(This is the third short story of my history of Santa Clara Valley series)
SILICON VALLEY – LATER 1980s
“You really want to move out there?” Gina asked.
“I think it’s a good idea,” Craig asserted. “It’s a great idea when you think about it.”
Gina felt unconvinced. “But it’s so far away.”
“Aren’t you tired of renting?” Craig asked rhetorically. “We’re throwing money away.”
Gina looked away from the dining area table and out the front window of their apartment. “The commute is going to be at least two hours each way. I can’t do that.”
“And you won’t have to,” Craig reassured. “With the affordable prices of houses out there, we’ll only need one paycheck. And if you want to keep on working, I’m sure there are offices out there as well.”
Gina continued to look out the window at the central courtyard of the complex. She was noticing its familiarity for the first time, with the apprehension of possibly leaving it. “But there aren’t any jobs out there for what you do.”
“The programming jobs are over here, but I’m willing to make that sacrifice.”
Gina looked back at Craig. “But will I do all day in that boring valley?”
“At least you’ll have nothing to do in our own house. Won’t that be an improvement?”
“Yeah, but Modesto?”
“With all the people who are going to move out there, it might end up being a boomtown,” Craig added positively.
Gina felt uneasy. “Can’t we find somewhere closer?”
“I’ve looked. Gilroy, Santa Cruz, East Bay, real estate prices are rising everywhere that’s nearby.”
“I don’t know. It feels like we’re going to be refugees.”
“I know this is asking a lot, but we don’t have a future here except as renters. I don’t want that. It’s so affordable out there we could be homeowners out there right now,” Craig emphasized.
The sudden pressure got to Gina. She stood up and paced around the dining and kitchen area. “Maybe housing prices will come back down eventually.”
“I seriously doubt it, things just don’t work that way. Land value just keeps going up, at least around here.”
“And everything that goes up must come down,” Gina pointed out.
“Not in our lifetime. Technology always expands, and this valley is one of its centers, maybe the most important one.”
Gina thought some more, and a seeming unfairness dawned upon her. “You would think that such an important economic powerhouse would be affordable to those whose work makes it happen.”
“It’s affordable for the top executives and engineers.”
“But not everybody else,” Gina said a bit angrily as she paced around some more. “Our parents had no trouble making it here, and they weren’t executives or engineers. Is buying a house becoming a privilege?”
Craig looked as if he heard something unexpected. “I don’t know. Maybe it’s survival of the fittest now,” he shrugged.
Gina slowly went to the front window toward the courtyard at the center of their complex. “We’ll have to leave everyone we know.”
“It’s not like we’re moving cross country,” Craig resumed his argument. “And we’ll come back and visit everyone, or they can come and see us.”
Gina continued to look out the window to all the other units. A couple of the neighbors were talking and laughing. “It won’t be the same. We won’t be a regular part of each other’s lives.”
“But if we stay we’ll never be able to afford a house, not even with both of us working.”
“This is not an easy decision for me to make.”
“Everyone will be a phone call away,” Craig said cheerfully, “and a hundred miles away really isn’t that far.”
“It isn’t that near either.” Gina sauntered away from the window and back into the dining area. “No more dropping by at the spur of the moment, no more regular get togethers.” She sat back down at the table. “We’ll have to plan when we see each other, like visiting far away relatives.”
“A big event to look forward to!” Craig added happily. “And wouldn’t you rather people visit us in a house? Of our own? We’ll be able to have more people over, even for an entire weekend.”
“What, like a slumber party?”
“Sure, why not?”
Gina laughed a little.
“I thought you liked slumber parties.”
“Sure,” Gina said, “when I was in middle school.”
“But you see I’m trying to say.”
“That we can finally entertain people properly,” Craig highlighted.
“But what do we do with ourselves the rest of the time?”
“Enjoy the open space. A lot of agriculture in the central valley, small town life, slower pace, like this valley used to be.”
“I don’t know. I really don’t think it’ll be the same.”
“Because things happen in the Bay Area. This is where the excitement is.”
“We can create our own excitement,” Craig smiled suggestively.
Gina laughed a little. “You just want to do it in more rooms.”
“Is that so wrong?”
“Well, it’s not going to be all fun and games,” Gina reminded. “I mean, think about your commute. It’s going to be at least two hours each way, that’s four, maybe five hours a day behind the wheel.”
“At that hour I’ll be able to floor it. That’ll shave off some time.”
“Well I don’t want you getting in a wreck,” Gina said with concern.
“C’mon, you know I’m a safe driver.”
“But what if you dozed off for a few seconds? Or what if someone else did?”
“You worry too much. There won’t be that much traffic that early, no way it’s going to be like 101 during the morning commute. No other cars to get in the way.”
“I can’t help but worry.” Gina looked downward. “I just don’t know about this.”
Craig leaned forward across table. “Look, hon, I know this is a big step, and I understand why it bothers you, but I’ve thought this through. We’ll be building up equity and I’ll be getting raises as I keep working, and at some point we’ll be able to afford to move back here.” Gina looked up at him as he relaxed back into his chair. “Or maybe we’ll both end up liking it out there and want to stay.”
“But if real estate prices do keep rising over here like you’re saying, we’ll be stuck over there whether we like it or not.”
“Like I said, the way things are going at work I’ll soon be earning some more raises,” Craig restated. “At least I’m working in the right place for that.”
“Yes, that’s true,” Gina said, then new thoughts entered her mind. “But another thing to consider is how quick technology can change. Remember the 8-track? Every advancement eventually becomes obsolete, which usually leads to layoffs.”
“Another thing not to worry about,” Craig said with a little exasperation. “Every new advancement leads to new opportunities at a rate that far outpaces the lost, no longer needed jobs. The fact that people keep flooding into Silicon Valley proves that there are opportunities here. And they more than replace the people that leave.”
“Just like lemmings,” Gina said resignedly. “I suppose it would take a massive earthquake to get people to move away from here.”
“You mean like the California coast falling into the Pacific? That could turn Modesto into ocean front property!” Craig said excitedly.
“That’s a happy thought.”
“Serious. The farther we are from the San Andreas, the safer we’ll be when the big one finally hits.”
“But what if Modesto ends up under water?” Gina posed.
“Then we’ll move to Nevada and their new beach front casinos!” Craig said still excited. “Just think about what a golden opportunity this is. The northern San Joaquin Valley is going to be the next boom area, because that’s where the population is going to expand into. And,” his eyes brightened, “we’ll be in on the ground floor.”
Gina considered all the promises to her perception of the realities. “Gotta admit, I’m having a hard time seeing that happening.”
Gina felt her tact lessening. “There’s nothing to do out there.”
“There’s a lot to do out there! Open space everywhere, no traffic jams, slower pace of life. We’ll be out in the country.”
“But where can you see a concert?”
“They’ve got things out here that we don’t have here, like rodeos, and gun shows.”
“A gun show?” Gina said with alarm.
“Yeah, I always wanted to check out one of those,” Craig said wistfully.
“Didn’t know we were moving out to the wild west.”
“Don’t worry, I won’t turn our house into an armory.”
Gina had new ominous feelings. “I still have to think about it.”
“Okay, but I don’t think there’s much to think about.”
“This move will upend our lives,” Gina said seriously.
“It will improve our lives,” Craig responded equally serious. “Imagine having our place.”
“Location is everything.”
“Which is what real estate agents say when they want to sell you some overpriced mini-mansion. Modesto is a fine place. George Lucas is from there.”
“He doesn’t live there now.”
“It’s a true, old fashion American city, like Mayberry.”
Gina felt she was hitting a wall. “Sure seems like you have your mind made up.”
Craig’s excitement finally calmed down. “Maybe this all seems sudden,” he admitted, “but I did consider everything about this. And I really believe that the positives outweigh the negatives.”
Gina had of a new idea. “How about we stay for a while and try to save up some more money? We’re still young enough, and I’m certainly willing to work some overtime. I’d even be willing to buy a townhouse,” she said trying to be persuasive, “that’s good enough for me.”
“Sure, we could do that, but the house in Modesto is something we can do now. And why settle for half a house with no yard?”
Gina gazed over to the living room. She noticed all the pictures arranged around the television and stereo. The still images of loved ones and life’s important events stirred memories inside of her. “What you say makes sense, but I never counted on leaving my hometown, or the Bay Area at least.”
“This move will pay off in the end.”
“This is a lot more than just an economic decision.”
“Understood,” Craig relented.
“So can we at least sleep on it tonight?”
* * * * * * *
Gina laid upright in bed under the covers while reading a magazine.
“Now one last thing and I swear I’ll stop bugging you about this,” Craig said from the bathroom sink. “With our own house, you’d have your own room to do whatever you want with. Think about it.” He went back to brushing his teeth.
Gina looked up from her magazine. “Like what?”
Craig stopped brushing. “Like some of the things you like to do, or talk about doing, sewing, art projects, things like that. Maybe you can turn it into a library.” He started brushing again.
Gina thought about having an extra room. She found the idea of a room she could design in her own image appealing. My own little corner of the world, she contemplated. The possibility of more space brought about a new yearning. Sure wouldn’t miss this closet of an apartment, she thought, three fifty a month for a one bedroom, and another rent increase probably on the way. She also anticipated how much better open space would be if they had children.
Gina speculated further into the future. The possibilities unfurled in her mind, and her dreams grew bright. Then the brightness began to dim, the open space became engulfing, the move an exile, the room a cell.
Craig finished brushing, rinsed, and came to bed. He got under the covers and sidled up to Gina. “What are you reading?”
“Oh, nothing.” Gina closed the magazine and set it on the nightstand. “You know, I was thinking about what’s happening in the world lately, about how things are thawing out between us and Russia. That’s going to change things here in the valley.”
“Well, it was defense that drove technology and created most of the jobs here. If things change, and it looks like they are, that’s going to have to change the job market around here. Booms don’t last forever.”
“And you think it’s going to affect my job?”
“I thought you didn’t want to talk about this anymore tonight,” Craig kidded.
“It just occurred to me right now, must have been something I read.”
“Well let me put your mind at ease. There are many uses for technology other than defense. I mean, technology is everywhere these days. Ten years ago there were no ATM’s or VCR’s, now they’re everywhere. The future is very bright for the computer.”
“What if it’s not a smooth transition?”
Gina tried to consider all possibilities. “You know, these changes could mean more pay.”
“I sure hope so.”
“So why not wait to make a decision until after what happens happens?”
Craig seemed intrigued. “But what if this opportunity passes by and real estate prices rise over in Modesto?”
“What if we go there and die of boredom?”
“Boredom is a state of mind,” Craig reminded. “And we are not boring people.” He relaxed under the covers. “Right?”
“Of course, it’s the surroundings I worry about. And that long drive five days a week, won’t that make you crazy?”
“All I need are my tapes, or I can listen to the sports chat on KNBR. And other Silicon Valley people are moving out there, maybe we can start a carpool.”
Gina pondered. “Guess I always look at the glass as half empty.”
“Nah, you just need to sleep on it.”
* * * * * * *
As Gina drifted toward sleep, she remembered something from her childhood, when she was ten or eleven. Her family was going to go to downtown San Jose for the annual Cinco de Mayo parade. When they got into the car to leave, her father wasn’t with them. She and her siblings had asked their mother why their father wasn’t going. Mother said that father had some things to take care of. They kept asking their mother what their father was doing as they drove to downtown. She said their father was working on a project around the house he had been meaning to get to and didn’t want to put it off any longer. They finally arrived at downtown and walked to the parade. Gina remembered it was a clear, sunny day, the parade was colorful, musical, and festive, and they all had a fun time.
When they returned home after the parade, father was in the backyard laying down bricks and mortar for a new walkway. He was very intent on his work, and appeared unusually tense. Gina and her siblings tried to talk to him, but he was too focused on his task. Mother stayed in the house, and when father came in the house they didn’t say much to each other. A new tension was filling the house.
Within a day or two the tension eased back into calmness. Everything was seemingly normal again, but her parents interests began to go in different directions, and the light of unity in which she always saw them was changed forever. She had never known what first caused the rift, but she thought back to that past as if she were seeing it for the first time.
©2016 Robert Kirkendall
Subsequently published in The Wagon Magazine, Volume 2 – Issue 4, July 2017