Tuesday, June 26, 2012

These Are The Cities I Know, I Know

As my time in Montreal is ending, I have been thinking about how it compares with the many places I have lived during my academic journey around North America.  Leaving aside the Philadelphia suburbs of my youth (didn't really partake of the city nor have incredibly fond memories of high school) or summer camp (great place but it could have been anywhere--the experience was entirely the people), that leaves us with Oberlin, San Diego, Burlington (VT), Lubbock, suburban Virginia, and Montreal.

As always, when grading, the top and bottom of the scales are the easiest.  As readers of my blog know, I was not very fond of my Lubbock experience.  I never felt like I belonged, entertaining my kid meant going to the mall since it was too hot to do much for about four months, the dust storms and the raining mud, the place was hostile to Halloween, and all of my friends were either in the department (only temporarily since all were destined to move on) or on the frisbee team--and it took a few years to get enough people together to have just one team.  We were friendly with our neighbors but had little in common.  Not a horrible place to live, but not one that I would have chosen.

On the other side of the spectrum, the answer to the question "where would I live if I could chose" is most obviously San Diego.  This is, of course, colored by the great experience I had at UCSD--just terrific folks in grad school.  But aside from that, great weather, great food, beaches!, we snorkeled, it was just beautiful (opposite end of the topography spectrum from flat Lubbock), and the traffic was not entirely awful.  Might be now, but what I experienced was just a great place to live.  No shortage of things to do--it would have been fun to raise a kid in that town.  Each weekend we could have gone some place completely different.  Four climates all available in a couple of hours.  Every time I go back, I have the same exact question: why was I so eager to leave?

The ones in the middle are harder to rank.  I have a deep fondness for Oberlin because it was such a great place to go to college.  Just a lively environment, interesting and interested people, but the winters were dim, the spring and fall were windy and often gray.  In my day, there were few restaurants.  While the college did a great job in bringing stuff to town, it is a great place to be a student, but to live?  

Burlington was a good place to live after grad school.  I had the most beautiful commute of my life--with mountains on either side and a lake that iced over in winter.  The skiing was great.  The town has a surprising number of good restaurants and food trucks.  The neighbors were very friendly, and we felt more at home there than most other places.  But it was remote, with limited non-snow things to do.  Could have had more ultimate.

Suburban Virginia (Burke in Fairfax County) felt mighty familiar as my wife grew up in the Maryland suburbs, I spent two years there as well growing up, and many of my camp friends were from the area.  I did take my young daughter to the Mall on a regular basis--mostly to the natural history museum.  It was a great place to be in the policy world as I did get to go to a bunch of events at think tanks until I got competent enough in my Pentagon job that I could not disappear for a couple of hours.  We had a chance to spend much time with my in-laws and my blond nieces.  The traffic was awful, but I didn't experience it much since I went to work so early.  If I lived there for real, the traffic would have ended my ultimate career, I think. The Metro system is falling apart, according to my twitter feed.

Then there is Montreal.  While I complain much here about the roads, the traffic, the nationalism, the people have been mighty friendly to us.  Our neighborhood feels like a neighborhood.  The skiing has been terrific except for this last winter of rain.  The ultimate community has been amazing, so I got to travel all over the city and meet plenty of people, learning heaps of Quebec curse words as a result.  We loved going to the comedy festival, and it appears to be against the law to be a lousy restaurant.  Other than Mexican food, we can get whatever we want here.  Well, I am not a big fan of Montreal's bagels.  The big obstacle to enjoying the city has been the roads--that they are designed to congest, so we did not explore as much of the city as we would have liked.  But in terms of pure enjoyment, I have to say that Montreal was terrific.

So, if I have to rank where I have lived (and blog rules say I must), focusing on where I would like to live again:

SD >  Montreal (due to ultimate community) > Surburban VA/DC > Burlington > Oberlin > Lubbock, but with Mtl/DC/VT very closely ranked.  I might have a different order of those three if I was in a different mood.  Recency bias may be at work.

I will miss Montreal a great deal.  The folks where I live, many of the faculty where I worked, all of the people I played ultimate with and against will be missed.  The skiing choices will not be as good or as close in Ottawa.  The ultimate, however, should be fun, as their community of frisbee folks is bigger than Montreal's.  But will I find folks to be as spirited, as silly?  Probably not.

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