I saw this article the other day, and I couldn’t stop thinking about whether (or how) the results applied to me. The authors of the study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology write:

Residential mobility, the very factor that allows Americans to pursue their individual desires, ironically facilitates the uniformity of American landscapes.

They found that cities with a highly mobile population had more chain stores, and that students who have moved a lot prefer national chains. Honestly, I have some issues with the series of studies, particularly confounding variables, the scenarios, small sample size, and generalizing from college students. But I still wondered about how my choices might fit into the authors’ theory.

I definitely am very mobile so I started thinking through where I shop and eat and how my dollars contribute to the American (and other countries’) landscape.

Eating is the easier category for me. I figured that I probably eat at independently owned restaurants about 9 times out of 10. I know that plenty of cognitive impairment might affect that figure so I pulled up my online account, which showed that I was very close. It’s more like 8.5 out of 10 restaurants. (An aside, it was interesting to see what chain restaurants I go to even though there weren’t many repeats in the past few months. They included Panera, Chipotle, Au Bon Pain, Corner Bakery, Subway, and In-n-Out. There’s clearly a trend that when we decide to have soup and sandwiches we go to chain restaurants. Almost all ethnic food, which is mostly what we eat when going out because it’s dishes that I can’t (or won’t) cook, is from independent restaurants.)

Shopping is another matter.

For clothes and household items, I stick fairly closely to thrift stores or online, and in an emergency or for something I can’t find elsewhere, I go to Wal-Mart followed by Target. Part of this is because of cost and the rest is convenience.

As for groceries, it varies quite a bit. I pick up basic items from Wal-Mart, followed by Trader Joes, farmer’s markets, and ethnic stores. Each week varies depending on what I need and what part of town I’m in.

I will say, along these same lines, that upon moving to a new place like LA, I am much more likely to eat somewhere new while shop somewhere I know.

I pulled into a gas station and was baffled that every pump was full. I pulled up behind one car and waited for the driver to return after paying. A few minutes later, I was still waiting.

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I don’t really like to shop. It feels like a pretty big waste of time, not to mention a waste of money. But I know that a lot of people are the exact opposite.

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After leaving the Grand Canyon, we began the final day of the road trip to L.A. All of my previous trips to the Grand Canyon had stopped there so I was curious about the topography of southeast CA. You leave the Canyon behind pretty quickly to be replaced by just a lot of desert, and then there was the inspection station, as a sort of “welcome to California.”

That was when I noticed that the interstate was suddenly being taken over by boats and jet skis. Truck after truck pulling devices for the water crowded the road. (Boats were far and few between through AZ.) I-40 goes along the edge of the Mojave Desert. It seemed quite strange.

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I expect that a variety of things will strike me as odd about CA and particularly L.A. in the first few months of living here. I wrote a long post about a few of these seeming oddities, but rather than waiting to give you one novel-sized post, I’m going to do a series of much shorter posts. This is the first in that series.

Two months ago on a quick trip to check out the city of L.A., I couldn’t understand why there were so many cops on the streets. They were everywhere!  I saw a police vehicle every few minutes while driving around. Perhaps I was in a high enforcement area at the time, although I doubt it. Dallas uses a lot of red light cameras for enforcement. Actually, it’s a full fledged program. That means the city can use their officers in other ways. There’s a big debate about the implications of traffic light cameras. This is a good summary and assessment of the situation. In Dallas (which is clearly a car culture), police are very rare on interstates or major roads. Clearly, enforcement is dealt with differently in L.A.

So I suppose I shouldn’t have been so surprised that upon reaching the CA border there was an inspection station. (Honestly, I thought it might be a sort of immigration station, especially since it was on the border with AZ.)

The following transpired: An agent glanced in the car and, upon seeing the cooler in the backseat, riffled through it to pull out the remaining apples I bought at the grocery store 2 days earlier. She “confiscated” them and handed us a notice that the car had been “inspected” for the safety of CA agriculture.

Now I am fully aware of what invasive species can do to landscapes. (I did a stint on the Utah Conservation Corps several summers ago where we battled a few of them.) But the process just reminded me of when I returned from a semester abroad (during the Mad Cow scare of 2001) and the customs agent took my orange (that I had picked up in Schiphol airport but not eaten on the plane). Or the more recent example is the entire 3-1-1 liquids inspection to fly, which we all know is meaningless. My guess is that those apples will be burnt in some huge incinerator, just like the mounds of oranges burnt in The Grapes of Wrath (we are in CA after all).

It was a pretty great road trip, and most days we got out and did some hiking. I have to tell you about my favorite place along the way to LA. I don’t want to write another post about something you already know about (hello Grand Canyon). I want to tell you about this little known place. I actually had quite a bit of trouble finding it on google maps. So I came prepared with step-by-step written directions, but the signage to get there from the interstate was spot on.

If you’re ever near Santa Fe or Albuquerque (that’s I-25 or I-40 respectively for those of you travel buffs), I highly recommend visiting Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument.

The website doesn’t do this site justice, nor does the cheap $5 entrance fee (which is covered by the National Park Pass if you have one).

If you remember my ravings about the Cappadocia region of Turkey, this landscape will look familiar. In some ways, it’s much better than Turkey because it is easily accessible, has clearly marked trails, and includes beautiful slot canyons, too. Of course, it isn’t as large as the region in Turkey, but then again, we can’t all fly to central Turkey easily.

My only wish was that the afternoon clouds that were forming didn’t make us hurry so much. It really is beautiful terrain.

And just in case you’re wondering, my second favorite place was the Santa Fe National Forest. I was quite surprised by how much I enjoyed being there. Probably half of my enthusiasm was just for being on my own two feet and in the trees after so much driving through the plains. I didn’t want to leave after roasting marshmallows by the fire and camping in the clear mountain air, but we were less than halfway to LA…

The past couple of weeks have been a dizzying array of logistics from sending notarized documents, researching pods and movers, moving vehicles, booking transport for household stuff, getting boxes, and packing. Most of it has been rather labor-intensive. I am constantly fighting my inner voice. Remember when I talked about planning trips? I’m a maximizer in making all of these silly decisions. [I came to terms with this a few years ago, when I read The Paradox of Choice (here's good video summary of some of the points of the book), and I have some some strategies to minimize the effect, but that isn't what this post is about.]

Through the process, there has been one logistic that I thoroughly enjoy taking care of – actually planning the cross-country trip that we will be taking from Texas to California.

I took 2 road trips “out West” about 10 years ago; both were out to the Grand Canyon with other stops along the way and back to AR. But, this is the first trip that I am planning myself. I’m excited to revisit places like the Grand Canyon, Canyon de Chelly National Monument, and Window Rock. And I’m really looking forward to checking out some new places like Santa Fe National Forest and Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks.

I’m also excited about packing up the car, putting ice in the cooler, and doing a traditional road trip. It’s possible that it has been 10 years since I’ve done this. I’ll have podcasts, audio books, and music to help make it through the first 2 legs of the trip (to Amarillo and then to Santa Fe). 

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And for those of you wondering, the apartment confirmation finally came through!

I’ve been living in Dallas just about 3.5 months (with multiple trips elsewhere). I won’t miss the unseasonably hot weather that accompanied most of my stay, but there are a few things that I have grown accustomed to and will miss.

  • The wide open streets with many lanes and a rush hour that often only lasts for one hour. Although when there is an accident on the highway, 4 or 5 lanes of traffic always become just one lane to get around the fire trucks and cops on scene, no matter the size of the accident.
  • The expediency of automated toll lanes, which crisscross the city. This is clearly a place made for people who want to drive (fast).
  • Central Market – a wonderful grocery store, something like Trader Joe’s on steroids
  • Taj Mahal Imports – an enormous indian grocery store with tasty street snacks and drinks (and wonderful mangos) located in an area that has been affectionately named “Indian Ghetto” for the large number of indian shops
  • The local library (I’ve heard a few comments that CA libraries aren’t good – lack of books and bad smells – something I’ll have to verify.)
  • No state tax! (especially compared to the high state taxes of CA)
  • Update: I forgot to mention my favorite place for ping pong and shuffle board Gator’s.

I might even possibly miss swimming outside when I am normally sleeping.

I won’t miss complaining about the heat, people making references to the Dallasseries that I don’t understand or Cowboy Cheerleaders, stop lights that haven’t been calibrated for traffic flow, yelp and google reviews that rave about restaurants with less than mediocre food (definitely low food standards here), miles and miles of shopping centers and malls, and golf courses carved into the flat land.

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In other (more important) news, yesterday I finally heard that the apartment application has “almost been approved.” They are still trying to verify one piece of information. Meanwhile, I have to set up the forwarding address with the post office…

Stay tuned; I’m really looking forward to telling you about the road trip from Dallas to LA that I have planned. It begs to be a great adventure, and that’s not just because all of the packing will finally be done.

or at least on my subconscious!

Around the time that I left Afghanistan, several of my close friends were also leaving (either because their contract was coming to an end or, like me, the funding for their project was suddenly cut). At the time, it gave us a certain shared experience of leaving within days of each other. But each of us had our own lives and our own circumstances to determine what we would be doing next. My friends ended up all over the world when leaving Kabul.

Since then, rather surprisingly to me, almost all of them have returned or were seriously considering returning to Afghanistan.

Like I said, they have their reasons for returning, but each time I learn of a friend going back, I end up spending some time thinking about whether I would go back. I already met the goals I set for myself in going there last year. Further, the security situation has clearly worsened (as it always does in the summer months), the financial situation has grown tighter, and I have already seen what a tiny impact our projects are having. [Clearly, I don't write to be politically correct.]

I always come to the conclusion that 1) I have already had that experience, 2) It’s important to focus on my personal relationships and things at home right now, and 3) I’d rather go somewhere else if the opportunity presents itself.

I feel comfortable with this decision. And right now I have a ton of other things related to moving to California on my mind. But while in the middle of moving, almost every night I have a dream about returning to Afghanistan. I haven’t had a dream, that I remember, having anything to do with California. I’m sure that it’s a lot easier for the brain to create stories around the known than around the unknown, but it’s a strange way to wake up.

Yesterday, I got an email from my old translator in Kabul. He has moved to a different position, and the office of guys where the greatest amount of cultural exchange happened for me is no longer anything like when I was there. It’s rather bittersweet that the best parts of my experience no longer exist. (Too bad I can’t tell my subconscious that Afghanistan would indeed hold plenty of unknowns, too.)

Finally, I can see the end to this awful heat. It isn’t because Dallas has cooled down at all. (No, it was 97 degrees at 9:30pm last night so we went for a swim!)

I can finally announce that M and I will be moving California – Los Angeles, or rather Hollywood, to be specific. The interviews are over, the visa is transferred, and we’re in the midst of a frantic dash to take care of a lot of moving details.

By far, the most difficult aspect has been finding a place to live. Partially, the challenge has been because it is very expensive if you want a short commute, but the most difficult requirement was finding a place with less than a year lease. In and around DC, this is pretty easy to find if you rent from landlords, rather than an apartment complex. Based on my search, I’d say 98% of LA residents renting out an apartment, guest house, or duplex require a year lease. (Perhaps if we were willing to battle an awful commute each work day we could have found a more flexible lease arrangement in the burbs; I don’t know.)

Once I finally found a potential apartment, the paperwork required to secure it was actually more than was required to buy a condo and get a mortgage in Northern Virginia. (Apparently, after reconciling yourself to the terrible traffic of L.A., you must next completely re-calibrate your expectations for getting things done in CA, which is “a litigious state” I’ve been told). Sadly, I’m still sitting in limbo, waiting to find out whether the application will be approved. One of the required application items was proof of rental history for the previous 2 years. That’s when I realized that I don’t have a scrap of paper (or contact to refer to) to prove that I was residing in Afghanistan for 10 months, and even if I did, I’m not sure it would really help my application.

In the meantime, I’m trying to assume that it will all work out ok, and seeing this video, which is pretty great, reminds me how lucky I am to have my kind of problems.

http://andrewsullivan.thedailybeast.com/2011/07/letting-the-light-in.html

It’s great seeing real ingenuity being used  to substantially improve people’s lives.

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