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Any Profit Must Be Measured by Loss

I wish newspapers would stop running stories about Orange County housing costs being the highest in the nation.

I live in a modest house in a modest neighborhood. But in Orange County in 1989, any house is worth a king’s ransom, and when I’m reminded of that, it always sets me speculating about what I could do with all that money.

It would be suicidal, of course, to sell our house if my wife, my stepson and I planned to stay in Orange County, because we’d simply be making a lateral move--or worse. But frequently these housing stories list prices in other cities--and that’s where my fantasies start.

A couple of weeks ago, for example, I learned that if we sold our house in Santa Ana Heights at the going rate, we could buy 2 1/2 comparable or better houses in Victorville, Fresno or Bakersfield, 2 houses in Sacramento and 1 1/2 houses in Riverside or San Bernardino.

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But the thought of moving anywhere else in California--except San Francisco, which is the only place as expensive as Orange County--is depressing. Even as the richest kid on the block, I don’t think I could cut it in Fresno or Bakersfield, because Orange County would still be just down the freeway.

So my fantasies take me farther away. For the price we could get from our current house, we could buy three houses in Toledo, Ohio; Grand Rapids, Mich.; Wichita, Kan., or Des Moines, Iowa.

I’ve been to all of those places and know some of them rather well. I’ve also lived in comparable cities a considerable part of my life. So I know what the residue from selling our house would buy there.

First of all, we could pay cash. No mortgage. No monthly payments for housing. We could probably live in one of the better residential areas and even join the country club. Everything would be close by, traffic problems would be minimal, services cheaper and better, air quality cleaner.

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We would spend much less of our time getting from here to there, and tension would be commensurately reduced.

The pace would be slower, the life style less demanding. We wouldn’t be entirely cut off from cultural events, because all of these towns are either close enough to a major city or large enough themselves to support some such things.

From a distance, these advantages can seem pretty gauzy and seductive. But. . . .

First, there’s the weather. I’ve done my time in cold climates. I’ve heard natives of northern states--usually people who are stuck there--say life without drastic changes in season would be unbearably monotonous. I don’t try to tell them anymore that we really do have changes in season in Orange County. I just tell them that’s the kind of monotony I like.

The outdoor life style we enjoy here because of our weather is something I would find exceedingly difficult to give up.

Then, of course, there’s the ocean: Even if I don’t visit often, it’s always there . So are the mountains and the desert--when we can fight our way through freeway traffic to reach them.

My stepson would find schools as good or better in these faraway towns and would probably adapt readily to the change. And I can write anywhere. But my wife would be forced to give up a good job for something probably considerably less satisfying and certainly less remunerative.

There would be no major league baseball or concerts or professional theater close by. And the reduction of tension theoretically resulting from a slower, less demanding life style would be a mixed blessing. I know; I’ve been there. The dynamics of life are simply very different, and those of us who find our juices stirred by all the excesses of Orange County--social, political, philosophical and geographic--would find a new kind of tension to deal with: the tension of looking for action that isn’t readily at hand.

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That wouldn’t be a drawback to everyone, but it is to me. The knowledge that on any given day I have all sorts of options open to me that grow out of the climate, the natural resources, the people, the universities, the recreational facilities of Orange County hones my senses and sharpens my energies.

Take a look sometime at the difference between older people in Orange County and those in virtually any other place in the world, and you’ll get a real sense of what this vibrancy can mean.

So I’m going to try to stop reading those housing stories and then fantasizing moves I know I won’t make--at least not the way I feel today.

If I deny myself the dreams, then about all my inflated housing price means is higher taxes. But that’s OK. I’ve got a tennis game now. I’ll think about taxes later.


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