Mark Mahoney was just outside of Medina County, Ohio when his wife Amanda called to say she had touched down in Cleveland. For the past two days, Mark had been “scared to death” that he wouldn’t make it to the airport on time. Now, the map on his phone told him he was still more than 40 minutes away.
That’s the way Amanda’s life in the Midwest began: waiting in Cleveland Hopkins International at 8:30 p.m. with her dog, her cat, and a winter coat that she was wearing for the first time. Although Amanda admitted that she was also nervous, “and a little emotional,” she forgave her husband for being late—but only because he’d driven from Ventura County, California to pick her up.
It wasn’t the first time that Mark had caravanned across the country with his life packed neatly into a moving truck, the last time being when he moved from Lorain, Ohio to Ventura, California. He knew what it meant to start over, to switch jobs, to make new friends. But there’s one thing his first cross-country move couldn’t have taught him: what it felt like to move back home.
That first trip happened twelve years earlier, “almost to the day,” when Mark accepted a job that moved him from his hometown of LaGrange to Ventura, about an hour-and-a-half north of Los Angeles. At the time, he was working in Informational Services, “mainly providing phone support,” for Swagelok, an international manufacturing company based in Cleveland.
While on a conference call with one of Swagelok’s west coast distributors, Mark was offered the opportunity to do corporate IT work in Ventura County. At the age of 24, and “without knowing a single person in California,” he took the job.
Despite the obvious difficulties of relocating halfway across the country, Mark said that the move to Ventura “went really well.” With help from the Ohio winter that he was leaving behind, he grew to love “the place, the area, and the weather.” He also grew to love the people, or more accurately speaking, a person.
Amanda said that she first met Mark in 2008 through mutual friends. “I’m going to be honest,” Amanda said. “We don’t have that exciting of a story. We first met through our friends and after a year of being friends with one another, we decided to try dating. I think we thought, ‘Why not?’” Two years after that first “why not?” and just five years after Mark moved to Ventura, the two were married.
After living together for several years in Ventura, however, Mark and Amanda began to feel growing pains—not for their relationship, but in the rising cost of living in Ventura. “In order to afford to live there and to have a decent lifestyle, you have to kill yourself at work,” Amanda said.
For Mark, who had moved to the west coast for a “change of pace,” California’s year-round summers were no longer worth their price tag. “The cost of living is insane,” Mark said. “It became so expensive that at the end of the day, it wasn’t worth it anymore for us.”
Mark and Amanda may not be the only ones who think so, either. Earlier this month, ATTOM Data Solutions released its annual Rental Affordability Report, which compared rent prices and wages in 447 counties across the United States.
Of the 447 counties analyzed, Ventura was the 13th least affordable county in the nation and the least affordable of all Southern California counties, with an average monthly rent of approximately $1900.
On top of rent, Mark and Amanda were faced with the some of the highest water rates that Ventura County residents had seen in recent years. Mark explained that Ventura County, which has been in a drought for six of the last seven years, sources its water from a man-made lake rather than from the State of California.
“That lake was already at 35% capacity before we left,” he said. “The price of water is only going to go up as that supply gets lower.”
In November of last year, Mark and Amanda decided that they could no longer afford to live in Ventura County and they put their home on the market. “We had been throwing around the idea of moving for some time already,” Mark said, not exactly excited to be leaving “If it wasn’t for the financial reasons we never would have left.”
Mark and Amanda received an offer on their home later that month and although they were ready to accept, it wouldn’t be mid-January until they closed escrow. That’s because on December 4, Ventura County was hit with the worst fire Southern California has seen in over ten years.
“We almost thought the whole thing would fall apart,” Mark said, referring to the real estate deal but also to his house. He and Amanda participated in a voluntary evacuation after the Thomas Fire broke out. While the 2,700,000-acre fire would go on to destroy more than 1,000 structures, the Mahoney’s was not one of them.
Before being contained earlier this month, the Thomas Fire put more than 18,000 buildings at risk of being destroyed according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. During that time, private insurance companies refused to sell home owners’ insurance to prospective buyers and the Californian government did not allow sales of homes to go through.
“The risk of homes being burnt down was too high,” Mark said. “After about two-and-a-half to three weeks, the State [of California] started offering insurance again to get things moving and we were able to go through with the sale.”
In the meantime, Mark and Amanda had decided that they would move to Bay Village, Ohio, less than an hour from where Mark grew up. Several other locations, including Denver, Colorado, made the couple’s shortlist but were in the end “just as expensive as living in Ventura.”
The plan that the couple devised for moving their belongings, and two pets, from Ventura to Bay Village had little room for error. Mark and his father, who flew out to Ventura for the move, would each drive a moving truck across the country, caravan-style, at an unthinkable pace: eight hundred miles a day in thirteen-hour shifts. At the end of the first day, they’d be in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The next night, they’d sleep in Springfield, Missouri. The following evening, at precisely 8:30 p.m., they’d arrive at the Cleveland Hopkins International Airport to pick up Amanda, who would leave by plane with their cat and dog two days after Mark’s departure.
“Nothing could go wrong for this to work,” Mark said. “Even a flat tire would throw the whole thing off. I was scared to death that something would break our streak.”
While Mark’s car began to “act up” in Indiana, registering an outside temperature of 94 degrees in the dead of winter, the most difficult part of the drive proved to be… himself.
“It was a lot more self-reflective than I expected,” Mark said. “You’re on the road so you can’t stream anything. Thankfully I had Sirius XM [a satellite radio service], but even then all you can do is listen to the radio and think.”
The Ohio native considered what it meant to return home after more than a decade and what would be there for him, if anything, when he got there. “I almost feel like I grew up in Ventura,” Mark said. “I moved there when I was 24. I got married there. I bought my first house there. I’ve always been the son that moved away from home. When I head back home, what am I?”
Although Mark had a job with Swagelok waiting for him when he arrived, he would be doing the same thing that he did before he moved away. “Moving to Ohio is bittersweet,” he said. “It’s like starting fresh… again. It feels like I’m going backward a little.”
Sitting with two pet carriers on an airplane several thousand feet above, Amanda was also reflecting on what it meant to move to Ohio. “Leading up to the move, I had less time to think because things were so busy,” she said. “But being on the plane and looking out the plane window made me realize I was saying goodbye to my home.” And with Amanda’s home, her profession.
The last three years of Amanda’s life in Ventura were spent working in a salon. In that time, she had developed a network of clients who would not be following her to Ohio. “It’s definitely challenging,” Amanda said. “You’re leaving behind your friends, your family, and then your business on top of it. I have to start over completely.”
Whatever thoughts Mark and Amanda were having on their respective journeys, all that they felt when they reunited on the arrivals curb of Cleveland Hopkins International Airport was relief. “It just felt so good to be on the other side of everything,” Amanda said.
When asked, one week later, how Amanda was settling into her new home, she said, “It’s only been a few days and in a way, it feels like we’re on vacation. Mark started work on Monday, but our routines still aren’t settled yet. In a month, it’ll feel more… normal.”
According to both Mark and Amanda, the month to come is sure to carry many lessons. For Amanda: how to use an ice scraper, where to get a winter wardrobe on a budget, and what it means to move across the country with a blank slate. For Mark: that moving back home is never quite as easy as you think—and, sometimes, in more ways than one.