Stranger in a Strange Land

The move to a new location can bring observations which can be baffling at worst, and entertaining at best. Some are about as subtle as a whisper, and some a sledgehammer. Ohio has brought with it a mix of both, but mostly good. Here are mine:

  1. Drivers: I know that Illinois and especially Chicago have their own…styles… of driving. In Chicago, we presume everyone is in the same rush, most know what they’re doing and know how to get out of the way (that goes for pedestrians and public transit, too). In Ohio? Not so much. Almost no one is in a hurry, the lines on the road are mere suggestions, and if someone is passing you on your right it must mean they’re in a bigger hurry and best to keep where you are so as not to disturb their intentions. Turn signals 100′ ahead of the turn? Sure! Merge at the very last second and then cut across two lanes of traffic to reach the turn lane? Of course! How about idle in the neutral center turn lane until everyone’s done doing what they need to do, and then another minute more thus creating a stalemate? Not confusing at all. Ask me if I’ve taken my scooter out since we’ve been here.
  2. Cost: Our first month in town, we witnessed gas prices increase more than twenty cents between gas stations only a mile apart, then drop again a mile later. At its lowest, we paid $1.92 per gallon and now it’s back up to something like $2.15 (Chicago is hovering around $2.50-$2.75). The cheapest gas was, I should mention, found over the July 4th weekend – the exact opposite of how it goes for most of the country. Costco was almost always over twenty cents cheaper in Chicago but here, there is virtually no difference and in fact, the BP on the corner is usually less than Costco (but I don’t get gas at BP, those killers).
  3. Food: Remarkably good, except for pizza. We were warned we would have a difficult time finding good pizza in Columbus and that has so far proven to be true. Super thin gourmet-style pizzas are common, and we even encountered some canned mushrooms which we sat stunned to observe when the pie arrived at our door. We haven’t been out to a pizza joint yet, only delivery, so there’s much research yet to be done. Unfortunately, the only Chicago representation is Giordano’s, which no self-respecting Chicagoan would recommend (though I hear the thin crust is good). We stumbled upon an Asian market and were able to stock up on snacks and ingredients, but not as many as we were used to in Chicago at our beloved Broadway Market. We have a running list of items we’ll most likely have to buy online because finding them here may be hopeless, though I did just stumble across an Asian market down the street from an appointment I’ll be at later today. I ordered some sushi last night that was excellent. Probably the best I’ve had in a very long time anywhere, AND they were open on a Monday to deliver. It wasn’t cheap but it was great. We’ve had delicious Lebanese, solid BBQ, fantastic hot chicken, and of course, Jeni’s ice cream is never to be missed.
  4. Beer: Columbus has more breweries than I know what to do with. They participate in the Columbus Ale Trail, a passport booklet where intrepid boozers collect stamps from each participating brewery for fun and prizes. I think I’m up to maybe eight stamps or so, with many more to come. Having organized and participated in the planning of beer events via my beer club in Chicago, I appreciate all that goes into a well-run, supportive, and connected beer scene. So far all the females I’ve seen are behind the bar but I like to think there is perhaps a decent female representation in the brewhouses too, we’ll see. The jury is still out as to whether or not I’ll start a She’s Crafty Columbus edition, though. The break from planning has been nice, and I don’t really miss the hustle or constant recruitment aspect that much yet.
  5. Working from Home: True, the arrangement I had with my previous company hasn’t quite worked out. If I line graphed the amount of work I had in my first weeks and the amount of work they’ve given me recently, let’s just say it would look a lot like the descent of the Leaning Tower. However, I am still parked in front of my computer in hopes something will materialize, from about 9 am to 5:30 pm, daily. Sometimes things come in, occasionally that time is spent on a job search, and even more often, it’s spent bouncing from article to article. But a few times, it’s actually spent on the couch, with Fred, watching Netflix when I just can’t bring myself to do the aforementioned for another minute more. I have a local recruiter – just one this time, I learned my lesson – who’s making a few things happen for me. She has me (knock wood, it’s not set yet) slated to start a UX gig in a few days at an agency downtown. It’s for only about 40 hours or so, but finally it’s something relevant I can put on my resume and get some real experience doing actual UX. Imposter syndrome is starting already and I’m not even in the door.

    I’ve come to love being home all day, though. Yes, I get bored and frustrated and sometimes go to the grocery store or make appointments just to get out of the house, but I love it enough that the idea of a regular office job, away from home and requiring a commute, makes me sad. Even with a decent paycheck and something to do, I find myself hoping it doesn’t happen too soon. I’m so fortunate that I can be picky in the search and only go if it seems like a good fit and feels right. Dylan’s company is growing very fast and they’re finally starting to talk about bringing a User Experience Designer on staff, so naturally he told them about me (good man). They’re all in Chicago today and tomorrow for a quarterly meeting and I’m told, I’m on the docket. If that conversation happens, possibly as soon as next week, and the opportunity presents to join his company, which is strictly remote, to do work I love, all connecting points will have come together. I would be thrilled. He loves his company and it is truly a unique one. They don’t blink at the request for time away to take care of things or people, and they are truly invested in each other’s wellbeing as humans, not just money-makers. A friend asked if he and I could work together day in and day out, live together, sleep together, cook together, and not kill one another. I said yes, so far no one is dead, but I suspect we’ll have to develop some changes in our daily routines to buy a little more time to ourselves or with people who aren’t us. Still, I’d rather have that than go to an office, all said and done. I don’t know what kind of office I’d ever actually be happy in, honestly.

  6. Our Apartment: Aside from walls that are paper-thin and our occasionally loud neighbors, we love it. The good far outweighs the bad, but they still haven’t fixed up the pool or gym, which we didn’t know were under construction when we signed our lease. That has been disappointing because the weather here is often sunny with temps that hover in the 80s and lower humidity than we’d been used to, aka, perfect pool days. They tell me mid-August and since the pool is heated, they hope to keep it open for a good long time. I’d been counting on that pool for a workout regimen but without it, here I sit, gaining weight and getting flabbier. The most unfortunate development has been our location, actually. We aren’t technically in the city our address indicates but rather, we’re in Columbus proper. This means we can’t take advantage of any resident rates at rec facilities (because Columbus has only one rate), and the really nice pool centers are like, $15 per day for non-residents in the bordering towns. Columbus’s pools are well south of us, too. A functional facility was supposed to come with this apartment, after all. Sirens are far and few, we keep a fan running at night because of the quiet, cicadas have taken over the airwaves, and there are even wildlife sightings (and smells) within yards of our door (deer, skunks, chipmunks).
  7. Our Dog: Fred is thriving. He’s running the stairs like a pro and is comfortable with all the new space in his life. We have a stripe of woods outside our door that someone generously carved a trail through, which leads to a clearing that borders a huge parking lot. That clearing has been perfect for Fred’s romps off leash, previously impossible in Chicago. fredThere are never any other dogs around and for the first time since we’ve had him, he’s been running around full blast. Within a few weeks, he developed some definition in his hind quarters and trimmed down. We started feeding him four times a day because we believe he’s hypoglycemic, but (against my better judgment) after the chaos of the move and his uncertainty, we allowed pee pads to come into our home. If I can catch him before using it, I run him outside and have him pee there but breaking him of the pee pads will be like housebreaking him all over again. Shih Tzus are notoriously stubborn and hard to housebreak, which doesn’t help. He’s never developed clear signs that he has to go out besides staring at us with a certain amount of desperation and maybe a butt wiggle or whine, so the use of the pee pad usually occurs when he sneaks off undetected. Fortunately, it’s still just pee. We’re going to start a routine of sprays that will hopefully deter using the pads entirely, wish us luck.
  8. Groceries: This might be the strangest development. In Chicago, there is a grocery chain called Tony’s, that covers a lot of international bases plus supplies a butcher, fish monger, salad and hot bars, bakery, and a full booze section. It’s a typical grocery store, nothing fancy, and has a huge Mexican section with all the staples. We got spoiled, we see that now. Columbus’s meat, produce, and fish prices are nuts. There has been no explanation so far how that can be, considering the central states are where a lot of the meat comes from. Steaks are at least $1-$2 more per pound, fish is almost never on sale and if it is, the sale price is still several dollars more than Tony’s ever had it. We got way into trout and cod before we moved, stovetop smoking or baking it in the oven. Since our move? Haven’t bought any. We found some perch that we used for fish tacos which were delightful, but it has almost no flavor and isn’t good for much else but tacos, or another heavily reinforced meal. We picked up a huge fresh salmon slab on sale for about $8, but made the singular error of buying a large frozen salmon filet, that we smoked. Previously-frozen fish is a mushy, flavorless heartbreaker.

    Produce fares no better. Green peppers are $1 each, yellow or red peppers push $1.50 each. Avocados hover near 2/$5, cherry tomatoes over $4 a carton, ears of corn are at least $.50 each, and mushrooms are rarely loose so they’re around $2.50-$3 a package. Every single time we go shopping, we stand there shaking our heads in the produce section, trying to understand how a store in Chicago could have food priced less than a city of only 850,000 people. Oddly, we found at discount chain + catch-all Marc’s a huge section of Bob’s Red Mill products for almost half what they usually go for (and a lot of it is gluten-free, if you’re into that kind of thing). Marc’s produce is limited but will certainly do, for less than anywhere else. Unfortunately, their soda pop section is enormous and lends itself well to my theory that Ohio is being intentionally kept fat and unhealthy. There’s a huge medical community statewide, and there is little money to be made from healthy people. Attempting to escape high fructose corn syrup has been tricky, it’s in everything from store brand bread to breakfast meats and several points between. A large portion of our food budget goes to shopping for items that are ideally healthy, but it’s not been easy. The high cost of produce makes this worse.

    Oh and butter! Butter is almost $5 a package, can you believe that?! I was horrified to find a four-pack of sticks at Target for $5, their store brand even, then I started to see it everywhere for that price. Costco’s price is reasonable, but not by much. Again, Tony’s often had packs for $1.50 on sale, but we haven’t come across anything close to that yet.

  9. People: Jury is out on this one so far. My litmus test for how friendly a location is, is two-fold. Do strangers greet one another on the street? – and – Will bartenders or patrons at the bars chat up a stranger without much prompting (or warning)? So far we have yes, and we have no. People definitely greet one another on sidewalks and in common areas, sometimes a head nod, sometimes a “good morning/day/evening”. I admit I am still terrible at anticipating this and the return is always stuttering and surprised. I’ll get there. Clerks and customer service workers are exceedingly friendly, which makes their slower pace a little easier to take.

    The second however, not so much. Granted, I’ve not been to a bar alone yet and many breweries don’t open until after 3 or 4 during weekdays so the opportunities have been slim. When I was in Cleveland, women remarked often how rare it was to see a female at a bar alone, especially with a book, and the guys didn’t know what to make of it at all. I think Columbus is probably a little more progressive than that, maybe, but in our many bar visits, only one bartender has been very engaging and talkative. The others so far just kind of sling your drinks and leave you alone (not the worst quality in bar staff). I’m about to venture out for my first local haircut at the salon of a mutual friend, and up the street from that salon is bar I’ve not hear of but that has extensive guest taps featuring beers not available on draft in Chicago. They open about an hour before my appointment, so when I’m done I’m going to pop in there and see how it is during the quiet of the day. My opinion may change, we’ll see. Also, no public transit means one-and-done is key.

  10. The Airport: We’ve each flown once since we’ve been here and both times we laughed at how short a drive it is to and from (26 minutes one-way), and how simple it is to get into and out of it. We can park at the curb long enough to say a proper goodbye, no one is hoking, whistling, or shouting to move it along, and while pickup is still chaotic with one person circling, the airport is small and simple enough to snatch someone curbside from departures rather than arrivals (old family trick) and poof, you’re on your way. We were watching a show the other day where someone was standing at the curb of an airport, on the phone. He agrees to meet the person on the other side of the conversation “in an hour” at a coffee shop in town, after he’d left the airport and reached his hotel to drop off his things. We laughed at the thought of trying to make that plan in Chicago vs. here (or almost anywhere else, really). In Chicago if you want to meet someone after arrival and a hotel stop, you’re looking at at least two hours.

To sum up: Chicago is more expensive in almost every aspect except for, inexplicably, groceries. Ohio is full of charms and pleasant discoveries. And we’ve only run into one Trump supporter, live in the flesh. Fortunately, he didn’t try to talk to us.

This was the right move, our move here. It’s not permanent, we occasionally discuss what and where is next, and if we both wind up working remote full time the world – literally – is ours to explore. I feel often that we’re on the precipice of something big, and that our lives together are taking a shape that while uncommon, will be full of great stories and adventures. It’s hard to be far away from friends and family and to feel like we’re missing things that are happening with them, but there hasn’t been a moment of regret. Our friendship with our friends here is blooming and growing, and Dylan even got himself a bi-weekly RPG game to run. Now if we can just get to the DMV to transfer our registration and get new licenses…


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