Paul and I are moving from Seattle to Minneapolis at the end of August for Paul’s job.
The only thing that really scares us about Minnesota is the cold and snow, but that scares us a lot. The Twin Cities have the coldest average temperature of any major metropolitan area in the nation, with the snow starting in late October and often refusing to melt until mid-April.
Two weekends ago, when Paul and I flew there to look for an apartment, we had already decided we needed a two bedroom with a garage for our cars, and preferably something connected to the “Skyway” system so that in sub-zero temperatures we could scurry like hamsters through the heated tunnels of downtown to get to the grocery store and Target.
Unfortunately, it turns out that when an apartment building is connected to the Skyway, the rent automatically doubles. And those garage spots? They are, on average, an additional $100 a month per car.
So we broadened our horizons.
We went to look at a red brick row house apartment on the edge of downtown. It looked super awesome in the craigslist ad, but in person it was a little bit shabbier and sketchier than I’d imagined. It did, however, have high ceilings, large rooms, and a cute (but nonworking) fireplace.
“How old is this house?” I asked as we traversed across the sloping kitchen floor.
“Built in 1868,” the owner said proudly.
“Wow.” It was an interesting place, although the neighborhood was questionable, and the downstairs neighbors were what Paul called urban hillbillies, lounging on the back deck, smoking and drinking, with bellies exposed.
The apartment was in our price range, though, and it was only a few blocks from the Skyway system.
“I have to ask,” I said, looking at the rickety, single-pane windows, “how hard is it to heat this place in the winter?”
“Oh, it’s not too bad. It can get pretty toasty in here,” the owner said, but I wasn’t sure if I believed him. He was a hefty, red-faced man who probably had his own, built-in heating system.
“What about the parking?” Paul asked. He was concerned about our cars, having seen a few rusted-out vehicles parked on the street out front. A long winter of snow and salt is not kind to automobile undercarriages.
“Everybody parks out back,” the owner said, pointing to a gravel lot. “Off-street parking. And in the winter Billy Bob* downstairs takes care of digging out the driveway every morning.”
Every morning?! I thought.
We said thank you and headed to our next appointment: an apartment in an Elliot Park triplex. There were sunflowers blooming in the front yard, and the laid-back owner, with a toddler-in-arms, led us around back, showing us the garage for bike storage and the adorable garden complete with a porch swing , bird feeders, and a small koi pond. A woodsy oasis in the middle of the city.
*Note: Billy Bob was not his real name.
Inside, the apartment was cozy and unique. The kitchen was a cheery blue, the dining room was painted red. There was a sunporch that would have been nice, were it not overlooking the Interstate.
“I find it soothing,” the owner said over the roar of the cars. “Like people-watching, only better.”
Paul and I exchanged glances.
He showed us the small “master” bedroom with a tiny, over-stuffed closet, but then he showed us the second bedroom. It was painted green and overlooked the back yard. It was quiet and lovely, and I got the sense that I was standing in a tree house.
“This could be my office,” Paul said.
“Or mine,” I countered. I could totally imagine sitting in this room, writing novels.
Back in the kitchen, with the owner’s adorably-pregnant wife, we asked about parking. “Well, it’s street parking,” the owner said. “But it’s not a big deal. Just get yourself a good snow shovel and an engine heater and you’ll be fine.”
“And make sure you move your car during snow emergencies,” the wife added. “So you don’t get those hundred dollar tickets.”
“Snow emergencies?” Paul and I repeated. “What are those?”
“Oh, it’s not a big deal,” the owner said. But at our hotel later, Paul and I did some research, and it seems that it IS a big deal.
Here are some pictures to explain why:
We decided right then and there that we needed the garage. And the Skyway. I wasn’t even sure I wanted to drive at all in this snow-blasted city. (In fact, I’ve decided to sell my car.)
The next morning, Paul and I went to see an apartment downtown. I liked the location of it (only one block from the river and connected to the Skyway), but the two bedroom on the fifth floor was too expensive and had a depressing view of the side of the post office.
“We also have a one bedroom one bath for a couple hundred less,” the property manager told us. “It’s on the nineteenth floor.”
We decided to take a look. The three of us rode the elevator up and walked down the hall. When we stepped into the apartment, something in me just knew. This was it.
Even though it was only 800 square feet, it didn’t feel small. And the view… It was a corner apartment with huge windows overlooking both the Mississippi River and the pretty part of downtown Minneapolis.
Paul and I walked around saying, “we could make this work,” and “this is definitely do-able.”
There was no washer-dryer in the unit, only one bathroom, and only one garage parking spot, but it felt right. Even though we kept looking at places for the rest of the day, deep down, Paul and I had already decided.
* * *
Apartment searching is so hard. There are pros and cons about every place, and you’ll never find somewhere that’s perfect.
Plus it’s sort of like online dating. No matter how awesome the place seems on craigslist, you have to see it in person to really understand.
And despite all pro-con lists you make, despite the fact that that another apartment makes more sense because it’s larger and cheaper and has a washer/dryer, at the end of the day, it’s about the unmistakable feeling you get when you step in to an apartment and, despite it’s flaws, you want to call it yours.
It’s probably the way agents feel when they find a book they want to represent. It’s the way people feel when they find someone they want to marry. It’s the way I feel about my writing career every single day.
I wrote two novels this past year in Seattle. I look forward to writing two more in Minneapolis.