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SO WHY DO YOU LIVE IN IDAHO?

[January 14th] -- A week seldom goes by without someone leaving me a comment like "What's a Nationals' fan doing living in Idaho?"

Would you believe that I can't come up with the airfare to get back home?

Nah, didn't think you'd believe that.

A blogger always runs the risk of believing his own press clippings - in other words - thinking he/she is more important than he/she really is. So while I'll explain how I got here, how about if I also tell you what it's like to live here?

My last tour-of-duty in the Air Force was on the island of Okinawa (that's south of the Japanese mainland for those of you who went to Fairfax County Public Schools). It was there that I met my wife-to-be. No, she wasn't Japanese. She was my supervisor's daughter (but that's a story for another day). We decided that when we returned home and got married, we'd spend a couple of years living in her native Utah before heading East. I fell in love with the area, and - honestly - it was very difficult when we left for Washington.

We were living in Winchester when our second daughter, Kendi, was born. From the moment she took her first breath, it was obvious that her broken little body would never let her live a normal life.

She had open heart surgery before she was a year old.

We began by seeing specialists at the University of Virginia Medical Center, and from there we went on a ten-year roller coaster that took us across the United States and back again, seeking that "one" doctor that could identify and treat the disease, or syndrome, or whatever it was. Winchester became Ann Arbor Michigan, which became Detroit, which became St. Louis, which became Seattle, which became Salt Lake City which became Biloxi Mississippi and finally West Palm Beach, Florida.

Each doctor along the way couldn't make sense of her disorder, but he/she always had a "colleague" who could somewhere down the line. On and on it went. When the doctors finally decided that it was genetic, we headed back to Salt Lake City, where a preeminent geneticist was located. From there, a good job offer took us 100 miles north to Pocatello, Idaho. They never figured out what it was that plagued Kendi. Once in Idaho, her strength improved, and she lived a healthy life for ten more years before a nurse's mistake took her from us in 2003.

So why not move back now?

Our seventeen year old daughter Kaitlin has the same disorder.

I would tell you how much we've had to spend in the last 22 years on wheelchairs, diapers, surgeries, bath chairs, leg braces, medical tests, special clothing (and on and on and on), but you'd probably never believe me. There is no way we would be able to cover our surviving daughter's expenses while battling Washington's high cost of living. No. Idaho it is.

Now, don't get me wrong; we wouldn't stay here if we didn't love it. With the exception of Boise (four hours to the west), Idaho is still a rural state. Pocatello is a city of about 50,000 people nestled gently into a mountainside. Idaho Falls, north of here, also has roughly 50,000 residents.

And that's pretty much it.

The distance between Pocatello and Idaho Falls is about the distance between D.C. and Baltimore yet I can get from one city to the other in a half hour. Rush hour is four cars at a stop light. Virtually all the population in Idaho follows the Snake River Valley that runs from Boise over to Pocatello and north to Rexburg. Pretty much everything north of here is either mountains or areas that you just can't get to by car.

The cost of living here is next-to-nothing. My (very simple) five bedroom house, purchased in 1991 for $48,000, is now worth nearly $90,000. The rich folks on the hill have houses that cost in the $200,000 - $300,000 range. Those are reserved for doctors, lawyers and business owners. The state tax is 5% and it's against the law for municipalities to add to it. My drivers license cost me $22 bucks last year. license plate sticker was $40. There is no city, county or inspection stickers to deal with.

The advent of the internet and the myriad of new digital technologies has brought Washington D.C. to me. I read the local papers and listen to the radio stations. But I can then hop in my car and be in Yellowstone National Park in a couple of hours. That's a sweet deal.
No, there are no professional sports teams, and all of our theatres are the kind that show movies - mostly of the dollar variety. People here think that the Kennedy Center is the family compound in Hyannisport. There is no ties-and-tail culture like you'll find in Washington. I guess Boise State's improbable game against Oklahoma put our athletics on the map, but in realtity, the team was composed of mostly players from California and Idahoans tend to want to root for fellow Idahoans. But people actually say "hi" as they pass one another and I know every neighbor in a three block radius. I've never locked my car in 15 years and I don't own a key to my front door. Will I eventually get burned? Probably. But until then, I will enjoy the naive notion that everyone here is honest.

And they are. I ran a camera store here for ten years, and in that time, I think I had three bad checks. Each one was made good. I never once asked for any type of I.D. I didn't have to. Wal-Mart opened a store here a few years ago and had the audacity to ask to see a drivers license when customers paid by a check. People were so enraged that they walked out without their purchases. They quickly changed their policy to "no I.D. necessary" and stayed that way for several years.

One interesting thing about Pocatello: Idaho State University built the first domed football stadium to be used by a college team, and it was only the third built in the United States when it opened in 1980 (the Astrodome and the Kingdome were the first two). It's starting to so its age, and it seats only 13,000, but it is a tremendous all-weather facility nonetheless. All of the local high school games are played at Holt, and some of the rivalry games - Highland vs. Pocatello for instance - fills the stadium to capacity. I wonder how many high school football games inside the beltway draw those many fans?

I of course miss D.C. very much, and I'm hopeful that I'll be back this summer, at least for a few days. That said, living here in Idaho - and starting next fall - teaching here in Idaho, is all that I could ask for. My children have a safe environment to grow up in, and - surprisingly - none seem to have the "wonderlust" that attracts youngster to the big city.

And for us, that would be Boise.

I remember watching one of those early fake-commercials on Saturday Night Live in the 1970's that was about "Spud Beer." The song's lyrics went like this:
When you say Spud, just put your mind on hold,
Do what you're told, and open a cold,
Refreshing Spud. Just watch your life go by.
No need to try. When you've got Spud." Ohhhhh Spud!"
Announcer: Spud, the beer that made Boise famous.

I laughed so hard I cried. I had that young-man's belief that places like Boise were filled with people too stupid to live in places like Washington. I actually felt sorry for them.

Age has a way of making you feel really shallow sometimes.

Another thing. Living in Idaho has actually made me think that Nats' baseball fans actually care about any of this.

Hmmm. A Spud beer is sounding really good right about now.....

Comments:
Great Article....but what do you mean by "that's south of the Japanese mainland for those of you who went to Fairfax County Public Schools"....I go to those schools and can say that it is a very good program, one of the best in the country infact.
 
Oh I'm just playing with the readers, natsfan7. I went to FCPS and had a good time there, though it wasn't the school district then it is today.

It was directed at a specific reader of mine that is always saying harsh things about the Fairfax County schools. Just a friendly swipe at him, nothing more.
 
$90 grand would buy you about half of a studio apartment in DC. Are we jealous of you "provincials" who can actually afford to go out to dinner after the mortgage gets paid? Oh yeah, you bet!

On the other hand, I can get to RFK in 15 minutes by car. NYAH! NYAH!
 
Ouch!

But remember, JE, my first year salary as a teacher is going to be $27,500 per year. Make less, cost less.
 
Sorry, Farid...it's just that I take pride in this county(Fairfax)....I've lived here my whole life. Anyway, I wear the FCPS as a badge of honor since I never get all A's because a 94% is an A, instead of 90% like every other county in America.
 
This is my first post to any blog. I just want to say I AM interested in the entire why I went to Idaho article. Also, since I teach embryology at our military med school I am interested in but clueless about your daughters' illness. We HAVE been parents in several children's hospitals with a son who had multiple surgeries, so my heart goes out to you there. Also I have been appreciating your articles for a month or so, since I first happened on the nats blogosphere. We were transplants to the DC area from Chicago during Vietnam and the draft. We had been Cubbies fans and came here the year that the Senators left. Our big thrill as Cubs fans was the day my hubby got to be dr. of the day and we got autographs from Ernie Banks and Pizza Belly Ron Santo. Also Leo the Lip was a patient of his once. So when we got the Nats here, we were in hog heaven. The first game we attended was against the Cubs and we had to make a big choice. Easy choice. Of course that was the first half of the first season. Its feeling more like being a cubs fan all the time...... BUT hope springs eternal.
 
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