Posted by: Lisa Pampuch | August 7, 2002

Outsiders’ view of South County

I’ve had the opportunity to view South County through the eyes of ‘outsiders’ during the last several weeks. We’ve had houseguests from Columbus, Ohio, Dayton, Ohio, and Tampa, Florida – not all at the same time, thankfully – and their reactions were telling.

Of course, they all loved the weather, especially the lack of humidity. They also were pleasantly surprised by the lack of bugs compared to their hometowns.

Who can blame them? Here in South County, our summers feature crystal-clear blue skies filled with warm sunshine, followed by lovely cool breezes at night. Without that awful sticky humidity that’s so much a part of a midwest or Florida summer, there’s much less call for air conditioning. And the near-absence of mosquitoes is such a bonus; our seven-year-old daughter got the first mosquito bite of her life ten days ago.

The sight of our summer-brown hills did startle our houseguests, who found it difficult to believe that they are lush and green beginning in November or so. I don’t think they appreciated the golden beauty of the hills to the east, especially, and much preferred the rises to the west that are covered with still-green trees.

But I love the eastern hills and the gift of ‘spring’ when they turn emerald in winter, which has always been my least favorite season.

Agrarian South County compared favorably to the concrete landscape in San Jose in our houseguests’ eyes. The found it to be quite a treat to emerge first from the urban sameness to our north into the farms, vineyards, orchards and ranchlands of Morgan Hill, San Martin and Gilroy.

Our guests loved the roadside produce stands, trying to identify the various crops growing in the fields we passed and seeing the variety of farm animals – from cows, horses and sheep to goats, llamas and chickens – that live among us.

But the prices – of everything – were another story. From the steep cost of apartment rentals to the astronomical price tag attached to buying a house, from the price of a gallon of gas to the price of a gallon of milk, everything seemed very expensive to our houseguests.

An apartment that rents for $600 back east fetches $1,100 a month here; a house that would cost $150,000 in Ohio or Florida sells for $600,000 here. Wouldn’t you rather pay $1.49 a gallon for gas and $1.99 a gallon for milk (and no, you don’t have to buy two gallons of cow juice at once to get that price), as my guests are accustomed to doing? They don’t understand, and I had a difficult time explaining, how people of middle class and more modest means manage to make ends meet.

I told them about horrendous commutes – from Los Banos, Hollister, Tracy and points beyond. I told them about families sharing homes. I told them about communities building affordable housing and they shook their heads in disbelief at the long waiting lists for such housing and the high income limits to qualify for it.

The Bay Area’s traffic conditions also rated a big ‘thumbs down’ from our guests. They can’t believe how long each rush ‘hour’ is, that there’s a weekend rush in South County from people leaving and then returning to the Bay Area, or quite frankly, the rudeness of many of the drivers.

In our six years here, I guess I’ve become accustomed to all of it. But seeing and hearing our guests’ reactions to the situation reminded me that in many ways, life – from basics such as food and shelter to the daily grind in the form of commuting – is in many other parts of the country a much kinder, gentler and less-intense proposition.

In the end, one of our houseguests has decided the area’s beauty and climate outweigh its down sides. Our neice, Elisabeth, who will be a junior in high school this fall, has told her parents she wants to go to college in the Bay Area, and plans to live in the area upon her university graduation. She visited several campuses during their 10-day stay, and is currently leaning toward the University of San Francisco.

A lot can change in two years – especially for teenagers – so we’ll have to wait and see where she finally attends school. But I’m glad she appreciates our little corner of the world as much as we do.

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