Heads, California. Tales, Michigan.

Yes, I’ve got it right – the usage of “Tales” in the headline. I thought it appropriate, since this is my first post with this power group of Silicon Valley women, for us to get to know each other a little  better by sharing a few stories about what makes living here different than my home state of Michigan. So here it goes:

“You can take the girl out of Michigan but you can’t take the Michigan out of the girl.”

I spent the first 30 years of my life living in within 10 miles of where I was born. I survived K-12, 4 years undergrad at Michigan State University, and post-college, a practice marriage, 3 jobs, my own design firm and a gorgeous daughter. All of this took equal amounts of energy to get through as the 30 winters I endured as a warm-blooded resident in my arctic ecosystem (anyone reading this from Michigan – or any other bordering Midwestern state understands – there is something just terribly wrong about trying to scrape ice off your windshield in a horizontal snowstorm with 50 MPH winds and sub-zero temperatures. WRONG. It causes crying, trust me.)

I never thought I’d end up in California. Living in the Bay Area was so off my radar; if you would have told me 15 years ago where I’d be today, I would have called “BULLSH*T!” and challenged you to a game of Euchre in my basement. But the planets aligned somehow after meeting my now husband and business partner – Bryan Kramer,  a rare San Jose native, and the addition of our son, Henry – and  I’ve never looked back. That was 13 years ago February.

It’s not to say that the transition was , well, seamless. Here are some of the differences between living in Michigan and California that have stuck with me:

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Our amazing weather

Home prices vs. the Weather:  I remember having a conversation with some acquaintances at dinner shortly after I arrived in San Jose, and the first thing they opened with was “Do you own a house? How  much did it cost? Ours was $600,000 dollars, can you believe what a deal we got?!” I.was.mortified. Who talks about their mortgage? Where I came from, that was as secret as information got. I countered with how much my first home cost in Michigan – a mere $90,000 dollars for a 3-bedroom/2 bath house on an acre of land – and got them off topic. What I realized later on was that they weren’t trying to show off or boast; it was that people always lead with what ails them the most. It’s why those of us from the Midwest start conversations about the weather. We’re not trying to be trite, it’s just that we’ve been conditioned to be concerned about the weather and what our plan “A” and “B” was for the weekend’s activities. In Michigan, it literally can swing from 85° to 45° in a matter of minutes. That is no exaggeration, hand to God (or hand OF God, in this case.) I can’t tell you how awesome it is still to be able to plan a trip to the water park in the summer months in advance, knowing that not only will it not rain, it will be a gorgeous, sunny, mild day. Weather does not ail me anymore.

Bugs: Computer bugs we have; massive, giant, “carry-you-into-the-sunset” mosquitos we do not.

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The 87 at dusk

Traffic: Tracy posted a great, in depth post about the traffic here in the Bay Area. People have to commute crazy distances to get where they’re going. Distance is measured in hours, not miles. Parking is as elusive as Beyonce tickets. But as crowded as it is, it keeps moving. In Michigan, when traffic is stopped, it’s STOPPED. It means there’s been an accident, a cow blocking the way or a tornado crossing the road that people have pulled over for – not for safety, but just to watch it go by.

Cultural Diversity: There was one Asian guy and one African American in my high school. Even though I grew up five miles from a major university, the choices in our town to be exposed to any other culture were few and far between.  I grew up eating a consistent weekly diet of Mac and Cheese, Pizza, Burgers, Salmon Patty’s and Dinty Moore Beef Stew out of a can.  And believe it or not, I never tasted sushi until I was 30 (not because I didn’t want to, because we had no sushi restaurants in East Lansing until one opened when I was in my late 20s.) I drank Labatts and Molson and Falstaff beer and the wine I’d tasted was probably made of cherries or blueberries. Don’t get me wrong – there’s absolutely nothing wrong with any of these things – but I am so grateful my kids are being raised in such a culturally diverse environment, being exposed to other ways of thinking, eating and playing. They love sushi at 9 and 15. My son’s favorite foods are oysters and lobster (including the eyeballs.) I am also thankful that they will never make the mistake of calling a Taqueria a “Ta-KARE-ia” because they’d never seen the word before. Yes, that happened to me, when i was 31.

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My friend Cheryl’s winery Clos La Chance – delish!

Time travel: Not in the Orsenian Wells way; in the rate at which progress, well, progresses. I am continually fascinated by the speed of business here in the Bay Area – start-ups emerge every day, ideas are iterated and iterated upon, getting more exciting as they morph into technologies that enhance our daily lives. There is a palpable spirit of innovation and creativity in the air here that’s addictive, contagious and delicious. Maybe living in the Midwest is for people who need a higher sense of continuity and consistency to survive? I just know that for me, moving too slowly causes me to lose interest and attention, which doesn’t serve my entrepreneurial spirit whatsoever (and another reason I am grateful for wine – it pairs well with us distractible personalities.)

So, as we often say at our marketing firm, PureMatter, “All roads lead back to Michigan.” Try it sometime; even if you have no ties back to the mitten state (of which I would have a hard time believing), I bet someone in the room with you right now does. I guess it goes to show that those of us who managed to get out brought with us the solid values and quirky sense of humor we all share, albeit transplanted into  a paradise of perfect weather, tasty wine and food and opportunity for miles. I can be at the beach from my front door to the water in 30 minutes. Yes, that.

I love being connected to so many other Michiganders here in the Bay Area (and for my favorite University of Michigan alumnus DJ Waldo, Todd WIlms and John Squire, so sorry about the football game last weekend, I have a green and white tissue for you to cry into if you need it). I’m sure, like me, you’re so happy to call California home too.

4 thoughts on “Heads, California. Tales, Michigan.

  1. OH MY MY MY, this is a GREAT post, Courtney, mostly because, as a Michigan transplant (from the mid 80’s), I can SO relate! I just got back from Michigan. My 3rd trip in as many years.
    I always say it’s a nice place to be “from”, and I have to confess — i miss shoveling snow and cleaning the parking lot of our business (roller rink) with the giant snowplow on the front of the Chevy Suburban (is that so wrong?).
    I miss my friends and family, but not enough to actually live there.
    I spend my conversations with them trying to get them out here; at least for a visit.
    Anyway, you and I could go on and on about all the cool things about Michigan -> and now living in NorCal…
    I loved what you said about the mosquitos. I always say they are as big as horse flies there.
    I saw something on Pinterest once (i hope i pinned it) that was a simple quote: “Bit*h, PLEASE, I’m from Detroit!”. Every once in a while, if anyone dare mess with me or my family/friends, I get this urge to conjure up that phrase while opening a can of hard-work-ethic whoop-a$$.
    Other than that, I hope I’ve become “bohemian” enough to warrant a reputation for being the perfect blend of Michigan AND California.
    And I wonder if my accent would come back a little bit if you and I hung out for any length of time. Would love to find out sometime.
    thanks for a great read. you ROCK!

  2. Pingback: Just Breathe, It’s only the Holidays | SiliconValleyTales.com

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