Friday, May 12, 2017

Chapter 9 - California Dreaming becomes reality

After we decided to move to Oceanside, our lives entered chaos from which they have not yet recovered.

The reverse mortgage thing was really complicated.  The lender rep we worked with was very nice but was a bit scatterbrained, and would forget that I had sent him the information he was requesting earlier in the day, sometimes multiple times.  The escrow company (in most places we would call this a title company) was chosen by the seller, and they must not have had experience with either a) a remote client, such as us, and b) a reverse mortgage.  They were always behind the eight ball.  And they never got us anything on time.

Our purchase agreement for the house in Oceanside was signed, finally, on February 20.  California law says closing should happen within 30 days. February has 28 days this year, so the closing target date was March 22.  But the buyer’s agent insisted on March 20; evidently they didn’t teach her about February in school.  In the meantime, we had to work with Fidelity to get the very, very large down payment organized and had to learn what was needed to do a wire transfer to a California bank. 

And, oh, by the way, we had to get our house in Richardson, Texas ready to sell.  There were some problems with it that, in our opinion, would turn off a prospective buyer.  We did NOT understand what the market was like, and how the house would literally have to be on fire not to sell quickly in our neighborhood, and for some buyers that might be an advantage.

We had been working with a realtor in our area, actually a mother and son (Sandy and Jeff Wolfe, highly recommended) who worked together quite well, and they were not pushing us to make a move before we were ready.  They did a very good job of explaining the process.  We would list the house, someone would make an offer, we would accept, have a home inspection, and then the negotiations would begin, over what repairs would be made and what we would do to offset what could not be repaired, and how much of it could we stand.  My good friend Roy, whose wife works in real estate, said be prepared to hear lots of things you don’t want to hear.

We had a very hard time finding someone to do some of the minor repairs we knew about – we had some stonework in the front steps that had gotten messed up during the long drought we had in Texas a couple of years back, and we had some decayed and rotted boards under the gutters that somebody never cleaned.  After a while, our realtor recommended a handyman who could make all the required repairs.  He came right around and gave us an estimate. Then we didn’t hear from him again, until I got back with our realtor and told her what happened.  The handyman then called and made an appointment.  It turned out that he was very talented and worked very quickly. He cleaned up our problem areas in a day or two. His name, for anyone in the area, is Trace Ivey.  If you live in Plano/Richardson/Garland and need a handyman, let me know and I will send you his contact info.

We had a sign in front of the house saying ‘Coming Soon’ and we decided on when to let it appear in MLS.  But first we had a photographer come, and we had to de-clutter the house so her photos would show the house at its best.  This was not easy.  Our house had almost thirty years of clutter. 

One problem was the kitties.  We have two cats, Smilo and Trillie, and they needed to be kept out of the way.  We had cat carriers, which we used to take the critters to the vet for their infrequent visits, but, thinking ahead, we needed a way to transport the kitties to California, and the cat carriers were too small for so long a confinement.  We found some crates in Petsmart, designed for small dogs. They were perfect, and even fit in the back of  our hatchback Toyota Prius automobiles. But two of them would barely fit in one car, and there would scarcely be room for anything else.  It was looking like two cars would make the trip.  I had hoped to ship one.

But the crates worked for confining the cats during showings.  We started showings on a Thursday afternoon, in advance of the house being in MLS, and had showings all day Friday, and someone asked for a showing at 8 PM but we said no.  We received two offers above our asking price, one by $10K and the other by a little less.  The lesser offer was cash, an investor looking to flip the property. 

In the meantime, our California property did not close on time, and stumbled along slowly with incredibly stupid questions from the loan underwriter.  For example, they wanted a payment history on our Texas homeowner’s association.  In California, HOA’s rule the roost, but in our neighborhood in Texas our association was really just a social organization, completely voluntary, with a fee of $15 a year.  We had to send them a link to a web page describing it.

We had a home inspection done on the Oceanside house, but the home inspection business is something of a racket, in my opinion, where they check certain things on their list, but don’t actually look around as you would as a homeowner.  We had only seen the Oceanside property two times, and really didn’t remember it well. The home inspection looked at about 5% of what I had hoped for. We had big problems when we moved in, some of them still hanging on.  We could not be there for the inspection, but our realtor was.  She later admitted she hadn’t watched what he was doing.  I'm still pissed.

Back to Richardson. We decided to go with the cash offer, because the process did not depend on a home sale in another state.  The buyer asked for a two-week closing (!).  Fortunately, he also said we could stay on in a no-cost leaseback for two more weeks, giving us a month to get out.  But our California house still had not closed.  We had a one-week period where the buyer had the option to back out, depending on the outcome of the home inspection.  The buyer asked for some small repairs to the house, but also asked for significant concessions for the pool.  We had known we would get whacked over the pool.  We made an offer to cover all repairs, and our realtors thought it was reasonable.  So did the buyer.  Now we had three weeks to get out.

We had some moving companies come in to give us estimates.  It really is kind of awkward, because the person who comes is sort of like a scout. You never see that person again, but they are the ones whom you interact with up to the time you make a decision. Afterwards, we worked with a guy at the warehouse in Carrollton, and with the van driver.

We got lots and lots of moving boxes from Atlantic Moving Services, and bought more locally from U-Haul.  We got lots of boxes from Total Wine and More. Those we filled with books, and donated somewhere around 35 boxes of books, and still had a heck of a lot of books left to move.  We donated our vinyl records and a lot of clothes and many other items to St Vincent de Paul. 

Richardson has twice-weekly trash pickup, and once-weekly recycle pickup. You can request bulk and brushy item pickup every Friday, and they will take just about anything except nuclear waste.  Richardson has the greatest garbagemen in the world.  We gave them plenty to do, but we should have given them more.

We were not moving everything – our Texas house was 2540 square feet, and our California house is 1800 square feet.  The rooms are all smaller, although more open. We did not move the furniture in our guest bedroom – the bed got sold.  The TV table was donated.  We disposed of our sofa, loveseat, and side chairs from our living room, because they were badly scratched by the cats and we couldn’t even give them away. I paid our lawn guys $50 to carry them out to the curb. We donated the convertible sofa from our den to a family who desperately needed it and didn’t care about the cat scratches.  Basically we moved our bedroom set, our kitchen table and chairs, and the dining table, chairs, and sideboard.  We moved the TV table, my desk and two office chairs.  We got rid of two old computer tables, a side chair, and gave away a recliner.  We also sold our washer and dryer, and gave away our plasma TV.  We did go do some shopping when we got to California.

In the meantime, our California house dragged on.  I had been sure, when we first started on all of this, that we would be stuck with two houses for a significant amount of time, but we reached the closing date on our Richardson house and the California house had not closed – part of the delay was a holiday honoring Cesar Chavez, which caused all the government offices to be closed the day the deed was supposed to be recorded.  Texas doesn’t take that day, needless to say. 

After March 31, we were technically homeless, although we had the leaseback period.  The closing at Chicago Title was a snap. Very professional.  The California house closed a couple of days later, but the closing documents were mailed to Oceanside, and we were in Richardson. One of the documents was a refund check, because the escrow company had overestimated our required deposit by more than $25,000.  I asked them to stop the check and do a wire transfer to our bank, which, to their credit, they did.

We were kind of in a tight spot, though, because the movers were coming on a Wednesday, and after that we had no place to sleep.  The movers did a fine job, carefully packing some artwork that we were unwilling to attempt to pack.  (Smilo attacked it a couple of weeks later, breaking the glass shielding.) We had some school volunteers coming on Thursday to pick up our (huge) refrigerator, bound for a teacher's lounge (we threw in our remaining Diet Coke) and our cleaning lady was coming one last time to try to clean up the mess, and on Friday we planned to take the last scraps out to bulk collection.  The cats stayed in the house, and we stayed at the Hyatt House a little ways down the street.  It was bittersweet.  We had lived in Richardson for nearly thirty years, and now we were leaving for a new life in California.  It was probably the third hardest thing I have ever done in my life.

Whatever was left had to go by car.  That included two cats, some clothes in suitcases, and some unopened wine bottles, a couple of jars of pennies we had long since forgotten about, dirty laundry, and other stuff that got missed.  Laptops and iPads came along as well.  We left Richardson at 7:25 AM on April 13, and did not stop again until we had covered 304 miles in 4 hours 34 minutes, finding ourselves a bit hungry in Big Spring, Texas.  We used Siri to find a Taco Bell.  We did not want to leave the cats in the car for any length of time, and in fact had to leave the windows open while parked because the weather, while nice, was too warm to leave them closed, so we were pretty well committed to fast food for lunch.   The cats each yelled for a while in the car, but after a while they got tired and went to sleep.  But if we went over a bump, or if the pavement got a bit rough, they started yelling again.  I told Smilo I agreed with him, it was a miserable experience.  The problem we had was we had two cars and two drivers and no relief drivers, and we needed to get there. We thought the movers were coming on Monday, so there was no time to lollygag.  Another problem is that the Prius has incredible range.  At 50+ miles per gallon, with an almost 11 gallon tank, you can easily go 450 miles without stopping for gas or even getting on the low side.  Except your bladder can’t go that long.  Or at least my bladder can’t.

From Big Spring we drove to Van Horn, 221 miles. We were now getting to the 80 mph speed limit part of Texas.  We refueled there, and after a brief pit stop in Fabens, Texas, we made it completely out of Texas.  Driving through El Paso late Friday afternoon was not exactly fun.  The speed limit is low, and traffic is pretty heavy.  Then there’s still some more Texas after you get through El Paso, but there is a definite feeling of accomplishment when you cross over to New Mexico.  You can drive from Dallas to El Paso and beyond in a day, but it is one long damn day.

Jody and I communicated by phone while driving.  I had my (built-in) GPS going and in general did the navigation, but I would check on her and Trillie once in a while.  We didn’t hit any serious gaps in cellular service.  We both have hands-free Bluetooth connections.  Our drive was helped by the fact that we were heading into the sun, with the days fairly long, and each day we crossed into another time zone, and fell back an hour.

Our next stop was at rest stop in Deming, NM, 152 miles after Fabens.  As we got tired, the stops were becoming a little more frequent.  Finally, we got to our goal for day 1, Lordsburg, NM.  It is pretty much the last place you can stop prior to Arizona, and there’s a whole lot of nothing once you get to Arizona, so you might as well stop for the night at Lordsburg.  There are a bunch of motels, and we ended up at a nice Quality Inn just off the interstate.  We unloaded the car and let the cats out of their cages in the hotel room. They were a bit shook up, although Smilo promptly ate some chow and used the litter box.  We were told there was a restaurant nearby, but we failed to find it. Since it was Good Friday, it’s possible that it was closed.  We got something to take out at McDonald’s.  We had last been in a McDonald’s in Chartres, France.  It’s a long story.  At least we had some nice Pinot Noir to wash down a Big Mac and an Egg McMuffin (no bacon) and some fries.

On our first day, according to the Automatic app, we drove 823 miles.  Some of that was extra, looking around for a place to eat. 

The next day, after breakfast at the hotel, we lost Trillie.  She had managed to get past the barriers that Jody built to prevent her getting under the bed.  The bed was on something like a pedestal, and she got under there.  I started packing the car while Jody tried to entice her out from under the bed, with no success.  I saw a guy from the hotel in the hallway and explained our predicament.  He came in the room and promptly moved the mattress and box spring, and Trillie fled from her hiding spot.  I managed to grab her and put her in the carrier.  But we didn’t hit the road until after 8:30, an hour later than I had hoped. 

Arizona was, for the most part, very pretty to drive through.  The first part of the drive we had very light traffic. The hardest part was driving from Tucson towards Phoenix to where I-8 starts up.  There was lots of traffic and lots of huge trucks in the left lane going 75 mph.  We stopped at Wilcox, about 73 miles, for gas and bathroom, and did not stop again until Gila Bend, another 200 miles west.  Gila Bend has a Taco Bell!  After refueling at Gila Bend, we drove to El Centro, CA, 178 miles west, where we took a break and refueled. From El Centro we did not stop again until we reached Oceanside, 136 miles, including a bit of a wild ride on I-8 through many 4000+ foot passes in California, straining the poor 4-cylinder Prius to its limits. When we got to Oceanside, we ended up on the wrong side of Ocean Hills Country Club, at a gate where you can’t get in unless you have a transponder.  At that point I was on the phone to our realtor, and she said drive around the corner.  It was that easy, but we had only been there a couple of times.  We got in past the guard station but didn’t have a key to the house, so we waited for Nancie to arrive.  She and her husband brought us a large welcome basket.  And we came on in.  The furniture, we learned, was on a truck heading to New Orleans.  That’s right – the wrong direction. 

The house we saw on April 15 was not the house I had in my memory.  It was smaller, had much less storage, and was not as updated as I recalled.  I can’t explain it – memory is just not that reliable, we took no photos of our own, and we saw lots of houses and they all blended together.

We left the cats in the house, and went on to the hotel I had reserved in Oceanside.  On the second day, I drove exactly 600 miles, including to the hotel and out to eat that night.  Drivng all day in a Prius is not exactly a good time. The car is very flexible, holds a lot of stuff, gets fabulous mileage, but it is not that comfortable to sit in for all of that time, and it is not blessed with a lot of power.  

Our movers came on Thursday, early, and unloaded the truck in a couple of hours. There was some minor damage but nothing worth fighting over.  That night Judith, our next door neighbor, had us over for dinner.  Judith, who emigrated to the US from Hungary after the uprising in 1956,  went to Boston College for her masters degree.  I went there quite a bit earlier than she did.

Since getting here, we have replaced the washer and dryer that were already here but hardly worked, and we are replacing the microwave and stovetop/oven, which are pretty old.  We bought a new 56” Sony TV to replace the plasma we gave away.  We bought new living room furniture (sofa, loveseat, two chairs) and found a new product called Furniture Defender, which protects the corners that cats love to tear up.  It works.  We are still struggling with the lack of storage and have donated a lot of stuff to a local charity. 

Oceanside has trash and recycle pickup once a week.  They provide rolling bins to hold the stuff, but the ones in the house were so small they couldn’t hold a regular trash bag. We ordered larger ones – most people do.  We got rid of most of our moving boxes through the Nextdoor website, but some we had to take to the dump, dodging the heavy garbage trucks in a Prius.  We think we have the trash under control, but we miss the world’s greatest garbagemen, found in Richardson, Texas.

The weather has been nice.  We had a big storm one Sunday, and some sprinkles, and we experience the marine layer because we are close to the ocean.  One day we did some shopping in Vista, a little more inland, and the car got pretty hot, but back in Oceanside we kept the house windows closed.  We have turned the air conditioning on one time, to see if it worked. We have used the heat a couple of mornings, but that’s it.  We are 3.5 miles from the Pacific as the crow flies, although to drive there is quite a bit more.  So far it has not been anything close to hot.

I got my driver's license the other day, and the automated system allowed me to register to vote. So it's pretty much official.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Review that TripAdvisor refused to publish

Subject: BEST WESTERN PLUS Oceanside Palms/Camp Pendleton
Location: Oceanside, California, United States, North America
Title: Avoid if there is any chance you will have to cancel
ID#: 476819056
I would give zero stars if I could. We are in the process of moving, and needed a place to stay until our furniture arrived. Chose this one for two nights 
I did not realize they have a 24 hour notice for cancellation. When we made other arrangements and could stay at our home, I called to cancel. They refused, even for the second night, because the cancellation deadline had passed. In fact, the deadline was only a few minutes after the booking was made. 
So if there is any chance you may need to cancel, don't book here.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Chapter 8 - the search concludes (we hope)

After doing nothing with respect to finding a place to live over a couple of months – with Christmas and New Year’s in there somewhere along with some medical stuff – we resumed our activity in February.  We really liked San Diego the best of the places we had been, but the prices there are really high.  We decided to give it one more try, and if we couldn’t find anything, cross it off the list. 

We booked the trip through American Airlines Vacations, this time choosing a less fancy hotel than the Rancho Bernardo Inn.  We flew out mid-afternoon on a Saturday, on an ancient Airbus A-321 that obviously was inherited from US Airways, as was the crew.  We stayed at a Marriott Courtyard in Rancho Bernardo, where we had stayed a couple of times before. The rooms have a small refrigerator, microwave, and coffee maker. Only one time did they fail to replenish the regular coffee.  Our first night was tough, with noise, but I guess we got used to it.  For dinner we went to Chin’s in Rancho Bernardo.  Chin’s is a local legend, a chain in North San Diego County, with fabulous Szechuan cuisine.  We had to wait 20 minutes for a table, and I really don’t do well with that, but kept my mouth shut for once.  I had my Dad’s favorite spicy honey shrimp, and Jody got vegetarian moo-shi (sometimes called moo-shoo).  We started off the week stuffed, which became, unfortunately, a theme.

We had contacted Nancie, our San Diego realtor, and let her know our plans. She cleared the decks so she could work with us.  On our previous visit, we had stopped by a place called Ocean Hills Country Club, a 55+ development which has a lot of the same amenities that places like Robson Ranch (Denton, TX) and Pelican Preserve (Fort Myers, FL) have – golf, pool, pickle ball, clubs, etc.  Just without the heat and humidity.  On our November visit, we went there but there was nothing available.  Nancie just wanted us to see it so that if something became available we would know something about Ocean Hills.

So, our first stop this trip was at Ocean Hills.  Nancie showed us a 1400 square foot home with a one car garage, but also a space to park another car.  We really don’t want to park a car outside.  Sun ruins cars.  I still remember getting cracks in the dash from not having covered parking at work, at a place where there was covered parking available but the idiot CEO wanted to separate important people from unimportant people.  Nancie had a lot of places with one car garages in our stated price range.  There was one other home for sale in Ocean Hills with a two car garage, but it was higher in price.  We asked to see it.  It wasn’t perfect, but it was pretty close.  It had two bedrooms, two bathrooms, and a den, and it was immaculate.  1800 square feet. Very vacant.  And, rare for San Diego – it had been on the market for a while, meaning we could probably snag it for less than the asking price.

We looked at a few more properties, some single family homes in residential areas, but nothing too impressive. We were leaning toward a 55+ setup.  Where we live now, the neighborhood has turned over, most are young families, and we are a little bit out of place.  We don’t want to replicate that. 

Sunday night we had dinner at the French Market Grille, in Rancho Bernardo, just steps away from Chin’s where we had eaten the night before.  But this time we didn’t make a wrong turn and get lost on our way to the restaurant, even with three GPS in the car.  They had a lamb shank special which was incredible.  That was one well-fed lamb. Sadly, the boss, a Frenchman, was off on Sunday, so no French practice.  We were waited on by a Mexican.  Very competent, and the service is very European in that there are not cadres of people running around.  Just the one guy for the whole (small) restaurant. 

The next day Nancie took us over to see some homes in the Oaks North area of Rancho Bernardo. We saw some condo properties in the area near where my parents lived (they bought new) in the 80’s.  None had a two car garage, though, and all were pretty tight on space. We saw a standalone single family home in Oaks North, but on the other side of Paseo del Verano Norte, closer to the golf course.  This home was an estate sale, and the house was gorgeous, with an incredible patio and view out the back.  The problem was that there was not very much house.  I kept walking around, trying to envision where things would go, and couldn’t really find a place for a television or computer.  The lady who lived there had an old CRT television in a cabinet.  It was light, airy, beautiful, and in a great location, but it was a hair south of $600,000 for 1400 square feet.  It had two bedrooms and two baths, but nothing like a study or a den.

Nancie had a few more for us to look at, but we decided to look on Tuesday at the two favorite places plus any others she might have and try to decide.

Monday night a group of friends from the former Escondido Country Club, where my Dad used to be a member until it was shut down, get together for dinner and drinks.  They go to the Marie Callender’s in Escondido.  The food is crappy, the service is awful, but it’s fun to renew friendships.

We had checked out (drive-by) some of the last few properties Nancie had found for us, and looked at some others on the web. There was one near Lake San Marcos that looked interesting.  We went there and it was really beautiful with a fabulous view, but it had eight steps leading from the garage.  We don’t like stairs.  The house looked like a model home, and the agent said the house was not staged at all, the people live like that.  Another home Nancie found was in Escondido, not far from where my parents used to live.  It was not in good condition, but was priced right.  But it had four steps, very steep, to the attached garage.

So we went back to Ocean Hills and to the place in Oaks North.  We decided on Ocean Hills and asked Nancie to start the ball rolling. 

That day was Valentine’s Day.  We had not had lunch, so we went early to one of my Dad’s favorite places, Joe’s Italian Dinners on Grand Avenue in Escondido.  It was the right move.  The food there is all made from scratch, so it takes a while. They don’t take reservations, but we beat the rush. People were waiting 45 minutes for a table.  We ate as fast as we could to try to help out.  (Not really.)

Wednesday we went to meet with some mortgage people.  We had started out thinking we would pay cash for whatever we bought, and that would have worked in Florida, or Texas, or Idaho, but it would not work in San Diego.  The prices are so high that we would have been living on franks and beans (tofu pups for Jody) after buying with no mortgage, especially because our Texas house was not yet for sale.  So we met with some guys from Pure Mortgage, who have an office off I-8 in San Diego.  It was strange sitting in a conference room. I don’t recall specifically, but I think the last time I was in a conference room would have been in 2015 in Houston.  The Dallas office where I worked towards the end was equipped with wireless headsets, and nobody used conference rooms. 

They gathered up our financial information, and then raised the question of a reverse mortgage.  I had not heard of that being used as a tool for a purchase – I thought it was a way for a senior to extract some value out of a home while living in it.  The idea is you put down a substantial down payment, and then you stop.  The interest is added on the loan, and some government insurance guarantees the mortgage.  There is even a provision where you can withdraw money from the asset as a line of credit, with no income tax impact.  Since we have no heirs, it seemed worth looking into.  But the bureaucracy involved in it is formidable.  We decided to give it a shot.

Wednesday night we tried a place we had not been before, Urge Gastropub, which is in the shopping center across from our hotel.  It was surprisingly good.  I ordered a burger called the Fahrenheit.  It was well named – very spicy, leaving my lips tingling.  The waiter said there was some habanero in the topping, although the menu didn’t say that.  Jody had a Beet and Goat Cheese salad.  Looked pretty good.  They have one of these over in Oceanside as well.

On Thursday we really had nothing to do but wait for some phone calls, so we ventured down to La Jolla.  We got very lucky and found parking right away, and walked the length of the cove. It was cool and beautiful, nearly high tide, with some pretty good surf.  We had lunch at a place called Brockton’sVilla, in an old building high on the hillside.  This had been a favorite of my parents years ago, but with the desperate parking situation at La Jolla we hadn’t tried to go there in a long time.  The meal I ordered was just OK, but the view was fabulous.

That evening we met up with Maryann Haller, an old friend from the Escondido days, at a place called Le Bistro de Louisa, a French (and Italian) place in Rancho Bernardo.  It was really nice, with a decent but not extensive selection of offerings.  I had lamb chops, a little overcooked but it was my fault for not following the recommendations.  We got to speak a little French to the lady of the house. We had dessert, so it ended up being a little over $100 with the tip. I would go back.

On Friday Jody wanted to go idea shopping at a furniture store, which turned out to be harder than you would think. Siri said there was a furniture store near us, but it turned out to be an office building in Rancho Bernardo with a tiny outlet for seconds, and wasn’t appropriate.  We did find a Jerome’s eventually and drooled on their stuff. It looks like if you pick something they have in stock they will get it to you quickly.  File that away.  For lunch we stopped at Rubio’s and I had the Coastal Trio, about 800 calories of delicious.  It was wise to postpone that until Friday! 

That afternoon a long-predicted Pacific storm hit San Diego.  It is amazingly green there right now, and you can see why when you see these storms.  The winds were very strong and it rained pretty hard.  People freak out when it rains there, so you have to be careful driving. We decided to go to the shopping center across from the Marriott for dinner, ending up in a place called The Barrel Room.  It was pretty busy, and we sat outside, but under cover and near a heater.  Later arrivals got some rain with their dinner. My TBR burger was a lot less dramatic than the Fahrenheit I had consumed at the place next door. 

We returned home Saturday, on another Airbus 321, but a newer model. The ride was very bumpy on account of the weather surrounding the west coast.  We arrived a bit early at DFW, and American had nobody to operate the jet bridge, and when they showed up, it was clear that they had not worked with this aircraft type before.  They hit the plane pretty hard with the jet bridge, but I hope it didn’t put the plane out of service.

When we came home we were, or at least I was, sort of numb.  We are not going to be living here any more – we’ll move out in a month or two (or three) depending how it all goes.  We have a variety of steps we have to take, including making sure we have enough cash in the proper account to pay the down payment.  We are working hard to fix what we can in this house, and get rid of what we can’t move. It’s going to be a lot of work.  But we don’t have much else to do, and we have help from Smilo and Trillie.  (smh)

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Chapter 7 - America's Finest City

Our next stop on our research for a place to live in retirement was to beautiful San Diego, which is called, by some, America’s Finest City.  The San Diego area is where my parents chose to live in retirement. The weather there is normally very pleasant, with cool nights and warm days, although there are intermittent periods of very hot weather or cold, but not freezing, weather in the brief winter.  It is described as a Mediterranean climate – but only by people who haven’t been to the Mediterranean.

Our Hundred Best Places to Retire in America book had listed Oceanside as one of the best places.  I was curious as to why that was, because Oceanside had seemed to be just another suburb in North San Diego County, only closer to the ocean.  So we would find out.

We flew out on a Saturday, on a miserable Airbus 321, a long, skinny airplane with not enough power to inspire confidence. Our flight was delayed for a minor mechanical problem.  They said it was a tray table, but I didn’t see seeing anyone in the cabin working on anything.  Who knows?

We arrived in San Diego and collected our luggage after the usual interminable wait.  Then we found out that the rental car system, which used to be very simple and efficient, had been completely redone.  Instead of a Hertz van taking us to the Hertz location, they had one giant bus which served all rental companies, and a new rental car center had been built off the Pacific Highway, a couple of miles away.  The bus we had was driven by a huge, morbidly obese man who did nothing to help anyone.  People loaded their luggage on to the bus until there was no more room for luggage or for people.  There were a lot of people standing in the aisle.  The bus lurched off into the darkness.  It took a good little while to get where it was going.

If you travel to San Diego, allow an extra 30 minutes on each end of your trip to deal with the new rental car center.  It’s awful.

We were not sure where we were upon leaving the center.  A sign pointed to I-5.  We don’t use I-5.  We eventually stumbled around and found the Pacific Highway, which is the way we know to get to Rancho Bernardo, where we were staying. 

We had a nice maroon SUV, a Kia Sorento. It was powerful and comfortable, but it got 30 mpg less than my Prius.  Okay, because we were planning on a lot of driving around.

We drove up to Rancho Bernardo and over to the Rancho Bernardo Inn.  Rancho Bernardo is a master planned community in inland north San Diego, part of the city itself.  My Mom and Dad lived there when they first moved to San Diego, back in the 80’s, and Jody and I always liked it there.  My parents later moved to Escondido, a northern suburb, a pretty good sized city in itself.  Escondido is popular with retirees in part because it has a very warm climate. Coming from Texas, we’re not impressed by very warm climates.

It turns out to be poor planning on my part to arrive at the RB Inn at 5 or 6 PM on a Saturday.  The place was teeming with cars and restaurant patrons, and people attending weddings.  There were at least three weddings, one of them Indian, with beautiful women in beautiful colorful saris.  The RB Inn offers valet parking, but I wanted to avoid the standard $5 tip for the valet since we were planning on being in and out a lot.  We parked near the entrance and checked in, and the lady indicated we could park ‘in the back’ because that would be closest to our room.  We had no idea what ‘in the back’ meant, but found a spot with some empty spaces and no sign telling us not to park there.  We later found an additional guest parking lot further in the back, and did not have a problem parking again.

Our room was probably one of the original rooms at the inn, which was first begun in the 60’s. It was in a one-story building, and the surrounding sidewalks were falling apart. There was a pool nearby. The room had a flat screen TV, a K-Cup coffee maker, and good wi-fi.  What it did not have was a toilet that would dependably flush, at least not on the first attempt, and the bathroom door would not completely shut. It had a wonderfully comfortable king-sized bed, only one comfortable chair and a desk chair.  There were no power outlets anywhere near the desk – you worked off battery power and plugged in when not using your computer. It was pretty quiet, but the grounds crew started work pretty early most days.   The room had a mini-fridge which worked well, but you had to go get ice out of an ice machine.  We were on a deal through American Airlines Vacations, which put together the airfare and the hotel.  The hotel acted like no one had ever done that before. 
Our room

One thing we really liked about the hotel was its fitness center.  The center was a bit of a hike down the hill, but it had a small selection of treadmills and elliptical trainers, and a variety of resistance equipment.  We made good use of it while we were there.  One funny thing was that the elliptical trainer had a completely different resistance level than the ones we use at home.  At Texins Activity Center, I start the elliptical at level 3, then go to 5, to 7, to 9, to 11, and then stairstep back down.  At the RB Inn, level 5 was tougher than level 11 at TI.  I was semi-crippled for days after 36 minutes of that.

On Sunday, a bright, beautiful, sunny, but very hot, day, we looked at Zillow (real estate website) and picked out four properties to inspect, all of which were open houses.  Zillow allows you to request only properties with open houses that day if you choose.  There were a dozen or more that fell in our price range and met the requirement to be on one story.  We chose two in Oceanside, one in Vista, and one in Escondido, so we could work our way back to the hotel.

The first property we saw in Oceanside was in a borderline area and the house was not all that nice.  It had tiny rooms and uneven maintenance.  A quick no.  The second house in Oceanside was in, as the Bruce Springsteen song “Johnny 99” says, “in a part of town where when you hit a red light you don’t stop’”.  We didn’t get out of the car, so Oceanside was oh for two.

The third property we visited, in Vista, was a very nice house with a sunken living room. (I always envision the sunken living room full of water, but that’s another story.)  The house was in a quiet residential area and belonged to a family with kids.  The back yard was barren.  We learned that this is common – due to the terrible ongoing drought in California, a lot of people have given up on their yards and just let them die. It is very sad. The realtor at the open house was more interested in our retirement place search than in showing us the house. It was just okay.  One point of interest was that that house did not have air conditioning.  Vista gets a sea breeze, she said.  Yes, but sometimes it gets pretty hot there, at least during the day.  So another thing to ask about, does the house have air conditioning.

The fourth house we looked at was in Escondido, and I thought it was in one part of town but it was in a different part of town, with older homes built back in the 70’s. This one had been fixed up somewhat and was pretty nice, but the neighborhood seemed to be mostly Spanish speaking and I didn’t think we were a good fit for it.  Interestingly, the house also had no A/C, which should be against the law in Escondido.

After all of that we were starving, but stopped at the supermarket, called, seriously, Major Market, where they were giving away all kinds of food.  It helped. 

We had dinner at the Veranda restaurant at the Inn, outside, with a space heater.  San Diego has warm days and cold nights, and the temperature plummets when the sun goes down.  So they have heaters at outdoor tables in the restaurants, and they are, as far as I can tell, the primary cause of global warming.  Just about set my hair on fire on multiple occasions.

We had previously contacted a realtor based in Oceanside, and filled her in on what we were looking for.  She had been sending us updates on properties available in Oceanside and Vista, and we had filled in with some others on Zillow.  We worked it out to where she would meet us on Monday at one of the properties, and she would  have us follow her to some others.  Since she wanted to meet at 11 AM, we decided to go to our favorite breakfast and lunch place in San Diego, called St Tropez Bistro and Beyond, in the coastal town of Encinitas.  They do a really good job, and the outdoor seating didn’t need heaters.  We first went there back in 1998 after spending a week in France, right near the real St Tropez.  France it isn’t, but the food is consistently good.

We met Nancie at a gated, 55+ community in Oceanside called Villa Trieste.  I was prepared to dislike it based on where it was, but when we got in there it was absolutely beautiful.  The house we saw had two bedrooms and two baths on the main floor, and everything was spotless and beautiful.  It had an incredible view.  There was a huge loft for a second floor, a game room or office or den or extra bedroom.  No bathroom up there. The price was right up at the top of our budget.  The community has a pool and a clubhouse and seemed to be extremely well kept.  But the stairs are a problem.

We also saw a manufactured home in a 55+ community, but it kind of gave me the creeps and the kitchen was smaller than the one we have now.  We saw a resale home in a non-age-restricted area which looked pretty good, but I was turned off by the dead yard. 

We also saw a nice house in Vista, and then she took us to view a condo in Encinitas, well away from the ocean, which was an absolute dump for $432,000. 

So we have an idea what is out there and what we are up against.  When we visited Mendocino County in August, our realtor, Clint, had said that in California the first $100,000 was for the weather.  San Diego has a lot better weather than Mendocino, and I think that figure is too low.

That evening (still Monday) we met up with a bunch of people from the old Escondido Country Club, where my Dad had been a member for many years, and which was the center of his life after my Mom passed away. The club went bankrupt a few years ago, and it really had a major affect on Dad.  It was pretty emotional for me, seeing Dad’s old friends, most of whom I had not seen since his funeral.  We got there early, and it was a little chilly in the restaurant (Marie Callender in Escondido) so I went back to the car to get my sweater and Jody’s jacket.  Out in the parking lot I saw my Dad’s old friend Ray, who looked at me and said “I know you” and I re-introduced myself.  Ray wondered what I was doing there.  I said I was there to have dinner with him.  He said they needed someone to buy dinner, and I offered him good luck with that.  As it turned out, everyone else was already there getting started on ordering drinks. Service at Marie Callender was glacially slow.  But Maryann Haller was there, an old friend of Dad’s who lost her husband recently, and Bobbi Zerda, a special friend of Dad’s, and Fred Bennett and Ginny, and Ray and a woman named Pat, whom I did not know.  Pat asked me if my mother’s name was Margaret.  She had been a friend of my Mom and they had done water aerobics together for a while. No one else at the dinner (except Jody of course) had known my Mom.  People say I look like my Mom, and I guess Pat saw the resemblance. The food was so-so but it was a good time. 

Tuesday we decided to do some more scouting of places to check out, this time in the immediate area around the Rancho Bernardo Inn.  We limited the Zillow search to zip code 92128.  We found a variety of homes with two or three bedrooms, on one story, with a price less than or equal to (gulp) $550,000.  We could not go into any of them but we could drive by and see what the houses looked like and whether we were interested.  We ruled one out because it has a pool (been there, done that) and others because of questionable conditions.  The area is great.  RB is a wonderful place to live.  We contacted Nancie again and told her we had a list of places we’d like to see, if she had time to come over to Rancho Bernardo.  She agreed.

Also on Tuesday we had lunch with my Dad’s good friend, Bobbi.  We went to a place called Swami’s on West Grand in Escondido.  Most of the conversation was about our efforts to find a place to live in retirement, and on Bobbi’s recent trip to Europe, but some of it was about my Dad.  We all miss him, but I think maybe Bobbi misses him a little more than others do.  Later we went over to the ocean and drove down to La Jolla, where we actually found a parking space.  The tide was way out, on account of the super moon, and we got some photos of places that are normally under water.  It was very hot, with hardly any breeze.  Lots of foreign languages were being spoken by the visitors.
Low tide

Late on Tuesday we decided to go to Bates Nut Farm in Valley Center, and texted Brooke, who had been my Dad’s neighbor and had done so much to help him, and us. Brooke and her husband Brandon live in Valley Center. We agreed to meet up. But Siri put us on a road alongside some kind of a farm, no houses in sight. We managed finally to get in touch with Brooke, who navigated us, speakerphone to speakerphone, up to their house, which was on an unpaved road off a dirt road. We got to meet Annabelle, their new daughter, and see their beautiful, if somewhat chaotic, house. And a spectacular sunset.

Always wanted to go mountain climbing in the dark
Wednesday was my birthday.  No house hunting.  We had lunch at Rubio’s, which started out as a fish taco place and now is called a ‘Coastal Grill’.  They have a combo that I like, called the Coastal Trio, three tacos, one shrimp with avocado, one blackened tilapia with a zingy sauce, and one the original fish taco, deep fried with cabbage.  It makes a great combination.  I love fish tacos, and the ones I can get here in Texas at Tin Star Taco Bar are really good, but Rubio’s are just a little bit better.

We then drove down to Point Loma, which overlooks the city of San Diego, the Coronado naval base, and Lindbergh Field, the international airport, and the beautiful harbor.  When my mother passed away, she had asked for no wake, no funeral, to be cremated and to have her ashes laid in the Pacific.  She got part of what she asked for – no wake, cremated, laid in the ocean.  She did get a funeral in California and a memorial service in New York.  My father indicated at one point that he wanted the same thing she wanted.  We had a beautiful funeral in Escondido, and his ashes were laid in the ocean as close as possible to where my Mom’s were deposited.  So Point Loma is the closest we can be to ‘visit’, without renting a boat.  I didn’t try to pinpoint the location.  The ocean is the best gravesite.  We spent an hour or two wandering around and taking photos.  It was beautiful.  The hot weather was gone, never to return.  We had to start worrying about having sweaters.

Somewhere, out there, my parents' ashes were laid to rest

That evening we had dinner at French Market Grille in Rancho Bernardo.  We had eaten there once before, way back in 1998 after we had visited France with my parents.  The restaurant seemed like it should be in Europe.  There was one guy doing everything – he took your order, brought the wine, failed to notice it was a screw top until I said something, brought the meal, cleaned everything up.  He did this for every table in the restaurant, which is something you see all the time in Europe but never in the USA.  He was a Frenchman, and clearly the boss.  The food there was excellent – I had a rack of lamb that was rarer than I would cook for myself but was wonderful.  The prices were half what a French restaurant in Dallas would have been.
Rack of Lamb, French Garden Grille in RB

Thursday we visited another of Dad’s old friends, a lady named Deanna, who lives in Orange County, in San Clemente.  Deanna has had a number of health problems, but she seems to be doing okay now.  We visited for a while, and ate lunch at an IHOP nearby, which had incredibly slow service but gave us more time to talk.  San Clemente was at one time the site of the Western White House when Richard Nixon was in office. I was curious if the place still existed.  Deanna didn’t know but said it certainly wasn’t a tourist attraction.  I did some research later, and it turns out that Nixon sold the place to a rich backer, who got richer by developing the area around it.  The former Nixon residence is in private hands and is not a museum.  

Deanna wanted to hear about what happened to my Dad, so we told the story again.  It is so hard to talk about.  I explained that the personality changes he had, on account of the dementia, made it really difficult to deal with him.  She hadn’t really seen any of that.  I also explained about the sudden intestinal bleeding that he suffered from, and she had witnessed some of that on one occasion.  So it was, once again, very emotional.  But we enjoyed the visit.  She said it gave her some closure, and I think it gave me some, too.

On Friday, our last full day in San Diego, we met again with Nancie and saw some properties.  All of them were in Rancho Bernardo.  We had given her a list of four or so that we definitely wanted to see, and another five that were to be backups.  As a result of the very active market, there were only four of the nine still available, two days later.  The first house was semi-perfect.  Everything was immaculate, the rooms were good size, the colors were perfect.  It was on a moderately busy street,  kind of a secondary artery, but the limiting factor was two bedrooms and no separate seating area or den, just a living room on the open floor plan.  Where does the office go?  I guess it goes in the second bedroom.  The price was way up there, so we couldn’t pull the trigger.  The house was on my old jogging route, when my parents lived in Rancho Bernardo.

The other homes we saw were very nice as well.  One was close to a main road (Pomerado Road) but wasn’t too noisy, but it was sort of stuck in the 1970’s.  The others were nicer.  At this point, we were just looking and unable to make any kind of an offer.  We were going home the next day. 

That afternoon we had lunch at St Tropez and enjoyed a trip along the shore.  That evening we had dinner with friends at Vintana, the strangest restaurant this side of the Baltic states.  It sits on top of Lexus of Escondido.  They have live music on Friday, but it was so loud it was hopeless.  The food was pretty good but the flatbreads are really for two people, so Jody couldn’t finish hers.

The next day we packed up and went to check out. We had charged some meals to the room, so I expected some additional charges at checkout.  But they also charged us $25/day for parking.  I said I had not heard about that.  The lady said I should have been reminded at check-in.  That hadn’t happened.  I said, it is what it is, we’ll pay it and I’ll write a letter to somebody to get it refunded.  She took it off the bill.  I don’t know if I missed some fine print or what.  I did not save a copy of the voucher and you can’t print it any more. 

We got up way too early on Saturday, but it gave us a chance to go to St Tropez AGAIN and have breakfast.  We really like that place.  The rental car center was, once again, a pain.  They are supposed to have a bus every three minutes, but it was more like twenty.  We were early.  The security line at San Diego is always horrible, but with Pre-Check we avoided it.

Our flight home, on a Boeing 737, was a lot quieter and a lot more pleasant than our flight out.  The old saying, “if it isn’t Boeing, I’m not going” is pretty good advice.

We still have not decided where to settle, but I sure would like to see if we can make San Diego work.  The climate is unmatched.  We will have to study the details.