Standards of Living
If someone asked me to describe the American standard of living, I'd be hard-pressed to give them a definitive answer.
As far as household comforts go, my highest standard of living was in Fayetteville, Arkansas, where I could afford to rent (on grad student pay) a nearly-new 3/2 half-duplex that was easily 2000 square feet with a two-car garage, gas fireplace, living room the size of two living rooms, kitchen you could waltz in (with dishwasher and garbage disposal, of course), a laundry room big enough for washer, dryer, ironing board, three baskets of dirties and a clothesrack of cleans, a back and front yard, and a tidy little front porch for sipping coffee, beer, etc., and watching the birds and bunnies and the occasional fox come sniffing by. $770/month.
We moved from there to San Francisco where we lived in an unimproved 1950s building with a (loud) bar downstairs. It was two rooms, a kitchen (no appliances), and a bathroom, with a little "atrium" upon which I once tried to grow tomatoes, but they all died. I had a 40-minute recording of the ocean that I had to play on a loop, all night, at high volume, so that we could sleep over the music from downstairs, always loud enough to rattle the floor, sometimes loud enough to rattle the pictures on the walls. During the day they had a jukebox that played nothing, it seemed, but Cher's "Believe," Freddy Fender's "Wasted Days and Wasted Nights," Fats Domino's "Blueberry Hill," and Bob Marley's "Three Little Birds" over and over and over. When we moved in, our only neighbor was a internet dominatrix, who, despite her entrepreneurship, was certifiably insane, and believed that she could hear the people in the bar below plotting against her day and night. When she moved out, a family of 7 (if you include the ever-crying infant) moved in and squatted for months before the landlord (a really nice guy who gave up landlording when we told him we were moving) could get them out. I liked our neighborhood, but when we told people where we lived, they asked me if I "felt safe there" -- because it was old and mostly non-white. We once tried to throw a party, and everyone -- EVERYONE -- left within two hours of showing up. It was the worst party in history, and I think they just all wanted to get out of our neighborhood before dark. $1050/month.
But we lived in San Francisco.
Public transport. Great music. Great people. Great (cheap) food. Gorgeous mountains with hiking trails and waterfalls. The ocean and the cliffs. Pristine lakes. Redwood forests reaching up and beyond sight. And everything strolling distance from home.
When we moved to Florida, we resolved to keep as much of that standard of living as possible. We wanted to live somewhere where we could walk to things. Close to the beach (since there are no redwood forests, no waterfalls). Somewhere as urban as possible. And our place ended up being better than the old one: two bedrooms instead of one. More space. Closets. No flight of stairs to clamber up and down every day. No rattling floor. No ocean on a loop. No Freddy Fender. No Cher. And a nice, big patio where I could grow things, and they would not, necessarily, just die. Sure the kitchen cabinets were just roughly-sawed out pieces of plywood with hinges screwed on and dipped in paint. Sure the bathroom sink wasn't technically connected to the wall or floor. Sure, the wall-unit a/c didn't quite keep you from sweating in the house. Sure there wasn't a three-pronged outlet in the place, and the few two-prongers were so old and loose the plug would fall out if you didn't duck-tape it to the wall. But it was only a ten-minute walk to the Gateway theater, and right on Holiday Park. $975/month.
Now we're living closer to Wilton Manors. Nothing's quite walkable. Bikeable, yes, but we don't have bikes. And there's still a patio. Smaller, much smaller, but it's nice. And the sockets in the walls are modern. There is central a/c (I have to admit I find it weird now to go to bed knowing that the a/c is cooling the rest of the apartment needlessly). And a pool. The dishwasher is under the counter (our old one was a rolly-type) and barely makes a sound. Sure, we've given up about 200 square feet of space, but we don't really need all those books do we? ;-)
It seems like we've stepped up to a slightly higher standard of living, but I think back on all these "ways we've lived" and I don't know... it seems like there have been a lot of exchanges made, a lot of "this for that" -- in Arkansas we had the most "comforts," but were the most miserable. In San Francisco we had almost no comforts at all (and in fact were actively irritated in our own home), but were happy as pigs in shit.
This move, we seem to have given up the ability to walk to places we want to go, some square footage, and $25/month. And I'm saying it's worth it.
Because here in Florida the best thing is not what you can walk to anyway. The best thing is the people: my family, and the people we're friends with, and the people we work with are all so wonderful I don't know if I can ever bring myself to leave.
I get the feeling the next "this for that" will be "how much are you willing to give up, in order to own..."
Labels: american standard of living