Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Not staying put but not moving far

It's been awhile, hasn't it? Not that I really went anywhere. My focus had just turned away from moving for a time there, thankfully. While it's been fun to dither about financial fears and rock star aspirations here let's turn back to the original and primary focus of this blog for a bit shall we? Moving, that is.

I've been firmly planted in the same Financial District apartment since 2008. A tiresome apartment search set me on staying put for as long as possible. As someone who'd moved at least once a year every year between 2000 and 2008, I was happy to put down some roots. I last moved during the financial crisis's beginning throes and was able to take advantage of all sorts of incentives like no broker fee and a free month's rent. When my original 18-month lease was set to expire I was even luckier, scoring multiple free months on a 2-year lease re-sign.

The market is vastly different now. I get emails from time to time from people reading my old apartment hunting posts from 2007 and 2008 and wondering why they couldn't find similar deals and prices now. I haven't been paying close attention to real estate but I hear that very few New Yorkers are moving right now. Due to the economy most people are staying put in their apartments even if they hate their current place. Additionally many owners are renting out their high-mortgage primary residences and renting a less expensive place while they ride out the poor economy. These two factors combined to leave NYC (Manhattan especially) with a lower vacancy rate then we've seen in years.

Who would choose to move during this crazy time? Me of course. The itch started several months ago and became itchier recently. Little quirks of my apartment that once seemed charming started to annoy. New neighbors shattered a once-peaceful respite. But the biggest driver for me was probably the lack of natural light. Neither of my NYC apartments have been sun-filled nor was that ever a requirement, though it would be a nice perk. In the summer my current place gets decent light but come winter it's kind of gloomy, and with the down economy and stress at work the last thing I need is grey days to wallow in. Grey days with a shitty neighbor's soundtrack and a commiserating dog howling on the other side.

Speaking of dogs, if you're not allergic to them I highly recommend owning one. The dog parks I frequent are like little social goldmines. I get all my neighborhood intel there: the latest Occupy Wall St updates, notes on the movies and TV shows filming down here and the occasional date. When my dog run friends were telling me about rents shooting up in my building I knew the time was here to make a move. Problem is I've become addicted to my amenities. I've got a huge mezzanine, gym and roof deck I hardly use. There's also laundry in the building (I use that of course) and a conceirge service that has dry cleaning, maid service and the like. I get my groceries delivered and my dog walked when I have to work late. I love my doormen. I could not imagine giving it up. The decision was clear: I wanted to move but I also wanted to stay in my building.

Sometimes there are perks to living in a building with a management company. Like when they have a list all their upcoming rental availabilities available to peruse. For the last couple of months I'd been watching the site for something appealing. I wasn't sure what I was looking for until I saw a 1 BR in my building on a high floor. The listing included the floor plan and the building placement. I saw a western exposure with three windows in the apartment and I was sold. Nevermind that the apartment has 1/2 the closet space of my current apartment or that the rent was above my budget. I had to see it.

A quick stop by the leasing office in my building and then I was headed up to a the high floor to check out the apartment. The first thing I noticed was that unlike my apartment, this one was blindingly bright. Though the Financial District is teeming with tall buildings, mine has enough free air space around it that the sun shone in and the view was appealingly clear. I could see through a sea of buildings to Jersey City, not to mention many famous downtown skyscrapers here in Manhattan. The layout was a bit different than my current place, though the square footage was comparable. I would lose my eat-in kitchen area for a breakfast bar which wasn't a big deal. I was worried about losing the closet space -- a huge issue for a clotheshorse like me. The constant light streaming in helped me get past that.

The lack of storage couldn't dampen my enthusiasm, but the rent could. It was significantly more expensive than my current place -- almost $500/mo more than what I currently pay. I hoped that perhaps Occupy Wall St would turn the tides and stem the rent increases. When I tried negotiating the management company wouldn't budge an inch. Free months weren't an option and neither was a lower rent. My building, they explained, was over 90% full and the average time between renters was under 30 days. Vastly different stats then when I first arrived in the building in 2008.

Graphic from the New York Times, read full article

Dejected, I passed on the apartment. I have learned that something better will always come along. Or so I thought. A couple of weeks later you see I got the letter I was dreading from the management company: my lease was almost up and they needed to know if I was staying or moving. And oh yeah my rent was going up by $400/mo if I wanted to stay. Suddenly better wasn't as important as just settling on my plans.

The economy is rough right now and this was going to hurt no matter what. If I wanted to stay I'd need to dip into my savings to cover the difference between my current rent and the new rate -- my salary's not keeping up with these cost of living increases. And if I moved I'd have to dip into savings to cover the costs of moving. Suddenly the high-floor apartment was back on the table. I'd be paying just a bit more than the new rate of my current place and I'd get the benefit of natural light. The move would be less expensive by staying in the same building. Staying in my current place was the most cost-efficient option of the three. But I'd be unhappy that the same place suddenly cost over $400 more while silently cursing my neighbors every night.

If I was going to spend money it made sense to improve my life a bit, so I contacted the leasing office one more time and made a pitch for the high floor apartment while asking for some rent concessions. We finally settled on a number I could live with. A few days later I went to the bank to get the necessary certified checks, signing the necessary paperwork and calling FlatRate moving. (Two moves and one furniture pick-up with them and they've been great every time. Let's hope this next move goes equally well.)

On the plus side, I didn't have to deal with a single broker and my apartment search took about 3 weeks in total. Much less than last time! On the minus side my finances continue to be tight. So it goes. My life is going back in boxes and I am happy. I'm moving up in the world, literally if not necessarily financially.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

3rd Floor Etiquette

When you live in a high rise, it's easy to get lazy. My gym is on the floor below me. (I hardly visit it.) My laundry room is on the floor above me. (I visit it even less.) There's a roof deck I show guests. ("Oh yeah, I'm up here...never.") And a mezzanine that I use, though infrequently.

But my biggest faux pas is without a doubt the elevator. My building has six elevators serving 35 floors. One is the service elevator and I avoid it. One of the elevators has been out since January 2009. I am beginning to doubt it's ever coming back. Of the remaining four, two serve floors 1-21 and two serve the rest. I understand the frustration of waiting -- and waiting, and waiting -- for the elevator. But the dirty looks I get? Not as much.

Hello my (nick)name is roxy. I live on the third floor. And yes, I take the elevator.

It's there for a reason -- to help me get my lazy ass from the lobby to the 3rd floor. Sometimes the use is justified. I've got groceries. I'm hauling one of my many packages up. I'm in dangerously high heels and it's a miracle I survived the subway station stairs so I'm not risking death or ankle destruction in my own damn building.

Mostly though I'm just not thinking. Habit dictates that I enter the building and head for the elevator. At my work, the stairwell doors are locked so I couldn't take the stairs if I wanted to. And I think that's carried over to my home building, where my fried brain says home is where the elevator takes me. Perhaps I'll just blame the internet.

I had some friends over last weekend and they were lamenting their own elevator situation -- two of them to serve 40 floors. Yikes. Their immediate scapegoats for the long waits? Residents of floors 2-4. I found myself nodding and contributing. Damn those low-floor dwellers! Who do they think they are taking up valuable elevator space, what with their 2 floor trips and smug grins and fuck yous as they exit.

Oh wait.

Even in my own building I find my scorn directed at those damn brokers, who ride the elevator one floor from the lobby to the mezzanine to visit our leasing office. I will shoot daggers at them from my eyes. And then two floors later I will happily disembark at 3, happy to be home with my legs no worse for wear. What the remaining riders think of me was never a concern.

Recently though I've been visiting friends in high places. Specifically floors 23, 35 and 44. And I now know the annoyance that is stopping at floors 2, 3, 4, and really anything below 10. It sucks. The building commute inches up with each single-digit floor hit. And it's not really fair. So please accept my apologies, cloud-dwellers. I will try to take the stairs more often.

Except of course in heels.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Introducing the newest member of my family

Oh to have a dog of my own. It's been on my to-do list for a few years as an adult, and "puppy" was always high on my Hanukkah wishlist as a kid. For the last few years I've been an occasional foster momma to Shiba Inus through a local rescue but my crazy work and life schedule wasn't really conducive to dogs. (Or sleep for that matter.)

When I first moved to NYC my apartment was barely big enough for me, let alone a pet. Since moving downtown the space has been willing; it was just a matter of timing. A couple of months ago I realized I wanted to make room in my life for a pet. I watched a friend's dog for a couple of weeks while she was on vacation and got very used to coming home to happy barks and tail wags. It got me outside and exploring more and it was easier to talk to people with a dog as an icebreaker. Especially a really cute dog!

So I started looking into adoption slowly. Then a couple of weeks ago my rescue sent out an APB about a Shiba pup that needed a new home. I was in! She came home with me on Thursday and has been settling in ever since. Shibas are a challenging but rewarding breed to own and I'm loving my new life as a dog owner. My dog is about 8 months old and 18 lbs -- which makes her easily portable.

I do miss being close to parks like I was on the Upper East Side -- both Carl Schurz and Central Park were just a few blocks from my apartment. On the other hand it means more exercise for both me and my dog to get to the park and that's never a bad thing.

I have not decided on a name yet but am leaning towards Cinnamon. She's found her favorite spot (the couch, of course) and came with plenty of toys to choose from. Not that I won't be getting her more soon enough. We're off to the Union Square dog park later today to make some new friends. Life is good, whether you're a dog or a dog owner.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Sometimes the longest part of the trip is the airport to your apt

My sister recently came into town from Colorado for a weekend visit. The plan was for her to go up to my parents' in Connecticut first, and then come stay with me later over the weekend. She comes into town often so it's all pretty routine by now. Flies from Colorado to NYC. Takes the bus to Grand Central. Either takes Metro North up to the parents or takes the subway down to me.

So you can imagine my surprise when I got this call after she landed:
Sis - So I landed. I'm at Newark.
Me (thinking I misheard) - Oh, you're in New York. Cool. How was your flight?
Sis - No, I'm at NEWARK.
Me - What??

Yep, as if gridlock on the ground in the NYC metropolitan area weren't enough, turns out there can be gridlock in the air too. My sister's flight got to NYC airspace 30 minutes early, circled for about an hour and finally was diverted to Newark so they could refuel. And then the plane was going to fly from Newark to LaGuardia. As in about a 5-minute flight, if that. Holy moly.

Funniest to my sister was that the holding pattern put her right over the Financial District, aka my neighborhood. So she was circling over my apartment for about an hour. And circling. And circling. I thought they weren't allowed to do that after 9/11, but I guess those restrictions got lifted.

After all of that, the idea of another takeoff-turned-almost-immediate-landing wasn't exactly appealing. Passengers were allowed to deplane at Newark so she left. (Pity those who'd checked baggage -- the plane's baggage was not being unloaded until arrival at LGA.)

The other issue is of course that getting from Newark into Manhattan is a real pain in the ass. There's New Jersey Transit, which is a joke. There's a cab, which is robbery. And then there's a car, assuming you have one. Which is environmentally inefficient but sanity-wise the best option. Zipcar to the rescue! Being the awesome sister that I am, I grabbed a Mini Cooper to go get my sister.

And the longest part of the trip? Waiting on Varick to get into the Holland Tunnel after finding the Canal St approach closed. Gridlock -- it gets you every time.

Friday, June 18, 2010

In which road trips refresh

The past 4 weeks yielded more travel time for me than the previous 52 and I am not complaining. Despite being air-aversive I love to travel. While 2009 was mostly the year of not being able to 2010 has gone far better. Sometimes life in NYC is just as much about getting away from it as it is about living here.

First up was my Memorial Day weekend road trip. I was excited about the chance to escape for a bit. I've been working on big projects both at work and for a college class I'm taking, and a weekend away was the thing I needed to recharge a bit. I was ready to unplug for awhile.

Speaking of which, the first rule of our road trip was no technology besides the car. So no cell phones, no cameras and definitely no laptops. I mostly made it. I did cheat by tweeting a few times but mostly so my fam would not worry if I was still alive or eaten by a bear or running off to join a cult. And a friend of ours followed the first 500 miles to make a short film from it. (After a trio powwow we decided this did not count.) The result is that we have some great stories but little photo evidence. Somehow I think this is just the way it should be.

We started out on Friday afternoon and I flew home on Monday morning. (The boys just got home earlier this week after continuing west.) Over the long weekend we touched 7 states: New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina. Of those 7 it was my first time in 3.

Miles 1-250: in which I learned that I am no rebel.
We'd hoped to leave on Friday morning but work took priority. Instead we left around 5 or 6 PM. While we wanted to avoid I-95 as much as possible it was the best route for the initial part of the trip. And on Friday of Memorial Day Weekend it was of course packed. As we sat in gridlock we settled on camping somewhere south of Philadelphia. We crossed back over into New Jersey with plans of camping at the Timberlane Campground near Clarksboro. Unfortunately the place was crowded amd we couldn't find a spot to camp in. An attempt to share a lot with a friendly RV crew was foiled so we left. We returned to PA and ended up finding a field somewhere near Chester to camp in, not too far from the Delaware River. The prospect freaked me out more than I expected. I had flashes of bad horror movies playing out on us followed by a panic-attack inducing vision of getting eaten by a bear. We ate decidedly un-camp food (fast food from a local drivethrough), stared at the stars for awhile and then pitched our tent. The boys kindly offered to let me sleep in the middle so I would feel safer. I did feel safer, just not safe enough to sleep. Every car driving by was a cop car or an ax-wielding murderer in my mind. I finally passed out from exhaustion. So much for being a rebellious camper.

We got an early start the next day and made plans to eat lunch in Annapolis, Maryland. It was time for local roads at this point, along which we consulted several guide books for interesting places to stop along the way. (And by guidebooks, I mean my iPhone. Cheaters.) We were all slowly loosening up too, laughing more and enjoying my awesome 70s rock playlist, crowd-sourced through my Facebook friends. Ah, mixtapes in the digital age.

Miles 250-350: in which song lyrics are discovered and misheard.
After lunch in Maryland we headed south on Rte 2. This part of the trip mostly involved singly along loudly to a bunch of great songs. I'd been dismissive of 70s rock for a long time as dude music. While I'm not entirely unconvinced of this at least I have a newfound respect for the journeyman quality of it.

Some random musings during jukebox sing-alongs:
AC/DC "Back in Black": Would be my enterance song if I was a closing pitcher.
America "Lonely People": Sounds funny when sung amongst a group.
Bachman Turner Overdrive "Taking Care of Business": Hey! This song is about when I used to commute into the city...wait, are you taunting me??
Blue Oyster Cult "Burnin For You": J sang this song to a car next to us in traffic, complete with wonky hand gestures to the lady driver. Got laughs out of both cars.
Credence Clearwater Revival "Born on the Bayou": Makes us wish we were born on the bayou too, chasing down hoodoo there.
Doobie Bros "Listen to the Music": D's vote for easiest song to harmonize with.
Foghat "Slow Ride": Made us wish the Chevelle had hydraulics.
Jackson Browne "Take it Easy": At least he's honest...
Iggy Pop "The Passenger": Should not be sung from the backseat.
Steve Miller "Jet Airliner": Confession -- I always thought the lyrics were "We going to Carolina." Oops.
Three Dog Night "Shambala": Best sing-along song on the trip. A-woo-woo-woooooooooo!
The Who "Baba O'Riley": Inspirational tune for the beginning of each day.

Mile 295 or so: in which I almost killed the guys.
At rest stop in northern Virigina, the boys moved the car while I was using the facilities. They parked behind a big truck so I couldn't see them. They played it just long enough so I started to freak out over whether they'd really left me. Not cool! (But very funny, I admit.)

Miles 300-400: in which we made friends for dinner.
On night two (Saturday) we camped at a KOA campground just outside Virginia Beach. It had been a long day and by the time we made it to the campground we'd missed most of the local restaurants. We were debating whether to chance fast food again (bleh) or to look for a 24-hour grocery. A neighboring RV family was cooking dinner and the Dad made D an offer he couldn't refuse: a 30-minute ride in the Chevelle in exchange for some good-looking burgers and a beer. Done! D took the Dad for a cruise and an hour later we were wolfing down some fine-tasting beef patties.

The next day we made a pitstop at a friend of J's to shower and then continued southward. J and I spent most of the morning nagging D to let one of us drive. When D repeatedly refused to give up the wheel we started doing play-by-play of his driving, critiquing every curve and analyzing imaginary instant replays of his light change takeoffs complete with Madden-esque gems like, "When you gun the accelerator, you're gonna go faster more quickly!" Yes, we're nerds.

Miles 400-500: in which we made airplane noises and climbed lighthouses at the seashore.
We had finally crossed over to the outer banks of the Carolinas, our main destination for the weekend. We stopped in Kitty Hawk to visit the Wright Brothers National Monument and see the field where they tested their aircrafts. It was so cool! There are markers at the beginning and end of the first flight and despite park rangers' pleas not to we ran the length of the flight with our arms out making airplane noises. Like idiots. It was wonderful.

A little later we crossed the Bonner Bridge and went down to the Cape Hatteras National Seashore. Unfortunately the Bodie Island Lighthouse is in the middle of being renovated so it was partially obstructed, but the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse was open and you bet we climbed all 248 steps. Totally worth it too -- the view was spectacular. We hung out on the beach for a few hours before heading back to the mainland.

Miles 500-600: in which I realized NASCAR was so close!
Sometime Sunday afternoon it dawned on me that the NASCAR race that weekend was in Charlotte, NC -- just a few hours away! I started pleading with D and J to take me to Lowe's Motor Speedway for the race. They were of course having none of it but we comprimised and agreed to head to Charlotte. I had to fly home on Monday and wanted to pick a city so I could buy a ticket. Charlotte met the criteria (had an airport with JetBlue) and J knew of a great barbeque place.

I whimpered as we drove past the speedway and again when we passed the shiny new NASCAR Hall of Fame, but the boys were right that the last thing we needed to be doing after spending hours in a car was spending hours watching cars turn left. So my long-awaited return attendance at a race will have to wait a bit longer. (Lace race attended? New Hampshire, 2006.)

Mile 950: in which I said goodbye and the trio became a duo.
Sadly, while the boys got to continue on with their trip I had to say goodbye Monday morning in Charlotte. We had an awesome time and I'm so glad I got invited to join the trip. I hope we get to do it again soon.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Another thing no one tells you about living in Manhattan

There are tons of things you should know about living in NYC that no one ever bothers to tell you and lucky me, I get to discover all the gross ones! I should warn this post isn't for faint stomachs.

So here the tip is, you can thank me later: if you live in Manhattan, you will see a water bug at some point. Maybe outside. Maybe in the hallway. Maybe in the laundry room. Maybe (gulp) in your apartment. Water bugs are aka co...cockro...gawd, I can't even say it. Just read. They are everywhere! There's a reason why they say after the Apocalypse there will be those things and Cher. My building is quite clean but I live on the southern tip of Manhattan, aka part that used to be underwater. When you expand the island via dirt and trash and then build on top of it these things will happen. Could be worse I suppose...it could be rats. *shiver*

Last year I only saw one in my apartment. I learned the hard way that they crawl up the side of my building and come in through the window. I saw the damn thing come in and then it scampered behind my media center while I screamed in horror. I didn't see it for a few days so I hoped it was dead or crawling across someone's else's floor. But these things live to be over 100 so I was just fooling myself. One night I was having a private iPod concert while working. I was singing Sinatra's "I've Got You Under My Skin" when I saw the water bug crawl by my bedroom door. Oh the cruel coincidence of that moment. I managed to trap it and kill it (thank you, Raid!) but the creepy-crawly effects lasted for days afterwards.

Since then I don't really open my apartment windows during the warmer months. They are old windows in my nice old high rise so they have no screens. It's OK -- if I want a breeze I just go up to the roof deck. Unfortunately the maintenance staff doesn't know my neurotic rules so while working on my apartment the other day (after my closet rack collapsed under the weight of all of my clothes, hee) they opened the windows. I came home and gave my best horror film "Noooooooooo!" as I slo-mo ran to the windows. It was too late though! It was too late.

For the other morning, what did I see? You guessed it. Another damn water bug scampering by my bedroom door. Once again I managed to trap and kill it. The thing was huge! Practically the size of my Apple remote. Bleh! Bleh! Creepy crawlies. Not a fan.

So how do you keep your apartment water bug-proof? Well, you can't. But there are some things you can do to minimize the risk. This article has a good rundown. They're attracted to cold, dark and damp spots. So keep your floors clean, your sink empty and your garbage tended to. Don't store cardboard in your apartment either -- this is one of the most common mistakes. Critters are attracted to it. You can get new moving boxes when you move. It's so not worth it. Hopefully your neighbors are clean too.

A few of my friends had infestations and let me tell you it's not pretty. So be warned. You will see one; it will be gross and you will have to deal with it. My apologies in advance.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The road is calling and finally I can answer

I've had roadtrips on the mind recently. I re-read The Motorcycle Diaries a few months ago and followed it up with Travels with Charley. Guess I must have been influencing my friends subconsciously. Earlier this month during a Stone Street excursion my friend D announced that he had finished restoring his car and wanted to go on a Memorial Day Weekend road trip to celebrate. Even better? He wants me to come.

I was excited for too many reasons to enumerate. Here's a few though. First, I have not owned a car since I moved to NYC and man do I miss driving. I know this sounds like the oil barron's lament but I love driving on twisty, windy roads alone with my thoughts. Or alternately with my music blaring and me singing along. And nothing beats cross-country drives.

In college the thought of three months without my car over summer break was devastating to me. So every summer my little red 1992 Saturn SC coupe (with pop-up headlights!) and I drove 1940 miles from Fort Collins, Colo. to Bethel, Conn. Lots of people complain about I-80 being corn, corn, and more corn but dammit if I didn't love every mile of it. I will never forget cresting a hill in Iowa to a gorgeous rainbow in August of 2002 heading back out West. (I will also never forget stupidly outrunning a tornado in Kansas on I-70 in May of 2001 with my sister. That was the day my sister and I learned what it was like to drive 145 mph. Don't try that at home, kids!) My senior year I had bought a SUV and was moving back home so I actually did the trip thrice in two weeks. I miss those trips now. It wouldn't be as much careless fun now paying $3.05/gallon for gas I guess, or whatever gas is these days.

Another reason I love road trips? Bonding. I tend to be in my head a lot of the time but I love how car trips can be an excuse for stifling technology in favor of, oh I don't know, actually talking to each other. I suppose today's minivans with their in-headrest screens could kill the need for conversation. Luckily D owns a 1968 Chevelle SS. So that's not going to be an issue.

One more thing to love -- seeing the country. Living in NYC is like...well it's like being an asylum quite honestly. We're barely holding our sanity together. (Some of us just gave up.) And the standards of life here are insane and unrealistic. So it will be nice to escape and be reminded of how the other 99% of people live. My parents still chuckle that I was such a farm kid growing up but I ended up somehow living in the biggest city in the US. Don't get me wrong. I love living in NYC and wouldn't trade the last 5 years of my life for anything. I just need to get out a little more.

D also invited our friend J. And now the three of us are making plans. We've decided to avoid highways whenever possible. I have never done a true back-road trip so I'm thrilled to be giving it a shot. D is in charge of planning the route. Problem is we can't decide whether we want to go South (my personal preference), West, or North. Any of them would be fun. I just like the idea of South because I've never really driven South.

J is in charge of finding places to stay. I have a feeling we're going to be camping it which is fine by me. My sole concern is that I hope they take bathroom breaks into consideration since I am a chick. And I will not be using a bottle on the side of the road, thanks.

And me? I'm in charge of the music of course. The car used to just have an AM radio but D has upgraded it to a nice digital player. So I'm assembling a playlist. I proposed a 70s classic rock theme and the boys heartily agreed. I've been having a blast the past couple of weeks researching the best songs to include. I can't say this is a genre I knew very well. Still, I knew many popular tunes from the stations my parents listened to growing up and my friends have been great resources for more. Right now Three Dog Night's "Shambala" gets played at least once daily on my iPhone.

The setup is perfect. Three friends driving in a restored classic car across the countryside, music blaring and camping out under the stars. Hmm. This also sounds like the beginning of a bad horror movie. I'm sure we'll end up with at least one great story out of the trip. Here's a nice list of road trip books. I am downloading a couple to my Kindle to read at night. Guess I can't totally leave technology behind.

I am counting down the days until May 28.