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I just got back from a whirlwind trip to Seattle. My boyfriend, Paul, and I are moving there in July, and we wanted to secure an apartment before the big, cross-country drive. Plus, neither of us had ever been to Seattle, and we we thought perhaps we should check it out.
I spent the month before our trip researching neighborhoods and obsessively combing through the rentals section of craiglist. Luckily, I have a few friends in Seattle who were able to give me some advice. “Freemont is full of hippies and weirdness,” my friend Lish said, “but if you like naked solstice parades, that’s your place.” My friend Erin (who happens to live in the Freemont area) was a bit more objective. She sent me a “briefing packet” about Southeast Seattle, put together by her graduate school “Community Economic Development” class… Both helpful in their own ways.
The week before we left, I set up appointments in neighborhoods all over town. “Maybe we’ll find a place today,” I told Erin on Friday morning – we were staying at her apartment– “and then we can just hang out the rest of the weekend!”
But our first day of apartment-hunting did not go well. First there was the condo across from the fire department in an area of town that can only be reached by one perpetually-traffic-jammed bridge. Next, an apartment that had been advertised as first floor but was actually a damp basement with warped floors. When Paul asked the landlord if there had been any problems with flooding, she got a funny look on her face and eventually answered, “not really.”
Later we saw a place that claimed to be close to Green Lake but was, in fact, nearly two miles from the lake, in a sketchy area of town filled with prostitutes and drug addicts. “This is where Kurt Kobain used to come to do heroin,” Erin told us. As much as I love Nirvana, the vacant, trash-strewn lot and boarded-up hub cap shop across from the apartment building were not exactly what I was looking for in a neighborhood, so we crossed that one off our list.
Finding our dream apartment was turning out to be more difficult than we expected. Of course, Paul and I had slightly different dreams. He dreamed of a “grownup” apartment in a safe neighborhood that was close to the grocery store, his new job, and, ideally, a Pho place. I dreamed of a quirky apartment with big windows over-looking pretty things in a fun neighborhood with lots of parks.
It was really important to me that we find the right apartment because, as a writer working from home, I was going to be spending a lot of time in it. I didn’t want to spend my day in a basement, or a tiny sterile box, or in a place where I couldn’t get up from my computer and go for a pleasant walk around the neighborhood.
On Saturday we found a place that Paul liked… But I didn’t. It was in a new apartment building on a busy street. It was one of these places with “amenities” like a roof-top deck, a fitness room, and secure garage parking (which, of course, costs extra). Not that there’s anything wrong with big, fancy apartment complexes, but they just aren’t my style.
The leasing agent showed us the model apartment, but he couldn’t show us the unit we’d actually be living in.
“The most important thing to me is the view,” I said. “The unit we would be living in, what exactly is the view out the windows?” I already knew the answer. I’d figured it out while we were on the roof-top deck. “Is it of the wall of the building next door?”
“Well, yes,” the leasing agent said.
I looked around the small living room, trying to imagine where I’d put my writing desk. Where I’d put my framed poster of Edward Gorey’s Gashleycrumb Tinies. It was a nice apartment, I guess, but I was having trouble picturing myself there.
Paul thought that apartment complex might be our best option, and it was starting to seem like he was right. So I tried to be open-minded. It would be nice to have new appliances and “luxury” finishes. My god, the master bath had two sinks! As for the crappy view, I could put a bunch of potted trees and plants on the balcony, and I noticed on google maps that there was a park within walking distance.
Still, I just couldn’t picture myself writing in that apartment. I knew it was silly, but I felt like the wrong apartment might stifle my creativity.
But there was still one more appointment. Sunday morning. At a small, stucco apartment building in Queen Anne with a weird, random statue out front. We got there early so we could walk around the neighborhood first. We started walking uphill and suddenly found ourselves in a beautiful, winding park called, hilariously, “Bhy Kracke Park.” At the top of the top of the hill we stopped, huffing and puffing a bit, to admire the amazing views. We could see the Seattle skyline, and even the Space Needle.
“Could you be happy walking in this park?” Paul asked me.
“Yes, I could be very happy. Plus my butt will get a good workout.” And there was another, even bigger park I’d noticed on google maps. This seemed like my ideal neighborhood: pretty parks and interesting architecture, a library nearby. And history! Queen Anne was one of the oldest Seattle neighborhoods.
Back at the front of apartment building, we noticed a web draped across the handrail with hundreds of adorable baby spiders clinging to it. “It’s like Charlotte’s Web!” Erin said.
“Maybe this is a good sign,” Paul said.
A crow cawed at us from the roof of the building. Seeing as how I love sassy crows, I took this as a good sign, too.
The manager, a laid-back, gray-haired hipster with black-rim glasses, showed us around the apartment. It wasn’t in the greatest condition, due to the frat boys who are currently living there, but the manager told us it would be totally remolded before we moved in – the kitchen and both bathrooms, plus new carpeting! He showed us another unit so we could get an idea of the upgrades, and it was definitely a “grownup” apartment.
The view wasn’t exactly what I’d hoped – a first floor apartment with the windows looking out at the back alley, but I could see some trees out the window, and there was a deck where I could grow potted trees to block out parked cars. Plus, the place was quirky: an asymmetrically-shaped living room, some funky closets, and a gas fireplace!
Most importantly, I could imagine myself there in a way I couldn’t in the other apartment. I could picture where I would put my writing desk, and how I would go for walks around the neighborhood when I was trying to jump-start my creative juices. It was reasonably priced, really close to Paul’s work, and within walking distance from a grocery store, a Pho place, and several parks. I could write here. Paul and I could be happy here.
“We’ll take it,” we said.
We’re still waiting for our application to be approved.