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Entries in Personal (7)


Apartment Hunting in Philly

If moving into a new apartment is the worst ordeal ever, hunting for that apartment might be a close second.  As you may know, I've recently relocated to the Philadelphia area, and as much as I enjoy spending time in the town and house in which I grew up, I need to get into the city, fast.  After five years living in a city as vibrant as Chicago, suburban Lansdale just doesn't cut it. 

Several factors limit my choices when it comes to finding an apartment in Philly.  First and foremost is budget.  I'm in the enviable position of looking for a job and an apartment at the same time.  So while I'm able to put a deposit on a place today, I want to make sure I can stay there for more than two months. 

Right now, I'm looking for a one bedroom in the $800-900 range.  I've committed to getting a place on my own, because even though I've had good roommate experiences in the past, I feel it's time to live by myself.  This automatically makes an apartment more expensive, and most likely smaller. 

This price range eliminates some neighborhoods in Philly right off the bat, because even though real estate here is not as pricey as New York or Chicago, it's still a major city with many desirable neighborhoods.  So, based on prior knowledge, friends' advice, and some research, I limited my search mostly to the following areas - Fairmount / Art Museum, Graduate Hospital, Northern Liberties, and Passyunk Square.

The next factor is demand.  I'm not the only one who realizes these are cool neighborhoods with good bars, restaurants, shops and necessities like pharmacies and supermarkets.  So many of the apartments closest to the hot strip or whatever are not going to be opening up anytime soon.  This has resulted in the "fringing" trend, as I'm naming it right now, of people renovating apartments that are just at the edge of these cool neighborhoods and advertising how close they are to all the cool stuff, when in fact it's a tiny box of a place eight blocks from anything good. 

That brings me to another fun factor of apartment hunting - Craigslist.  Unless you're looking to buy a condo or live in a high-rise, you don't tend to go through real estate or management companies.  That leaves me dredging through the same shitty listings every day on Craigslist, trying to find that one shining gem that indicates a good space in a good location with a sane landlord.  This can be frustrating, but I can't hate too much on CL considering how useful it's been to me. 

Compromise is key when choosing an apartment, because with my limitations, I'm not going to be living like royalty anytime soon.  I've seen enough bad apartments to know a good one when I see it, and I'm ready to make a commitment quickly if that's what it takes.  But I have two lists when I look at an apartment, my wish list and my dealbreaker list. 

My wish list includes things like a roof deck or patio, central air, and heat included.  My dealbreakers include no laundry in building, old appliances, and not enough space.  I've seen apartments that have a lot of space, but look like a squatter's been living there.  I've also seen apartments that are in a great location, but are basically a bedroom and a kitchen.  It's tough to find that balance. 

So, I'll keep diligently getting out there and looking at places, and I hope to move into an apartment in Philly sooner than later.  I'm ready to find my new home.

I'd love it if you share any tips on apartment hunting in general, resources in Philadelphia, or lessons learned the hard way in the comments below!


Getting My Fix

Last week, I wrote about when things break, in which I revealed to the world some of my hang-ups about the inevitable destruction of everything we love in this world househould items.  Today, thankfully, I am feeling much more upbeat as a result of some successful fixes, namely, the resurrection of two computers.

I mentioned in the comments to my last post that I distinguish between objects like glass lamps that can be shattered irrevocably in an instant and items like cars and computers, which tend to die slow deaths.  One main reason for this distinction is the ability to repair these hunks of metal and electricity.  Thanks to some internet searches, troubleshooting forums, and a DIY attitude, I am typing this entry on a 2004 Dell desktop that now boasts a brand new hard drive. 

Now, I'm not a computer whiz, but it's funny how much I've learned about computers while trying to keep this antique running.  I've learned about AGP vs PCI slots, the limits of Video Cards and the importance of drivers, the difference between IDE hard drives and SATA, and how to pair matching memory cards when upgrading RAM.  So even if I won't be hacking into the Pentagon any time soon, I am a lot closer to being able to build a computer from scratch if I choose to in the future. 

I'm sure some of you would ask, "Why don't you just buy a new computer?" or "That's why I have a Mac," and while exploring those options would be nice, I just don't have the funds for that kind of expense right now.  Plus, the point of my efforts is not only to save money, but to use my head, hands, and search engine skills to fix a solvable problem.  The satisfaction of a clean Windows install and 500 GB of fresh hard drive space surpasses the knowledge that I've kept this machine running for six years by spending only about $250, minus labor.  

My Mr. Fix-It success was not only limited to hardware upgrades on this machine, however.  While waiting for my replacement hard drive for the Dell, I started messing around with a 2005 HP laptop my dad picked up at work.  The original owner had taken the hard drive, so there was no operating system on the machine.  Once I popped in a compatible hard drive and purchased a power cable, I was able to start messing around with Linux. 

I had zero experience with Linux, which is essentially a group of operating systems available for free use.  The Linux experience and community are rooted in a commitment to open source software, i.e. free.  This sounded good to me, as opposed to paying over $100 for a Windows license.  

Again, thanks to the wonders of internet tech forums, I determined that I would be able to install Ubuntu, the latest Linux distribution, on this old machine, but that there would be limits due to memory and graphics specs.  I learned all about how Linux arranges files, that it does not have traditional "drives" like Windows, and that the system encourages command-line customization.  I was quite impressed with the clear language and sensible approach of this software.  I thought I had everything right, but I was still getting a hanging black screen during bootup.  After a little more digging, I found that I needed to input a specific command to force Ubuntu to push past the limits of the old graphics card.  So then I find myself hacking into the kernel, modifying the "grub" file, and crossing my fingers.  Seconds later, bam!, I'm running Ubuntu on an ancient laptop.  I now have a working laptop that will be just fine for blogging from the coffee shop or surfing in front of the tv, at a total cost of around $150. 

Again, the satisfaction goes beyond the cost saved.  That feeling of achievement that comes from tackling an unfamiliar problem, gaining new knowledge, and making useful what was once useless is equally as powerful as the negative emotions that come from things breaking.  So while it was great to learn new things about the interaction between hardware and software, and to now have two computers that are fully functional, the real success here was the triumph of will and intellect. 

For me, these everyday experiences allow an examination of how we approach challenges in our lives.  The results, I think, speak to the resilience of human nature, that even though we are susceptible to anger and shame when things are beyond our control, we are also capable of hard work and ingenuity to take back that control.  And as long as those lessons go hand-in-hand, the universe hasn't won yet.


When Things Break

It could have been worse, I suppose.I’m not a particularly clumsy person.  In general, I don’t go around bumping into walls or dropping things that are easy to carry.  Lately, though, it seems I’ve had a run of poor coordination and plain bad luck. 

In the past week, I’ve managed to break three household items beyond repair.  They weren’t heirlooms or items with special meaning, but I still felt those familiar emotions – shame, guilt, and anger. 

The first item was the bottom of a butter dish, broken by dropping a salt shaker onto it at the dinner table.  Medium crash, several jagged pieces of ceramic.  Easily replaced by the matching base from the gravy boat, rarely if ever used. 

The second incident also took place in the kitchen, and is the one that makes me feel dumbest. How impatient do you have to be to use a large kitchen knife to try to separate frozen hamburger patties?  Well, let’s just say, the few minutes it would taken them to thaw would be less of a hassle than replacing the knife whose blade tip snapped off under seemingly little pressure.  The burgers, when cooked, were definitely not worth that kind of sacrifice.  But again, a kitchen knife is easily replaced. 

The third item is the hardest to replace, and thereby the hardest to swallow.  While attempting to clean a dusty torchiere lamp, I mistakenly thought the painted glass top was screwed into the metal base, and upon tilting the lamp a bit, I watched in horror as the top of the lamp fell 3-4 feet onto the floor, exploding into jagged hunks and slivers of glass.  That was a tough cleanup job, made more painful when I discovered that the lamp was probably 75 years old, originally bought by my grandmother.  It wasn’t anything too fancy, but the realization stung all the same.  Let’s hope a few internet searches can find a suitable replacement.

What led me to write this post wasn’t the significance of the items themselves, but the emotions that resulted from breaking them.  I think everyone can identify with that moment of realization, when you’re looking at a debris field of broken glass, and hopelessly exclaim, "Really?"

There are not many experiences that more clearly drive home that feeling of hopelessness, the knowledge that some things can’t be undone, than breaking something without hope of repair.  Even if it’s something easy to replace, the frustration that comes when chaos unexpectedly enters a perfectly orderly moment is one of the most primary emotional experiences.  Perhaps I’m more sensitive than some, but I feel genuine guilt for actions caused by my hands, even if a complete accident.  My normal careful attitude is meaningless when thrust up against gravity and entropy, two of the most destructive forces in the universe.  At these times, no matter the amount of regret one may feel, all you can do is grab the dustpan, pick up the pieces, and move on.  


Moving: Phase 1 Complete

It’s been a busy month for me.  Moving from Chicago to the suburbs of Philadelphia was a big move that had been a long time coming.  Thankfully, all the logistics worked out as smoothly as possible.  I rolled out of Chicago the same way I rolled in, nearly six years ago. 

Somehow all this and more fit into my Elantra.Special shout-outs to Nick for his help unloading furniture and Amanda and Scott for opening their home.  And of course to Dave, the best roommate ever, for helping with the Tetris-like packing of the car, not to mention the four great years of cohabitation.

There were so many people who made my last few months (and years) in Chicago special, and I know I spent that time exactly as I wanted to, the best way possible.  I drank in deep the liquor of Chicago summer, and created special memories to the very last minute.

It was appropriate that the Phillies were in town during my last weekend in Chicago, and Wrigley Field became a natural canvas for my transition.  One night I went to a game with Chicago friends, and then the next day met up with friends visiting from Philly.  I was in both worlds for those few days, and that made things a bit easier, but still bittersweet.   

I’m looking forward to my life in Philly, and there’s plenty to do as I try to find work and an apartment, but I definitely felt sad as I wrapped up this chapter in Chicago.  As I’ve been reflecting on that time, I thought I’d share an incomplete list of some of my favorite memories and things that I’ll miss from life in the Windy City. 

  • Cruising down Lake Shore Drive
  • Day-drinking in Wrigleyville, game or no game
  • Nights downtown for birthdays or visitors
  • Watching Gators games with the Florida crew
  • Playing sports in the park
  • The New York Deli across the street from my apartment
  • Walking underneath the Bean
  • Trips to the suburbs
  • Movies at River East
  • Rooftop beer gardens
  • The Signature Lounge at the Hancock Center
  • Lollapalooza in Grant Park
  • St. Rita football on Friday nights
  • Sean’s Rhino Bar at 103rd and Western
  • Second-City Comedy
  • The back room at aliveOne
  • Team GOON
  • Concerts at Metro and the Vic Theatre
  • NFL Football at Trinity
  • Blackhawks winning the Stanley Cup
  • The El and the Loop
  • Air & Water Show
  • St. Patrick’s Day Pub Crawls

I could go on, as I’m sure many people could.  Feel free to add in the comments!


Adventure on the Mississippi

If you happen to follow me on Twitter, you know that I took a spontaneous trip to St. Louis, Missouri this past weekend.  I wanted to visit and reconnect with my friend Sean while I was still in the Midwest.  It was a great decision, as my high school buddy and I had an amazing weekend, filled with good food and better beer. 

I love visiting new cities, and although I had been in St. Louis for a few hours last summer during my road trip, I was only able to knock out The Arch and eat some fried chicken.  This time around, Sean and I made ample use of his GPS and Yelp app to find plenty of cool locales at which to wet our whistle. 

Another neat aspect of our STL adventure was that Sean is relatively new to the city, having moved there for work in January, and because he travels a lot, he was exploring and learning the city with new eyes as well.  I think we both feel a lot more knowledgeable about St. Louis after this weekend. 

It was a lot of fun to catch up with an old friend, of course, swapping stories of our time in jazz band together, but we also met up with some of his friends in the area, and got plenty of tips on which neighborhoods to hit up. 

There were lots of highlights, including McGuirk's in Soulard, The Dubliner on Wash. Ave., Modesto Tapas in The Hill, and Mandarin Lounge in Central West End.  The main touristy thing we did was take the tour at the Anheuser-Busch factory, which was interesting and well-organized.  Plus, free beer! 

Instead of naming every place we visited, I went ahead and put together my first custom Google map.  Click on the screenshot to see the public map and follow my weekend step-by-step. 

Drink St. Louis - Custom Google Map by ARMYou can see the rest of my pictures from the weekend over in my photo gallery or with captions on Picasa.  On my way home on Monday, I decided to stop in Springfield, IL to see the state capital.  I had never been, and this seemed like the perfect opportunity.  It was a nice little downtown area with lots of interesting Lincoln monuments. 

So, my trip to St. Louis was an all-around success, and I'm so glad I was able to make it there before I head back to the East Coast.  Thanks for the hospitality, Sean!  I know I'll be back again.