THE REASON I MOVED to one of those snobby Cape Ann towns — the kind of place where people dress as if they might need to go sailing at a moment’s notice — is because I couldn’t afford to live in Cambridge, the kind of place where people dress as if they might need to carry something on a bike.
My wife and I didn’t want to move. And I’m still not convinced we actually live in a town called Manchester-by-the-Sea. That’s where Singing Beach is, right? But what I really have a hard time getting straight is the reason we moved, which was that it offers more for our middle-class money. I mean, I’m from Southie, and these people own horses.
For the past five years, we lived in Cambridgeport, and we loved it. We rented in an old building called The London, had interesting neighbors, and could walk to much of what we needed. Plus, everything is just weirder in Cambridge; there really is no place like it.
But halfway through our time there, we got a new roommate, a baby boy named Charlie Blue. He had a wonderful life there, too, but we stretched a one-bedroom as far as we could. My wife stopped working to be a mom, and I’m a newspaper reporter, so a two-bedroom in our neighborhood was simply out of our reach.
I’m too poor for Cambridge, so I live in Manchester-by-the-Sea. Are you following this? As it turns out, the median rent for a Cambridge two-bedroom jumped more than 12 percent in the past year to $2,346, according to a recent report from Zillow. You can get the same thing in Manchester, where apartment prices dropped, for some $700 less.
So I’m writing this from my new sun porch, a short walk from the beach — you were right, it is Singing Beach — and the commuter rail and a village that has most everything I need and a little I don’t. I have two bedrooms and two bathrooms and two floors and my rent is $300 a month cheaper than the nastiest two-bedroom I looked at in Cambridge.
And now, all of a sudden and for the first time in my life, I really understand why families move out of the city. I guess I’ve always grasped it intellectually — space, good schools, more for your money — but I never really came to grips with it emotionally. And we got there, as I’m sure many have before us, by simply allowing ourselves to accept that the kind of place we pictured ourselves living just didn’t seem possible in and around the city.
It was a tough pill to swallow; I would walk around my neighborhood, looking at people who looked like me, and wonder: How were they swinging it?
But once I had accepted our fate, it became an adventure. I’d just stare at a Google map of the region, looking for our new home, and my eyes always wandered to the same place: Cape Ann. Metro Boston, which I know so well, was dense with yellow roads, but just up the North Shore, the map got white in a place I already liked to visit.
We could have stayed closer, in a place like Somerville. I suspect that’s what most people do — find a neighborhood they can afford that most closely approximates the one they love. But when I couldn’t have exactly what I envisioned in Cambridge, I decided to make a clean break and find something completely new.
And it must be said that Manchester (locals seem to recognize “by-the-Sea” is a bit much) has those things that do make sense — space, good schools, more for your money. I’m a city kid, but I’m a father now, and I have to do what dads do: make decisions that aren’t for me, but for us. This was what I came up with.
It has only been a few weeks, and Manchester still feels foreign to me. But so did fatherhood. And I quite like that.