Monday, November 14, 2016

If you lived here, you'd be....home?

When I'm working at the winery, I'm often asked by customers what it's like to live here, amidst the vine-covered hillsides, the wineries and the tasting rooms. Mostly the question comes from folks visiting on weekend jaunts from Los Angeles or the Bay Area. They find a winery, sit under an oak tree surrounded by colorful vines and just take a breath and relax. They talk about how they long to get out of the city and find a slower and more peaceful existence.

There's certainly some good geographic public relations that goes on in the longing for wine country, since some of the most beautiful places on earth are also ones where wine is grown. And it's been that way for at least a couple of thousand years.  Wine culture is rooted in the histories of some of the most sublime, temperate places on the planet. And I'm not sure people would be dreaming of being here quite as much if kumquats were our chief product. Something about being around all this wine makes people think their lives will be just one long pour, smooth on the palate with a lovely finish.

They're kind of right in most of their assumptions. It is amazing living here. There is wine everywhere, and even the most backwater resident, with no interest in wine whatsoever, generally still manages to acquire some wine knowledge and usually more bottles of it than they know what to do with. It's currency here. 

Business meetings generally feature wine. Grocery stores offer wine tasting. And most public events, like concerts in the park, allow -- no, expect -- you to be bringing wine to them. You could walk down the street with a bottle of wine (open or not) and no one would interfere with you, because we see it every day.

But because of the wine industry, we are also a tourist town, and there are negatives that come with that.

We have traffic, for instance. Traffic made worse by wine tasters clearing out the tasting rooms (all 250 of them) late in the afternoons, especially on weekends. My dad was a cop, and always told me that you can tell drunk drivers not by their speed, but by the fact that they drive badly at very slow speeds. Dad was right. I've seen the most bone-headed driving decisions in my life since living here. Probably made by people who were either drunk or hung over.

Being a tourist town also means we cater to, curry favor with and try and impress the outsider -- not the resident. So we have incredible restaurants but horrible, understocked and overcrowded grocery stores. We have charming boutiques, but the nearest Macy's is over an hour from home. Large furniture store? Forget it. And if you want your roof fixed, better get on a four month waiting list, because the few contractors who work in this area are loathe to take on small jobs. It's just too expensive to live here to make charging less than a fortune a worthwhile thing. Why patch a residential roof when you can help put one on a new tasting room?

The roads around town also reflect this attitude. Since I've lived here (we arrived in 2012) they have re-done all the roads around the downtown City Park twice (for tourism) but the road in front of the local baseball fields (for residents) is so pothole-filled and old I figure damage must have come from wagon wheels back in the 1800s.

In other words, we put our best face on for those coming to see us from elsewhere. And once you decide to live here, that's when you see the other side.

It just goes to show that everything, and I mean everything, has problems.  Trade spouses, careers, homes or locales and you will find positives and negatives. 
Most of the time, unless things are really bad, the trick is to learn to live with the good and accept the bad. Or take a risk and change things up, move, break out of a relationship or start a new job and basically turn your Scrabble letters in for a whole new set.

It's a personal decision, and one which is not to be made lightly. Because, just like the Scrabble game, while life's problematic "z's" and the "q's" are hard to manage, there is always a chance that in turning in your letters you'll end up with far worse --  maybe five vowels, an "x" and a "w." 

And you can't do much with that once it happens.


  1. Haha, yes, I think wine country has an unbeatable draw because it offers not just beauty and warm weather, but lifestyle and confidence! It's easy to chat with strangers and make new friends when you're far from home and your judgy acquaintances. It's even easier when you're a little buzzed! When I looked into what living in Hilton Head would really be like, I was shocked to find the bad schools and that most residents but their seafood at the unimaginative, fluorescent lit grocery store called Publix. But the upside is you can go play tourist any time you want! The good thing for you is that since you are the woman of 1000 jobs, you can just pretend to be yourself from another point in time and feel the Barbara Walters soft focus version of it all again. Who comes to Paso Robles without a transportation plan?? I don't think I'd even rent a car if I came. Just walk from place to place in a stupor trying to try everything I can.

    1. I can totally relate to what you said about Hilton Head! That is too funny. I know a lot of people here buy their wines at the supermarket, where there is not nearly the selection as....right outside their door! And yes, people don't think about their transportation plans much, but I'd say about half probably do have DDs or hire a van to take them around -- more than 10 years ago, I'm sure. It's mainly the old people who don't, and they're the worst drivers anyway, even if they're sober!

  2. So true about the good and the bad. AARP magazine listed the 5 best places to retire and my hometown was one of them! In spite of brutal winters and humid summers, we do have a relatively low cost of living, lots of culture, beautiful parks and excellent hospitals.

    I've toyed with the idea of moving to a sunny, dry climate, but I agree, turning in your letters could be worse and there would be no going back financially.

    1. It's true. Everyone tells us that if we end up leaving CA, we'd better not plan on coming back because there's just no way financially. Too expensive here. Live in a nice place and that's the price I guess!