Cross-Country Survival Tips

Or, why it's better to live in one place.

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Earlier today Max Cherney, a friend of mine, a fine reporter, and a very solid film companion asked a question that was made for this blog:

I am precisely self-interested enough to accept the challenge, especially after Max followed-up:

So let’s chat about surviving on two coasts.

There And Back Again (And Again)

I live 50 percent in San Francisco and 50 percent in Providence.

The former is a tech-ish faux-topia with even as many problems as it has advantages. It’s a city that I both love and don’t. It’s a sea of uncompromising contradictions, beauty and filth, hills and SOMA. It’s a city that still can’t decide if it’s a boom town or a hippie enclave. And since people in San Francisco dislikes other people in San Francisco, what we have in common doesn’t always bring us together.

I’ve lived in San Francisco for seven or eight years now, some of which actually went well. Most didn’t, but let’s chalk that up to being in my twenties.

I tell you all of that as it’s how I think about San Francisco when I’m there, and when I’m not.

Providence, in contrast, is a town for me that’s a refuge of sorts. Liza is there. Our dogs are there. I have lots of space, and quiet, and company. I cook for us, we spend time with Liza’s family. I have to take trash cans to the side of our little street. I have to replace heating filters in the house, and make sure to lock all the doors.

Living, for me then, is split in half. Not only geographically, but also in terms of lifestyle.:

  • In San Francisco I’m a hermetic bachelor, subsisting on a steady diet of Uber Eats and Whole Foods-brand fizzy water.

  • In Providence I’m part of a family, I am the best maker-of-pasta-sauce-from-scratch in the house, and I drink, well, the same damn water really.

That in hand, let’s answer Max’s question by talking logistics.

You Only Live Twice

Living in two places is expensive if you are going to do it for a while. If you only intend to divide your time for, say, half a year, you can set up an inexpensive home environment while putting up with a lot of annoyances; you might not need to put together a real household if the living situation will prove temporary.

As I’m long-term split, I have to have two fully lives stocked at all times. This means a lot of stupid purchases. I have two PS4s, for example. I have two distinct Internet connections. My library is cut in half, and I have more than once bought the same book twice, only to find a copy on the other coast when I flew home.

The more pedestrian items are worse, however, even if they are cheaper. For a long time nearly every sock I owned was wherever I was not. The same has happened with shirts. Now I try to keep lots of clothing in both places, avoiding the need to carry Crunchbase t-shirts through security for their 18th round-trip.

But what hits hardest isn’t anything physical or cost-oriented in a monetary sense. Instead, it’s the sharp re-adjustment of lifestyle and timezones that hurt the most.

Flying from Providence to San Francisco presents the following difficulties:

  • Returning to commuting, more time alone, re-adjusting to an all-burrito diet, the need to wake up earlier (but without someone reminding me to go to bed), and the return to using laundry facilities that are in the basement of an apartment building that hasn’t been properly cared for in half a decade.

Flying from San Francisco to Providence presents different challenges:

  • Occasional inability to get to bed on time leading to a lot of very tired days, remembering how to cook, re-learning how to be someone’s partner after two weeks of doing whatever the hell I wanted, taking care of two live animals, and planning a wedding.

On both coasts I have to get back into touch with my friends there, and try to get as many people on the books as I can. This is easier in Providence where I have fewer friends, but it’s still a process.

Let’s wrap with what Max brought in up particular. Let’s talk about sleep. It’s not what I’m best at, and I hate going to sleep, even if I also hate getting up when I have to.

But what I have worked on a lot over the past two years of living in both the West and East of the United States is how to get regular sleep. I use a hybrid of things to force myself into a good sleep cycle, my first priority when I land either here or there.

Here’s my routine:

  • Go to bed at the correct time, regardless of how tired you are. For me this is around 11 pm. If I go to bed at 9 pm and fall asleep, I’ll wake up at 4 or 5 AM which is no good. Make yourself stay up until the correct time.

  • Consume no caffeine after 2 pm. That’s my coffee bedtime.

  • Consume only water in the evenings. Sometimes I break this and have a Sprite, but I have cut out the sugar and extra bollocks. I don’t drink, but if you do, I’d keep it to a minimum.

  • Small amounts of safe drugs are good. Find your combination. I love a Benadryl or a PM-themed Ibuprofen (depending on if I have been working out or not). Many folks love small amounts of CBD or THC. (Watch the latter two to prevent tolerance accretion. Once you get into that game, you’re going to chase yourself downward.)

  • External light and sound mitigation. Set up your sleep area to be as quiet and dark as possible.

  • White noise is your friend. I run fans at night in San Francisco and Providence. This gives me some workable consistency to my sleep environment and drowns out cars and the rest.

  • Forced wake up on Morning One. Finally, the worst part. On your first morning, make yourself get up on time. It’s always awful. But doing this will help you get sufficiently tired to go to bed at the correct time that night. Hard measures up front lead to softer landings later.

And make sure you have a damn good reason for living in two places. I do, and that makes all the expense and bother worth it. Liza’s residency isn’t over for three more years, and my San Francisco-based job has taught me more than any other role I’ve had.

Long live the United Economy life.