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Stranger In A Strange Land: The Reality Of Moving To A Small Town

How does a physician decide to downsize and move from the city to the sticks?

The year was 1998. We had sold our multi-unit outpatient business and were leaving Orange County in Southern California for the Mendocino Coast of Northern California.  We scheduled a meeting to meet with our new accountant.  When my wife and I sat across the desk from the CPA, he looked up from the paperwork and said, "So let me get this straight. You're selling your medical business, you're retiring from clinical practice, you've moving to a different region and you're building a new house - all simultaneously.  Any of those stressors land most of my clients in divorce court and you're planning on doing four at the same time! Are you sure about this?  (That's what he said...what he was thinking was "Are you two crazy?")

We looked at each other and smiled. I informed him that after running a 75 doctor-employee business 24/7/365 for 15 years,  none of these new challenges would defeat us.  Since then, every year around April, we talk, and he asks me if we're still proving him wrong. Fortunately, the answer has consistently been YES.  

So we continued the process of making the big move.  We decided to throw ourselves a retirement-bon voyage party.  Since I was sure most of our friends and family had no idea where Mendocino was, I posted a map of Northern California and highlighted the Mendocino Coast.  I knew we were moving from the intensity of the suburban sprawl that is Orange County, and moving to a rural area where our new home town of Little River has a population of 600, but the gifts we received were almost comical.  Farmer John overalls, knee high boots, giant yellow rain slickers - you think we were moving to another planet!  In reality, over the years, we ended up using them all. 

The big day drew closer.  I met with all the local doctors that we had referred to over the years.  Every one of them told me that I was sort of their hero, and wanted to follow me into clinical retirement and out of Southern California.  I smiled my "Aw Shucks" smile, but inside I kept I making the right move? All of our friends and family were here. We knew NO ONE up north.  Neither of us had ever lived in a truly small town, in a rural area, 3 hours from an airport!

But we had decided that the crowds, the traffic, the pollution, the crime, etc., etc. were not what we wanted anymore, and most importantly was not where we wanted to raise our son, who was 8 at the time.  We timed our move during the late summer so that our son could start the new school year on time.  We had the garage sales, the tearful goodbyes, the piles of "keepsakes" that were now in the garbage pile.  We hadn't sold our Orange County house yet.  I still had a month left to my clinic directorship contract.  But the time had come.  We drove our two cars down our street behind the moving van, waived to our neighbors, and we were on our way.  Next stop - the wilds of coastal Northern California!

Eight hours after leaving our Southern California home, we crossed the Golden Gate Bridge - just 3 more hours and we would arrive in our new home - Mendocino, on the coast of Northern California.  We had sold our business, vacated our unsold home, packed our worldly goods and were headed to a rural area where there are no traffic reports on the local radio stations.  

In case you were wondering how we decided on our new locale.... the answer was - we just took a chance.  I had never heard of Mendocino and my wife had seen the movie, "Same Time, Next Year" (which was filmed in our new home town) and thought that it would be a nice place to live.  So four years before the move, we had flown to San Francisco and rented a car and just started driving the costal highway north.  I wanted mountains and forests and my wife wanted the ocean.  About 3 hours north of the Bay Area, we came upon the Mendocino Coast and it was love at first sight. Redwood forests coming down to the ocean, dramatic cliffs, and charming New England style houses.  

We first fell (no pun intended) for a coastal bluff property, but woke up that night in a sweat, thinking of all the possible instant death scenarios for our young son.  So we called the realtor and told her we needed to move our search to the inland side of the coastal highway. She replied that she thought she had just the place.

Yes, love at second sight! The parcel she showed us was about 24 acres of spectacular ocean-view property with meadows, forests and deer.  We purchased it 3 weeks later, and then it took four more years to sell our outpatient clinics business and get ready for the move that would change our lives.

Now, it was 1998 and we drove into the little coastal hamlet that is Mendocino Village.  The house we were going to rent while we were building our dream home, wouldn't be available till the next morning.  So we figured we would just rent a motel room for the night.  But apparently the annual regional soccer tournament was that weekend, and there was literally no room available for miles.  We then dragged our weary bones to the house of what would eventually be our neighbors.  We knocked on the door, explained who we were and asked if we could spend the night. They welcomed us in and we collapsed in their guest room.

What began the next day was an adventure that would shape all of our lives.

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