On being young and Bay Area Broke

by Patrick Miller — follow me on Twitter or subscribe to my newsletter! Also, you might like my short stories Re: Member and MVP — a game dev short story.

I’ve read Talia Jane’s open letter to Yelp’s CEO and seen a handful of smug responses, mostly by thirtysomething Millennials. (If you’ve been posting those smug responses on Facebook, I probably have or am about to unfriend you.)

Like many of you, I returned to the SF Bay Area shortly after college and set about trying to live the dream right when the job market turned to shit. The nice thing about the job market just turning to shit was that it was bad, but it wasn’t like I was competing against several years of underemployed recent graduates.

Some of the defining experiences of being Bay Area Broke in my 20s included:

Living in a very gross apartment with a very gross roommate because it was cheap;

Moving in with my girlfriend at the time mostly because we wanted to save on rent and neither of us were really in great roommate situations;

Living in a lovely one-bedroom apartment in Lake Merritt that cost $1350 then and probably $2200+ now;

Getting food stamps to buy groceries and using a borrowed UC Berkeley ID for “free” AC Transit (saves like $9/day in commuting costs);

Crying over an unexpected $20 expense which in the end wasn’t really a big deal but it sure felt like one;

Getting mugged once and having one car stolen (we found it, thankfully);

Supporting my girlfriend and I on a ~$45k/year editor’s salary for a few years while she bootstrapped a (failed) food startup);

Filing as domestic partners in San Francisco to get my girlfriend health insurance so she could seek treatment for chronic health issues;

Eventually getting married in part because my new job wouldn’t give her health insurance unless we were;

Getting divorced shortly after because we probably shouldn’t have been married or even together for that long but it’s hard to make smart decisions about work or love when you’re too busy trying to just stay afloat;

Well, the list goes on.

All of these were valuable life experiences and I sure as heck learned a lot about them! I’m also super grateful that my shit hasn’t been nearly as rough as other people’s shit out here, especially when being Bay Area Broke for other people means not having access to necessary healthcare, nutrition, or shelter. And it sounds like Ms. Jane has had it much worse than I have. Right now, I’m 30, and I just moved into my first solo apartment. It feels like a luxury I don’t deserve (even though I can afford it just fine by now). Things have worked out for me. I’m sad that I’ll probably never be able to afford to live in my birthplace (San Francisco) or my hometown (Oakland) without it feeling like a huge indulgence, but I’ll deal with it. The suburbs are okay.

But god damn, I don’t think there is any particular moral virtue to going through that stuff for its own sake. Being young and starving while you try to work your way up in an area that is quite possibly one of the richest and most decadent times and places in world history is incredibly shitty, and I don’t like anyone who glorifies their own struggles in order to deny the pain of someone else’s.

The Bay Area’s ridiculous bullshit is a confluence of all kinds of stuff. It’s a problem that entangles issues around housing supply, public transit, local and county governance, mental health policies and homelessness, venture capital and tech paper millionaires, foreign real estate investment, and a whole bunch of other stuff. To strip all that away and focus on the Important Lessons For A Young Lady To Learn is fucking stupid.

patrick miller

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