It might also be that grad school was an insulated bubble. Everything was organized, there were deadlines and social events and not much need to get involved in the trappings of everyday life and the responsibilities and frustrations that go with it. Going back into the so-called “real world” has been a bit of a trial, and a lonely one at that.
So here goes, the shock of the shock, Connecticut edition:
Sticker Shock: Texas, with its wide open spaces, proximity to oil, and its free market economics, comes with the inevitable upside that taxes are lower and prices are cheaper. It kind of lulled me into a false sense of a cost of living. Especially when moving to Connecticut, with its proximity to the overinflated economy of New York, high taxes (though without any of the societal benefits that are meant to come with high taxes), and overstretched infrastructure. The cost of everything is so much higher, including…
Insurance: I spent a lot of yesterday on the phone trying to find an insurance company that would charge a reasonable rate of insurance for the car I’m buying. Apparently, my 16 years of driving experience counts for nothing in the US, which is a little absurd. It basically means that I pay double what a local pays, and it amounts to about a third of the cost of the car per year. I’d forego it, but it’s compulsory.
There’s a big business opportunity for any insurance company that can get access to insurance records from foreign countries and use them to lower premiums for visiting drivers. Every foreign grad student, expatriate worker, and visiting tourist would get in on it. Of course the other thing that drives up insurance premiums here are the…
Drivers: Apparently Bridgeport is the car crash capital of the United States. And it’s not hard to see why. Drivers here make the Italians and the French look positively tame. Stop signs, crosswalks, speed limits… all merely suggestions that aren’t expected to be followed under any circumstances. Twice people have used their car horn at me for obeying the law (including once where I was letting an old man cross at a crosswalk). And on that point, car horns. They get used here, unlike in Texas.
Metro-North: Of course, buying a car and driving wouldn’t be so much of an issue if it weren’t for the fact that the alternative, public transport, wasn’t even worse. Crumbling infrastructure that dates back to the steam age, dirty trains, rude staff… not to mention the Kafkaesque way in which due to the smaller size of the platform at Southport, only half the train stops there. Which half? Who knows? It changes from train to train. You get on and hope you’re one of the lucky people who picked the right carriage. More than once I’ve had to barrel through the aisles to get to a carriage that is at the platform. By the time I’ve arrived at work I am flustered and angry, which is not a good way to start the day.
Humidity: This is more mundane, but the shock of being back by a coastline is that even if the temperatures aren’t the raging oven of a Dallas high summer, the humidity makes up for it. It’s cloying.
Of course, not everything is frustrating/annoying here.
The DMV: Yes you heard right. Now granted, the system for getting a local driver’s license is a terrible mess that discriminates against foreigners, but since I have an International Permit I don’t care. But I did have to get local ID, and despite the long line at opening, the place moved quite fast and they even had a coffee shop set up so that you could get something to eat or drink while you waited. And the staff were friendly and chirpy, which given all the horror stories I had heard of DMVs was totally unexpected.
Beaches: They don’t have those in Dallas. Granted, it’s not the violent waves of Tamarama or the soft sands of Mullaloo, but there’s water views and that’s a start.
Hills: Again after Dallas (and Milan to a great extent) this is a huge novelty. It’s still a fair trek to get to high mountain country but at least there’s some variation in terrain around town.
Buying beer on Sunday mornings: Another Texas comparison. Not that I’m drinking beer on Sunday mornings but I am grocery shopping. It seems silly to have to do my beer shopping separately.
UPDATE: Scratch that last one, went shopping this morning and the beer aisle was closed off. :(
Pfand: Or bottle/can deposit for all those beers, but I know it by the German name where I first encountered it. You pay a little extra when you buy it and get that money back when you return the empties. It’s good for encouraging recycling and cleaner parks.
Bacon, egg, and cheese rolls: It was only when I went home to Australia at Christmas that I realized how much I missed these. They’re a café staple back home, a simple and cheap breakfast for the tradesperson to grab on the way to the job. Granted, Texas has the breakfast taco which is beautiful in its own way, but the bacon and egg roll is something to behold, especially with a little BBQ sauce. And Connecticut cafés serve it (and it’s the cheapest thing on the menu).
The lower heat: I alluded to it above, but it doesn’t get nearly as hot up here. Which is kind of nice. I can have my windows open, and listen to the wind and the birds outside without the apartment turning into an oven.
Well, that’s about it for now. I’m hoping things will get a bit better, and that I can find a way to be able to drive whilst not sending myself broke in the process. And it’s at least a short week this week, with the Independence Day holiday coming up. Going to do some traveling and touristy business, which is a welcome change.