Places Rated Properly


by Dr. Ferne Cherne

Have you ever read those Places Rated Almanacs or one of the books on the 100 best places to retire? The raters use variables like taxes, bus systems, medical facilities, schools, libraries and golf courses.
I ended up in Texas after following the advice from one of those books. San Antonio had wonderful ethnic food and down-home Southern friendliness. They also had every kind of creepy crawly thing in the world. Roaches that visited, went next store, and then came back. Wasps. Killer bees. Fire ants. After encountering the ants, I understood the saying about "ants in your pants." I understood the efficacy of the old Indian torture of tying the victim on an ant hill.
The bus system was good if you lived in the city proper. If you lived in the newer suburbs, it was nonexistent. The housing was cheap. They just forgot to mention that folks spent up to $400 per month on utilities. I do miss the Mexican candy from El Mercado and the fried ice cream.
Having decided that the rating systems don't work for me, I began to develop my own based on the experiences from living in a variety of geographical areas. Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area provided expertise in urban blight. Quincy, California, and Green River, Wyoming, brought up the rural areas, and Palm Desert, Redding, and San Antonio filled in the gaps.
Generic ratings fit average people. The average is the sum of all the people and actually fits no one. I have a car, my children are grown. The school system is no longer a high priority for me-the bus system is not a top priority-I am interested, as are most people, in taxes, medical facilities, crime rates, and public resources or services. Unlike the writers of the almanacs, however, I am also interested in bookstores, intellectual interchange, and an ambience that does not reflect either end of the political spectrum, racism, or sexism. The variables for rating these qualities are listed below:

The Pets Variable: Buy the local newspaper. Look in the classified ads under pets and tally the types for dogs for sale. Sounds silly, but it has a sound sociological base.
If there were no other criteria, this one tells more about a community than all others. Palm Desert was a poodle-and-Shar-pei place. I no longer want to live in Shar-pei land. I don't want to live in Rottweiler or pitbull places either. I could be perfectly happy in Labrador, cocker spaniel, German Shepherd, or Newfoundland neighborhoods.

The Oil-Slick Test: This is the neighborhood test. In Palm Desert, I am sure they had an ordinance against oil leaks. God forbid you would have a spot on your driveway. For punishment, they would probably drag you behind a golf cart in the desert. When looking for housing, look at the amount of oil near the curbs. Look at the driveways. If there is a two- to three-foot run of oil, lock the doors of the car before you drive away. Housing can be deceptive. Brand new. It looks great. The oil slick is a reflection of the socioeconomic status of the residents. I have worked hard to get past the oil slick stage of life. You have to spend too much on dead bolts if you live there.

The Coffee Bean Count: Although anyone who was educated or lived in the San Francisco Bay Area orders beans from Peets, the coffee bean count has high validity in discerning democratic, middle- to upper-class value systems. Take the yellow pages. Small towns are not exempt. If you find no listing under coffee beans, exit. There should be two or more. Large metropolitan areas should have eight or more outlets.

Intellectual Life Test: If there is a college in the town, go to the bookstore. If the cosmetics and antiperspirants are merchandised above the reading materials, you can leave the area right now. This one never fails. Riverside flunked this one-at the University! If no college is available, you can perform the grocery-store magazine-rack survey. When the gun and ammo and motorcycle magazines take up 50 percent of the rack, quietly make your exit.
These four criteria will not give you a rating on medical care, the availability of noniceberg lettuce, or the tax structure. However, even if you have good medical facilities, wonderful veggies, and low taxation, without the intellectual community, you either become brain-dead within two years or have to move on to more literary pastures. Try out this short-form rating system. It's quick, easy, you don't have to crunch numbers, and it works. Happy relocating.

About the author: Dr. Cherne works as a psychologist and counselor in California. Specializing in stress reduction, relationships, parenting, and other psychological topics, she has authored articles for numerous publications such as Chicago Tribune, Fifty Plus, Parentsı Monthly, and New York Family.

Relocation Resources

Country Bound. $19.95. 800-331-8355. Disgruntled urbanites can learn how to thrive in the boonies, create income from avocational pastimes, and experience an enhanced quality of life. Dozens of maps, tables, quizzes, and checklists are included.

Discover the Good Life in Rural America. $12.95. 800-331-8355. Rural relocaters will find the ingredients needed to make informed real-estate purchases of homes, ranches, farms, country businesses, and bare land. Also covers financing, water rights, and capital gains taxes.

First We Quit Our Jobs. $11.95. 800-323-9872. A memoir of two professionals who quit their jobs and traveled for a year covering 20,000 miles and 31 states. Itıs the true story of recreating oneıs life and discovering what is important.

Guatemala Living & Retirement Newsletter. $36 (for subscription of six issues). Write: 7907 N.W. 53rd St., Ste. 409/L-900, Miami, FL. Provides up-to-date information on Guatemala living for a sound decision and a smooth transition.

Retiring in Arizona. $10.95. 800-824-5118. A guide to the Southwestern good-life, this book provides in-depth information on more than 40 communities, with advice on finding a place, getting moved and settled in.

The 100 Best Small Art Towns in America. $15.95. 800-888-7504. This resource profiles and ranks the top towns across the country with information on population, economics, real estate, climate, recreation, and local arts organizations, including quotations from local artists.

Under The Tabachin Tree. $13.50. 800-848-7789. Part memoir, part travelogue, this is a treasury of keen observation, wit, and reverence for the Mexican people and culture of 20 years past.

Your Guide to Retiring To Mexico, Costa Rica and Beyond. $11.95. 800-548-5757. Everything you need to know to retire in Latin America. Find out the popular towns for retirees, how to furnish your new home, import a car, pay taxes, get Social Security checks, and more.