Yesterday morning, I drove across town to take a walk with a new friend. We walked for an hour and a half while she showed me around her part of town. Since I’m searching for housing and she’s lived here for many years, we talked some about housing. It’s been on my mind. Out of necessity, I’m broadening my search to other areas.
She’s lived in the same rental for eight years. She and her husband pay almost $3000 a month to rent a lovely and spacious-feeling townhouse overlooking a ravine and wetlands. Yesterday, the air was a chilled drink of citrus blossom, eucalyptus and ocean mist. The oaks trees had muscled arms like surfer dudes. The front-row units in the complex looked out over wide emerald lawns, past the masts of the harbor and across Monterey bay.
She said that many units in her fenced and gated community sit empty most of the year . They’re vacation homes.
We slipped out through a gate and turned down a walking path along the edge of the harbor. She told me about the day the Japanese tsunami hit.
“I stood and watched right here,” she said. “Boats broke loose and were sucked out. The masts hit the bridge and made an incredible noise. There were people standing on the bridge watching.”
We walked out to the lighthouse on a jetty which protects the harbor mouth. The jetty is protected by thick concrete jacks the size of SUVs. They’re slippery with seaweed and have gaps that slosh with surf.
“I knew a woman who fell on those,” she said. “Waves were breaking over her.”
“I don’t suppose you can keep people from climbing on them,” I said.
She shook her head.
Seabright beach runs north of the harbor mouth. There’s a surfer break during the winter where the San Lorenzo River lets out at the north end of the beach. Near the bay, the San Lorenzo River divides Seabright from the Santa Cruz “Beach Flats” with its roller coaster and boardwalk, parties and drugs. The San Lorenzo river banks are locally infamous for housing the homeless and for needles in the undergrowth. There’s a walking bridge across the river that joins these two neighborhoods.
We circled through the Seabright neighborhood to look at a rental house I’d emailed about (but haven’t heard back). It’s near the beach and the river. It has no parking. With summer coming on, the unregulated street will soon be jammed with the cars of beach visitors. There are coffee shops and restaurants nearby. But the grocery stores and the library are inland and more distant than we’re used to walking.
Without trying, I counted six homeless people in the neighborhood. There was one old guy sleeping sitting straight up on a bench next to busy traffic. There was a pack of four young people loaded down with their multicolored housing gear. One had an infant strapped on his chest.
Even behind their lawns and gates, my friend has had a car break-in and a bike stolen. As I drove out of Seabright, I saw a young woman standing like a statue in the street. She stared at the back window that had been smashed out of her car. She seemed transfixed by the crumbled glass.
I broaden my housing search because I must. I lack faith that the universe will pull something safe and affordable out of nothing and hand it to us at the last moment simply because we’re kind, good and deserving people. I’ve met kind, good and deserving people among the homeless. The list of Craigslist ads posted by people seeking housing is as long as the list of ads with people offering it.
Robert interviewed for a job in Florida yesterday. It’s clear to him that they need his expertise. They’re in the process of re-certifying old navigation software written by people long gone. The engineers were thirty-somethings with military backgrounds. He said they’re inexperienced with commercial aircraft navigation certification.
“It’s harder than it used to be,” he said. “The F.A.A. has stricter standards now.”
Robert is more experienced than management. His “manager” would be almost twenty years younger than he is. There was only one gray-haired man in the mix. “Gray-haired” was the only one who’d been working there longer than two years. They call this “low staff turn-over”.
There are twenty young engineers who are the brains, making and doing in a workforce of about 120. These engineers are not drivers of the train. They’re the engines that pull the train. Without engineers, there would be no reason for the others.
Robert was told that the engineers usually work forty hours a week. But, right now, they’re behind on their software verification schedule. They need to work their engines overtime for no extra pay.
Robert wasn’t able to meet any of the other employees because they were in a mandatory “all hands” meeting.
The job site is embedded in an industrial zone. He said it looked too rough to make our home near enough for him to walk to work. The six engineers he met told him they commute 45 minutes or more each way from fenced and gated neighborhoods. Traffic is thick and congested. No one lived in the small town a fifteen minute drive from the job. No one could tell him why not. According to the folks he met, two-bedroom apartments rent for $1800 to $2500 month. After taxes, this is about half an engineer’s salary.
This is the price of rent where I am. If I could find a place to rent here.
The Gulf of Mexico is shallow for a long way out. It has no surf to surf. People don’t live near the beaches. Sandy beaches are on car-dependent barrier islands accessed via long causeways. Beach islands are stacked with vacation condos and resort hotels with a sprinkling of beach houses but have no grocery stores or libraries.
They sit empty most of the year.
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Thanks for reading.