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Saturday, February 27, 2016

A REAL Grocery store...sort of

This morning I dropped off my clothes at the local laundry to be washed.  I was almost out of the detergent that I prefer and really didn't want the itchy skin that comes from the stuff that they normally use.  I decided to check out the nearest grocery store in my new neighborhood.

They have parking...really.  There is a parking lot.  I pulled in and walked to the doors.  As they opened, I was greeted with an entire isle of lots of different veggies.  I feel like I'm not in the city (sort of) any more.  It felt great to walk up and down the isles and see all of the choices.

For the past year, I've live in Bedford Stuyvesant.  The nearest grocery store was about the size of four bodegas.  The produce usually looked like it was weeks old.  They didn't have any teas other than lipton (I'm a really big tea drinker).  I never liked the way the chicken or meat looked.

This new place has a nice deli, decent looking meat and fish, and is closer to what I grew up with and have lived with for most of my life.

I would stock up on as much food as I could every time I went out of the city.  My friends would laugh at me for buying six boxes of tea and four jars of salsa.  I'm excited to have a nicer grocery store close to my apartment.  They may not have a bodega on my block that's open all night, but this more than makes up for it.

I also went looking for a gym to join.  I wasn't so lucky there.  My two options within a half mile are both one room small gyms with no locker rooms.  The thing that I like most about gyms is taking group fitness classes.  I may have to find something a bit further away that has what I want.

Bodegas and F%^k the rules

I moved into a new place over the past week.  I forgot how much I hate moving.  Between the move, work, and spending time at the hospital with a friend who is critically ill, I'm exhausted.  I miss writing in the blog and sharing my stories.

Given the fact that my kitchen was/is packed up, that I have had no time, and that my energy has been severely limited, I've been eating turkey sandwiches at bodegas almost every night for dinner and sometimes for lunch too.

Last night, I packed up what was left of my old apartment and stopped by my usual bodega.  As I walked in, the man at the counter was lighting what must have been his 20th cigarette.  The place was filled with clouds of smoke.  Yes, they smoke in most of these bodegas.  In fact

Smoke has always bothered me.  When I was a little kid, my grandfather and uncles smoked in their houses whenever we were there.  It is even worse when someone is preparing your sandwich.  The man making the food at least smokes outside.  This guy doesn't.

Every bodega seems to be run by someone who was born in another country and is either learning english or has given up on it. The man last night doesn't speak any english, so you have to wait for the man making sandwiches to tell him what to ring up.  If you ask for something under the counter like peanut m&ms (not that I eat too many of them, really, only a few packs a day when I'm stressed), he looks at you funny and you have to point until he gets the right thing.

Last nights smoky experience included a visit from Ken who usually does my laundry.  His laundry is next door.  As I was waiting for my sandwich, the smoking arabic man is singing along terribly to some pretty interesting middle eastern music.  It already has some notes that are unfamiliar to me, but his singing sounds like a dog howling along to Dolly Parton or a goat dying.  Ken walks in to get an energy drink and a girl at the counter waiting to order a sandwich yells out to him, "hey china man."  I was a little surprised, but he just smiled and waved.  He always seems to be in a good mood anyway.

You never know what you are going to pay from day to day at the same bodega for the same exact things.  Sometimes it costs me $3 for a sandwich and sometimes $4.50.  Sometimes I get my bag and it has two bags of peanut m&ms even though I only bought one.  I've learned to just pay what I'm asked and not complain.  It probably all evens out in the end.

They also sell single cigarettes at most bodegas. You can walk in and buy a "loosie." there.  I didn't even know that was illegal until I read that Eric Garner's death was a result of him selling loose cigarettes to people.

In Brooklyn, bodegas have survived and thrived to serve the people in each neighborhood.  In spite of the rule breaking, or maybe because of it, I'll miss the one by my place.  The one by my new place is only open until 9:00 p.m. instead of 1:00 a.m. and is run by spanish speakers.  They seem nice enough.  My new neighborhood is definitely more of the couple with a stroller and two kids type of place than full of the colorful people from my last neighborhood.  It's refreshing, but will mean that I'll have to venture further for my stories than before.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Apartment Searching

In most cities I've lived in, apartment hunting isn't all that difficult.  You sign on to craiglist or some other rental place and start calling or emailing.  In bigger cities, they run a credit check on you and ask you for first months rent and a security deposit.  Sometimes there is a small fee to apply to rent an apartment.  In smaller cities, there is usually an interview with the landlord and more likely reference checks with past landlords.

I've rented in:
Rochester, NY
Manhattan, NY
Chicago, IL
Washington, DC
Oneonta, NY
and n
Brooklyn

Brooklyn is tougher than all of them.  First, craigslist has so many apartments that you can't sort through them.  Once you do take the time to go through with them, many of them end up being scams.  You end up going to a realtor instead which means paying one month's rent in fees.  Now in places where one month's rent is $500 or $600, that makes sense.  $1900?  On top of coming up with not only first months rent and a security deposit, but also last months rent?  That means that you need $7700 to rent an apartment.  I don't know about you, but I think it is the rare person who is looking for a rental property that has an extra $7700 in their bank accounts.

Me, for example.  I have a savings account.  It doesn't have that much in it.  Besides, I have to get my security deposit back from my current apartment.  That's $1800.

Fortunately, I've now been here for a year.  David and I are moving in together at the end of the month.  We've been looking for two bedroom places for under $2200/month.  I thought that was reasonable, but every realtor that I spoke with told me I was crazy.  I was determined to find  place.

What we wanted:
a.) An apartment in Brooklyn for under $2200/month
b.) Some type of outdoor space whether shared or private
c.) Two bedrooms, so we can have guests or use airbnb to make some extra money
d.) Location within 45 minutes of both of our jobs.
e.) Less than an hour commute via subway to Times Square (so if we want to see a show on a week night it doesn't spoil the next day).
f.) Someplace safe for both of us.

Thanks to a bunch of Facebook's creepy big brother stalking, it somehow knew I was looking for an apartment.  It kept advertising renthop.com

I started looking three months ago.  Every time I spoke to anyone, they said I had to wait until mid-February to sign a lease for an apartment for March 1.  I've not had that experience anywhere else either.  Most places know when their tenants are moving out, plan 1-2 days to clean the place (if they plan to clean it at all) and then give you a move in date.

Well, this weekend David and I had some success.  I spent a few hours bookmarking apartments on renthop.com that we could afford.  Most of them were a little bit further than we wanted to be from either work or Times Square and were in poorer, more diverse neighborhoods with mostly fast food and bodegas as sources of going out to eat.  Friday afternoon, on the off chance that something new was posted, I tried expanding my search.  I found a few apartments in my price range in a neighborhood I'd never heard of.  Given my relative newness to Brooklyn, this isn't a shock.

I found a place that is a bit older that what I'm in now.  It's in an old elevator building in Windsor Terrace.  Windsor Terrace is a neighborhood on the south side of Prospect Park.  It's as close to work as I live now.  It's a bit further for David's commute.  The apartment has one small and one large bedroom (they call it a junior two bedroom).  It's got shared outdoor space off of our living room (a rooftop deck).  We have a separate kitchen and a large living room.  There is laundry in the building.  The rent includes heat, hot water, and gas.  We just have to pay electric and internet.

The best parts:
a.) only 45 minutes by train to Times Square and the train is only two blocks away instead of a half mile
b.) Great pub, diner, coffee, shop, and some sit down restaurants right on the same block.
c.) Prospect Park is less than 10 minutes away on foot, so we can bike, run, and spend time there.
d.) It's just five minutes from a major expressway so getting there won't be bad.
e.) The realtor's fee is paid for by the leasing company
f.) They only wanted security and one month's rent plus a small application fee
g.) They mistakenly posted the rent for a two bedroom, so the rent is $120 cheaper/month
h.) They want us to move in a week before my current lease ends (it will cost me an extra month's rent, but I'm ok with that).

This is a huge relief.  We are in a better neighborhood than either of us live in now.  We are well within our price range and paying just a little more than I paid monthly to live alone.  We have more space.  David and I both had prayed about this and feel like those prayers were answered.  Now I pray that the move costs less than I expect and that it all goes smoothly.