Friday, January 14, 2011

California, Here I Come

This week, I took my last trip to LA before I officially move there.

I had to find an apartment.

I gave myself less than three days to do it.

I suppose other people just show up in Los Angeles with no place to live and figure it out from there. They crash on a friend’s couch. They housesit. They secure a sublet or some temporary furnished apartment, and then take their time finding a place they’ll make into a more permanent home. That’s essentially how I moved to New York City: I brought a few of my things into a furnished NYU dorm room, and once Terry found our first Greenpoint apartment three months later, retrieved the rest of it from my parents’ house.

But I’ve already been living temporarily for the last five months. I’ve been camping out in Queens with most of my possessions in storage, preparing for a speculated move out of New York. I can’t move into another temporary space in LA. I’ve got stuff, and I want to put it somewhere, and keep it there for a while.

So even before the offer letter was signed, I scheduled my apartment search for this week. Despite eyebrow raises from my friends, I was determined to arrive, hunt, evaluate, and sign by the close of business Thursday. If I prepared enough ahead of time – with new listings emailed to me daily, prospects plotted out on a Google Map, blocks investigated on Google Street View, a GPS on hand and a full cell phone battery – I should be able to pick a place.

Right?

All I had to do was pick a place.

I landed on Tuesday at 1 p.m. and saw my first apartment by 2, kicking off a string of unsuitable residences throughout the Westside of Los Angeles. They were too small. They smelled weird. Their “stoves” were glorified hot plates. Their entryways were too locked, facades too foreboding. Their signs warned of too many carcinogenic elements in their 1970s building materials. They were downright…depressing.

I was moving to California, for this?

By Tuesday night, I’d already seen a dozen apartments, though I’d driven by half of them without visiting, making snap judgments based on their exteriors, their residents emerging from their front doors, and their driveways littered with shopping carts. I found one apartment at the end of the day that, although similar in layout to many of the others, stood out as being remotely acceptable. It had pink tile in the kitchen! A dishwasher! Ceiling fans! A bedroom! A courtyard…with plants!

Despite the resounding failure of my first day, I felt great Tuesday night. It’s easy to turn away from terrible things.

Wednesday morning became more complicated.

I found another apartment that was even more acceptable than that from the night before. Although it featured no ceiling fan and no dishwasher, and allowed no pets, everything in it was new, newly painted, or otherwise newly renovated. And despite an unimpressive exterior, its building was situated on a nice, quiet, residential block with trees and birds and sunlight. Compared to the offerings of the day before, I was so impressed that I applied on the spot.

But always hoping for something better to come along, I left the owner behind in the apartment with a promise to call if I decided to sign the lease. “Wait, you’re still looking?” he asked me.

Well, yes, of course. I had appointments to keep, and another day and a half in town.

My next stop might have been a mistake. I drove around the corner and visited a friend of a friend, who was looking to fill a vacant spot in her Mediterranean-style house once her roommate moved out. Even though I wasn’t looking to share with anyone, I was curious to meet her and see this house she’d talked up to me so much, and when I walked in, my stomach fell and eyes widened. The stucco walls and arches were part adobe, part Kasbah, recalling my love for the Moorish influence on architecture in the Middle East. Mosaic-framed mirrors hung on the walls. Perfume-scented air! Stainless steel appliances! A back patio and…gasp…a pool!

This is how the other half lives. I’d seen it. I couldn’t go back. I’d seen too much.

I spent the next couple of hours agonizing over my choices, weighing the pro’s and con’s of quality of life, trying to decide whether that quality was determined by the place I was living in, who I was living with (or not living with), the neighborhood, or the control I had over my own living space. I saw more unsuitable apartments, and I started to think I couldn’t live a good life in LA if I wanted to live alone. I kept reminding myself that despite my good (future) salary, I had a lot of debt to pay off, and undetermined (future) car payments and insurance to anticipate. If I was going to stick to my budget, maybe I couldn’t do it by myself.

I could live in that house. I could totally swim in that pool. I could sleep in that room and cook in that kitchen and pay that rent and smile those smiles. Closing out another day of apartment hunting, I left a voicemail: “I’d love to apply. Please connect me with your landlord so she can run a credit check on me. I’d love to live with you, if you’ll have me.”

Relief.

Except major life changes are never that easy.

A couple of hours later, I received a return voicemail: “Yeah, so there’s this other girl we’ve been talking to, and it looks like her transfer to LA is going to work out, so we kind of feel like we promised the place to her, and we kind of feel like we need to keep that promise. But good luck and let me know what happens! Sorry…”

Crap.

Panic.

I’d already crossed off nearly every apartment on my list of 25, and the only ones left were those for which my inquiries went unanswered.

I only had one hope left, found in a last minute listing generated by a last ditch effort of desperation: I’d increased my budget by $1000, expanded my geographic search to a couple of additional neighborhoods, and made a call for one final appointment, on my last day of my hunting trip.

And so, contrary to my summertime apartment search, the last apartment I saw turned out to be “the one,” the one that spoke to me, charmed me with its character, seduced me with its age and wisdom, and wanted me as much as I wanted it.

It’s clean.

It’s gorgeous.

It’s historic.

It’s quiet.

It’s affordable.

It’s sunny.

It’s on a palm tree-lined street.

What a reversal of fortune from just two days prior!

And it’s in the one LA community I could never imagine being fortunate enough to live in: Beverly Hills.

I am moving to California.

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