The Experiment: Part 1

October 14, 2017

Last month, J and I decided to “test drive” living in San Francisco. It’s something I’ve been thinking about for a long time, since my urban-dweller tendencies have not exactly meshed well with living in suburban Mountain View. But since both of us work in the Peninsula / Silicon Valley, we would both have to commute south (by car, bus, or train) every weekday. So it’s not a move to be taken lightly. We’re looking at somewhere around 15 to 20 hours/week of commuting time for each of us. But we both find that our leisure activities pull us northward on a regular basis, so it seemed reasonable to figure out if we’d actually enjoy living in the city.

We’re calling this test period “The Experiment.”

We first tried renting a furnished apartment for a month in the Mission, but nothing looked that good, and after checking out the bike route to the train station – involving biking up hills, under highways, and through lots and lots of stop signs – we nixed that plan. There were no furnished, monthly apartments available in Potrero Hill or the Dogpatch, which are close to the 22nd Street Caltrain station, which both of us expected to use to get to work. So finally we settled on a two-week Airbnb stay as the most feasible. But the first available two-week period started October 10th, so then, we waited.

Day 0 – Finally the day arrived! We packed our suitcases and headed for the hills. Potrero Hill(s), that is. The place we found is in a great location, walking distance from the train, and quite comfortable. It even has a little backyard patio. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the amount of parking available, which would be useful if we moved here permanently and wanted to keep one of our cars. Potrero Hill is a quiet neighborhood and has most of the necessary amenities; however, it does lack a pharmacy, and I’m sure we’ll find other things missing the longer we’re here. But moving in went smoothly.

Day 1 – I drove the car back down to work, which was surprisingly easy since we are just a few blocks from the I-280 on-ramp. Traffic going south is “reverse commute” traffic so it’s not too bad. Then I left the car at our apartment, and took the train back up from Mountain View.

Day 2 – The first full commuting day by train was generally uneventful, although there was a fatality on Caltrain that day, so if I had needed to get just two more stops south, I would have had to abandon the train and take a taxi. As it was, my stop was the one right before the train was going to be held at the station, so I made it to work fine. But it was a good reminder that Caltrain is unreliable and being an hour away from work adds uncertainty to the mix. I also had to get a ride to the station after work, because I had a late meeting and would have missed the train if I’d tried to walk to the station afterward. Having a 15-minute walk to get to the train adds stress since there is only one train an hour, so if you miss it, you’re stuck for an hour until the next one.

View downtown, from near our apartment

View downtown, from near our apartment

Day 3 – Fully uneventful. Spent some time walking around the neighborhood in the evening, checking out different grocery stores.

Day 4 – The weekend! We put in our names at Plow, the local brunch hot spot that’s just a block away, at 11:30am. Then we walked around the neighborhood for an hour, hung out on the back patio for half an hour, and by 1:30pm we finally got a table. The food was undeniably good. The wait would not have been worth it if we weren’t so close, but was not a problem since we were. So yes, there are definitely advantages to being local! And it’s pretty cool to be able to wake up and have the whole city before you with all its possibilities, plus the easier connection to other places (Oakland, Berkeley) where we have friends.

It’s too early to tell what we think about this Experiment. But I’ll plan to keep posting about how things are going over the next week, and ultimately we hope to reach a conclusion about whether the commuting is worth it to be closer to the things we want to do during our leisure time. There are other things to consider too - cost, proximity to things like health care and airports, availability of transportation, etc - but most of those things seem workable. Stay tuned!