BI-LEVEL SPACIOUS, SUNNY. Hrdwd/fls throughout 1st/fl, LR, DR, HUGE/windows, GIGANTIC bdrm, c/a, d/w, g/d, laundry facilities on premises.
I almost didn't call, for a few reasons. For one thing, it was right at the upper limit of the range I'd set for myself, and yet didn't have everything I was looking for. For another, all those superlatives made me suspicious. Rookie apartment hunter though I was, I instinctively grasped that hyperbole was pretty much meaningless when it came to real estate listings. "Sunny" probably meant it was on the sixth floor with no elevator, I figured.
The biggest issue for me was the laundry. One of my earliest entries, which didn't make the cut when I was picking what to leave up in the archives, was about how I suffer from "laundry blindness." I would much rather scrub the bathroom than do a load of wash; I'm weird that way. It just seems like one of those things that should be taken care of automatically, for some reason. Laundry piles up, and I forget to do it, and then it has so many steps: washing, drying (well, at least there are dryers here, but it's still an extra step), folding, ironing, putting away. Lots of places to get lost in that process, if you're me.
Since I'd been scanning the rental ads for months, I'd noticed that a lot
of places offered "W/D in unit". That was what I wanted,
I figured. It was the only way to avoid certain situations I'd run into in
college, when I would dutifully cart my clothes down to the basement laundry
room, start a load of wash, wander back upstairs and dutifully forget about
it. Often for days at a time, until the memory would hit me with a rush of
guilt and panic, maybe in the middle of class, and I'd hurry back to the dorm
and down the stairs to find a wadded ball of my clothes sitting on a dirty
corner of the folding table, gathering dust, with perhaps a sock or two missing
or fallen onto the floor.
It seemed wise to try to avoid such situations as an adult, if at all possible.
So, even though this place was in the neighborhood I was most interested in, it had a few strikes against it. After my first pass through the Philadelphia Weekly ads I started taking notes and ranking the units, and this one wasn't in the first round of calls.
I set up a couple of appointments, then found myself with some time to spare before I had to catch the train to go downtown. I scanned my notes, and with a mental shrug called the number for this one. It was my first day of apartment hunting out in the field, and I was going to be in the area anyway: I might as well see as many places as possible to get a good feel for the market, the kind of experience my six months of studying the ads, reading the local papers and checking craigslist several times a day just couldn't give me.
I saw a total of five apartments that day. The first was quite nice, a ground floor apartment in a very desirable location, private entrance, just three units in the building and free laundry shared by all three in the basement. It was extremely well maintained, but tiny. Not that I needed a football field, I reminded myself. No sense being greedy. I needed to embrace the student mindset of spartan living and a pared-down lifestyle. It wouldn't be available until mid-June, which was a stretch (more for my poor hosts than for me), but not impossible to live with. The owner was a lovely guy, his girlfriend just six months back from a couple of years living in Europe. We bonded over the strangeness of America and the wacky US way of life. We shook hands and I said I'd probably get in touch.
The next two apartments were shown to me by an agent, a guy self-consciously chummy in that used car salesman kind of way. Fun enough to joke around with, but not someone you trust instinctively.
The lodgings he showed me were certainly eye-opening. Basically the same neighborhood, same price range as the first place, but a world of difference. Just... ugh. The second one was actually pretty nice in and of itself, relatively large with a huge walk-in closet in the bedroom and what the agent called a "roof deck" (but which, to my inexperienced eye, looked like a plain old balcony). The building, though, was just the most depressing thing ever. Dark stairwells and locked gates and windows overlooking trash-filled back lots. Even the apartments themselves--especially the first, which was larger but pretty vile--had a few "features" that made me rethink my position on some issues. For one thing, the kitchens were... serviceable, but not the sort of thing I would feel terribly inspired to cook in. Or even store carefully packaged food in, for that matter. (I knew this would come back and bite me on the ass: for years I've alternately bitched and poked fun at how Italian apartments do not usually come with pre-installed kitchens, the tenant is responsible for the whole shebang, from cabinets to appliances. It's the biggest expense of any new tenant. On the other hand, though, you never have to deal with other people's grungy kitchen ick, and now I've been fully assimilated into that mindset. It's clearly karma.) And the washer/dryer in unit, that I was so excited about? I would probably find myself doing laundry even less often with the appliances in question. Or going out to a laundromat, which would kind of defeat the purpose.
I asked the guy for directions to apartment no. 4, the one in the above ad. That was probably a breach of etiquette, but at that point I wasn't too concerned. I was, frankly, a little demoralized. I was obviously going to have to adjust my expectations sharply downward.
I got to the next place early, and immediately classified it as a bust. It was a different kind of building from what I was looking for. I wanted a place that was small, just two or three units, and rented directly by the owner. Something historically Philadelphian, something funky. This building was quite a bit larger, and had the look of a place run by a property management company. It wasn't a new building, but it was definitely early 20th century rather than the one before (or the one before that). I sat on the front steps and waited for someone to show up and show me around, just to get it over with.
While I was waiting, I decided to try calling a woman with whom I'd been playing phone tag for a couple of days, for an apartment I'd walked by on my first outing into the city, with Melissa and Kate as guides. We spotted this place from the street, and it was just adorable on the outside. Fantastic location, historic 18th-century building, brick with cute blue shutters, clean and neat. And the sign in the window gave a very attractive price.
Just as I was making arrangements to meet her at the apartment a bit later, a man ambled up and greeted me with a friendly smile. He was quite obviously one of the many Italian-Americans of South Philly, which at least gave us something talk about while we rode the elevator (elevator! so not what I was looking for) to the second floor. As we rounded the corner and Michael (of course that was his name) pulled out his keys, he started telling me about the people who lived in the adjacent apartments. "She's a teacher, and over here there's two guys--well, a young couple I guess you'd call 'em--but they're great. You're gonna love your neighbors. This is the best floor in the building." I smiled inwardly.
Then he opened the door and stepped aside to let me in.
I don't think I gasped aloud. I probably did say, "wow!", though. This place was about $100 a month more than the two grungy places I'd just seen, as well as the nice enough first one, but it was in a completely different class.
The far wall was almost entirely taken up by an arched window, that stretches up two floors (you can't see the whole thing until you're standing right under it, in fact, because of the way the apartment is set up). The floors were all hardwood--nothing especially fancy, mind, but not the dusty planks I'd seen in the last place, either. Carpeted steps led up to the right to the also carpeted upper level, and you know what? The bedroom really is gigantic, at least compared to other places in this price range. There was a general feel of spaciousness, everything suffused with light from that incredible window. And the best part: brand-new kitchen, new cabinets and appliances. Tiny, but definitely adequate. A place I would feel comfortable storing and making food. Which, you know, is pretty much what I ask of a kitchen.
If I were of a different mindset, I might think someone was looking out for me. Instead, I just think I got incredibly lucky.
I kept my head, though. I asked a bunch of questions, had Michael show me the basement laundry room (very clean and well-kept, and dammit, in twenty years maybe I've finally learned to remember when I'm doing a load of laundry). I shook his hand and told him he'd hear from me. I went to the next appointment with the lovely blue-shuttered building, and it turned out to be exactly the sort of apartment I'd originally thought I was looking for. It was funky, kind of artsy, another bilevel up a very narrow flight of stairs, another brand-new kitchen, small but functional.
It didn't blow me away. I couldn't stop thinking about Number 4. I called Michael as soon as I thought it was a decent hour the next morning, and arranged to go back in the afternoon to fill out an application.
It was not at all what I thought I was looking for, but turned out to be
just what I wanted. That seems to be the story of my life nowadays, so I might
as well just go with it, right?
I move in on Friday.