Leaving NYC

Sep 30, 2021

We’ve moved from NYC to San Diego. I feel strangely mournful.

[EDITOR NOTE: This was originally written June 22, 2021 and published 3 months later. This pairs nicely with this post, which includes additional updates.]

Early this year, Emily and I led a couple retreats to the British Virgin Islands.

After returning from our last retreat of the season and subsequent quarantine, we set out on a family road trip. The mission was to gather up our daughter’s belongings that had been stashed in storage in Utah at the outset of the pandemic.   

Deep dive table talk anchored off Anegada, BVI

Golden hour at Sandy Spit.

Learning the art of navigation.

Mornings aboard.

Sunsets to di(v)e for.

The van junkshow

We decided to tack California onto our trip simply because Karina had never been there and I’m a sucker for Big Sur and Yosemite. We made a first pass through Utah and visited a ton of friends. We decided we'd pick up the storage on the way back so we wouldn't have to haul that stuff during the next leg of our road trip. We then did a swing through San Diego. SD turned our heads. There are too many nuanced reasons to get into them here, but suffice it to say, there was a lot to like about the city tucked in the furthest southwest corner of Southern California. But we pressed on up the coast through Big Sur, San Francisco and into Yosemite.

Big ocean views driving Big Sur

Glamping in Yosemite

Half Dome from Glacier Point

At the end of our week in Yosemite, we sat in El Cap meadow as a family. We'd been sitting with the idea of just staying in California. El Capitan rose powerfully above us. It was decision time. We had to go somewhere next. Our top choices were East (to SLC and on to NYC) or South, back to San Diego. Each member of the family voted anonymously on a piece of paper. (As the -atriarchs of our family, Emily and I would ultimately decide, but we wanted everyone’s unbiased input.) As Emily read the votes, it was unanimous:  San Diego.

Decision Day in El Cap Meadow

That moment in the meadow (six weeks ago—May 4) cascaded until now. Presently, we have an apartment in San Diego. We have subletters in our apartment in NYC. Emily and Karina have flown to Utah to gather up the original storage items and purchase a couple cars from family. They returned with their loot. They have since flown to NYC, packed up our personal belongings and put them in a shipping crate headed to the opposite corner of the country.


Settling in

Testing driving the pools


Everything in one box

There’s so much to love about San Diego and there’s so much I’ll miss about NYC. Emily and I moved into our Manhattan apartment the same year we graduated from college. Three of our kids were born in Manhattan (each in a different hospital) and Lily—our youngest—was literally born in our bathtub. We could say there’s some history there. 

I haven’t been able to bring myself to write or post about this transition because I haven’t known what I think or feel. Still don’t. But here’s to trying. I’m happy we’re here.

We’ve come for a variety of reasons:

  • More access to nature (beaches, climbing, surfing)
  • Work opportunities (see below)
  • A break from the chaos of pandemic NYC
  • More space

All our kids came home for covid; a bittersweet blessing. We didn’t want to move into anything else in the city. But we wanted more space and something different after a year of being cooped up. The noise, the heat, the humidity. I just wanted a break. And now I’m just sad. I miss our park across the street. I miss our zany neighbors and friends. I miss having a couch.

We’re staying in a lovely apartment. It’s unfurnished and—with supply chains being what they are this year—bed frames and couches are hard to come by. Delivery is still months away. We’re sleeping on mattresses on the floor but have a dining table and chairs. There’s a flop house vibe except it’s wall to wall carpets, smooth sheet rock walls and recessed lights, something of which we’ve had neither in all our decades in NYC. We even have a dishwasher and washer/dryer INSIDE our apartment. Crazy town.

It’s another world. Our apartment complex has 11 swimming pools and 5 hot tubs. There are palm trees and a bowling alley. For all the fun, beauty and perfect weather, it’s still a touch heartbreaking.

The new digs

It would perhaps be a bit disingenuous to not mention the day-to-day work we’re doing here. Pre-road trip, we’d decided to take on a new family project. After sailing for a year (2014), I came home, switched jobs and dove headlong into something entirely new for me: door to door sales for a solar company. It transformed me like nothing else, for the better. And I made some good money. This past spring, I was gently invited to consider selling again. The money was still good, but I wasn’t particularly interested, at least not until some other Orton’s got interested.

When I told Emily and the girls about the opportunity, I added, “You could sell if you want.” They knew what that meant. They’d read my unpublished book, “The Spiritual Journey of a Door to Door Salesman" (coming out soon as an audiobook). They knew what that experience did for me, and how gut wrenching it was. It fundamentally changed how I see the world and myself, for the better. They wanted in. I didn’t want to go back to sales, but if it was going to be a family operation, I was open.

Before our March sailing retreat to the British Virgin Islands, we told my former solar colleagues we wanted to sign on as a family. We called ourselves the Ozone: Erik, Emily, Karina and Alison Orton. SJ would be the primary governess for Lily. Eli—coming up on 16—was doing a pretty good job running his own show most of the time. We discussed it as a family. Everyone was game for the new direction. But first we had this road trip planned. Once we got back from CA, we’d start solar in earnest. The plan was to sell across the river in NJ. 

However, we never returned from CA. The way I describe it is “we’re adding San Diego to the list of places we live.” Our NYC apartment is packed up. (We sublet it furnished). Our U-haul crate will arrive sometime around mid-July. We’re acclimating to the San Diego market in terms of solar sales. I’ve been surfing and bouldering a few times.

My new favorite bouldering spot

I swim laps outside in one of the pools most days. We all share our one table for meals, work and school. We have no furniture other than mattresses, partly out of busyness. (Our priorities have been the logistics of apartment hunting, buying and insuring 3 additional cars, completing our covid vaccinations despite starting them in NYC, coming up with all the small items like cutlery and cups, purchasing mattresses for seven and re-learning/learning the ropes of our new job). We were also probably dealing with a little bit of denial. We just can’t bring ourselves to set up shop in a new town. I think we’re in some kind of post-pandemic PTSD. We never saw this coming.

In some ways I feel like a kid:

I miss my old bed. I built it with my dad, and it was my safe and familiar place.

I miss my old desk. It’s the desk I’ve used since high school. And now I work cross legged on the floor.

I miss our couch. As much as we travel, there’s nothing quite as comforting as sitting down on your own couch to read, watch a movie or talk with friends.

I miss our view of the park.

I miss walking in the beautiful Heather Gardens in Fort Tryon Park

I miss having the Cloister Museum across the street.

And I haven’t even mentioned the people. So many friends. I just can’t go there.

We’re here now. We’re meeting wonderful people, making new friends, having marvelous experiences.

Making friends at LaJolla Shores

Who knows where that will lead. “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, and I, I took the one less traveled and that has made all the difference.” Both roads are good. Walt Whitman doesn’t say one is good or bad, he just says there’s a difference.

This place is new to us. Different. Familiar yet foreign. I’m in my element yet completely out of it. I was born up the road in Riverside, CA. Yet I’ve always lived elsewhere almost since I was born. It’s a strange home coming. I’m back at a place I never knew.

I said to Eli the other day, “I wonder if life here will ever feel normal.”

He asked a wise question, “What would make it feel normal?”

I wasn’t sure. Fame, fortune, friends? Furniture?

The whole world has been in commotion this past year. It’s been a juxtaposition of shelter-in-place and mass exodus. So many people seem to be moving to somewhere else.

I’m still searching. I’m still learning. I’m still hoping.

I’m grateful the world seems to be re-opening.

I’m grateful to see “Hiring All Positions” signs in so many shops and restaurant windows.

Jobs for everyone!

I’m grateful to feel loss at leaving a place I know and love, and a sense of hope and enthusiasm for what else is possible.

I’m convinced our connection to NYC is not over, yet I do wonder if life will ever feel normal anywhere else. I wonder if life would feel normal anywhere right now. It’s just been that kind of a year and a half.

In the meantime, I’ll go swim a few laps and soak in the hot tub.

Family first doesn't mean Mom + Dad last.

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