Living Spaces

Dear J-

I spent a couple of extra minutes this morning riding my bike down a few more streets and I’m starting to warm to the idea of life in San Mateo: the downtown core is busy and varied, much as the idealized memory of growing up in Cheney. Busy but not too crazy, if that makes sense. There’s a Peninsula Italian-American Social Club which I can’t remember if I used to see and think about every time I rode the train down from San Francisco to Palo Alto twenty years ago, and a thrift store, and another little strip of taquerias and carnicerias that announce just as loudly that gentrification hasn’t quite taken root between First and Tilton. Pretty soon we’ll be choosing a place to live and I’m revoking that early decision in my head that Foster City’s where it’s at.

It’s interesting to compare the two: neighboring cities, closely linked enough that it forms a single school district, with the exception that Foster City plays Southern California suburb to San Mateo’s urban core. Not that, compared to San Francisco, for instance, you could call SM an enormous city, by any means, but it feels like Metropolis to the way Foster City is set up. FC sounds like a nice place to live (clean! modern! safe! parks!) in the context of 1977-era California: cheap gas, suburbs, drive to big-box stores and chain restaurants for familiar meals and products. Yet the first time you circle the lot and stalk an empty parking spot you realize you’ve done this sort of thing already, and it’s not time to jump back in, is it?

SM is older. It feels unmistakably grittier, although again, not grubby by any means. There are parts that remind me of the just-off-Division neighborhoods in Spokane: small houses, small lots, uninspired spaces [although to be honest I’ve lived in those places too], and it’s aggravating to think there’s no Target or Home Depot, but again, this is where FC comes into play: as a destination you visit. It feels more honest, though, and after living in the modern San Diego suburban lifestyle for multiple years the contrast is refreshing, although I have to be cautious that it’s not just the rebound or the abruptness talking to make me think so.

Mike

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