“How do you do it?”
I have changed cities 10 times in the last 8 years, which means two things: I’ve gotten pretty good at moving my shit, and the Post Office hates me.
One frequently asked question is “How do you do it?” They don’t mean mentally, I presume, but practically. How do I move? What’s the process for relocating?
This is likely different for everyone, and my time frame for moves certainly tweaks the formula. Most people relocating from one city to another are doing it with the intention of making the new city, at the very least, a semi-permanent home. They are probably moving for a job or a relationship, and in either case they have some form of stability awaiting them.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, you have the dedicated nomads, those who might stay in a city a few days, a week, or at most a month. Backpackers, couchsurfers and buskers roll into town with some clothes, maybe an instrument and (with greater frequency these days) a laptop/iPad/Tricorder and make due. Such rapid transitions come with their share of difficulties and risks, but they also unburden the traveler from things like rent or bills (except maybe for a phone).
I guess if there were to be a corollary to the way I move, it’d be someone in the military who gets shipped from base to base on a semi-regular basis. The main difference there, though, is that while they too must live in a state of perpetual transience, there is an infrastructure in which they move. It might be chaotic, their residence might be a crap hole, but the military provides an occupation, both in the sense of finances and time.
I have no structure, except for what I provide myself. I am often asked if I’m being supported by somebody, if my project is being funded. It is not. From day one, the money I’ve had is the money I’ve earned. That’s not to say that there haven’t been financial gifts and people helping me out, because there definitely has been. But they weren’t gifts I was counting on and as a rule the only money I can rely on is the money I make on the job (whatever that might be).
I don’t have the luxury of living like a rolling stone (not that that’s a luxurious life), nor do I have the security of a permanent relocation. Right about the time my savings have rebounded and I’m getting to be completely comfortable in my job and with my friends, boom, I’m gone.
The day after I arrived here in New Orleans, my new roommate looked at me and said, “Just 364 days left.” Exactly. Every day in a year is a short one when the 365th day is an ending.
So, after 7 years of this project (and two moves the year before I began it), what have my experiences taught me in the art of non-permanent relocation?
How To Move
Research: Both before and after I’ve selected a city, I research it. I’ve preached the absolute majesty of the Not For Tourists guides here plenty, but I truly must reiterate that those little black books are invaluable. Unfortunately, they don’t exist for every city, so I can’t always rely on them. Other travels guides are alright for getting a basic lay of the land, but they’re all pretty much designed for tourists with their focus on touristy spots and so-called “off the beaten path” locations that are really just as touristy. If an NFT guide doesn’t exist for a particular city (such as New Orleans), I’ll scan through another guide at the bookstore just to get some general ideas of where to look for housing. I also use Wikipedia to research neighborhoods, and any online resources that provide a voice for the people who actually live there.
I’m always looking for a neighborhood that has the right mix of livability, accessibility to work options and safety (though, this latter point is flexible).
Finding A Place: After I’ve decided on a few neighborhoods that interest me, I start looking for apartments. I’ve never made a move to a new city without already having a living space arranged. So far, I’ve ended up with only one apartment that was a true dud, which was a mix of nearly unlivable size and bad location. But, hey, it was only a year and I survived.
Craigslist is my resource. Yes, it’s full of scams, and yes, there are some wackjobs on the site, but you’re never going to find a better listing of apartment locations for free (free is an important word; remember it). If you insist on living by yourself (and there are definite pluses to that, but also negatives), you’re going to be at the mercy of the landlords. I’ve never had the money to afford a professional apartment finder, so the two times I’ve made solo moves on my own, I’ve had only the word and pictures of the property owner to go on.
In Philly, as I mentioned, this led to a tiny little hole of an apartment. In Nashville, on the other hand, I ended up with a rather spacious two bedroom apartment (all the more so because I had no furniture), though it was in a fairly deserted area. When I am scouting an apartment location from afar, Google Maps is my favorite tool. You can not only see that such an address exists, you can cross reference the pictures the owner sends with the streetview image. (Oh, did I mention that you need to have the owner send you pictures? Well, you do.)
If I’m going to have a roommate (and I definitely recommend this for first-time movers, though roommates in general can be a good resource for the recently transplanted), I post in ad on Craigslist saying what I’m looking for and I let them find me. So far, so good. Now, in San Francisco, I did end up living with a couple of psychopaths, but they weren’t my only roommates and as a rule, I’ve had great success with this process. I like to talk with the future roommates (by phone or video chat) and get at least a little idea of who they are (and let them know who I am).
Anyone who has ever had a roommate or moved in with a girl-/boyfriend knows that you don’t truly know a person until you live with them, but at least you can have a general sense of whether or not you’re compatible.
Once I have a roommate locked down, we search until we’ve found the perfect spot. And by ‘perfect spot’ I mean, place I can afford that hopefully isn’t next door to a drug lord. Perfection is a relative term.
Find A Job: Honestly, though I’ve sent out resumes before moving to my next city, I’ve never had any luck finding a job before I actually arrived in the city. In the line of work I’m in (retail and food), no one’s going to hire a person they haven’t met face to face. But once I’m in my new home, I email blast jobs (again, using Craigslist) and hit the streets looking for places with “Now Hiring” signs or going on the recommendations of locals who have heard of work opportunities. There’s no secret, I just have to keep at it.
Send My Stuff: 7 years of this project has helped me whittle down my belongings to a fairly small collection, but I still have my share of things to get from one city to the next. The United States Post Office does most of the heavy lifting in that matter (both figuratively and literally), and what I don’t ship in boxes, I take with me in a suitcase and a couple of over the shoulder bags.
Getting There: I’ve driven to a new city and taken a bus, but ultimately I’ve found that flying is the most economical. Yes, tickets are more expensive, but what I save in travel time and eating crap food on the road more than makes up for it. Of course, having said that, I am contemplating renting a car and driving up the coast when I move to Boston. I haven’t researched it enough yet to be sure, but there are some spots I want to check out (and I’d love to revisit D.C.), and if I did rent a car, I wouldn’t have to ship anything so I could save money that way. I’ll make that decision later.
Make A Home: This is the truly tricky part. A year is a long time to live some place if I can’t feel like my apartment is my ‘home.’ I need my own space, I need a private area to write, read, listen to music and, honestly, just veg. At the same time, I need human contact and to feel like I’m part of a community in some way. It’s a balancing act that is all the more difficult because I know that in a matter of months, I’ll be gone again.
But I do make a home. I make a living and make friends and make memories. It’s not enough to just make due, I want to make a life for a year.
And that’s how I move. If you’re about to relocate across country or just across state, maybe my methods will work for you. Or maybe not. But these are my means, and for the better part of a decade they’ve served me well.
It looks like I have a job here in NOLA. After less than a month of looking (the first two weeks were a wash as I was exploring the city and anticipating a visit to Kansas), I’ll be getting back into the food service industry that I prefer.
My situation obviously isn’t what one might call “normal” (nor am I what one might call normal). In an economy still struggling to recover, giving up a job, especially a good job, is sort of suicidal. Add to that my transplant status in each city and you have a guy who, on paper, looks like a terrible hire. I know I’ve been passed over on plenty of jobs because of a resume that screams, “Complete flake!”
Finding work has, some years, been a nightmare. Starting with my year in San Francisco, landing new jobs has become a stressful proposition. That isn’t to say that I didn’t stress it in Charlotte, Philadelphia or Costa Mesa, because I did. But it wasn’t until I moved to San Francisco that I had to face a stark reality: Sometimes there just aren’t jobs. Five months of fruitless job searching finally found me a position with an excellent bookstore, and not a second too soon (a few seconds too late, actually).
I moved to San Francisco September 1st, 2008. The Great Recession began December of 2007. I didn’t find work until January of 2009. Obama took office in January of 2009. These facts may be unrelated.
In Chicago, I soon found a tragic reality that I’ve had to resign myself to ever since: Bookstores aren’t hiring anymore. After 4 straight years of working in various bookstores, both corporate and privately owned, I had to look for some other form of work. The only job I could find, a little over two months into my job search, was in clothing retail, a position no one could have imagined me in (least of all, myself). I worked my ass off there and turned my Seasonal Only position into a permanent job (well, as permanent as I get).
I moved to Chicago September 1st, 2009. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 was signed into law February of 2009. I didn’t find work until November of 2009. Obama had been in office 10 months. These facts may be unrelated.
In Nashville, I found work within three weeks. It was a lousy, horrendous job spent staring at a computer screen and reading a script to former customers of a particularly unlikeable phone service provider and generally getting yelled at by said customers who didn’t realize that I worked for a third-party company. I spent a month at this job, passing the time by creating these:
I eventually grew so fed up that I took a half day off and walked the streets of downtown where I noticed a restaurant hiring, filled out a note card-sized application and got hired on the spot.
I moved to Nashville September 1st, 2010. The Great Recession ended June 2009. I found work September of 2010, and then again in October of 2010. Obama had been in office 20 months. These facts may be unrelated.
In Seattle, thanks to a friend’s recommendation, I once again found myself in clothing retail, this time working with a company that wasn’t as female-leaning in its demographic. Landing this job took about three weeks, probably the shortest amount of time it has taken me to find work. However, around Christmas of that year, all of us employees were unceremoniously informed that the store was closing and we were all losing our jobs.
This meant that in the middle of winter, after the Christmas season and in the deadest time of year for consumerism, the lot of us were out looking for new work. Though I started sending out resumes as soon as I heard the news, my job search didn’t begin in earnest until I was out officially unemployed in January. It wasn’t until March that I found work, at what time I found two jobs. One was as a valet (hated it, quit immediately) and the other was as a server with a cruise line on the Pier. Between being laid off and landing what turned out to be a terrific job, a good friend brought me on to help him with a construction project (and I conducted a TV interview, but that’s not really relevant).
I moved to Seattle September 1st, 2011. Standard & Poor’s downgraded the U.S.’s credit rating August 5th, 2011. I found work September of 2011, and then again in March of 2012, after being without work since January. The 112th Congress had been convened 8 months. These facts may be unrelated.
Now I am here in New Orleans. I have found work.
President Obama is running for re-election against former governor Mitt Romney, whose major argument against the President is that the recovery efforts have been too slow, even completely ineffective. The unemployment rate when Obama took office in January of 2009 was 7.8%. The unemployment rate reached it’s highest level of 10.1% in October of 2009, 9 months after Obama took office, 8 months after the Recovery Act passed, and 4 months after the recession ended. In November of 2009, the unemployment rate dropped to 9.9% and has never returned to 10% since. The unemployment rate for September of 2012 is 7.8%, the lowest it has been under Obama’s effective presidency.
The weather in New Orleans is beautiful.
These facts may be unrelated.