Brushing Up Against the Rich

Moving to Santa Barbara on the small stipend of a graduate student and with a dog was not particularly easy. Most graduate students can find affordable housing close to campus offered through the university, but these residences aren’t dog friendly. I’ve heard a claim that as people moved from rural areas to urban areas, dogs became less like working dogs and more like tangential members of the family. I don’t think that it could be argued that Simba is anything otherwise, and so he had to come with us.

We were living in Davis last summer, which meant that we had to find time to make the 7 hour drive to Santa Barbara between our other responsibilities and summer fun. At the time, Kierstin was working at an afterschool program in Sacramento, and they had extended summer hours. I had just quit my job in quality control and was spending a few days per week volunteering at a local science center called Explorit. Even though school didn’t start until late September, I wanted to move in early August so I could start working in a lab and secure a spot. So in between work and our summer on the American River, hanging out in Davis, camping at the lake, or hiking in Yosemite, we had to find a couple of days to look at housing in Santa Barbara.

I emailed and called several rental property companies and responded to numerous Craigslist housing ads and months in advance, but most places either found tenants before we could arrive or didn’t allow pets. When we finally found time to travel down here, I had appointments for maybe 5 apartment complexes, a mother-in-law house, a small cottage on the property of another home, and a room in a 4-bedroom house over the course of Sunday and Monday. I continued to look for more places on Craigslist as we drove to Montecito to look at a townhouse (Oprah has a mansion in Montecito, which is just outside of Santa Barbara and as nice as you’d think it would be if Oprah chooses to live there, but the 1-bedroom apartment was too expensive and nearly 30 minutes from UCSB); we attended an open house for a 2-bedroom apartment (at $2200 per month, it would cost nearly my entire stipend and we didn’t need the extra bedroom ); we looked at an apartment in Isla Vista where we’d be taking over the lease for someone else (the spacious apartment was well-within our price range and close to campus, but its proximity is what drove us away; Isla Vista is notoriously rowdy and pretty far from downtown Santa Barbara); we visited a cottage on a ranch (which would have been perfect for Simba to roam around, but the homeowners were older and somewhat off-putting, and the house was as far from the beach as you could be in this town); and we found a mother-in-law house that we really liked (affordable, near the beach,  close enough to bike the campus, and with a big yard for Simba). Unfortunately, the landlady had already found a tenant with a better rental application and soon told us she would not be renting to us.

We had started our trip early Sunday morning and Kierstin had work on Tuesday morning so we only had two days in Santa Barbara to find a place. It was Monday, and we didn’t have a lot of appointments left. All of our top choices had fallen through. While we were there, scrambling to find somewhere to live, I found an ad on Craigslist for another open house for a studio apartment 1.5 miles from downtown Santa Barbara. This place was somewhat affordable albeit small; near the beach, downtown and campus; and, most importantly, dog-friendly. (Given that it’s one of the few low-cost apartment complexes in Santa Barbara that welcomes pets, if you happen to stop by in the middle of a work day, you are greeted by an unharmonious symphony of howling by separation anxiety-filled pups.)   At this point, there was no question. This was going to be our future home in Santa Barbara. Since we’ve moved here, the location has treated us well.

We live in an area of Santa Barbara called the Lower Riviera. I think you can assume just about anything with “Riviera” in the name is supposed to be fancy, and this is true for where we live.  I can walk any direction uphill and find homes that are arguing their case to be considered mansions. You can peek into well-manicured yards with large adorning bridges and terracotta ornaments; there are beautiful patios with expensive furniture and luxurious fire pits; and you can admire the balconied Spanish style homes with smooth plaster walls and pitched clay roofs. Even the local elementary school could be confused for a well-kept Colonial Spanish-era building. Daniel, who I went to high school with, moved to Santa Barbara a couple of years before us and works as a part-time valet for an upscale tourist restaurant on the pier downtown. He has relayed stories of parking Ferraris and Teslas and likes to say that living here is a chance to “brush up against the rich”.

This has been true for us. On warm autumn evenings, we have walked to the Mission Rose Gardens to find local residents with collared shirts enjoying fine wines and antipasti in the grass. In general though, our dwelling has just been a great place to appreciate this town. We are able to walk downtown to enjoy dinner and Santa Barbara nightlife. We can drive 10 minutes to the beach to let Simba play. My morning commute to school everyday is only 10 minutes on the freeway to Goleta, followed by a scenic 3 mile bike ride along the Obern Trail, which runs creek-side straight into Goleta State Beach. I prepared months in advanced by trying to set up appointments to look at housing, and Kierstin took time off work so we could have two days to drive to Santa Barbara and look at about 8 different places. After all of that work, it’s funny how the place we finally settled into was found by responding to an open house ad posted the day we arrived in Santa Barbara. Things worked out in the end.

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