It’s still dark at 5 a.m. and a muggy 82 degrees as I chat with my Lyft driver on the way to the airport from the Indianapolis hotel where I spent the night.
Having hugged and said my goodbyes to my friends in Fort Wayne the day before, I’m headed home after a two-week stay in Fort Wayne, where—in addition to visiting a couple of good friends—I’ve also attempted an experiment of sorts. I wanted to see if I could live my life as I normally do in San Francisco while I was in Fort Wayne.
As more and more of my friends and acquaintances leave San Francisco, I have started to wonder whether this may be my fate, too. Driven out by extortionist rents and an atmosphere edging closer to tech and “bro culture” and further from art and free spirits, I have been tempted to seek out another home. In that search, I have been curious, but—being a San Francisco native who's in love with the state of California—the question has always been: Where would I go?
I caught one final Indiana sunrise before I boarded my plane.
With friends in Fort Wayne who were admittedly bummed to be moving from San Francisco at the time, but who now are convincingly enjoying thriving, happy lives there, I thought I’d try to see if I could make Fort Wayne work for me, too.
Demographics, establishments, and statistics are all a good way of getting a sense of what a city has to offer, but the only way to really know if a place is for you is to actually experience what living there is like day-to-day.
If I had to guess how my life in San Francisco would be described as compared to someone of a similar age and opportunity in another part of the country, I might say that it’s slightly unconventional, but not entirely unusual or rare. I would agree that, in general, my life in San Francisco can be described as "good." There’s not much I would really want to change.
The major factors pushing my friends out are generally one of two things—or both: Financial stress and/or having kids. For me, it’s the former whose oppressive force weighs heavily on my ability to enjoy my life here. Having always been in a place where I’m making just enough money to be comfortable, but not quite enough to be secure, and with the city’s perpetually increasing rents, there is the ever-looming fear of life as you know it being swept away from under your feet before you can blink twice.
The seemingly impossible mission it has become to find a romantic life partner follows the crushing threat of financial ruin and homelessness by a distant second.
Fort Wayne is reliably cheaper, while the prospects for a romantic partner are unclear
. Still, even if both of these things proved to be undeniably better in Fort Wayne, is that all I would need to pack my West Coast bags and head to this place in the middle of nowhere they call the Midwest?
I was curious to find out if Fort Wayne was the city for me.
My approach to this visit was simply to try to live in Fort Wayne as I do in San Francisco, and in doing so, seek out not only what similarities there might be, but also discover Fort Wayne’s own unique charms, as well.
With an open mind and spirited determination, I set out to see how well I could do in Fort Wayne. I tried walking to get to wherever I needed to go (only semi-successful), getting fancy coffee (almost too easy), went out for innovative meals, had sleek cocktails, and did some hot yoga—amongst other typical day-in-the-life-of-San-Francisco things for me.
I even found an “underground” DJ night (my own personal triumph of this trip’s unearthings), which very much to my surprise, turned out to be a pretty decent house DJ with a cool crowd (granted, the venue was sparsely populated, and everyone was definitely at least 15 years younger than me, but still it was a gem of a discovery nonetheless).
I got a sense of the blossoming opportunity and enthusiasm for entrepreneurship in Fort Wayne. And of course: I experienced my first Fort Wayne Porch Party
—by far my favorite thing I did in the city and something I desperately wish I could figure out how to recreate in San Francisco.
This is what a porch party looks like in Fort Wayne.
Along the way, there were a few speed bumps. Before arriving in Fort Wayne, I spent some time searching Facebook for anything that would be taking place during my time in town. Quickly browsing through any and all titles of events, I had to laugh when I realized that the "open play" event at GiGi’s Playhouse was a children's event (not a sex party as I had immediately presumed). It was clear my San Francisco-trained brain was going to need to do a bit of recalibrating for this trip.
Back in the Lyft to the airport, my driver and I were having a very friendly conversation. There really is something to be said about the stereotypical Midwestern friendliness. There is an openness with which people interact here that is refreshing. That is genuinely one stereotype about Midwesterners that no one should be sad is true. San Franciscans could do with a little more warmth in their dealings with each other as well as with strangers.
When I tell the driver where I’m flying home to and what I was doing out here, the conversation unsurprisingly leads to her telling me that she has an entire 3-bedroom condo for rent that I could afford all to myself for less than the amount I pay for my shared two-bedroom house in San Francisco. Yes, yes, I know. It is a bitter pill to swallow.
And yet, I am very glad to be on my way to being back there soon. I have felt disconnected from a certain energy that exists there. I am eager to be back in the fog-chilled air.
Fort Wayne is not a restless city. While there is an energy and excitement toward innovation and growth that is palpable, no one seems to be in a hurry to get anywhere. This is not a criticism so much as an observation. A lack of density is, in the end, what I sense as the main difference between the two cities. A lack of density carries with it a lack of urgency somehow (not to mention a lack of stress and anxiety), and these two things together create a particular pulse that I miss and cannot leave—at least, not yet.
In addition to its establishments or demographics, there is a life that a city takes on that is all its own. A distinct “personality” that arises, which is more than the sum of its parts. I’ve had a good time meeting Fort Wayne and had quite an adventure here.
Will I be moving to Fort Wayne anytime soon? Probably not. But not because there’s nothing I like to do here (there is), and not even because I can’t imagine carving out my own little niche here (I can). It is clear why this is such an appealing place for my friends and for everyone else who loves it here. There is so much opportunity and—in so many ways—there is so much more ease in being able to grasp it.
But it is the feel of San Francisco that is calling me home this early summer morning. I am still tuned to its particular frequency. For now my heart still beats to a San Francisco rhythm, despite the city’s many velocious changes occurring on its surface. It has become even more clear to me now that it is not so much where you go, but who you are that creates a home.
Indiana showed me its incredibly spacious skies one last time as I caught a glorious sunrise out the airport windows just before I boarded the plane.
I’m sure I’ll see you again, Fort Wayne. But for now, I’m headed home.