First to the Party

Even though I'm pretty much priced out at this point, I'm still always keeping my eyes open when it comes to property on the San Francisco peninsula where I live. I would love to eventually own a house, not because it's a life-long dream, but simply because I'd like to start investing in something that's mine alone. I'd like to start having an experience that I won't have to move away from when the landlord decides the rent needs to be raised. Being at the mercy of someone else eventually gets old. However, finding an affordable house in the Bay Area today is like finding an affordable bottle of Pappy Van Winkle -- you need to know someone who has access.

I know people who are teachers, yet live in Atherton or Palo Alto. They're not rich, but they live in incredibly wealthy neighborhoods. How so? Because they bought in early--before the prices went through the roof. They were the first ones to the party and it never even occurred to them that they were getting a deal. American whiskey was the same way for many years. As were first-growth Bordeaux wines. I know plenty of working-class guys who have cellars full of thousand dollar bottles. That's not because they have thousands of dollars to spend, but rather because they bought in when these bottles were $50 instead of $1500. Like with Bordeaux, there are plenty of Bourbon drinkers out there with cabinets full of Pappy, Stagg, and Weller Larue who got in while the gettin' was good. Today's budding Bourbon enthusiasts have no chance at that type of score unless they're willing to pay up.

You can get a nice house in San Mateo right now. There's a two bedroom, one bathroom down the street from me for $725,000 that's in a great school district. But that's a huge increase over what the original buyer paid. Much like the $500 price points online for Pappy Van Winkle 20 are nearly five times what they should be. The market is responding to a simple lack of supply with a ferocious demand. I talk to my co-workers at K&L who are also renting and we say to each other, "How will we ever be able to afford a house on the peninsula?" much like young whiskey drinkers long for a chance to buy some affordable Port Ellen or Brora. We're all simply victims of timing--we didn't come of age when the moment of opportunity was upon us. While many anonymous message boarders ripped us a few years back for our $600 bottle of K&L exclusive Port Ellen, I think they'll likely whimper at what awaits them now. Gordon & MacPhail's new 1979 vintage Port Ellen will retail for around $1400. I haven't seen pricing for the latest Diageo release, but I think it will probably be the same.

While we all like to talk tough about how stupid these rising prices are, we all secretly yearn for the ability to enjoy these new-found luxuries. I like to bitch about the rising price of real estate, but I still want to buy a house. I don't need to buy a house. It isn't a God-given right of mine. But I know it's something I eventually would like to do, much like buying a bottle of Pappy 20 is something that many budding whiskey drinkers aspire to. No matter how much we like to blast the bullshit going on around us, it really comes from our own envious ambitions--anyone who says they're done with hard-to-find whiskey would still jump on the opportunity to buy Stagg, Weller, Sazerac 18, or Pappy if given the chance. It's simply our own frustration coming to light.

That being said, wouldn't the easiest solution just be to find an alternative? Rather than looking to find the diamond in the rough, shouldn't we all just stop obsessing over diamonds? That's easier said than done. Brand recognition and loyalty run deeper in us than we like to believe. No one aspires to a Hyundai, or an Acura despite the fact that both companies make fantastic cars that are affordable for what you get. A Porsche on the other hand is something special. Something unobtainable that seems forbidden almost. Or how about being a movie star? We all like to shit on the stuck-up, superficial Hollywood lifestyle, but very few of us would turn down the chance to star in our own cinema blockbuster. Aspiration is part of what turns a simple brand into a pop culture icon--it's what separates Kate Spade from Chanel, or a Timex from a Tag.

If you can separate yourself from it all, however, and get in on the ground floor somewhere you can completely change the trajectory of your life. I can't afford to drink Lafite or Latour the way many older K&L employees were able to twenty years ago. Younger whiskey drinkers can't afford to drink Pappy and Parker's and Port Ellen the way I was able to for the past half-decade. I can't afford a house the way Bay Area residents could twenty years ago, but I can afford a place in Oakland or Morgan Hill -- I just don't want to live there. I want to live in San Mateo. We can't always get what we want, however, so we can either sit around and bitch about it, or we can move on and find the next great thing. Are we going to overpay for Haut-Brion, or are we going to realize that there are plenty of other great French cabernets we can afford? Are we going to pine for Pappy our whole lives, or are we going to realize that there are many fantastic Bourbons available year-round?

It's up to us to break the cycle. We all don't have the luxury of being first to the party. Many of us have to make do with the modern age. We all couldn't see the Beatles on Ed Sullivan. We all couldn't see the Ramones at CBGB. But that doesn't mean we missed out on the best that life has to offer. It just means we're too busy worrying about the past. There's a bright future out there for those of us willing to look towards it. That's where the entrepreneurs make their mark.

-David Driscoll

David Driscoll