February 18, 2004

how about Pierre, SD?


While dining in Efland, NC tonight, we sat around in a circle and discussed where on earth we could live if we didn't live, you know, where we live. I know I'm repeating myself, but I have some pretty arbitrary thoughts on the subject. To sum up:

- there has to be a healthy gay population (even though I'm neither)
- an up-and-coming band scene, regardless of the fact that I'll hate all of them
- lots and lots and lots of free wireless internet all over town
- an orchestra that can get through Mahler 8
- three or more respected colleges or universities
- loud, omnipresent liberals
- places that can make a soy latté for us severely lactose-intolerant types (hazelnut syrup is a bonus)
- indie bookstores, record shops, and guitar stores
- a local respected newspaper and/or journal
- proximity to either a mountain or a beach
- winter must last less than six months a year

Now, the problem is that those criterion are met by exactly ONE city in America (I'm sticking to North America, but will branch out if GWB is elected again). San Francisco is pretty much the total package, but Tessa thinks the place is "intellectually lazy" and the people are too "self-satisfied." She isn't the only one: I've since met a bunch of San Fran-haters. What the hell is their problem? No clue.

New York certainly has most of the list, but the winters are brutal. There is also the smell of urine, and the fact that it costs too much. But it is where all the smart people are, and it is the center of literature, journalism, and pretty much everything else in the world. The problem? We already live there.

Chicago – Again, horrible winters. Much is made of the wind off the lake (the "hawk," they call it) but people who live in Chicago fucking LOVE it. I have never seen a populace so dedicated to the town they call home, and they're pretty effective recruiters, too. Every time I see Rick Maechling, I'm halfway convinced to move to "a city that works."

Boston – Smartypantses, all of them, but a little conservative. Not "conservative" in that freaky Tallahassee abortion-doctor-shooting sort of way, but the place is a little dowdy. Cambridge is cool, and I'd love to live near Newbury Comics, but there's something kind of neurasthenic that flows through the Charles.

New Orleans? God, I wish.

San Diego, Charlottesville, Iowa City, Seattle? I don't know, don't you wish you could have a pied ŕ terre in all those places? Speaking of French, why not Montreal? Toronto?

Back in high school, they used to give us tests to see what kind of job we would be most suited for. Despite ending that last sentence with a preposition, I was told I should be a "journalist." I wish there were tests like that for American cities. For some reason, I feel like I'd be sent to Barrow, Alaska for being such a whiny pain in the ass.


Posted by irw at February 18, 2004 11:38 PM
Posted by: Alan at February 19, 2004 3:59 AM

You are such a Montrealer and you don't even know it. The whole winter thing is to look chic in a parka. Plus the train from there goes by your farm. How is your knowledge of unpasturized cheeses?

Posted by: Kmeelyon at February 19, 2004 5:32 AM

"Intellectually lazy," and "self-satisfied?" Ouch. I think the trick is to live in multiple cities, as it seems you do. After a life of living in NY, though, SF is was such a comfort. The things I miss least about NY are the pace and the extremes of temperature. But I very much miss the culture, even though there is enough to get by on over here....but it's just not the same. That said, SF has a very small town feel. I am always amazed that SF retains that no matter what. Sometimes I think of SF as a mixture of Chapel Hill and NYC. This is a good thing (for me, at least).

Speaking of small towns, I am off this morning to Hickory, NC. Eeeps.

Posted by: sbw at February 19, 2004 6:12 AM

One word: New Zealand.

Posted by: chip at February 19, 2004 6:20 AM

You know, I was going to say that Chapel Hill fit your bill, but then I realized you'd have to count Duke as a well-respected university.

Posted by: kent at February 19, 2004 6:56 AM

Iowa City winters last -- the really snowy cold part -- from about December 1 to March 1. We don't have mountains, but we do have big muddy rivers. I've never understood people who are wimps about the weather -- all it requires, no matter how cold it gets, is APPROPRIATE CLOTHING.

You would have to count Palmer Chiropractic as a respected university though.

Posted by: scvecc at February 19, 2004 7:05 AM

But with San Fran, you have to contend with being on a faultline.

Atlanta possibly an honorable mention? I'm a relatively new resident, but we like it so far.
-It has the 3rd (some say 2nd) largest gay pop. in the U.S. including a part-time Elton John

-Music scene is not bad. The area can claim Indigo Girls and Outkast in the same breath as well as lots of up and comings. And Athens is less than 1hr away for the cat's cradle effect (though it may be still living off its R.E.M. and B 52's 80's driven rep as a hotbed)

-not sure about wireless internet, but would assume so

-Atlanta Symphony

-Ga. Tech, Emory, Morehouse, Spelman, Ga. State

-oops...liberals. in the city of Atlanta, yes, though not sure how loud we can be. the problem is you'd have to contend with the reputation of rest of the state. see "that freaky Tallahassee abortion-doctor-shooting sort of way" However, I grew up in the land of Strom and attended college & grad school in the land of Jesse, so maybe this is an improvement.

-check (and I don't mean starbucks)


- atlanta journal-constitutional...better than the N & O.; also, Creative Loafing

-ATL is 1000ft above sea level, close to mtns....6 long hrs to beach. does a lake count?

-it will be in the 60's today.

Added Extras:
UNC connection: largest alumni group outside of NC, proximity to GaTech and Clemson ensure easy access to a few carolina games a year (ACC expansion will affect this).
only 5.5hr drive to C.Hill.
relatively cheap airfare with airtran and delta
southern city.

Lingering Doubts:
they are actually still debating the incorporation of the conf. flag into the state flag issue.
ga public schools worst in the U.S. and they just tried to eliminate the word "evolution" from science classes.
conservative political scene wins out

Posted by: Julianna at February 19, 2004 7:08 AM

Ummm...hello? You just described Minneapolis! It's got all those things except, of course, the winter that lasts less than six months. But we like our winters. They keep out all the riffraff!

Posted by: michelle at February 19, 2004 7:12 AM

When I was living in Chicago (and LOVING it, by the by), everyone said the same thing- that the brutal winters kept the riff-raff out of that town and for that reason only, it was the best place on earth. Never too crowded, far more reasonable rents, always a place for your bike on the Lake Shore Path.

But, oh, god, the winters. And I grew up (sort of) with Iowa winters. Ugh, the winters. Actually, I should say "winter". I left after my first one there.

Posted by: Dabbler at February 19, 2004 7:35 AM

I know that you view Los Angeles as the seventh circle of hell, but you have described Silverlake. Hell, it's Homo-Palooza! And lots of cool people with, and without, families. The bookstores in Los Feliz are excellent, you can't swing a cat without hitting a soy latte, and the Angeles National Forest is less than half an hour away. And sure, everyone talks about the movie business at Trader Joe's, but it's like living on a highly trafficked street; you just stop hearing it pretty quickly.

Posted by: John Rukavina at February 19, 2004 8:37 AM

Your criteria are all pretty much met by Vancouver:

- very healthy gay population and huge pride parade every summer
- we might lose points on the bands because sadly we are responsible for the national shame that is Nickelback, but there are some good up and comers for you to hate
- I'm assuming the wifi is in place
- vocal omnipresent liberal population
- soy lattés flowing like rivers and hazelnut syrup cascading down from the mountains
- lots of indie shops
- the Georgia Straight
- mountains and beaches everywhere
- short winter

In spite of all of that, I don't much like it here and am leaving shortly for Charlottetown (which barely covers any of the items on your list). In addition to everything on your list, Vancouver also has punishing incessant rain, high priced real estate (although nothing compared to San Francisco), the worst mass murder in Canadian history (they've discovered DNA from about 60 bodies so far at a pig farm in Coquitlam), terrible drivers, hideous architecture, governments that care more about the Olympics than helping people on the downtown east side (where there is rampant homelessness, poverty, drug use, and the highest HIV rate in North America) and too many outdoor adventure types for my taste.

Posted by: Annie at February 19, 2004 9:24 AM

Wow, Ian--I actually initially thought your blog was headed towards being a gracefully veiled commercial for the Triangle--and then I get thwacked in the face with San FranCISco?!?!? Thank god you included Tessa's marvelously apt comments on the subject...in fact, she hit on the head one of the main things (among oh so many) that bothered me about SF--this weird sense permeating every conversation that the important thinking about whatever subject had already been done, and the thing to do at this point was read the script. It was just weird. I had the sense of constantly overhearing conversations that not only I but hundreds of thousands of overeducated people had already had and still were having in places where there was actually nothing else to do but feel good about how well you knew what you were talking about. Creativity, nil. I find more pure imagination in conversations currently taking place at the BP in East Durham.

But to move on from SF-bashing (hopefully someday I'll have my fill), I have to echo Chipper here and wave a flag for the Triangle--or at least Carrboro. At every point on your list (except perhaps the symphony) I thought Carrboro/Chapel Hill came up with five stars. Talk about soy lattes--I mean come on. And omnipresent liberals??? I would make a serious wager that Carrboro, given the chance, would have voted in the 90th percentile for Kucinich. Fuck Duke--how about N.C. Central in Durham, a historically black university with a kick-ass law school? There's no need to enumerate the rest--it's all here. You won't see any stars and bars hanging off some possum-eater's porch (unless you go about ten to fifteen miles out in Alamance county), and the public schools are among the best in the country. Healthy gay population? Our MAYOR is queer!!

And if, my friends, if that's not enough (and I haven't even mentioned the Tar Heels or Dean Smith) we'll just go straight for the gut: the balmy Carolina Piedmont springs and falls stretch our warm season (I'm talking shorts, tank tops, and sandals) from April all the way through October. I've oft heard Ian himself say that May in Chapel Hill epitomizes the glory of spring like nowhere else on earth.

So, really, there's nothing else to say, is there? It's a sunny, beautiful Tuesday, and damn near 60 degrees.

Posted by: Annie at February 19, 2004 9:26 AM

I mean, Thursday. But it's damn beautiful.

Posted by: David Ball at February 19, 2004 1:05 PM

Come on, Tessa--

I have to admit, I used to think as you did, but that's when I lived in NY. What city had the biggest anti-war rallies? Where was the internet taken to it's greatest heights? Where are both Blogger and MT based? Where is incredibly great progressive activism happening--not just the marches, but MoveOn and Salon.com? Hint: it ain't NYC.

Speaking as someone who is currently in school, there's nothing intellectually lazy about the place. Here's a hint: people don't actually have TIME to read in NY. Tessa, you would love it here--people are just as smart as NYers but not so smug about it. And I say that as someone who lived in NY for 8 years, met my wife there, had my brother live there, and really love it. But whoever said it is right: this is Chapel Hill meets NYC. As great as our nabe in Cobble Hill was, SF dogs it. People who say SF sucks are usually from NY and are only doing that to justify not moving there--and they have only the shallowest interaction with the city. Saying it's intellectually lazy is like confusing the part of Manhattan that is the Upper East Side for the whole. Or is someone going to justify that white-bricked intellectual wasteland to me? It's like Spanky's gone vertical.

Two other quick points. One, is it intellectually lazy to be doing the gay marriage thing, or does it SIMPLY FUCKING RULE?

Two. Seen an independent bookstore in NY lately? (B&N doesn't count.) We are ass-over with them out here. Honest to god local bookstores, honest to god local merchants.

Those who don't know, criticize.

I think your physical presence here speaks volumes. By which I mean in SF, not in NY.

Come on out and spend time with Larry Lessig. Or Medea Benjamin. Or Michael Chabon. Or Dave Eggers. Or your Rhodes Scholar friend David Ball, for crying out loud. I'll challenge you to Boggle, Scrabble, celebrities, Trivial Pursuit--anything--and then we'll start talking intellectually lazy... DB

Posted by: David Ball at February 19, 2004 1:12 PM

Um. That should be its greatest heights.

But I guess I didn't say we weren't gramatically lazy.

Loving the double negative, DB

Posted by: block at February 19, 2004 8:05 PM

annie. i have'nt seen a tank top for at least 92 months. is that a promise?

Posted by: Diane Duane at February 20, 2004 4:18 PM

The city you're postulating sounds like Zürich. Dublin is close, with about 8/12...

Posted by: Just Andrew at February 20, 2004 10:15 PM

ah, rural vermont - I hit on only one criterion - we're 5 miles from a mountain.

otherwise zilch and I wouldn't trade it for the world.

Posted by: Steven Garrity at February 21, 2004 7:24 AM

Great post. Still chuckling.

So, if Johnny Rukavina can leave Vancouver for Charlottetown, then you can leave NY for Charlottetown.

Sure, we can't meet most your criteria - but where else can you know the gay population all by name!

You're missing one criteria: Peter Rukavina lives there.

Here's my run-down of how Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island handles your criteria:

- there has to be a healthy gay population (even though I'm neither)

You can know the entire gay community by name.

- an up-and-coming band scene, regardless of the fact that I'll hate all of them

You can know the entire indie music scene by name.

- lots and lots and lots of free wireless internet all over town

You can do it yourself for a few thousand bucks.

- an orchestra that can get through Mahler 8


- three or more respected colleges or universities


- loud, omnipresent liberals

You can know all liberals by name.

- places that can make a soy latté for us severely lactose-intolerant types (hazelnut syrup is a bonus)

The coffee shop around the block from silverorange might be able to pull this off for you.

- indie bookstores, record shops, and guitar stores

One of each.

- a local respected newspaper and/or journal


- proximity to either a mountain or a beach

Beachs galore.

- winter must last less than six months a year


Posted by: Jeff at February 24, 2004 7:00 AM

Ah, you've got me homesick for the Bay Area. I guess being away from there for the last few years has turned it into a kind of mythical wonderland in my head. Something like that. Anyway, actually there is a test for American cities at http://www.findyourspot.com I can't vouch for its accuracy, though. (Oh, and they make you register to get your results, by the way.)

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