Here is how it usually goes.
Person: Hey, what’re you doing this weekend/summer/break?
Me: I got a vacation house!
Person: That is awesome! Where?
Me: Hey, how about those Jets?
Not really. I don’t care about the Jets. But this is hard to explain. So I’m going to explain here. Last spring, I started to get itchy. I had been having problems in my Manhattan co-op. The neighbor who smoked. The neighbor who sang to himself… loudly. The fights with the other people on the co-op board. But beyond that, it felt like time for a change. I still remember buying this place in 2001 and saying to the real estate agent, “I know it faces a wall and doesn’t get much light, but the closets! The location! The layout!” And that was all true. But last Passover, a year ago last week, I stayed at a house in the suburbs that was big and airy and filled with light. I had a corner bedroom, just like the one I grew up in, and in the morning, it was flooded with bright sunshine. As Liz Lemon would say, I wanted to go to there.
I got myself a real estate agent and I started to look (he was AWESOME, by the way. Are you looking in NY and need someone? Drop me a line!). My needs were simple, I thought. Lots of light. Maybe a view. Stay in my neighborhood, which I like. Good kitchen. About the same cost as my current apartment, maybe a smidge more. And boy did I look. I must have seen forty or fifty apartments. I would say that with 85% of them, I wondered how human beings could even live there, they were so awful in one way or another, or in all ways. With about 10%, they were kind of the equivalent of my place, so why move? And about 5% were better but not many of those were better enough to justify uprooting your whole life, paying your agent and the taxman, etc.
One Sunday, I went to eight open houses. Eight. At the last one, it was hosted by the same agent as the second one; that’s how long a day I was having. I was the only one there and we got to talking. He listened as I went on about how I couldn’t find a place better than mine, even though I had a lot of issues with it. About how I was a teacher and spent summers in my smoke filled apartment looking at a brick wall. He said, “it sounds as though you don’t really want to move. Why don’t you get a house in Rhinebeck for $150,000 and have all the light and air you could want? With all your vacations you could spend that time there.”
This was a revelation. Because I grew up in a house and lived in it my entire youth. I still miss it and have a hard time feeling at home in an apartment, even though I’ve been here eleven years. So I started to look north, to Dutchess County and thereabouts. But not only could I not find anything above the level of wreck for that price, I couldn’t imagine what I’d do there all summer. Even though I grew up in the suburbs, it was still a city. I have lived in cities all my life. So I started to think about where I would want to live. Somewhere where I knew people. Somewhere urban with a low-key feel… maybe even a suburban feel. Somewhere I could get to by public transportation. Somewhere I really loved.
And for me, that’s Baltimore. It’s the only other place I’ve ever loved and felt at home. I still dream about the time I lived there. Baltimore is quirky and unpretentious and fun. It’s got problems, too, but then so does New York. And unlike here, I can actually afford a house there. I started looking as soon as school ended last year. More on the search and its conclusion in the next post.