Categories: Features
November 19, 2014
| On 4 years ago

Whatever! – The SoCal Real Estate Grand Prix

Since my babies left me, I need a new place to dwell. I’ve been renting the same little bungalow in a beach-close part of Orange County where I could never afford to buy since, ahhh, 1996, but it may be time for a relocation. Most people who visit “LA” think of it as one big mess containing Orange County, and in fact, “the Southland,” as the newscasters call it, really is one big sprawl, though the names of what were once separate towns remain as reference points. How we keep from going crazy in all the traffic, which is what everybody from out of town wants to know, is that most of us settle into one little corner of the sprawl as close to work as possible – and avoid, fear and diss the rest of it. That or ride a motorcycle. Without lane-splitting, I never would’ve made it this long. Okay, without lane-splitting and the Pacific Ocean a 15-minute bicycle ride away plus so many great places to ride motorcycles once you break free of the megalopolis.

Before I came to work at MO this year, I’d always been expected to show up at an office in the Newport Beach/Costa Mesa/Irvine area. How quaint. What now happens instead is that we (usually me, Kevin Duke, Tom Roderick, Troy S and Evans) do a video conference once or twice a week that lasts an hour or two, and beyond that everybody works wherever they want at whatever hours, and we meet to ride motorcycles a day or two a week as the situation requires. It gradually dawned on me that I could live pretty much anywhere within a two- or three-hour ride of the new-motorcycle dispensary that SoCal represents. The possibilities made me a little giddy but a little frightened, too, like an animal afraid to come out of the cage once the door’s opened.

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I dig the dry desert heat, I always thought I might “retire” someday to Palm Springs, which is about 1.5 hours by freeway, or longer if you go over the mountains. Dang. I could have a road test half written just going back and forth! Everybody started in with the gay retiree golfing jokes immediately, which reinforced that I must be onto a good idea. All I really require is a big garage and an internet connection, but why not a pool? When in Rome … The price of housing goes down drastically as soon as you leave LA.

Something like this could work …

Anyway, if you haven’t shopped for a place to live for a while, the internet has revolutionized that process also. Sites like Zillow have every listing in every area of every town and all sorts of search tools, but there’s no substitute for looking at a place with your own eyeballs. Online house photos are mostly like fast food ones. And there’s no better way to get around to see them than motorcycle.

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I made a couple of Palm Springs sorties on a BMW R nineT, a cool hipster moto for sure that allows plenty of airflow; 110 degrees wasn’t bad at all on the Beemer if I kept moving or stopped in the shade, but then I started worrying about Global Warming. How pleasant would 120 be for months on end? Then the conundrum was solved when I found out the VA won’t loan me as many dollars in Riverside County as in Orange. Suddenly the pools in my price range have cracks, and the neighbors may be smoking it …

Somebody suggested Big Bear. How cool is California? Make a left off I-10 on the way to Palm Springs in the low desert, and you can be 7000 feet up in the pines in about the same time it takes to get to PS – on a motorcycle anyway. It could get sketchy during the winter months getting down the mountain after a snow, but my real estate guy assured me they plow it instantly; the town’s livelihood is getting people up there to ski. Makes sense.

My Big Bear dream home: a big garage with a small house on top of it.

The other gift my Big Bear agent gave me was the truth when I asked him why half the houses up there are for sale? Because, he said, people buy them thinking their kids are going to come up all the time and visit and it’ll be great, but what happens is the kids come up twice, get bored, and don’t come up anymore. Oh, damn, that’s right. It’s easy to forget I have a child since he’s off at college right now, but where’s he going to live when he graduates in another year or two? Something tells me he’ll be back. (I hope so, anyway. My pearls of wisdom are backing up.)

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By now you may be asking, what the f%&k does any of this have to do with motorcycles? Only everything. Without the ability to slice through traffic to get in and out of LA to Big Bear or Palm Springs, I don’t think I’d even make the attempt. The freeways that get you there all have carpool lanes that motorcycles also get to use, separated often by double-double yellow lines that are de facto motorcycle lanes. Palm Springs is navigable by any craft if you take the freeway, but the only way to get to Big Bear is winding mountain road. On a bike, it’s easy to get past slow-moving traffic and be up there lickety-split; in a car, I would require sedation. I was riding a Honda NM4 when I was shopping up there. What a great vehicle for stealthing around.

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When I came back to reality and started shopping in Orange County again, the painfully obvious truth was that I’d be living in reduced circumstances, possibly in a part of town with a lower socioeconomic profile than the one to which I’d grown accustomed. Santa Ana, in other words, the oldest city in the OC and a warren of less-opulent neighborhoods which I had managed to bypass, literally, on the freeways, for the entire 20 years I’ve been living here. Then you’ve got your Orange, your Tustin, your Anaheim, all the older areas not so close to the ocean. My current neighbors recoil in horror. Santa Ana is like visiting Latin America, but it’s only a 20-minute motorcycle ride away. How bad could it be?

Condo maybe?

Like any big city, there are nice areas and some not-so-nice areas, and maps and GPSs don’t reveal the streets you wouldn’t want to run out of gas on, the ones where guys with shaved heads and tattoos give you the hairy eyeball from the front porch. My bike of choice for those short in-and-out recon missions became the little Harley-Davidson Street 750. Small and nimble, with just a hint of menace with its Nightstick exhaust in place, and the respect all who’ve been in the Big House feel for the bar and sickle, I mean bar and shield.

When you live in a place, you learn to avoid the traffic choke points of course. In unfamiliar territory in a car, you get stuck. On a bike, you just get out of there and onto your next drive-by real estate viewing. When I had to give back the Street, our super-nimble FZ-07 became the tight-quarters viewing platform of choice, able to squeeze out of tight situations as Nigel Gale says, “like a rat up a drainpipe.”

Open houses are a lot of fun.

After a few weeks of this, I was starting to get an intimate feel for various areas I’d never even been to before right outside my back door, and urban motorcycling/real-estate recon has become a really fun motorcycling activity and a great way to break up the day: New listing pops up online (there must be 8 million dwellings around here and there are new ones every day), Bird’s-eye it, map it, hop on bike and check it out, spying out new turf almost every time.

Now that my confidence has grown, I’ve stepped up to the KTM Super Duke, the F-18 of urban real-estate warfare. (I hope KTM forgets we have it.) Naturally, there are some really beautiful parts of the old city too, solid old houses on broad, tree-lined streets. For now, the search continues, made even more fun by the fact that prices have been sliding downward again lately, meaning I’m in no particular hurry.

Santa Ana is not all bad. Something like this could work if I made about four times more money …

Meanwhile, in answer to the question I brought up earlier: How do the people in the cars keep from going batshit crazy? Most of them don’t! Thank you Jesus, once again, for giving us the motorcycle.

Reality sometimes hurts.