Before I moved to San Diego in 2007, I spent the majority of my life waiting for summer. Spring would have been fine, too, except that spring in every place I’ve ever lived is mostly inconsistent, an unpredictable combination of sun, rain, and occasionally snow as late as May. In Boise, Brooklyn, and rural Japan, summer was the only time when I was guaranteed sun, and lots of it, from one day to the next for three solid months. Back in Brooklyn, the first time I considered relocating to San Diego I chose not to in part because the average temperature never reaches 80, even in the summer. But when I finally did arrive, I discovered that I love San Diego most when I come upon a magenta-colored bougainvillea vine on a 65-degree Christmas Day, especially (and I hate to say this) when the rest of the country is hip-deep in snow.
We are, however, an adaptable species, and every now and again, I find myself caught up in the magic of HGTV’s House Hunters, a show that makes it clear how much more house my money will buy in other parts of the country. I watch the show with my iPad in my lap, browse Realtor.com, and drug myself on photos of acreage, excessive square footage, guesthouses, and exercise rooms. And then I pester my husband to make a list of where he’d be willing to move: Atlanta? Charlotte? Indianapolis? Minneapolis? Akron? Reno?
Inevitably, as my vision begins to crystalize, I can see myself in my huge master bathroom in Minneapolis, weeping because it’s January and the average high is 24 degrees Fahrenheit. Why did we leave San Diego? Why? Why? I picture myself downsizing to a studio apartment with my husband and child, our saved income going to a Get Back to San Diego ASAP fund.
In other words, when it comes down to it, on most days, I’ll take the perpetual sunshine over square footage. But over the years, I’ve run into people who are packing up and getting the hell out of San Diego because the weather isn’t enough to keep them here. Some find themselves unable or unwilling to continue paying the “sunshine tax.” Others have more surprising reasons why San Diego is no longer a place they want to call home.
Everything is nine miles away.
Goin' back to Bremerton
Mindi Post and her family talk about life in San Diego versus life in Bremerton, Washington.
In 2011, Mindi and Trey Post moved to San Diego from Bremerton, Washington, with two of their daughters, Kaylee and Madison, who were 17 and 14 at the time. Before the move, Trey worked as a shipfitter waterfront supervisor at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard. When he saw that a three-year position for a shipfitter trade instructor had opened up at the North Island Naval Base in Coronado, he decided to apply. As soon as word came that he got the job, the Posts packed up their two youngest daughters, their belongings, and their two dogs and headed south.
“We took the job for the sun,” Mindi Post tells me.
We’re seated at the kitchen table in the La Mesa home the family has rented for the past three years. A large Dutch oven filled with roast beef simmers on the stove, permeating the house with the scent of beef broth and French onion soup.
Mindi sits across from me in jeans and a v-neck shirt bearing Caribbean colors that rival the bright blue of her eyes. A grandmother at 43, at first glance, Mindi bears the tired posture of a woman two decades her senior. But after a few minutes with her in her home, details begin to emerge that suggest a barely concealed wild side. One: the dainty eyebrow piercing on her left side. Two: the sticker hanging on the refrigerator alongside handprints and scribbles from her two-year-old granddaughter. The sticker reads: “Polite as Fuck.”
She also makes a mean cup of coffee.
Back in Bremerton, Mindi had some trouble with depression and psoriasis, both of which she and Trey figured could be diminished, if not eliminated, by the San Diego sunshine. Mindi looked forward to the change, but the girls weren’t happy about leaving their friends.
“At first, the girls were really upset. They were, like, ‘God, you’re so mean to us,” Mindi says, dramatizing the moment with a hiss and a sour face. She follows it up with a smoker’s laugh that fills the small kitchen. Kaylee, their middle child, now 19, who has the day off from her job at SeaWorld today, pads into the room barefoot and hushes us. She has just put her two-year-old niece down for a nap. Then she grabs a water bottle from the refrigerator, leaves the way she came, and settles down with a book on a couch just beyond the kitchen doorway.
After the girls settled into their new lives at Grossmont High, the family made the most of the move, taking advantage of the weather as often as possible.
“We probably went [to the beach] three or four times a week,” she says. “We explored everywhere we could.”
Trey’s new job had its advantages and disadvantages. Although the position normally paid less per hour than what Trey made in Bremerton, he was able to keep his hourly supervisor’s rate. On the other hand, as an instructor, he did not have the option of working overtime, whereas back in Bremerton, he was worked as many as 20 overtime hours per week. So, even though his hourly rate remained the same after the move, his take-home pay decreased.
And the money didn’t go very far. The Posts pay $1700 a month to rent their 1100-square-foot house in La Mesa.
“For $1700, in Bremerton, I could get a 2400-square-foot house. You can get way more there,” she says. “And your cost of electricity is way higher here than it is there. When we first moved here, we didn’t even have air conditioning, and we were paying, like, $125 a month. At home, in the summertime, electric is, like, $20, $25, and gas is, like, $50. Here, it’s $100-plus every bill cycle.”