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It’s Only An Hour’s Drive

While I was washing my clothes the other day, I bumped into the chattiest of my neighbors in the laundry room. She’s a woman who’s probably in her late 60s or early 70s that moved into my building about a year or so ago. She’s a friendly sort who also, it seems clear to me, just missed having someone around to talk to . . . because if you stand still near her she WILL talk to you, and will CONTINUE talking to you until you move away from her.

It seems that she moved to our complex because with her mother gone, she couldn’t afford to live in the retirement community they had shared an apartment in. And any conversation with her that goes on for more than a few minutes will drift around to how expensive it is to get a spot in a decent retirement community . . . and that even here, the prices aren’t any great bargain when you’re on a fixed social security income.

I empathize with her. The complex I live in has relatively low rents for the Kent area . . . but they’ve been going up over the past few years, and with the local average continuing to rise, I expect our complex will continue to, too. I think they’ll aim to keep themselves on the low end of what local rents are . . . but “low end” can still get pretty high as the high end continues to grow. And it’s entirely possible that we’re only a year or two away from even this complex being beyond this woman’s means.

Heck, I live there because life as a freelance writer/game designer/cartoonist is unpredictable and, in recent years (I’ve got a separate post I’m working on about THAT situation, though). Too many more rent increases and I’ll be priced out of Kent, too.

My neighbor’s conversation took an interesting turn this time, though . . . she told me that she’d recently went to look at what the situations were an hour’s drive south of here. That put her not only out of the Seattle/Tacoma area, but also out of the Olympia area. Lo and behold, the prices were not only better, they were completely manageable . . . like stepping 20 years into the past.  Of course, the problem is that then she’d be an hour away from her friends and family. “But,” she said, “It’s only an hour’s drive.” She was sure she could come up once a week and stay a night or two with her kids or her friends.

I don’t know whether or not she’s the type to actually do that, but one thing I’m kind of proud of her for is that she was completely honest about the possibility (or lack thereof) that anyone would drive down to see her. For some reason, people in Seattle seem to have an aversion to driving more than about 20 minutes for social activities. It’s tough to get anyone here in the Renton/Kent area to want to go into downtown Seattle for any sort of gathering or event. They’re even more reticent to go into Tacoma (which is actually a little bit CLOSER). And it takes a near act of god to get anyone to even consider going to the Olympia area, which is only about 45 minutes away.

All of this, of course, is pertinent to me for the reason I stated above—it seems like it’s only going to be a few years until I’m priced out of Kent, and I’m starting to ponder my options.

Back when I lived in the New York suburbs, we didn’t think twice about driving an hour or even 90 minutes to get together with friends. When I was working at West End Games in northern Pennsylvania, it was a MINIMUM of an hour’s drive to get anywhere with half-decent food, theaters, and shopping. The same was true when I lived in Wisconsin working at TSR.

On the surface, moving to somewhere about an hour away DOESN’T sound so crazy to me. Except I know that it would isolate me from my social groups as surely as if I moved 500 miles away. Or I’d be driving back and forth all the time, and feel building resentment over that fact.

Or maybe I’m worrying about something that will never happen. Maybe the rebounding economy will “lift the boat” of my freelancing. Or maybe I’ll find another in-house gig that calls me into an office job again. Or maybe housing prices won’t keep drifting upward (okay . . . that’s just crazy talk).

But maybe I’m just one or two rent increases away from being the new guy in some Chehalis apartment complex talking to anyone who’ll listen about how impossible it is to afford living in the Seattle area.

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