Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Back to Living with Others

Yesterday at lunch, I made it official by turning in a letter of intention to vacate my awesome studio apartment. This is one of the hardest decisions I've had to make. In fact, I thought of doing it last year, but decided to try one more year of the most brutal job search of my life. The problem with my apartment complex is the requirement to sign a year long leasing agreement. They don't do month-to-month for those living in rent controlled apartments. Because the penalty is severe for breaking the lease (I would be responsible to pay the rent each month until a new tenet is found, which could take months after vacating the apartment and having to pay rent elsewhere), I really need to move into a month-to-month situation. This is hard to find through property management companies.

Thus, I've had to bite the bullet and seriously consider returning to the living with roommates scenario of my college years. During college, I longed for my own apartment and for the past 9 years, I have lived on my own (in three different apartments) and loved it! There's nothing like having your own place. My first apartment (moved in October 2001) was an old, brick building built in the 1950s in the center of Buckhead, which is considered "the Beverly Hills of the South." I loved living in Buckhead. I didn't want to leave, in fact. But when my office moved away from their suite of offices in a downtown skyscraper into its own building on the perifery of Atlanta (near Smyrna), I endured the daily three hour commute (to travel less than four miles) until I could no longer stand it.

Instead of looking for another job that had an office in Buckhead, Midtown, downtown, or in Decatur like I wanted, I decided to move to Smyrna to be able to walk to work. I found a great two bedroom apartment for not much more rent than I was paying, in a building complex that was built in the 1980s and was inhabited by mostly Mexican immigrants. I learned that in Georgia, apartment complexes can be racially segregated (by economic factors rather than codified laws). Closer to work were slightly more expensive apartments, inhabited by mostly African Americans. The nicest and most expensive apartments (far outside my price range) was where the white folks lived. Because I don't want to pay more on rent than absolutely have to, I lived among the Mexicans but kept to myself. My apartment complex in Buckhead was also predominately Mexican, who played their mariachi music loud and late into the early morning hours, without concern for their neighbours or the fact that we could call INS on their asses. I did call the police a couple times when things got rowdy and it was fun to see them scatter like cockroaches at the sound of a police siren. I wasn't a fan of Mexican neighbours, but they didn't really bother me much. Now, I wouldn't mind living among them.

I loved my two bedroom apartment and because of the tree coverage, it never really got hot in the summer time. I didn't have to use air condition, if you can believe that! On the negative side, I also couldn't hang out on my patio because of the mosquito problem. I did not like living in Smyrna, though. Cobb County had several times since the 1970s refused to join up with the MARTA public transit system, which Fulton and DeKalb Counties had. At the time, Cobb County residents thought public transit brought crime, with inner city criminals riding the bus or train to the white suburbs to steal their TVs and VCRs to bring back to the inner city. Yeah, right! I've never seen a person carrying a TV on public transit. If you're going to steal something, a TV would be the worst thing to grab and run! Anyhow, Cobb County learned soon enough that it needed public transit in order to fill all the low wage service jobs. If you're going to pay people minimum wage to work the fast food restaurants and stores, you can't exactly expect them to afford their own cars. So, Cobb created its own bus system, which did not run on Sundays and holidays. That meant I was stranded in my apartment on those days.

In retrospect, I should not have moved to a county I never liked, all to be closer to a job I didn't really like either. What I should have done in 2004 was look for another job in Atlanta, so I could keep my apartment in Buckhead or move to Decatur (my favourite town in Georgia). Yeah, that's what I should've done. When I returned to Atlanta for a visit in the summer of 2008, I was surprised to see that the apartment complex I lived at in Buckhead was completely torn down. My father predicted that it would happen eventually because it was on prime real estate and those apartments were so old. People were still living in them the last time I checked in 2006. It would be interesting to see what sprouted up in its place now.

When I moved to Portland in 2006, I made the mistake of wanting to live in this apartment complex because I accepted a job offer at a far lower wage just so that I could qualify for the rent-controlled apartment. I also should have waited until October to find an apartment, so I wouldn't have been faced with the twin challenge every August of increasing my job search and debating whether or not to renew my lease. Last year, I definitely should have vacated the apartment to make myself available for a possible move back east. I'm not making that mistake again, thus why I'm vacating the apartment by the end of the month.

In July, I started looking on Craigslist for roommates. My desires consisted of: under $400 a month, the less roommates the better, no drugs or wild parties, preferrably roommates who are above age 30, a stand-alone house or townhouse or loft condo were ideal. Great neighbourhood would be bonus. There are so many awesome neighbourhoods in Portland that its hard to choose. What I found were a lot of roommate situations in the $500 range, which is ridiculous, because its not a considerable savings to my current rent. Some even had a house full of four or more people paying that amount per person! The ideal situation for me is an elderly couple renting out an entire basement with its own entrance, kitchenette and bathroom. That's hard to find, though. If I had to do the roommate option, though, compatability is hugely important.

During my college years, I had a total of 13 roommates (not at the same time, though!). Out of those, I would say that three were the most ideal (introverted like me, respectful of other people's food and property, and interesting life experiences). There were perhaps five that I didn't mind living with, though we did not have much in common and had some moments of friction. Three of them were downright terrors. Roommates from HELL! In my contemplative post-college post-mortem period (2000-2001), I analyzed why I got along with some roommates and had problems with others. I learned that I do not get along with people who are mentally unstable or have extreme personality shifts (the Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde personality), who are obsessively religious or moralistic, and who do not respect boundaries or other people's property. I don't like loud partiers, either. I'd love a roommate situation where a good friendship might develop and be maintained after the inevitable moving on when life changes again.

I applied to ads where there seemed interesting people. One house claimed to have residents who were interested in New Age spirituality, Australia, and karaoke. That sounded like fun, but I never heard back from them. The person I did hear back from was a middle aged lady from Wales. We met at Starbucks a couple weeks ago. The first question she asked me was: "Do you support any terrorist organizations?" I thought that was the strangest question a prospective homeowner could ask a potential tenet. Who thinks like that? The two most important questions for someone considering renting a room is: (1) do you have a steady job? and (2) do you pay your rent on time?

As the lady talked, she revealed a quirky character that rambled in scatterbrain manner, telling a lot of TMI details, such as one of her daughter's boyfriend had died recently, the amount of mortgage she pays, her planned six week vacation to Mexico in September, and the biggest killer of all: the fact that her husband walks around the house in the nude. Uh, no thanks. I'll keep looking.

One ad I saw that interested me was a fellow writer who has a townhouse. Part of the rent agreement included use of his "3,000 book personal library"! Whoa...and I thought when I had 500 books, it was a lot more than most people have. The only concern I had was that he mentioned not having a TV and preferred a prospective roommate to listen to TV in the bedroom with a headset on! That's a bit too anal retentive for me. But, its his townhouse and he's a writer, so I can understand. I was going to contact him, but I heard back from another guy who was renting a room in his townhouse.

This other guy sounded cool. He's 32, into surfing, snowboarding, and triathlons. His requirements were: No drama, no party animals, no drug use, no smoking. He also wanted a tidy and responsible roommate "with a sense of humour." The only bad part was that the location was really far from the Portland I'm familiar with. We made arrangements to meet a week ago. I rode the bus out there (beyond I-205). There happened to be a police block of the main through street (Powells), so the bus had to detour. When we returned back to the street, I saw a car with dents all over it, a bunch of rocks in the middle of the street, a man in a wife-beater shirt, and a trailer park. Uh-oh! The neighbourhood around 136th street wasn't any better. There are a few bars and a strip club. Even the neighbourhood Plaid Pantry (Portland's chain of 7-11 type convenience stores) looked like a run down building in Soweto, South Africa. I got off the bus and walked a few steps to the row of townhouses and met the guy.

He's physically fit, wears glasses, and has a quiet voice...which I find an interesting combination. There is a concern with fitness freaks being aggressive bullies or having a parade of women in the apartment with some noisy, wall-banging sex. I hope not. I hope that he's serious about his place being "no drama." In talking with him, I got the sense that he seems to be laid back, likable and cool. He laughed at a few of my jokes, which is a good sign. The other roommate wasn't around for me to meet him, but he seems to indicate that the other guy has a slight drinking problem...which may be an issue. The other roommate is 25 years old. The homeowner is just recovering from a divorce and his townhouse is pretty bare. He said a few times that he doesn't like having a lot of stuff, which I think is a good thing. He seems pretty zen in his outlook, which is good. As I filled out the application, he told me that it was more important to have a roommate he likes than any other factor. If a friendship grows out of this roommate situation, that would be a good thing. His dog, a black Pug named "Nicky", took an instant liking to me. He laughed when he told me the Pug's name. There's a bond right there.

The available room is pretty small. Once again, I'd be downsizing. I have too much in my studio apartment that I really needed to upgrade to a one bedroom. However, since I view a month-to-month roommate living situation to be a step towards possibly moving away from Portland, this will give me the opportunity to offload some of my things.

He offered me a ride back downtown, since he was on his way to Beaverton. During the drive, I explained to him the situation at work involving the lawsuits. When he kept referring to the Mormons as "The Church", I thought he was one of them. The last thing I want is another Mormon roommate! So, I asked him if he was and was relieved when he said that he was raised Catholic. Sounds like he's not religious now. Competing in triathlons is his big thing.

Last Friday, he called and said that he would like me to be his roommate. I was so busy that I didn't have time to respond to other ads. I had found several more with interesting groups of people, in neighbourhoods closer to downtown Portland. Despite my not liking the neighbourhood much, the guy seems to be likable and easy going. Hopefully not a "Type A" personality or passive-aggressive. I had told him that I was pretty quiet and had a lot of books. By allowing me to rent his spare bedroom, he'll be saving me some money and because I won't have the easy ability to go anywhere (like I do living downtown), this will force me to focus on personal projects that need to be completed.

On Saturday, 14 August is moving day. This allows me to clear out my apartment so I can spend the rest of the month cleaning the apartment. The big test of roommates respecting my stuff will come on Labour Day weekend, when I'm planning to go to Bend. I've thought about renting a storage space as well, which is a possibility. I simply have too much paperwork that needs to be reduced. Part of my reason for wanting to try living with roommates (besides the month-to-month lease and saving money) is to prepare me in the challenges of living with people. After nearly a decade of living alone and loving it, I need to learn how to live in shared space without feeling territorial (I swear, I was probably a Chihuahua in one of my previous lives!). Here's to a new adventure!


Sean Langdon said...

Prayers for a smooth transition!

You're going to the Bend Institute?

Sansego said...

Yep, I'm going to Bend Institute again. I love staying at the Weavers' house in Terrebonne. They have a canyon in their backyard and a balcony on the third floor bedroom that allows you to see the stars at night! I felt closer to God when I stood on the balcony at night, staring at the stars.

Meeting the new apostle is another bonus for going.

NickUSCS1861 said...

Nick, congrats on the new place to live, if only for the short-term. You are moving almost on the same day Jennifer and I are moving. Like you, we have been purging some of our belongings to lighten the load. I wish you the best!! - Nick

Sean Langdon said...

Cool that you're going. Didnt know the Weavers had a home that way.

The new Apostle is my former pastor. Great guy. Hope you have a GREAT time. I would like to go sometime but not this year.