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Centrifugal Travel

November 9th, 2010 · No Comments · Travel Memoir, travel near home

In this selection from her new book, Floating Point: Endlessly Rocking off Silicon Valley, Shelley Buck tells how the decision was made to move to a boat by Silicon Valley.

We didn’t start out intending to set up housekeeping on a boat. It was June. We had had our own business, but it was closed. We had lived eight years in our inland suburb, with its large lawns and neighborhood schools. But suddenly it seemed that everything we wanted or needed wasn’t there.

And then there was the commute.

Finding an engineering job wasn’t difficult for Lee, but the commute to and from it was hell. Sometimes it took him an hour and forty-five minutes to get home in the evening. There were near-accidents. Outside San Jose, where four lanes of indifferently-maintained, pocked, jammed freeway telescoped into two, traffic often ground to a halt. He could see the other commuters in their cars, grim-faced, on their cell phones, calling home: “Honey, I’ll be late, again.”

Our company, with its mercifully short commute, was gone. Perhaps it was time to travel on.

Lee and I had both loved to travel when we were young, but our jobs as adults had forced us to scale back. Where once we had circled the globe on a shoestring, more recently we had been pulled into a tighter orbit, like small asteroids snagged by powerful gravitational fields. For years, we had circled San Francisco and Silicon Valley, pausing to live awhile at various points along the loop. We had opted to whirl around the rim, rather than settle amid the bright lights of crowded city centers. I had come to think of our progression of moves as centrifugal travel. As we roved, the force of our desire to explore new places had offset the centripetal pull of the urban centers, keeping us, like the U.S.S.R.’s Sputnik, firmly aloft and in orbit.

One morning at breakfast, I spotted an ad in the San Francisco Chronicle classified section: “35 foot boat, $15,000.”

“Why commute, when you can live aboard?” the ad read. Why indeed? My husband moved the cereal box off the paper and shifted his bowl, so we could examine the ad, and the idea, more closely.

We had lived in places all around the Bay, but until now, it had not occurred to us to try living in the Bay itself. I fetched a roadmap from the nest of bills and mail on the kitchen counter and spread it out on the table. We looked closely at the map. Rimmed by towns and green parklands, the San Francisco Bay appeared as a blue and relatively blank place. It was smack in the middle of our loop of former domiciles. The Bay was near to everything.

We both paused to sip our coffee. The notion of a boat on the Bay continued to perk. Our motivation would not be romantic, of course. This was to be a cost-cutting measure. Sleeping on a boat, we told ourselves, would save us so much rent. Gas would be less. Stress would be less. The commute would be a hop. We wouldn’t have to buy any additional furniture. And we would not actually take the boat anywhere. It would be for sleeping. A floating condo.

“What a bargain,” we told each other. “What a way to beat the system!”
© Shelley Buck 2010. Shelley Buck lives in Northern California. Floating Point (ePicaro Press, 2010) is her first book.

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