Exactly a year ago today my mom and I drove the last seven hours of our epic cross-country road trip - from the Stockmen's Casino in Elko NV, where you cash your chips at the same counter where you check in, to San Francisco.
We celebrated our Bay Area arrival with cocktails at the Palo Alto Anthropologie (of course), I ruined a wall in my bathroom trying to hang a towel hook, and cried my eyes out with excitement and relief and apprehension about what was coming next. Part of it was shell shock, I think - driving 33 hours in two and a half days would do a number on anyone. Part of it was the sense of being truly unmoored, the finality of arriving at a destination that, for months, had felt like a hazy, surreal leap of faith. And part of it was a delirious sense of awakening, of starting to open this gift I hadn't even known I needed to give myself.
Hackneyed clichés aside, that arrival in California 365 days ago started a period of my life that has marked a true sea change in me. I spent two weeks settling in before I started work - the first chasing around wine country and the city and the peninsula with my mom, stifling a bit of panic every time I got behind the wheel of my car, making more trips to Target than any self-respecting person has a right to make. Watching the Tonys in our hotel room over Sprinkles cupcakes with face masks on. Eating Stacks for breakfast twice. Losing our minds over Chandon's American Summer display of Em's designs. Laughing and freaking out, sometimes at the same time, and relying so much on her to keep me steady.
That week ended, of course, with me sobbing silently and uncontrollably as I drove her to SFO to say goodbye. I spent that next week waiting - waiting for my movers to show up, waiting in lines at the DMV, waiting for blistering migraines to abate as I adjusted to lower elevation and air that felt different than home. Waiting for my job at Stanford to start, waiting for Dave to arrive, waiting to make friends, waiting for this new place I lived to feel like home.
A year later, it does, and for that I am constantly grateful. California has held so many surprises for me, and has changed me so much in ways I really needed to change. Stanford has forced me out of the complacent professional comfort zone where I had lingered for so long, challenging me most days with its sheer scope and breadth and complexity. Dave has become one of my best friends, and has opened up his world of friends to me with a generosity and complete lack of selfishness I've rarely seen in others (a generosity I don't thank him for often enough). Together with Drew and Laura, our madcap little apartment has been home to laughter and tears, parties and puking, messes and houseguests and hangovers and heartache; these experiences have made it a home for me in ways that pictures on the walls and monogrammed towels never could.
I have found favorite restaurants, and wineries, and coffee places. I have learned to just never go to the Redwood City Safeway between the hours of 4:30 and 7, and have figured out that the 101 is faster to go to work in the mornings but to always take 280 home. I can drive to Napa without needing Google Maps (this says quite a bit about my priorities, given I still need it to get around campus from time to time). I have taken classes in opera, museums, Shakespeare, wine, and jazz, fallen for the San Francisco Ballet, experienced a deep-house club, and cultivated a burgeoning obsession with IPAs.
I still get shivers every time I drive across the Golden Gate Bridge (although, secretly, the Bay Bridge is my favorite), but I've discovered that I actually think a lot of San Francisco is really gross. I struggle with the disparity between privilege and need here, which is so much wider and far more dramatically apparent than in Minnesota. I have gone out with a tech bro, a sommelier, and a guy who works for a venture capital firm, among others - and all three have absolutely lived up to the assumptions and stereotypes the Bay perpetuates about their respective breeds. My circle of friends ranges widely - doctors and data scientists, consultants and professors, architects and wine marketers and innovation strategists - and the conversations I find myself having are similarly diverse and challenging and eye-opening.
I am asked, perhaps not quite as constantly as in my first few months, but still regularly - "Why did you move here? How long do you see yourself staying here?" For the first time in my existence, I am operating without a long-term plan, and I am comfortable with that. Rather than benchmarking myself against my peers in the Twin Cities - job, promotion, serious relationship, engagement, dog/house, wedding, baby - I find myself focused on a new project at work, weekend day trips, a bucket list that grows by two line every time I check off one. I know that this place will not be my home forever, but that's about all I know for sure. Whether I'm here for another three years, five, ten - I'm okay with being unsure about that. As for why I moved here, though, I think the experiences and people and adventures of the last year speak for themselves, and I hope that the next year only brings more of the same.
...that said, I'm really glad I never have to go back to the Stockmen's Casino and Lodge. Leaving that in the last year is completely fine by me.