentment. Locals were concerned that the incoming Californians would drive up local housing prices and "Californicate" their states and towns.

It was the summer of 1986 when we made our out-migration from California. We moved beyond the western US all the way to St. Louis. When we arrived, many locals here could not understand why anyone would leave California for St. Louis. It seemed no one moved to St. Louis by choice.

Kerri accepted the job transfer with Citicorp, and I figured I'd find work in a real estate field. In a few weeks, I was hired by a small title company in Clayton abstracting real estate titles.

We rented an apartment in unincorporated St. Louis County near Olive and 270. Life in St. Louis was a constant adventure for us. We spent our free time exploring. After a while, we would know our way around St. Louis better than most locals.

We made frequent trips into the city. We attended Cardinal and Blues games whenever we could. We heard about free admissions to many St. Louis attractions, and took advantage of the offers as much as possible. We loved the compact nature of St. Louis and the wide availability of cultural opportunities.

We were constantly amazed at the kindness and humility of St. Louisans. We studied old neighborhoods and back roads. We made many friends and developed ties in the community.

With our bearings set in St. Louis, we started to explore further away areas. We visited nearby historic small towns in all directions. Then we travelled to all the major regional destinations within half day's drive of St. Louis. A few times, we drove all the way to the East Coast. We were loving the proximity our new St. Louis address had to the rest of the country.

We had lived in St. Louis from 1986 through 1989 when a real estate developer back in California made me an offer to good to refuse. We decided to choose finances and proximity to family as the reasons to leave St. Louis and return to California. The return to California would become a brief three-year intermission in the lives we had begun in St. Louis.

The return trip west did not begin uneventfully. Kerri was not happy to leave St. Louis. We both had mixed feelings about leaving. Like the father figure from the film, "Meet Me in St. Louis", who plans to move his family from St. Louis to New York in pursuit of a better career opporunity, for a few years, I too would be known as "The Criminal".

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