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Posted on March 2nd, 2021

The Soft Core of the Earth – Overrated Places II

I’ve decided to continue my tour of failed stops – there’s a bunch of them so get comfortable. This month’s edition takes us to sunny Southern California, one of many places I’d never thought about moving to but ended up in anyway. My path to “SoCal” was taken somewhat on a whim (this is kind of a theme in my life, it seems). But after seriously burning out on Boulder, Colorado (the first time), and the prospects of a career position with the State government in California, I took the leap. Now, for a little background context, I’d applied for, tested for and interviewed for a position with the State and was under the impression I would be hired within a six-month window. This was a law enforcement position so they hire in classes, and the expectation was they would hire a class of 35-50 cadets, and I was number 15 on the list – this was spelled out almost verbatim in the letter I received. I was expected to be stationed up in the Northern part of the state on the coast, but before then I would have to go through training which was to take place in Monterrey. Because of this, and the fact that I was not going to start for a few months and was ready for a quick exodus from Boulder, I decided to move to Orange County. Man, what a mistake. I did have a few friends in the area, one up north in Bel Air, one in Long Beach, and a couple down in San Diego, but really, I was going to be all alone where I landed. I didn’t have a job upon arrival either, so that made things a little precarious. Nonetheless, not being known for thinking things out terribly well, especially at that stage of my life, I packed up my belongings and moved to the Pacific Ocean. Little did I know how bad I would hate it (not the ocean, but life in SoCal).

Even the leaves of these palm trees are trying to get as far away from California as they can. (Image retrieved from, artist credit to Julian Myles)

Have you ever done something and then immediately regretted it? That was this move for me. I don’t think I was there 24 hours before I realized what a poor decision I made. There were a number of things I was trying to get away from in Boulder, and as luck would have it, I found them in spades in California – and then some. First, the people. There are some vapid, ultra-privileged, ultra-aloof people in Boulder, but none of them are natives; most come from SoCal. And I found them ALL. Second, it’s really congested in Orange County, something that had become obvious to me in Boulder County quite quickly, but again, much worse further west. Then there’s the rest. Everything is concrete. Everybody is plastic. There is no green space. You cannot walk anywhere. It’s ridiculously expensive, somehow more so than Boulder which ain’t cheap – and what you get for the money is smaller and far less nice. There is an emptiness in SoCal that permeated my flesh and bones right away, and I couldn’t shake it the entire time I was there. And I didn’t last long, I just couldn’t take it. To say I was there for six months is likely an exaggeration, I think in reality I made it five and change. Hated it, hated it, hated it.

The first few weeks were perhaps the worst when I was unemployed and looking for work. About the only outlets I found any refuge in were going up to see my friends closer to LA (which involved an awful lot of drinking) and my evening trips to the beach with the dog to let her run around. I very rarely went during daylight because of the crowds. I tried my hardest to find cool places to go hike or far-off canyons to ride my motorcycle, but that always just added hours to my day and frustration as well – it is no joke being on the freeway system in SoCal. Every moment is aggravating, and I don’t miss it at all.

I eventually found a job in the field I went to college for, but it wasn’t quite full time, so I had to supplement it by working nights and weekends elsewhere, further making me feel like I’d really set myself up for misery with this decision. In some ways, though, I was miserable before I got there, so perhaps it was just the second shotty deal of a bad life of poker. I was running out of chips…

Then I got the letter I was waiting for: official notification of my hiring and appointment to training! But wait – the letter was from the right people, but the contents weren’t what I had in mind… More backstory: this was in 2003 when the gubernatorial recall took place and Arnold Schwarzenegger became governor. Apparently, he wasn’t sold on funding my career niche from the State’s coffers. The letter indicated that they would be hiring a class of 12, not 35-50, and since I was #15, I wasn’t going to be hired. Wait, what? I called and asked what this meant for me. They said I would have to wait for the next open call and apply again. The whole process from application, to testing, to interviewing took more than 18 months, so I was immediately deflated. There I was, stuck in a place I didn’t want to be, barely scraping by, and having the door to my career slammed in my face. As I’ve indicated, I was on a 2-year-plus run of bad luck at that point and it was clearly going to continue. I started to plot my escape. Ironically it would take me back to Boulder (my second of four stops there).

I chalked that up to a very expensive life experience. In addition to having to pay to move myself again, I also had to break my lease. No amount of money was too much for me to get the hell out of Dodge, so it seemed like well-spent money at that point. That I would essentially crawl back to another place I didn’t want to be was slightly disheartening. The only silver lining was that I’d realized all the things I complained about in Boulder weren’t nearly as bad as I’d made them out to be, though they certainly weren’t “good” by any stretch of the imagination either. The lesser of two evils…

I told my closest friend out in SoCal of my plans and he was disappointed, but he also knew I wasn’t digging it. When I left, I hoped to never return, though that wasn’t to be the case. I’ve probably returned 4-5 times, all to see him and a few other friends who ended up in the area, and every time I do it makes my skin crawl. Maybe I wouldn’t hate it so bad if I hadn’t made the poor decision to move there, but I did and I do, so that’s that. One of the few good things about all my bad holdovers in life is that I’ve got a pretty good handle on where I don’t want to be – that makes finding where I do want to be a little easier. Though, I wouldn’t say I’ve entirely locked that down yet either. At this stage in my life, I think I’m destined to be restless wherever I am. Maybe I should try to have less friction in my life and things would go more smoothly, but I just want to be content. I hope that’s not too much to ask. Liking where you are, and who is there with you, is a pretty large part of that…

By this point you’re probably starting to wonder about the places I do like. I’ll get there, eventually. For now, I’ll remain a nomad, even if it’s one who gets stuck in a holding pattern for a little while. Currently, I’m in the place where I’ve been the longest consecutively since I was a kid. That could be a good sign – that I’m comfortable. More than likely it’s a bad sign – that it’s time to move on…

Marco Esquandoles
Doubling Down on Bad Decisions

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