Manifest Destiny..
November 9, 2006 2:03 PM   Subscribe

East Coasters: What does it mean to ‘go out West’?

What goes on in the minds of those who leave the East coast and head West? What do people privately or otherwise think of those who leave? What are the underlying cultural connotations?

Is it the search for fame and fortune? Is it a disgrace? Are most seeking a change of weather? Do people leave in search of something; to escape something? Is it to trade a class-based structure for ‘informal culture’, jeans and flip-flops?

I’m not looking for a flame war or a West coast vs. East coast comparison. Anything qualifies as ‘West’, even those ‘fly-over’ states. I’m looking more so for the mindset and cultural meaning for what it means to leave ‘back East’.
posted by jazzkat11 to Human Relations (27 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I'm a New Englander and have always harbored a certain measure of disdain for people who permanently move "out West" if it happens to be the L.A. area. Actually, I'll strike that - if you're a New Englander and you move to L.A. for any length of time (i.e., more than a month or two) you, in my opinion, have no ability to claim ties to the Northeast as your region of origin. I think this probably speaks to my distaste toward people who move West for "fame and fortune" or because they can't hack it in the Winter.

That said, elsewhere, provided the New Englander retains some desire to move back toward the Northeast, things are fine.

As for the rest of the East, I am unqualified to comment.

(Note: While a New Englander, I am studying in the "flyover" state of Michigan - and after a year-long adjustment period, it's not a bad place, believe it or not...)

Personally, I "moved west" temporarily (I hope) for educational purposes.
posted by sablazo at 2:15 PM on November 9, 2006

I went "out west" for the open spaces; long, open roads with high speed limits; and solitude.

(Lived in the DC metro-area for 11 years, after spending my entire childhood in the midwest. I went to the east for education, cultural diversity, and anonymity).
posted by parilous at 2:20 PM on November 9, 2006

I left the East Coast because I was tired of living around a bunch of people whose default behavior seemed to be grumpy and whose main ambitions and interests were financial/career. I was fed up with being asked what my job was all the time, and with being judged on my answers (granted, at that point I was living in Washington DC, which is a special case of career ambition gone mad).

Which is not to say I dislike all Easterners, just the general culture and what it prioritizes.

I moved to San Francisco because it's the only major city that I felt had everything I wanted in a city (arts, architecture, street life, liberal population) AND decent weather. Once I got out here, I started to think that while many move to the East to achieve success, most seem to move out here to find themselves; the quests seem more individual and personal (this may only apply to San Francisco; I haven't lived elsewhere in the West). But that's not a distinction I would have made when I lived in the East, even though that's more or less the underlying reason that compelled me to move West.
posted by occhiblu at 2:25 PM on November 9, 2006 [1 favorite]

I have to say that Kerouac's "On The Road" has a lot of perspective on this topic. I've lived on the West Coast and the memories of sunshine and lots of space are still deeply ingrained in me. The California culture has changed quite a bit though in the past 10 or 15 years, so I don't think of it like I used to.
posted by hodyoaten at 2:26 PM on November 9, 2006

I don't me, "going West" kind of has a romantic connotation to me. I think of road trips, and exploring new places kind of like a frontiersman or something.

Note: I've never been "West," can you tell? All US states (and Mexican states and Canadian provinces) I've visited are definitely considered East coast states. I've been to the Cincinatti and Houston airports--that's it.

I grew up in Portland, Maine, and I get the sense that a lot of people my age from back home are giving the Pacific Northwest a try...I know a lot of people who have moved to Portland, OR or Seattle either temporarily or permanantly. My impression is that they have a similar vibe to the East coast Portland, so southern Mainers feel relatively comfortable there.

I have no judgement for my friends who moved to LA to give film acting a try. That's kind of like, duh. Where else would you go? Hard to imagine me there, but I'm a book nerd, so. Different strokes.
posted by lampoil at 2:29 PM on November 9, 2006

I used to live in Boston (I lived in DC, too, but didn't like it much); I moved West because I fell in love, and she lived here. I miss the fall, and thunderstorms, and - from DC - the free museums, but San Francisco is wonderful, and I ain't never moving back East.

There are lots and lots of ex-Bostonians in San Francisco; we must know something!
posted by rtha at 2:31 PM on November 9, 2006

I'm married to a Westerner (from Colorado) and to him the West is freedom, independence,wide open spaces, and few trees (to him, that's a good thing.) Don't get him started on the topic of "back easterners." I didn't even know there WAS such a thing till I married him.
posted by konolia at 2:32 PM on November 9, 2006

My mom used to tell me all the nuts end up going west and end up congregating in California, where they can't go any further.
posted by CunningLinguist at 2:36 PM on November 9, 2006

I live in Pittsburgh but grew up in New Jersey and as far as my folks are concerned, I "moved out west". From their point of view, anything west of the Delaware River is "indian country" and not really considered part of civilization. Actually my Mom grew up in The Bronx and thinks of New Jersey as west even though she's lived there for fifty years now.
posted by octothorpe at 2:42 PM on November 9, 2006

I left the east for the Dallas/Forth Worth area, purely because that's where the job offer was.

I think you're really overanalyzing this, and would bet that the vast majority of people moving from anywhere to anywhere have boringly pragmatic reasons for doing so. Similarly, I'd bet that most people moving "out west" have no particular desire or interest in moving "out west," it's just a part of something else they want.

I imagine that what goes on in the minds of most people who move from the east coast "out west" is "Hey, I got a good job in X-ville," or "Hey, I got a job, period, in X-ville, which beats the shit out of being unemployed here," or "My promotion puts me in the X-ville office, at least for a while."
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 2:43 PM on November 9, 2006

I would like to chime in as a solid 'westerner'. When I visited NY for business I found that people were more interested in what I did, what I could do for them and impressing me with their social status symbols (such as their job, what clubs they belonged to, etc...). This wasn't in the office, this was at the bar chatting other people up.

Maybe part of the appeal is losing the class and social status cues. Like immediately dismissing someone because they are not your social equal.

It could have been that I was younger and in probably the largest city I had ever been in at the time, but I still get that feeling when I meet someone who just moved from NY who is still acclimating to the social scene here.
posted by kookywon at 2:50 PM on November 9, 2006

I'm an east coast transplant from DC/No. VA living in Seattle now for over a year.

The reasons I chose to move away from there are mostly personal, but I find that east coast people are definitely more career-driven (especially in DC, as others pointed out) and more conservative (at least in the mid-atlantic). The cost of living is also less here, for housing anyway.

I lived on the east coast most of my life and just needed a change. The people here are bit more flakey, which kinda sucks, and Seattlites tend be a bit stand-offish. But I like it. I'll take the rain over the extremes of the summer back east. I do miss the Fall and summer thunderstorms, though.
posted by GS1977 at 3:10 PM on November 9, 2006

We head west (cross the Hudson) for lower taxes, less crowding, and more trees which are all found in NJ.

Seriously, the whole head west thing is different than it was a few generations ago. Back then it was for opportunity, now not so mych so. I think it is more for a different lifestyle.
posted by caddis at 3:12 PM on November 9, 2006

I moved to the West Coast from Northern Virginia because I was sick of the things I associated with the mid-Atlantic and Northeast. At least where I grew up, there's a lot of elitism, desire for prestige, one-upmanship. Not everyone buys into this, of course, but it felt as though the prevailing social values held that it's more important to go to a good school, get a good job, and make a good income than to live a good life and do good in the world. Power mattered more than happiness or peace.

I had some of my unhappiness with home that in mind -- along with a desire to understand a new region of the country -- when I went to college in Iowa. I learned pretty fast that I could never handle living that far from the ocean and mountains in the long-run.

So about a year out of college, back in Virginia and feeling totally stifled by the world around me, I started thinking about going west. Going south was not an option for reasons of both culture and weather.

I wanted an adventure, and I wanted to get away from home. I had a friend in Virginia who wanted to come along, and another friend Portland who said we could crash on her floor until we found our footing.

I really knew nothing about Portland, or Oregon, or Washington state (where I lived briefly, too). The West Coast was California in my mind -- a strange land where people ate pizza without red sauce and avocadoes, artichokes and asparagus were part of the everyday diet; an exotic, Velveeta-less land. But California was expensive and I needed somewhere to sleep.

At the time, the future was not a part of my "Go West" plans. I knew I'd get here, and after that I'd see what came next. Getting to Portland was not about going TO something specific, it was about getting AWAY from something.

How do I feel about my many friends and family members who are still back east? Most of them have the same core values as I do anyway, but I do see them get caught up in the rat race and it makes me sad. I think they see me elevating lifestyle more and more -- when career used to be paramount in my life -- and they probably feel sad for me, too.

Five and a half years after I moved, I'm preparing to buy a house and live here until I die. I miss my family, and I've started to realize that there are places on the East Coast where the community values that matter to me may exist. But I love this city.

My decision to stay is really more about Portland than about the West Coast. The weather here is better than in Seattle. The culture here is better than Los Angeles. The cost of living here is better than San Francisco. The public transportation here is better than any of those places. Portland is a quirky, creative, non-conformist, down-to-earth, lifestyle-oriented city. I like to think of myself as a creative, non-conformist, down-to-earth, lifestyle-oriented person. How could I leave?
posted by croutonsupafreak at 3:17 PM on November 9, 2006 [3 favorites]

I second konolia. I'm a Coloradan who now lives in New York City. I also live with a few people from Texas and they have the same understanding of the "west" as I do.

My friends and I struggled for awhile adapting to New York City and we still do. It took us awhile to understand why until my friend finally figured out. She simply said "Sky". The west is one horizon to the other covered in sky. If you live in the mountains, they represent challenge, nature, etc etc. Like konalia's husband, it seems like there is just more freedom out there - more freedom to move, to view, to explore. It just feels different.

When I do go out west, which is rare now a days, I find myself starring at the prarie, the sky, the clouds, the dry desert and dirt and, although I seem so small among the vastness of it all, I'm more connected to the world out there than I am standing in the middle of midtown Manhattan.

I've been in New York State for 6 years, been in New York City for 2 and I'm still not use to the moisture, the trees, the rain, and the clouds that blanket this area. Mother nature, combined with man made buildings, make this place seem very confining.

But, for some reason, when I'm on the shore or I'm on the ocean, I get feel the same. I'm a landlubber and it probably just has to do with where I was born and where I was raised.
posted by Stynxno at 3:44 PM on November 9, 2006

Tits. Big, fake, high-ridin' sternal funbags.
posted by rob511 at 3:46 PM on November 9, 2006

As a 17 year old from a Philadelphia suburb, I fell in love with Portland, OR during a college visit. It was a city I felt (and still feel) comfortable exploring and walking around alone in. People are much friendlier. And the public transportation is amazing.

I've been asked before if there was anything back east that resembles the college i go, but really there isn't. Sure, some east coast schools are pretty quirky by themselves, but they don't have a great city to compliment it.
posted by hopeless romantique at 3:48 PM on November 9, 2006

I am a NYer who has lived in Chicago and SF. Going "out west" means to me a sort of defeatist notion of not being willing to compete and trying to find an alternative lifestyle. While I loved Chicago, I would not consider it out west by any stretch. It is the westernmost east coast city in my mind. SF on the other hand is the definition of out west.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 4:08 PM on November 9, 2006

I moved out West from Montreal/Ottawa when I was 23. I stayed for just under two years. I found everything in the West to be very rootless and new and unsettled. I found people seemed to behave very badly because, well, there wasn't a weight of history to tell them not to. Or something like that.

I don't have that feeling at all in San Francisco, and a bit less in Vancouver than in (say) Calgary or Edmonton, so it's not a universal thing.
posted by mikel at 4:15 PM on November 9, 2006

I'm a New Englander who moved to L.A. for reasons including "fame and fortune," not necessarily in that order. But I could just have easily moved to Manhattan, or Toronto. It wasn't about escaping the weather, it was about expanding my horizons: The fact that there are few restaurants in California that require a suit and tie is not a sign of a more "informal culture," but a more intelligent one.

I miss a lot of things about my birthplace, but not the small-townish fear of the unknown that results in comments like this.
posted by turducken at 5:32 PM on November 9, 2006 [1 favorite]

Yeah, really. But I bet you've gotten used to the weather.

I grew up Back East and always yearned to make my home in the West. In fact I find the periodic AskMe perplexing, someone in for example New Jersey wondering if California will be okay? I'm reminded of this Edward Abbbey quote:
They say if you can live in the East you can live anywhere
But if you can live anywhere why would you live in the East?
posted by Rash at 6:02 PM on November 9, 2006

California is not "out west".
posted by LadyBonita at 8:36 PM on November 9, 2006

LadyBonita: California is not "out west".
You have a different sense of geography than I.

I grew up in upper Northwest Washington, DC, and spent a lot of time in Midtown Manhattan. I loathed the aspect of the culture there that suggested that you must somehow be elite to be successful -- go to the best schools, drive a new flashy car, have a job with a name-brand firm, etc. etc. etc.

Trying to judge my self worth by looking at the people around me wasn't working for me... despite the fact that by their standards, I was doing quite well. I went to an elite high school and a decent college, could comfortably afford a flashy car, and worked in the best known five sided building in the country. Because of my high school and early workforce connections, I've had casual dinners with Senators and one Supreme Court Justice, and to this day, a number of people on the hill will immediately return my phone calls (In DC, this is currency. This is status. This is much of what I was trying to get away from. These are nice people, who I enjoy sharing a meal with -- why must there be some sort of ulterior motive defined by power?)

Ultimately I went west (to California for those who think Texas is on the West coast) for both pragmatic and philosophical reasons -- my girlfriend (now my wife) was there finishing college, after spending a semester in DC. I ended up in San Francisco. After she finished, we could've moved anywhere in the world, but we stayed there. Why? Herb Caen said it best when he was greeted by St. Peter: "Hey, nice place... but it's not San Francisco".

While I'm not currently there (I'm overseas), it is now home, and I intend to go back. I don't ever expect to live in NY again, and I probably won't live in DC again. I like SF in particular, and California in general, because there's less of a rat race here -- people are trying to live their own (comfortable) lives, but don't feel that they have to compare theirs to yours. People are loads less likely to prejudge you based on what you look like or how you dress (because dress != status), and few people give a shit how much money you make. And did you hear? Possession of marijuana is a $100 fine in California, leaving our police to fight real crime (which despite LA's gang image is quite low when compared to the rest of the country). Quite simply, folks out west have different priorities... and they happen to be more inline with my own.

I happened to be a founder of a successful startup back in the 90s. We got bought. I made some money. Nobody in California has ever asked me how much (not that I'm likely to tell them). None of my friends in CA treated me differently for it -- because it didn't matter. This was unfathomable to my DC persona (and yes, my friends there asked, I didn't tell them, and some of them went to the trouble to go look it up from the SEC filings of the company that purchased us).

JohnnyGun's comment about people who go west having a defeatist notion of not being willing to compete is somewhat true... though I don't agree with the defeatist portion of it. People here aren't willing to compete -- that's true. But it's not because we're admitting defeat. Most of us would do just fine if we wanted to be competitive (after all, it is EXPENSIVE to live in California's cities, even when compared to Manhattan -- it is a desirable place to live, and it's way out of reach of most people). Most of us have chosen to lead a different life (and are lucky to have the freedom to do so). It doesn't mean we're defeated -- it means we aren't interested in playing your games.

In San Francisco, your plumber may be gay, your lawyer might have tattoos covering his arms (which he does usually cover up for court), your accountant probably smokes more weed than your college roommate, and the guy in the ripped jeans on the bus might be worth $20 million. Here it's not about what you do, or what you look like, or how many digits are printed on your ATM receipt, it's about who you are. And that can be anything you want it to be.

People have been "Going west, young man" to reinvent themselves for generations. And for those of us who are people that don't like fitting into predefined boxes (like extensively tattooed lawyers, or plumbers with a unquenchable taste for the cock), it's a great place to call home.
posted by toxic at 8:58 PM on November 9, 2006 [1 favorite]

Out west? There's a door for it, you know.
posted by washburn at 9:23 PM on November 9, 2006

I grew up in Massachussetts and New Hampshire, and lately Pennysylvania so I'm about as New England East Coast as it gets- and I decided to go to college here in New Mexico instead of in Maryland, with location being the only factor (it's one college with two campuses and exactly the same program at both, so that was not a factor at all). I love the geography out here, basically. I'd never been farther west than Gettysburg before coming out here, and I decided wanted to see for myself if it "really looks like that [the way it does in movies, that is]". There's a lot of things I miss about living in a city, of which there really aren't too many within hundreds of miles of here, but I find that I usually feel better pretty much anytime I look outside. I love New England, what with all the snow, and trees, and lakes, but I think New Mexico might be one of the prettiest places I've ever been to.
posted by Oobidaius at 10:01 PM on November 9, 2006

My sister moved to Western states because that's where the raptors are, and she worked with raptors until she started a grad program in Montana.

I've had a few friends who moved West because Microsoft made them an offer they couldn't refuse.
posted by Sprout the Vulgarian at 6:25 AM on November 10, 2006

Well, I did this backwards, growing up out west and moving back east. One set of grandparents were from Mass. and we still have family there (the others were native Californians, which is pretty rare); I live in New York. So on one side I'm a native Californian deeper than most people who are there now and on the other side we're there and back in three generations.

To me out West is space and no ugly trees and good waves and memory.

But it is also childishness. It's a kind of irresponsibility and totally adolescent. I always laugh when I see the kinds of comments that end up here about how "free" it is because I find it way easier to be just plain odd in the east. Out west you have to be one particular sort of "different" and that's okay and you're totally awesome, but it isn't really freedom. I notice that all the people who talk about it that way were concerned with status in the east, and I suspect that they find the west freeing because they were the sort to care here and there its all passive-agreesive, so it suits their styles better. Whereas if you are able to not really care and just go about your way, I find easterners way less likely to ask you why you persist in being weird in a non-approved way.
posted by dame at 12:30 PM on November 10, 2006

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