I Win At Shelter

I flew to Des Moines last Sunday, having given myself roughly 10 days to find a place to live.


It took less than 24 hours.


Because I live in the future, I’d done some looking online before I left Philly. I was mostly trying to get a sense of what was close to what. What neighborhoods were convenient to my new job, or to bus lines that would get me to useful destinations. I’d even sent a handful of email inquiries about places that looked promising, but hadn’t gotten much in the way of response. (That may have been down to my saying truthfully that I hadn’t yet started my new job, or maybe just a statistically unlikely series of crap ass potential landlords.)


I’d spent all morning in planes and airports, and I had my regular work running the chat room for Skeptically Speaking, so I gave myself Sunday night off from home hunting. On Monday morning, I fired up Craigslist Des Moines, and got to work. I flipped through the listings, sent out a slew of emails, followed up with phone calls and voicemail messages. By 10:30, I’d set up half a dozen appointments for that day and the next.


I went to see one place at noon, and it turned out to be dingy, run down, and nowhere near work, or anything else I was interested in. I stopped at my new office to touch base with my new boss, who suggested that we get together after he was done work and take a tour of some interesting neighborhoods.


I’d originally planned to spend the afternoon walking around the neighborhoods adjacent to the office, looking for For Rent signs and writing down numbers. The triple digit temperatures, and my own innate distaste at drowning in my own sweat, conspired to change my mind, and I chose to avail myself of my rental car and its sweet, rented air conditioning.


My systematic, block-by-block search was about as fruitful as a fig tree on Mars. I found almost nothing available to rent, and the few places I did find were single rooms in large houses. I am too old and too territorial to share a bathroom with half a fraternity, so that arrangement wasn’t going to cut it. The first time I couldn’t brush my teeth before bed because somebody’s pledge buddy was puking up his hazing shots, I’d have bolted all the doors and burned the place to the ground. (If I was ready to buy, I’d be golden. There are a head-spinning number of houses for sale out here. Unfortunately, I’m still dealing with enough student loan debt to cancel out a decent home loan, which makes me a less than attractive candidate to mortgage lenders.)


On my way back to meet my boss, I stumbled on a house for rent, no more than two blocks from the office. The siren song of serendipity clanging in my ears, I pulled over, jumped out of the car and immediately called the number on the sign, only to learn that the house had been rented out just that morning.


“I’ve got another one for rent down there,” said the pleasant-sounding man who’d crushed my fragile dream of being able to see my workplace from my bedroom window. He gave me an address that meant nothing to me geographically, and I dutifully wrote it down, halfheartedly agreeing that I’d call him if I was interested in seeing it.


When my boss finished with his conference call, we climbed into his Jeep, an impractically rough and tumble vehicle that I would bet my eye teeth he got after many sighs and rolled eyes on the part of his wife. We drove around the Sherman Hill area, a surprisingly interesting and (dare I say it) hip looking little neighborhood just west of downtown Des Moines. I took down the numbers of a couple of rental agencies, but I didn’t see anything that looked terribly promising.


We were headed back to the office, when I looked down at my notebook, and noticed the hastily scrawled address of the property suggested by the guy on the phone. I asked my new boss if he knew where it was, and he said that it was right around the corner, so we decided to swing by it before giving up for the day.


The property turned out to be a good sized house, less than half a mile from the office. We walked up on the porch, looked in some of the windows, and checked out the exterior, when I heard a car door slam, and the pleasant sounding man said “hey, did you want to look at the house?”


The landlord just happened to be there to let in some contractors who were putting some final touches on the house before it could be rented. He let us in, and showed us around. It was basically perfect. It had plenty of room, all the amenities and fixtures I was looking for, and it was within walking distance of work. And since my boss was there, it was extremely easy for the landlord to verify that I was employed.


I decided on the spot that I wanted the house. I exchanged contact information with the landlord, he emailed me an application, and the next morning, I drove out to his office to sign the lease.


I don’t believe in fate, or luck, or the guiding hand of a benevolent deity. I believe that the secret of serendipity is paying attention to all the options, even in challenging situations, and being prepared to capitalize on any opportunities that come along. That said, this situation presented me with an inordinately large number of fantastic opportunities, and I can’t help but feel like the luckiest kid on the block. If the rest of the process goes this smoothly, then my longest move (by far) will wind up being one of my easiest.


Luck or not, I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

Topographical Misconception

When I started telling people in Philly that I was moving to Des Moines, among the jokes about corn and hogs and various horrified reactions at the supposed rurality, there was an oft-repeated refrain about how flat it was out there, and how different it would be. I shook my head ruefully, and agreed that it would be strange to live in such a geographically monotonous locale.


Guess what, Philly friends? We were completely full of shit.


Iowa – or Des Moines, at the very least – is actually quite hilly. A lot of the city compares to the Fairmount Park area, but there are sections that stack up next to Manayunk in terms of sheer topography. I haven’t seen anything that would compare to San Francisco, say, and I’m guessing that a statewide average of the state would probably make for a drastically uninteresting graph, but it’s far from being the featureless prairie that we all expected.


So there you go. Don’t ever let it be said that I’m too proud to admit when I’ve labored under a mistaken assumption. Also when pretty much everyone I know has made the same mistake. I’ll admit that all day long.

Regional Speech Chronology

In Philadelphia, I don’t talk particularly fast. My speaking isn’t exactly languorous, but neither is it frantic, and it’s slowed down a bit as I’ve consciously started trying to eliminate the “ums” and the “likes” and other verbal pauses from my speech. I’m taking time to think about my words, and it’s reflected in the pace of my speaking, if not necessarily in its eloquence.


In Des Moines, I’m practically John Moschitta, Jr.


I’ve only been here for a few days, and I’ve already cut off, interrupted or talked over innumerable people, both in person and on the phone. Not because I intend to, but because I think that the person I’m talking to has finished speaking, when in fact it’s only a pause between clauses. (Never mind the fact that you could drive an aircraft carrier through some of them.) I moved to a new town, and suddenly I’m a conversational Genghis Khan, sweeping across the steppes of discourse with my verbal hordes.


It’s disconcerting, and not just for the immediate mental image of flaming village(r)s. As a rule, I try to be polite. That way, people really notice when I decide to be rude. Here, though, I’m a furious bull in a china shop of dialog. If I find it necessary to deliberately insult someone, merely interrupting won’t be out of the ordinary enough to make an impact. I’ll have to resort to actual insults, and I’m afraid it’s going to get ugly.


Just like your mom.