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Jun 2002 / expatriates :: email this story to a friend

Home, Sweet Place-of-Current-Residence
By Linda Feller

So, my husband (then fiancé) comes home from work one day in October-ish 2000 and says, "That's it. I can't take it anymore. We're moving." He's fed up with his job...the one where he takes long drinking lunches, plays football in the parking lot, has a view of the Arch from his office window and is the boss' pet. Of course he's ready to leave. Who can work under those conditions? But is he really serious? After all, he's lived in the St. Louis area all his life — his family is here, his friends are here...hell, he's even an underground celebrity. The next couple of months are spent waiting for him to change his mind.

Linda Feller I, on the other hand, am a nomad at heart, having moved 27 times in as many years. What's a girl like me to do when faced with the opportunity to start over in an exciting new place? I say, "Where do you want to go? Atlanta? Boston? Chicago?" Nope...Washington, D.C.

My parents moved to that area a few years ago, long after I abandoned them for college halfway across the country. It took some time to warm to the idea, but getting reacquainted with my family won out over my desire to live someplace less...er...(we'll fill in that blank later). Of course, had Jeff known then how acquainted we'd become, he might have gone with one of MY suggestions.

We spent the next few months planning our wedding and the big move — and reassuring Jeff's parents that we weren't crazy...D.C. no longer wore the crown for highest murder rate! — all the while, brainwashing ourselves into believing how cool it was going to be to live in the nation's capital surrounded by all that history and diversity (we at least got the history and diversity part right). The wedding came and went; then in July, we packed up our nifty little apartment in the Loop, hit I-70 and arrived in Northern Virginia two days later.

My folks offered us one of their spare bedrooms until we could find jobs and get on our feet. You heard me right — we hadn't actually bothered to look for jobs. That would've taken all the adventure out of it. (Really, we're not stupid: we'd saved enough money to remain 'on vacation' for a couple of months.) But, we got more than we bargained for on September 11.

There we were, friendless in a declining job market and starting to awaken to the reality that is metropolitan D.C.: there's serious traffic on the weekends, the average value for a single family home in Fairfax County (adjacent to the District) is well over $300,000, the gal at the Hallmark shop won't even make eye contact (aren't they supposed to be perky?), and I had to go to three different grocery stores to find some flippin' fingerling potatoes.

Good for us Jeff has some truly marketable skills and landed a secure job with a government contractor. My fate would not prove as lucky and so began my career as a professional temporary. (Don't feel bad for me, though: one of those assignments eventually led to a cushy job with a Fortune 500). We weren't exactly doing what we had set out to do, but one must have something to work toward. Great...we're working, meeting people and will start making friends. Wrong. Folks around here do three things: commute to the office, work way long days at jobs they take too seriously, and commute back to dwellings they can't realistically afford. And they do all this without the allure of a Bay Bridge, a Manhattan skyline or salty ocean air to prematurely rust their fancy cars...that they can't realistically afford.

Six months pass and we're starting to find our way around. We visit a few sites, explore the restaurant scene; we even make some friends. Things are looking up. But, we're still living with my parents. Not only is this hard to do when you're 30, but imagine being 30 and a newlywed. We give them money, make home improvements, cook — they love it. We don't. It's time to start house hunting. We collect the local road maps, consult the online home guides and hit the pavement in search of something reminiscent of what our friends in St. Louis are buying in Tower Grove or South City — a little fixer upper with loads o' character.

Our search begins in the District. Maybe we'll find a charming rowhouse or flat in one of those neighborhoods that are being revitalized. Instead, we find that contributing to revitalization around here means you have a disposable income to sink into a less-than-sketchy piece of property. That's OK, though. Again, one must have something to work toward. We'll revisit this idea in a few years.

We head south back into Northern Virginia. Crackerbox...hellhole...crackerbox...oh, that's nice!...you want how much?! Alas, we find ourselves just a few minutes' drive from ma and pa in Prince William County (translation: St. Charles County). ...what will our friends think? We're contributing to urban sprawl! We're becoming suburbanites! Oh, but we have a plan. We'll immerse ourselves in their culture, study them, infiltrate their network, and when they're not looking...

So, when are we moving back to St. Louis? In temporary fits of road rage or jobless depression, we tossed around the idea. Truth is though, we haven't given this place its fair shake — and we're not about to take the easy way out! There are moments, and they are becoming more frequent, we look around and say, "This is why we came here!" Standing on the steps of the Capitol, partying at the Library of Congress, not having to drive and park because the Metro takes you anywhere, listening to a Brit-pop band at an experimental theater/art gallery on 18th Street...

Of course, there's no Soulard Farmer's Market...Loop...Forest Park...Trattoria Marcella...Cardinals baseball...Highway 'Farty'...need I go on?

This may be where we live, but it ain't what we call home.

Linda Feller will FINALLY move into new digs in September 2002, will promptly purchase a minivan and become a soccer mom. Tupperware party invites are welcome.

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