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on the road again
a cross-country search for home
by katie morris

It can creep up on you without warning. That itchy restlessness where everything bores you to tears and you think you'll implode if you don't get out of Dodge and quick. I am all too familiar with this feeling.

In my early 20s I was somewhat of a nomad, always on the move and never feeling quite satisfied with where I was. My constant travels stemmed, in part, from my naive belief that the grass really would be greener on the other side of the fence. No matter how many times I was proven wrong, I continued to think that all my problems would be solved if I could just move to a new place and start over with a clean slate. In addition to this vain hope, my roaming ways were the result of another, more attainable goal – to find the one place where I truly belonged.

It's possible that I was always searching for a new home because I started off in the wrong place. New Jersey, that is. I'm not saying that New Jersey is wrong (although I'm sure there are many people who would). No, there are plenty of merits to the Garden State. It's just that I was not meant to grow up there, is all. My mom is from Hawaii and my dad is from New York, and somehow New Jersey was the compromise they made. Personally, I think I got shafted. I could have grown up as a little North Shore surf betty, but instead I was hanging out at Paramus Park Mall surrounded by girls in acid-washed jeans with tsunami hairdos. I tried for a solid 18 years to feel like I fit in, but New Jersey and I never quite clicked.

As soon as I graduated from high school, I headed to Virginia in search of higher education and wide-open spaces. It sounded good on paper, but within days of arriving at my small, liberal arts college, I knew I didn't belong in the South. Not only was I an outsider, but I was a dreaded Yankee, to boot. Yet again, I didn't blend. I just couldn't relate to the traditions of Civil War-reminiscing and chewing tobacco. I lasted two semesters.

I wised up and transferred to a school in Washington, D.C. – the best college town for culture-hungry yet perpetually broke students like me. It was a bonanza of free museum admissions, dollar pint nights, abundant internships, and student discounts for everything from movies to the ballet. But as soon as I graduated, I once again realized that I didn't belong. I hate politics, yet I was surrounded by people for whom politics was the only acceptable topic of conversation. I soon wanted to kill every wet behind the ears intern who wore their Senate I.D. badge to the grocery store. No, D.C. was too provincial, too self-important, too transient, and too damn humid for my tastes. (Word to the wise: Never rent a non-air-conditioned house in D.C., no matter how cheap the rent is.)

After I escaped the Beltway, I spent a blissful summer in Burlington, Vermont – a beautiful, mellow place that's as green as Ireland, and home to a friendly mix of farmers, liberal college students, and cows. But the fact that I don't like to ski, hate the smell of patchouli, and am the biggest non-fan of the Grateful Dead meant that I didn't fit in there either. Vermont also gets damn cold in the winter and I'm just not cut out for the tundra.

By then I was just antsy to get off the Eastern Seaboard and see the rest of the country. I polled friends for suggestions of places to live, and Boulder, Colorado was the front-runner. I had never been there, but it sounded nice, so my good friend Kathy and I packed up our compact cars and headed for the Rockies. But once I arrived in Boulder, I knew why everyone in Vermont had raved about it. Boulder was a western version of Burlington. Same hippies, same fanatical skiers, same bone-chilling weather. Yet again, not the place for me. While I had fun waiting tables and traveling through the Wild West, I knew that I still hadn't found my true home.

I even lived in Iowa for a summer to take some classes at the University. Iowa City was filled with kindly Midwestern folks, but I didn't make an effort to get to know any of them. My endless moving had made me too jaded to put effort into friendships that had no hope of getting past the acquaintance stage. But my time spent in the Hawkeye State was not in vain. My classes were top-notch, I stood in the cornfields at the Field of Dreams, and I even saw a life-sized sculpture of the Last Supper carved out of butter at the Iowa State Fair. It's something that must be seen to be believed.

At this point, I was at a crossroads. I was growing weary of life on the move. And I was finally realizing that moving didn't solve any of my problems, it just pushed things around on my plate a bit. When you first get somewhere new, you're so busy figuring out where the grocery store is and signing up for phone service and filling out your change of address forms and buying a new shower curtain - who has time to worry? But when everything calms down and life gets back to normal, you realize that the bumps and voids in your life are exactly the same. Only the scenery is different.

But I also knew I couldn't survive in a flyover state so far from either coast, so I had to decide where to live next. On a whim, I headed for San Francisco with a few hundred dollars, no contacts, and no place to stay. I crashed at a youth hostel for three weeks while I was apartment hunting. Unfortunately, there's just no way to get a good night's sleep in a co-ed room with a dozen drunk German teenagers. I finally found a cheap place to live, but the drawback was that I had to share it with two girls who brought the word princess to a new level. They didn't work, didn't clean, forgot to pay bills, and subsisted on 'spending money' that their daddies sent them every week. My least favorite of the two girls was on the couch every night, chain-smoking and watching reruns of Beverly Hills, 90210. Classy.

But then it hit me. Despite the fact that I was temping, had no money, didn't know a soul, and had two of the worst roommates imaginable, I wasn't restless anymore. I loved where I was. And seven years later, I still do. I love the wildly diverse mix of people. I love that I'm in a city, but I can hit the beach without leaving town. I love that I never have to scrape ice off my windshield. I love that organic produce is easy to find. I love that people from other states look at me with envy when they hear where I live. But most importantly, I love that I fit in. After years of searching, I'm finally home.


a dilettante who grew up back east, then came to her senses and moved to san francisco. loves: strong coffee, warm weather, and good books. loves not: cell phones, emoticons, and bad drivers.

more about katie morris


what's the big to do?
my obsession with lists
by katie morris
topic: general
published: 7.5.02

home alone
one hundred days of solitude
by katie morris
topic: general
published: 4.5.05


matt morin
10.7.02 @ 12:52a

Everyone needs to live in a few different places. How else are you supposed to know which place is right if you don't have anything to compare it to?

I have a 40-something friend who was born, grew up, went to college and now lives in the same small town. I kinda feel sorry for him, because I think there are so many other places he'd be better suited for.

adam kraemer
10.16.02 @ 10:26a

My dad has a 54-year-old cousin who still lives with her mother. She goes on a lot of cruises, but has literally never left home. I just don't get that.

tracey kelley
10.16.02 @ 11:44a

I completely agree. While there is a certain charm and stability to living in the same house your entire life, or even young life (which I didn't) I think it's important to wander. I've told numerous young people - at least go to college in a completely different state, just to see what it feels like to know where home really is.

I've never been to SF. Sad but true. I feel I'd really like it there, and have Matt* mostly convinced that we should venture out that way for IMSF. (which is when?) But if I had to pick a city that I've been to that I would really enjoy living in(not counting New Orleans, which I loved or Raleigh, which has importance) I'd have to say Kansas City, MO. Smack in the middle of everything, easy to fly out of, culturally sound, moderate climate and interesting neighorhoods.

But who knows? While I know I won't spend the rest of my life in Des Moines - of this I am certain - I didn't think I'd live here 6 years and own a home for that long, either.


heather millen
10.16.02 @ 12:03p

I didn't grow up in a family that liked to stay in one place. Maybe that's why when it came to where I would go after college, everything was a possibility. As I was planning my cross-country move, a lot of people acted like I was crazy for just picking up by myself and going so far away. But to me, I couldn't relate to the ones who wanted to stay right where they had always been.

I just feel like there's too much out there to see and do. Everyone's "home" is out there and it's quite often not where you started out. It just takes the courage to go find it.


matt morin
10.16.02 @ 12:30p

Tracey - IMSF, we're looking at early 2003. Maybe the end of January. Start working on it!

katie morris
10.16.02 @ 12:38p

heather -- i fully agree with you. there are 50 states out there, so i've never understood why some people choose to live their entire lives confined to one. i would go stir crazy!

and tracey, you would love sf. you can't help but fall in love with this place from the first time you visit. granted, we don't have large objects carved out of butter, but there are plenty of other worthwhile things to see.

michelle von euw
10.16.02 @ 12:58p

And sometimes you wander, to find that the place you were born really is home. I lived in DC and Raleigh and I don't think I'm done moving around, but ultimately, Boston is my home and I can't imagine calling any other city that. My dad's family bought the house where we grew up in 1935, and I hope to raise my kids in that same house.

matt morin
10.16.02 @ 4:31p

I think it's pretty obvious when you find that perfect place though. I've lived in a four other cities and San Francisco is the only one that just feels right to me. And I could never live on the east coast. Whenever I'm out there to visit, it feels wrong.

katie morris
10.16.02 @ 7:54p

the east coast feels wrong to me too, and i'm from there. go figure. something about the crowds of people that always seem to be in a hurry is just too overwhelming. and the weather bites.

russ carr
10.16.02 @ 10:31p

I just added it up: I've lived at 24 separate addresses in 32 years, across seven states and two countries, including eight moves in the past eight years. I've never lived in one house, apartment or state longer than three consecutive years. The only place that's been a constant is the very first place I lived, at my grandparents' home in Orlando. Within a year, most likely, it will be sold so they can move into a retirement community so Granddad can get the care he needs. I've had a key to that house for more than half my life. It's going to be tough when I can no longer unlock the door there. I've owned three houses, but that's always been home to me.

katie morris
10.17.02 @ 1:23a

wow, russ. am i you? are you me? in 31 years i've also lived in 7 states and 2 countries, but at a mere 21 addresses. i think i need to stay put for a while -- i'm exhausted just thinking about all of the packing and unpacking i've done.

juli mccarthy
10.17.02 @ 7:27a

I grew up in a fractured family that moved constantly. Nine different grade schools and three different high schools - that's a lot of being The New Kid for one child to cope with. So when I hit adulthood, my goal was to find a place I wanted to be and stay put. I married a man who has lived within 5 miles of his birthplace his entire life, and gave birth to his daughter in the same hospital he was born in. For the first time in my life, I feel like I have roots instead of wheels. I may travel more someday, but I'm delighted not to have to be The New Kid anymore.

adam kraemer
10.17.02 @ 10:57a

I'm such a Northeaster. Born in Philly, raised in two houses in the suburbs. Moved to Boston for college, stayed there an extra two years. Moved to NYC for grad school, still here.

I could see moving to LA or SF, but I think it would be tough knowing that I could only see my family once a year, at best. Plus, I wouldn't be able to spend summers at my grandmother's shore house.

Also, I really like tall buildings. And being able to go from the mountains to a city to the beach in a matter of hours.


heather millen
10.17.02 @ 11:56a

Adam, what are you talking about? California is perfect for going to the mountains and the beach in a matter of hours. "Surf and Ski" in the same day, as they say.

I too grew up a Northeasterner and I liked it enough. Moved to the south for college, but don't EVER call me a southerner. And after finally heading west, I think I can honestly say what I've always suspected...I am a previously misplaced Californian.

adam kraemer
10.17.02 @ 3:46p

I didn't say you couldn't do that in California. But it's a reason I'm not likely to move to KC.

I said I could see myself in California. I'd just need a good job, a car, and moving expenses first.

matt morin
10.17.02 @ 4:47p

You wouldn't need a car if you lived in San Francisco. (Not that I'd really want you to live here. It's kind of comforting knowing you're 2500 miles away.)

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