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Loma Prieta

Started: 2020-08-27 21:42:46

Submitted: 2020-08-28 00:53:51

Visibility: World-readable

In which the intrepid narrator rents a house at the top of the Santa Cruz Mountains

I flew to San Jose on Thursday, the 23rd of July, four days before I started working at Apple, to give me time to start looking for a place to live. I stayed in a temporary apartment in Cupertino (conveniently across the street from Apple Park, not that I actually got to go into the office in the midst of our global pandemic), but with only two bedrooms there wasn't enough space to hold my household, and we didn't want to end up living in Cupertino itself.

We'd moved out of our house in Wallingford before I left but we weren't ready to put it on the market — in the COVID-19 era our Realtor told us it was best to move out before we listed, and we wanted to spend a couple of weeks painting and fixing up the house to make it more attractive to sell. I looked at my brokerage accounts (holding a good chunk of the the proceeds of stock grants from my last two employers) and realized I had enough to make a California-sized down payment on a house, and for a brief moment we considered whether we could buy a house and move directly into it, but the mortgage application didn't quite work out in our favor (since we'd end up paying two mortgages at once for however long it took to sell our existing house) so we ended up looking at rental housing instead.

Kiesa wanted to live in the Santa Cruz Mountains, in a place with enough space where we couldn't see the neighbors and the kids could play outside. There was a shortage of rental inventory in the mountains, though, and even fewer properties would allow pets. We had our eye on one property in the Summit area, next to the high point of state highway 17 on its route between Los Gatos and Santa Cruz, though it wasn't going to be available until at least the middle of September. I drove by it anyway, on the Friday morning after I landed in San Jose, to get a better idea of the area. I took highway 17 up into the mountains, past Lexington Reservoir, turned off the highway onto Summit Road, and drove around the redwood forest at the pass. The forest was interrupted by Christmas tree farms and (further south, as the road climbed higher along the crest of the ridge) vineyards and wineries. I passed the Summit Store, the one grocery/general store serving the area, and turned down the road towards Soquel.

I remember Soquel as the venue for the Adventist campmeeting we attended while I was a kid growing up on the peninsula. I was pleased to see that the campground was still there, and I recognized some of the buildings as I drove past on the road — and then I turned around for another drive by to gawk at the place I hadn't seen in thirty years.

I continued down the road into the little beach town of Capitola. I parked and walked out onto the beach, the first time I'd seen the Pacific Ocean up close on a beach for a year and a half. I stood in the soft sand and stared out onto the horizon, gazing at the massive liquid as the waves broke in front of me.

That evening I reloaded Zillow again, and zoomed out more, and found a rental house I hadn't previously seen: a quirky-looking four-bedroom house at the top of the ridge seven miles from highway 17. I sent the property manager a note asking if I could see the house, and on Saturday I drove by the house to prove just how far out it really was. To get there I drove on a series of increasingly-narrow roads that climbed . The roads were all paved, nominally, though in some places the pavement was falling apart, and in others the downhill side of the road had actually slid down the hillside, leaving a one-lane road with stop signs on either end encouraging one to stop, yield, and then proceed.

Loma Prieta house
Loma Prieta house

I went back to see the house for real on Sunday, meeting property manager (and, it turned out, owner and neighbor) Elizabeth in front of the house, with her four dogs. I looked through the house, still in the process of being painted after its last tenants left, and tried to figure out whether it would fit us and our stuff. The house had some interesting design decisions: most of the openings between rooms were arched (including the opening connecting the master bedroom to the bathroom, and the bathroom sink to the shower; but at least the toilet was in its own room with a door that closed), and the large kitchen featured two sinks, plus a tiny dorm-sized fridge under the countertop. There was a large formal entryway opening on the north side of the house, onto the driveway, which seemed like a weird place for a formal entry: it wasn't near the garage, and neither was it the first obvious entrance to the house. There was a large loft on the second floor, accessed by a door on the ground floor; this seemed like a good place for Calvin's room, except it was huge, at least twice as big as he needed.

The house was perched on the side of a small hill, managing one closed contour line at 3000 feet on the USGS topographic map. From the deck on the south side of the house I could see the city of Santa Cruz, 12 miles away, and the Pacific Ocean beyond it (or, at least, the marine layer covering the ocean); and to the south I could see Monterey Bay and, in the distance, the Monterey Peninsula sticking out into the ocean, more than 30 miles away.

Monterey Peninsula and Santa Cruz from Loma Prieta
Monterey Peninsula and Santa Cruz from Loma Prieta

From the driveway I could see Loma Prieta, the mountain that gave its name to the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake and to the street that the house was built on.

Loma Prieta, the mountain
Loma Prieta, the mountain

In addition to the dogs, I also got to meet the owner's horse Diesel, leading to the obvious joke that he's a one-horsepower diesel engine.

(In the back of my mind, while looking at the house, I couldn't help but think about the things I would do to make the house my own. I wasn't about to embark on a new project of the scale of my recently-completed bathroom remodel, but this house had Potential.)

But the house was available, and the owner was friendly (and seemed to appreciate that I'd be bringing my family and my school-aged children), and the school was good, and there was nothing else remotely available in the area; so we applied and got and signed a one-year lease.

Loma Prieta deck at night
Loma Prieta deck at night

(My one big concern is that the house is a little far for me to commute to Cupertino every day — it's a 45-minute drive, one-way, in perfect traffic (which is to say, right now in COVID-19 traffic), but I assume at some point the pandemic will end and I'll be expected to actually show up in my office, because that's how my new employer traditionally does things. But I don't expect that to happen any time soon, and when there is eventually a vaccine I'll be near the end of the line specifically because I can work remotely, so the odds are no better than 50/50 that this happens during the term of the one-year lease I signed, so that's a bridge we'll cross when we get to it.)

Santa Cruz lights at night
Santa Cruz lights at night

I'm excited to be renting a house we can call home, full of delightful quirks, high on a mountain, with a good Internet connection, far away from the threat of COVID-19 (and, for that matter, anyone else).

Money does not abide by the laws of thermodynamics.
- schwap, in a /. post