Break out the fireworks. I’m celebrating the fourth anniversary of “The Great Escape.” It was a difficult
decision. My parents had struggled to relocate from New England to the California after WW2. I was
born in Los Angeles. They saw the Golden State as that place of opportunity and openness. A place to
raise a family without the constraints of the past.
And California used to be that place. No more.
It has taken one generation for my native state to disintegrate. Oh, it’s still heaven for the financially
well-off. In Santa Barbara, where my husband and I worked, we saw our business go from working 6
days a week in 2014 to virtually zero dollars the following year of 2015.
What happened? The bulk of our business came from corporate move-ins. It was a dependable source
of business. However, something drastic happened in 2015. Seems the businesses relocating middle
management from the East Coast and Midwest couldn’t convince enough employees to move to
California. Costs for housing too high. Costs of gasoline too high. Costs for everything too high.
Businesses like Deckers, the manufacturer of Ugg Boots, ExxonMobil, and even Vandenberg Air Force
Base faced resistance from their middle-class workers. As a result, our small business went quiet after a robust 2014.
What to do? Time to change and retool our business. That strategy worked for a time. We always made our rent. A 700 square foot home on the Westside rented for $2300/month. It was a house converted into a duplex so we shared a backyard—not the best of circumstances, but the best we could find in 2013. Then, 2 years later, we were faced with another rent increase. This time the landlord wanted more than $3000/month. Wow… The handyman business is a great economic indicator, serving as the proverbial “canary in the coal mine.” When people are not moving into an area or are not repairing their homes, it is an indicator of the economic climate in an area. When business is good, the economy is good. When business is bad; so too is the economy. Small businesses like ours feel it first. Unfortunately. And Santa Barbara’s economy was dying.
The health of the American economy depends on the health of the Middle Class. And what I witnessed
first-hand in Santa Barbara is a chilling microcosm of what could happen to the rest of the nation.
The Middle Class is the group that powers the American economy. We buy the goods and services that
keep both big and small businesses pumping. And it is the optimism of the Middle Class that provides
incentive for the lower economic class to work and strive to “make it.” Remove that incentive and what
you have is Santa Barbara. It is the land of the Super Rich and its Servants—the Lower Class that has
little hope of improving its economic status, thanks to low wages.
So, while a $3000 rental rate for a two bedroom/1 bath home in Santa Barbara was reasonable, it was
impossible for our small business. And yet, how could I leave my native state of some 60 plus years?
And where to go?
The answer was to truly “Think Outside of The Box” and not wallow in our misfortune. After much
research online and thanks to advice from a great friend, we found Greenville in South Carolina.
I have been lucky enough to have travelled the world and the United States, but never into the South.
When I started the search, I admit to harboring my own set of prejudices against the South; anger at
decades long segregation, the horrible injustice of lynchings and plain old abhorrence of the Southern
twang. “Uneducated Hicks” was my impression. I was wrong. Thank heavens. Times are a ’changing.
Greenville is a mecca for the Middle Class. Indeed, domestic and international companies like BMW,
Michelin, General Electric and Fluor Corporation had relocated to South Carolina. Another good sign: an enormous inland port of 18 wheelers and freight trains to handle all the merchandise coming in from
the coast. Here is an economic vibrancy that California was losing. And it has affordable housing, key
to our economic survival.
Thanks to the internet and Zillow, I scouted out neighborhoods and look for homes. I was shocked at
the prices. I was figuring to pay $650K, the median price of a home in Orange County. What I found in
South Carolina were virtual mansions. “Gone With The Wind” at that price. Not for two empty nesters
I finally spotted a 1948 brick bungalow home, north of the city. Tiny but perfect for us with 1147 square
feet plus an 800-foot basement. I gave the seller a full price offer. $99,999 with a 30-day escrow. The
realtor panicked that we wouldn’t come back to see the home first. There was no time.
We divided up the tasks; I oversaw the loan financing. No questions, I told my husband. It was not going to be a pleasant experience. Fortunately, I have 10 years’ experience as a real estate loan officer. More than 500 pages of bank statements, divorce decrees, letters of credit made up our loan package. But my experience paid off. We got an 3% down FHA loan-a true Bearcat of a loan due to the paperwork required to qualify. I jammed it through in under 30 days. No time to spare.
My husband oversaw packing. We saved money by renting a small Penske truck. It was truly surreal.
We were packing up our lives into just 16 feet of truck. It forced me to evaluate the truly important
things of life, but it was grueling. And heartbreaking. And yet strangely liberating the same time. What
are the important things in your life? Day by day the decisions were made. And a new life took shape.
I’m not a particularly religious person, but the experience taught me to appreciate “Faith.” Or perhaps
better labeled as “Blind Faith.” Here we were. We bought a home–sight unseen in a state neither of us
had visited, much less lived in. We were forced to give notice to the landlord before we had loan
approval. We gave away most of our belongings to friends and neighbors. And yet…
And we left my beloved California exactly four years ago this coming November 2nd. Four years. And
we’ve never looked back those 2400 miles. No regrets. Just relief. As for California and Santa Barbara, I still read the local newspaper. The latest furor? The banning of plastic straws. And a questionnaire to
all SB residents asking how to stop the homeless from defecating on State Street. I know how, but the
solution would label me a “Deplorable.” So be it.