What I miss about the Capital Region

Larkway judge Jess Pasko.JPG

We miss Jess.

By Jessica Pasko

soapbox badgeIt's been a little over four months since I packed up my belongings and my dog and drove west to California. After finishing graduate school in Chicago and applying for jobs there and all over the East Coast, I got frustrated with the rejections and decided to start applying to random places out west. I ended up landing a gig in a little surfing city that's perhaps best known for being the fictional Santa Carla in that 80s classic The Lost Boys. These days I spend my time marveling over the myriad species of succulents and palm trees that grow around me, listening to the siren song of the sea lions, and chastising myself when 45 degrees in January seems cold to me.

Santa Cruz is a small city, smaller than Albany, about an hour and a half south of San Francisco and at the tail end of the Silicon Valley. I live two blocks from the ocean and there are awesome taquerias a-plenty. Still, lately I've been feeling a little homesick. Sure, that's largely due to missing friends, family and AOA, but there's a lot I miss about living in the Capital Region.

The Honest Weight Co-op
I'm fortunate to live in a place with lots of good grocery stores. In fact, it's remarkable to me how many there are in a city this size, from Whole Foods and Trader Joe's to independent natural foods stores like New Leaf Community Markets and Staff of Life, to places like Costco and Safeway. Yet, what's almost shocking, is that we don't actually have a co-op, where a good portion of the workers are members. And while I know the cheese packaging has its detractors, I've yet to develop a rapport with any other cheese counter person like the one I had with Gustav at Honest Weight.

Blackened string beans at New World Bistro Bar
Maybe I'm a little biased because I lived very close by for a few years, but there really is little better way to unwind from a long day of work than a plate of blackened string beans and a glass of Malbec (or in warmer weather, a Hendrick's lemonade) at the bar. Armed with the latest issue of Harper's, this was definitely one of my favorite solo pastimes, as well as being one of my favorite alternatives to traditional happy hour. I could never choose my favorite Albany-area bartender -- that's akin to "Sophie's Choice," -- but Nick at New World definitely ranks pretty high.

The Delaware Ave neighborhood
The Friendship Garden at School 18, Cardona's, the Spectrum, the aforementioned NWBB, the farmer's market and more. I loved living in this neighborhood. It always felt like such a real, old-timey kind of neighborhood, if that makes sense. And if you haven't checked out the Friendship Garden, you definitely should once spring comes. Yes, my mother is the teacher who runs it, but even if she weren't, I'd be impressed. Seriously. Alice Waters would be proud.

The libraries
Santa Cruz is a broke county! The libraries here have terribly reduced hours and a small selection. My neighborhood library in Chicago had a rather dismal selection, decor straight out of 1981, and was on the list slated for closure. When I lived in Albany, I never realized how spoiled we were by having comparatively good libraries. The APL is no NYPL, obviously, but it's a lot better than many other public library systems. If you haven't been in some of the newly-revamped branches, you are missing out.

I'm trying to think how to put this delicately. Okay. Santa Cruz is not a city of ethnic diversity. We have a sizable Hispanic population, but other than that, it's not exactly a very diverse place. You have to drive over the hill for that... which brings me to the next thing.

Californians' devotion to cars
Okay, I guess this is really more of a complaint about the Left Coast than it is an Albany attribute.

Asian Super Market
'Nuff said? I've got taquerias aplenty here but for ingredients for sushi or noodle soups, I really need to head over the hill to San Jose. The Japantown markets are nice, but I still miss the Central Avenue store.

Troy architecture
Even after living in a city with some of the most gorgeous buildings around (Frank Lloyd Wright was from just outside Chitown!), I still think that the Collar City boasts some of the coolest architecture around.

The legends
Uncle Sam came from Troy. I mean, really, how can you top that? Santa Cruz was briefly known as the murder capital of the world because of a spate in which no fewer than four serial killers spent some time here, but that's a far more dubious honor than being the birthplace of Uncle Sam. And toilet paper.

The Capital Hills Golf Course in winter
This is the best place to walk your dog in the winter. It's just such a lovely place, even for non-dog-possessing folks. To me, it's best when there's a good layer of snow, which again, is something I never would have imagined that I'd miss even a tiny bit. There are gorgeous parks out here, but I definitely won't be trotting through snow-covered hilly trails anytime soon.

Jessica Pasko is our favorite Albany expat. She's now a staff reporter at the Santa Cruz Sentinel. She also blogs about gluten free food at Life of my Mouth.


nyah nyah in yer face, California!

what a delightful ode to our fair city. I stopped apologizing years ago for liking it here and miss it when I'm visiting elsewhere.

How is the topography? I always seem to end up in very flat places when I am away from home. I end up missing the hills and mountains. The greenness too.

I love Hendrick's lemonade at NWBB! Ahhh.

I gotta say it was long a goal in my life to go to California, and when we went for our honeymoon it lived up to everything I hoped.. can't wait to get back to Napa one day.. also Zuni Cafe in SF is so fabulous (we had been using their cookbook for years and the restaurant did not disappoint).

Thanks for the note about cheese packaging.

Adjusting to a new area takes time. It took me years to love Berkeley. And it took me years to find things to love in Albany. Relationships with cheesemongers can take time to nurture as well. I wish I knew the cheese scene better in Santa Cruz so I could help you out.

But as a former Californian, I have to take exception about the car thing. Yes, there are Californians who rely on their cars (especially in So Cal). But there are so many people who live without cars in San Francisco and the East Bay, that it hurts to hear this criticism applied broadly to the whole state.

With ferries, trains, busses, street cars, cable cars, and loosely organized casual carpools there are a lot of options to get around the Bay Area. Although I pretty much relied entirely on BART.

The public transit in Albany kills me. I know people get around here without a car. But I drive so much more here than I did out west. I couldn't imagine life in the Capital District (with the current transportation options) without a four season vehicle.

I lasted five years in Southern California before moving back to the East Coast. I could never get used to Thanksgiving Day BBQs or picking out a Christmas tree in a tank top and flip flops.

Ok, that only made me homesick for California. Sorry, NY, but I can't wait to go back "home" to SoCAL. Ahhhh, wine (and even spirits) in grocery stores....

It has taken me a good long time, and last winter nearly drove me out with the snow, but I have finally settled into a real deep appreciation of this region and celebrating it.

To clarify: I love living in Santa Cruz. But I also love my hometown and I also loved Chicago. I think places are what you make of them. If you want to enjoy where you live, you will find ways to do so. But that doesn't mean there aren't things I miss about each place I've been.

And Daniel, I'll concede that perhaps I'm painting with a broad brush but I do think SF/East Bay are the anomalies in the state. Silicon Valley is just sprawl, sprawl, sprawl, and I've met a whole lot of people for whom the idea of high-speed rail prompts a very Charlton Heston-like response when it comes to their car keys. On the plus side, we do have a lot of bike lanes.

You know, from my desk here on 16th Street in San Francisco I definitely would not object if someone gave me some Tofu Fries. Other than that...

Loved this. Of course, I'm biased as a true blue Delawarian (and fan of your Mom). Thanks for the reminder.

And Albany misses Jess....

You know, I've 'lived' here most of the last 30 years, despite a very nomadic life that included a few 2-5 year long stints in the Bay area and a girlfriend Santa Cruz. If I had to pick another place to live, it would be in the redwood forests overlooking Santa Cruz to the west and The Valley to the east/Northeast. I delight in the drive 'over the mountain' on Rt 17 that probably makes Jess nuts. And the lemon tree in the front yard made making Lemon Pepper Chicken for the lady and I oh, so much better.

The variety of life in Santa Cruz is amazing, the food unimaginably diverse and fantastic, the culture deep and vibrant. But oh so different from my home here on the eastern border of NY. Jess, there are some fantastic little places to eat in downtown. Check out the Blue Moon when you can. Yes, the best Asian is over the hill, but Albany doesn't get seafood like Monterey, Santa Cruz, or SF proper...

Both Albany and Santa Cruz have great food, great people, fantastic views and, for me, friends I will always love.

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