Napa Valley is not only beautiful; it’s also expensive. That’s no secret. But what’s less known is the difficulty seniors, many of them deeply rooted residents, are having surviving in the valley as rents soar.
Larry Hyson, a 71-year-old Calistoga man, is among those struggling. A longtime chauffeur and transportation services worker, he lost his job and spent months trying to find a new one. To get by, he sold off household items and some personal possessions. And he found a new job, shuttling employees up and down the hill to a hotel. But it was part time and didn’t pay enough to cover the rent on his mobile home.
“I was at the point that if I didn’t get help I would have been evicted,” he said, sitting in a tall chair in his home. “You have to pay the rent on time. It’s not the kind of place where you can say ‘I’ll get it to you next month.’”
Hyson sought help from UpValley Family Centers, a nonprofit on the north end of the valley that helps people facing economic challenges. Elena Mendez, senior services manager, contacted The Chronicle’s Season of Sharing program, which paid a month of Hyson’s rent.
“That was enough to get me by,” he said. “It seemed to start to click for me after that.”
Hyson’s part-time job at the Auberge du Soleil resort in Rutherford became full time. That made it easier to pay the rent, though he said it’s still tough to get ahead.
Mendez said the help Hyson received from Season of Sharing was critical to keeping him in his home.
“If we didn’t have Season of Sharing, there would not be a lot of help out there for this kind of assistance,” she said.
Hyson’s story is becoming increasingly common in the Napa Valley as the cost of living, especially rent, climbs and many seniors are forced to continue working past retirement age or return to the workforce after retirement.
“Older people are being really stretched to the limit,” Mendez said. “People in their 70s and 80s have to continue to work to supplement their retirement. We even have people in their 90s still looking for work. It’s become more of a common thing. They have to work; it’s not that they have time on their hands.”
Hyson found his career behind the wheel by accident.
After years cooking up food at Zim’s and Doggie Diner restaurants, Hyson attended Sonoma State University, where he studied philosophy and literature and earned his bachelor’s degree.
Unable to find work in the slumping economy of the early 1980s, he took a job at a hotel in Texas as a chef, then became a wine steward after his bosses learned he came from California.
“Because I was from California, they figured I must know wine,” he said.
One day the hotel owner needed a ride to the airport, Hyson said, and he was chosen as the driver.
“They liked the way I drove better than the way I cooked, so I kept the chauffeur job.”
Hyson took to driving but not to the Texas weather, and he returned to Wine Country after six months. He worked as a chauffeur for Christian Brothers Winery for eight years until they were sold and also operated his own chauffeur service on the side for 20 years, driving a charcoal gray 1989 Lincoln Continental with a red pinstripe.
After the Christian Brothers job ended, he drove shuttles for Kaiser Permanente then for the Culinary Institute of America in St. Helena.
At Auberge du Soleil, a luxurious hilltop resort, Hyson drives a Chevy van, shuttling employees more than a mile up Rutherford Hill between an auxiliary parking lot and the hotel. He also manages the hotel’s parking lots to keep traffic flowing.
“The hotel is a beautiful place,” he said. “I like the job.”
He also loves Napa Valley and hopes to continue living there, even though “everything costs a little bit more here. But it’s a great place to live.”
This story was written by Michael Cabanatuan, who reports on “all things transportation” for the San Francisco Chronicle. You can follow him on Twitter: @ctuan.
The original article can be found here.