No Sleep Till Brooklyn

To say I haven’t been keeping up with this site would be an understatement. My writing in general has taken a backseat to the long, complicated, exhausting and emotional process of moving to this, my 10th and final city.

I’ve been in Brooklyn now for 11 days, though in reality it’s more like a week after returning to Boston for the weekend and then busing down to Washington D.C. to see Ryan Adams at the famous 9:30 Club for his CD release concert.

Ryan Adams at 930 ClubThe US Capitol Pana

The process of moving to Brooklyn was not easy. In fact, it was by far the hardest apartment search I have ever conducted, far worse than Boston or Chicago. I guess that should have been no surprise, but I was just not clued into how much more difficult it was going to be. We’re talking exponential levels of difficulty. Let me tell you all about it.

When I moved to Boston, I learned far too late that because the whole city moves on the same day (September 1st), it’s absolutely paramount to make living arrangements early. As much as 6 or 7 months ahead of time. Over the years of my project, I usually began my apartment searches in May, but the real hunt usually didn’t begin in earnest until late June. That strategy almost turned into disaster in Boston. So, I learned my lesson and began my Brooklyn housing search in April.

Alas, Brooklyn and Boston couldn’t be any more different. Nobody rents apartments for September in April. Or May, or June. Or really even July. This city lives month-to-month, week-to-week, minute-to-minute. I didn’t get any hits on apartments until the waning weeks of July, and even then they were pretty unpromising. For this reason, I decided to align myself with a fellow newcomer, a woman from North Carolina who was looking to move to the city on the same date as me.

A roommate in New York is pretty damn essential. The improvement in quality of apartment when you up from 1 person to 2 (and from 2 to 3, 3 to 4, etc.) is the difference between Wal-Mart and Macy’s. When I started looking for places with my Carolina partner, not only did the options open up, but the odds of me living in a windowless box decreased. The spots we were looking for were still expensive, but they were within the expanded budget I had set for myself this year.

Unfortunately, with her in the south and me in Boston, neither of us could regularly make it to Brooklyn to see places in person. Her only opportunity to visit New York coincided with my trip to Seattle in early August, and when she contacted me again she let me know that she had taken a place on her own. Admittedly, this wasn’t the most welcome news, but I was already coming to understand that the apartment hunt in Brooklyn was an every wo/man for themselves expedition. This city doesn’t care about you, doesn’t care where you’re coming from and isn’t going to do you any favors.

Manhattan Twilight

Feeling desperate with 3 weeks until my move, I posted in a Facebook group looking for roommates. I was connected with a girl who was already in the city and was herself struggling to find a place to live for September. We hit it off quickly and she connected me with 2 other girls so that the 4 of us could look together. In an ideal world, I would have preferred no more than 2 roommates, but it was abundantly clear to me that there was nothing ideal about this move. On the plus side, 4 people in 1 apartment greatly upped the quality while reducing the price.

The hassles of arranging 4 people’s schedules, preferences and budgets quickly became apparent. Almost as soon as I had been introduced to the girls, 1 was dropped in exchange for a new guy. Even then, though, the search was fruitless. Apartments were too far away for some of the roommates, bedrooms were too small, prices were too high. Being in Boston, my frustration was heightened because I kept being told of great places they were seeing in person only to hours later hear that the group had rejected it for some reason. All I could do was find more listings and forward them along.

Eventually, it became clear that the group of 4 wasn’t going to pan out, too many different needs. I searched for 2-bedrooms in case 1 of the group wanted to break off with me and even went back to looking for single rooms. On a Saturday night while I was at work, now just over a week out from my move, I frantically booked a last minute trip to Brooklyn the next day to look at some promising results.

In Brooklyn, I met with a woman who, with her male roommate, were renting out an available room. It felt like a good fit, in a good location and her tone implied that if I wanted the place I could likely have it. I told her I had to look at another place but I would get back to her by the end of the day. The next spot was a little further out, not quite as nice a neighborhood and the apartment itself was still in the process of being renovated. It was basically stripped bare but the broker assured me it’d be done by the 1st. Unimpressed, I texted the woman back and told her I’d take the room. Finally.

Nothing’s that easy. Whereas 2 hours earlier, I got the distinct vibe the room was mine for the taking, suddenly now she was telling me she had to wait on her roommate to get back from work to decide. Okay, fine, I get that. I took a bus back to Boston and anxiously awaited a decision. Halfway between New York and Boston, I received a text: “Another applicant has taken the room.” Not once in our conversation had there been mention of another applicant. Obviously every apartment was going to have multiple interested parties, but I still felt led on.

Okay, a few minutes of sulking in my seat passed and then I got back to the business of searching. I contacted the broker I had seen that day and asked if he had other properties, maybe somewhere for 4 roommates (I was still keeping that group option open). He said he had a promising 2-bedroom as well as a 5-bedroom in the same building I had looked at earlier.

The next day, the 4th roommate (the guy who was a late addition; let’s call him Bob) indicated that he thought the girls were perhaps backing out, which explained why they were slower to respond to emails. Knowing that we didn’t have time to wait for people to make up their minds, the 2 of us looked into the 5-bedroom. While the location wasn’t great, the actual apartment (once finished) was going to be pretty nice. And cheap. Needing to act quickly, Bob and I put the deposit down on the apartment to lock it down while we found 3 other people to fill the rooms. That would be easy, we figured, we knew tons of people who were searching.

And, in fact, finding potential roommates was easy. The only easy part of the whole process. Having advertised in another Facebook group, suddenly his phone was blowing up. Great. This was going to work. And not a minute too soon.

Tuesday, while at work, I received a call from Bob: Some potential roommates were looking at the apartment where they met a couple guys who said they had already rented the place. Panic! Terror! Wetting myself! In a scramble, Bob and I called, texted and smoke signaled the 2 brokers with whom we’d dealt. They assured us it was a misunderstanding, but we weren’t taking any chances. Bob ran over to the real estate office listed on the paperwork and talked to the office, who told him in no uncertain terms that they had never heard of the brokers. More Panic! More Terror! More pissing of pants!

A day of calls, meetings and lost hair later, we found out what happened: The landlord had hired multiple companies to sell the place, and in classic left-hand-not-even-knowing-the-right-hand-existed fashion, both groups were promising the place to their respective clients. Long story short(er), we didn’t get the place. Luckily, because I had put in my deposit via a bank transfer, I was able to cancel the transfers and no money was lost. Bob had to do some work to get his money back, but last I checked all was right for him, too.

This was Tuesday. I moved on Sunday. Forlorn and resigned to Brooklyn kicking my ass, I began looking for subleases. I figured my only option was finding a place to crash for a month and then look for work and an apartment at the same time. That wasn’t going to be pleasant, but at least I wouldn’t be sleeping under the Brooklyn Bridge. Wednesday, I found potential rooms, but when 1 of them turned out to be nothing more than a living room blocked off with sheets, I had a sudden surge of inspiration: No fucking way.

Back on Craigslist, I once again looked for actual apartments to rent. Finding a promising ad, I sent a text to the contact number and almost immediately received a response back. The broker had an available room in a 4-bedroom (not far from the 5-bedroom) and she wanted to discuss it via Skype. Perfect! I jumped on my computer and opened Skype and… nothing. It wouldn’t log in. My password didn’t work, so I reset it. It still wouldn’t let me in. I tried logging in through Facebook, still no dice. Nothing worked. I nearly threw my computer against the wall.

I suggested Google Chat, a video service I’d used only once. It didn’t want to work for me at first, either, but eventually we were able to get through and have a digital face-to-face. At 5 on Wednesday night, she emailed me the application. I ran down to the nearest Fedex Office to scan in my forms and by 6:30 she and the main office had everything they needed. I would know if I was approved by the morning. Meanwhile, I had told a couple of people with potential subleases that I would let them know by 11 the next morning if I needed their rooms.

At 10:50, I still hadn’t heard from the broker and my shift at work (my very last) started at 11. Calling, she promised to check with the office and get back to me. I paced outside the restaurant for 5 minutes when my phone rang. It was her. I had been approved, they would send the lease over that night. Joy! Ecstasy! More pisssing of my pants (but in a good way)!

I walked on air through my final lunch shift. My co-workers had to have noticed because for the last 2 weeks of teeth-grinding apartment hunting I had been a total pill. Oh well, I had done it. With 3 days to spare, I had a place to live.

Not so fast. I waited into late evening for the lease to be emailed to me, but it never arrived. I tried to wait patiently, but by 7 I was falling back into panic. First I emailed, then a little while later, I texted. When the broker got back to me, she informed me I had to meet the landlord and office manager in person to sign the lease; not what she had told me earlier in the day. She knew I was in Boston and the earliest I could get to Brooklyn was Sunday. I didn’t like the idea of not signing the lease until the day I actually moved in. And then she dropped the bomb: the Landlord wanted to meet me in person before he gave final approval.

In other words, I was going to drive to Brooklyn on Sunday morning with all my possessions and the landlord might still reject me.

This would not stand. As graciously as I could, I asked what the landlord needed to feel comfortable giving the room to me. The broker said he’d like to see my Facebook profile and anything else that would give him an idea of who I was. I sent everything: Facebook, my website, articles and interviews I had done. I sent it off, nervous that he might look at my project and come to the conclusion I was a flake, not worthy of his rental.

Once again, I waited. When the broker did get back to me, she replied: “U will get the place. All those links u sent are perfect.”

I needed a fucking drink.

On Sunday morning, the 31st, my Boston roommate and I drove up to Brooklyn, and after waiting 2 excruciating hours in the office, I was finally able to sign a lease and take the keys to my apartment. After scarfing down pizza, my (suddenly former) roommate and I drove to the new apartment and carried my belongings up to the 4th floor. With my boxes and bags scattered across the floor, I looked around and realized: I did it, I had a place to live, I wasn’t going to be homeless; I could finally wear unsoiled underwear.

As it turned out, only 1 of the other rooms had been rented out. The other 2 filled over the next week and we finally have a full home, though the 4 of us have yet to all be in the apartment at the same time. Something tells me it won’t be like the communal situation I had in Boston, but that’s okay, because I’m here now. That’s all that matters.

I still have job hunting to do, lots of exploring (seriously, this city is massive), and who knows what other obstacles this city will throw in my face (the trains have already tried to ruin my day, twice), but I made it. City 10. Year 10.

Maybe now I can get a good night’s sleep.

Chk Chk Chk at sunsetSpoon in Colors