Sunday, December 21, 2008

It Ain't Rockefeller Plaza

Sunday, December 21, 2008

I was getting a bit stir crazy, so today (when the sun finally came out after several dreary days), I took the Metro into D.C. The Yellow train dropped me off at Chinatown, and I walked south and west toward the National Portrait Museum. Unfortunately, it was closed, so I continued on my path toward the National Christmas Tree.

I came across a street fair, which was neat - reminded me of being in NY. So far, nothing else about this city reminds me of NY. The sidewalks are too clean and uncrowded, the buildings are too short, and the subway too timely.

One good thing about the subways here is there is a sign telling you when the next three trains are coming. I like that. In NYC, you never know. You could wait two minutes for a train, or ten times as long if there's a problem along the tracks somewhere. They don't exactly run on any schedule there. And, here they are much easier to navigate. You can learn the D.C. subway system in one day.

Anyway, being unemployed I was unable to buy anything at the street fair. I enjoyed browsing the arts and crafts, though. And listening to the live band, which actually played on tin cans and washboards and such. Then I watched as a tiny dog on a leash barked at the big live snowman on the sidewalk. That was pretty funny.

I continued on to the White House Visitor's Center, which is nothing but a series of photos and text about the White House. They threw in a few pieces of glass-enclosed furniture for effect, I guess. Not too impressive. When I asked the guard where the National Christmas tree is, he nonchalantly replied, "Across the street." Hmmm, "which street?" I'm thinking.

I'd find it on my own, thank you very little.

So I walked outside and turned left up Pennsylvania Avenue, under the assumption that the tree had to be near the White House. I walked a couple blocks until I saw a crowd of people in a circle around a relatively short, plain, barely decorated and unlit tree. It didn't seem very big.

I asked a couple women coming toward me, "Is that the National Christmas tree?" Affirmative, they told me. "Geez, it ain't no Rockefeller Plaza," I said, and they both laughed.

As I got closer I could see there were some train sets on the ground near the tree, and a large Menora several yards beyond. The grounds were sloppy - like this was a carnival. "Boooooring," was all I could think. I was underwhelmed at the lack of thought and creativity that went into the National Christmas Tree display.

I know I sound like a prude but this was the least attractive Christmas tree I'd ever seen. I took a few shots and turned to head home, missing New York terribly. I kept envisioning myself enjoying the ice-skaters at Wollman rink in Central Park or gazing in the brightly decorated holiday store windows on Fifth Avenue. Then I came home and watched an episode of CSI: NY. Only when I heard the opening lyrics to "Teenage Wasteland" did I feel better.

If I can just find a contract job and get through a couple years of school here, I can survive without slitting my wrists. With my graduate degree, I can get back to my favorite city - or at least go visit it anytime I want.

I can't wait for classes to start January 12. This computer forensics program gives me some purpose - some reason for coming all the way back to an area of the country that I escaped from a little over a year ago.

This weekend made an honest effort to get out and enjoy the city. Yesterday I took a pleasant walk through Old Town (despite it being a cold and gray day). I will keep trying to enjoy life outside of New York City (is there such a thing?). . . . I will certainly feel better when classes start (oh, and when I have some money coming in). A job would certainly help things.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Miss Madison's 15 Minutes of Fame

A few months ago in New York I got a letter of congratulations in the mail from Cat Fancy. In the large envelope were two copies of the Cat Fancy 2009 Desk Calendar.

About a year and a half ago I had submitted a photo of my Maine Coon cat, Little Miss Madison, to the magazine. Sure enough, she was selected for the 2009 calendar!

So if you go out and buy a Cat Fancy calendar for next year, be sure to turn to the page for April 7th (which happens to be my nephew Connor's birthday). There she is! My little clown.

I checked in with her new owner, Shannon, in Annapolis shortly afterward, and she was tickled to death to see our little girl's photo in print.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

I Am Green

When I told my older brother Dave that I was planning on living in Virginia without a car he said, "That's very green of you." Come to think of it, he's right!

Today I used a Zip Car for the first time. I went online, made a reservation, walked several blocks over to the King Street Metro station, waved my Zip Car membership card over the windshield, and watched the doors magically unlock themselves. When I got in, the key was hanging from the steering wheel, and the tank was full. All for just $10.50 an hour and a nominal membership fee. Gas is free!

I reserved the car for three hours and drove up to my townhouse in Maryland, which was recently abandoned by the current tenants. Funny, they forgot to tell anyone about that. They moved out in October but, fortunately, have continued to pay rent. It needs cleaning, and my landscaping needs some work (the Butterfly Bush has taken over the back yard!) - but, other than that, it looks ok. I hated going back to the old neighborhood with its creepy residents. Fortunately, I didn't see any of my freaky neighbors.

There was just one thing missing from my Zip Car - a GPS navigation system. I didn't have a map either. (I forgot to print one out before leaving for the walk over to pick up the car.) Needless to say, I was in a panic when I got lost on my way back on I-295 South. There's one spot where the sign says you can stay right to go one way on route 50 or stay left to go the other way. I didn't want to go either way - I just wanted to continue south on 295. But the stupid signs only indicate east and west. Naturally, I was in the wrong lane. Things just got worse from there when I doubled back and missed another hidden sign (until it was too late) to get back onto 295. So I took the long way around D.C. on the beltway. I managed to return the car at 3:29PM. One minute later and I might have been subjected to a $50 late fee! When you're unemployed, you'll do anything to avoid spending money uselessly.

It's not easy going car-less in an area like Alexandria, which is a cross between urban and suburban. Hence I chose a home closest to a Metro station. (You pay a premium for that here.) But I'm learning to get around. The thing is, I don't have a choice but to find alternate means of transportation. I think everyone should try going without a car for a few weeks. Well, not everyone - you certainly have to be near a bus line or subway for it to work. But going car-less does force one to be creative about public transportation. It's a lot cheaper than owning a car, too.

Besides, I hate driving. I can't get over how fast people drive around here. It's bad enough being on the road with these a$&holes, but it's not safe for pedestrians either. At least in New York if you get hit by a car it can't be going more than a few miles per hour because of the constant congestion. But here - man! You'd be dead if one of the frequent speeders ran you over.

I'm all done settling in. It took me less than two weeks. My bruises are starting to fade, my back muscles are less sore, and my fingernails should hopefully start growing back soon. It's the usual collateral damage that is the result of a move. I'm still applying for jobs and can't wait to start classes next month.

Happy Holidays, all! (And drive safely.)

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Settling In

Moving into a new home is always a challenge - but in addition there are the changes that you have to get used to. Like not having an icemaker. And all of the electrical outlets being installed upside-down. And the ikky water that tastes like aspirin, dries your skin, and makes you turn all pruney in no time. There's also the screaming kid across the hallway that you can hear all day long because of the 1.25-inch gap under your front door that was hung improperly. The noisy family and I may as well be living in the same apartment.

Oh, and then there's the fun of learning the new cable box and menuing system and what the channels are on TV. You have to reprogram all your A/V equipment. I didn't even live in my last apartment long enough to know which channels go to which networks.

The cool thing is the full-size washer and dryer in the bathroom. The bathroom is huge - mostly just wasted space though. In NY, most bathrooms are only big enough for the sink, toilet, and tub. The one I have here is big enough to put down a 5'x7' rug that I had left over - and it doesn't even touch the walls.

Baby has been enjoying exploring the new apartment. She's taken a liking to the bathtub. In our last apartment we had a glass-enclosed stand-up shower. That was no fun. Now we have the shower curtain and liner. I guess it's fun to hide between them. A veritable kitty playground.

Last night Baby was between the curtains and then jumped into the bathtub while it was still wet from my shower. I grabbed her out, dried her feet (against her protests), set her down, and scooted her out of the bathroom. I told her to stay away while it's wet. She immediately turned around, ran to the tub, and jumped back in as fast as she could - like it was a game. I pulled back the curtain and told her to get out. So she jumps out and goes running out of the room. I gave up on trying to keep her little feet dry. Silly kitty.

I think the biggest challenge is learning the public transportation system around here. It's way too complicated compared to NY's MTA. In New York, you use one card and pay one fare for everything -buses and trains. It's simple: swipe and go. Here, they have these paper cards that you buy from a machine. You don't just swipe it as you get on the train, you have to insert it in a machine, retrieve it, and repeat the process when you get off, too - (it's the only way to exist the turnstiles). That's because the fares vary.

And with the buses, there's the DASH, the REX (Metro express), the Fairfax Connector, and the Metro bus. And the fares are different depending on whether you just got off a train or not, whether you are paying cash or not (cash costs more), and other factors (like age). It's too complex for me. What I need to do is buy one of the "SmartTrip" cards and figure out how to use that for getting around. Who knows which systems it'll work on.

I also joined Zip Car. It's a good deal. For an annual $50 fee (plus another $75 for complete comprehensive/collision coverage with $0 deductible), I can reserve and pick up a car any time and just about any place I want. There are plenty of Zip Cars parked nearby. I use my Zip Car card to gain access to the vehicle that I've reserved. The keys are inside. There is a gas card inside. I pay by the hour (around $10 on weekdays and $5 on weekends) or by the day.

So let's see how well this all works out. Yesterday I walked over 5 miles doing my errands. That was too much. The D.C. Metro doesn't have the coverage that the NY MTA has. I'm used to getting around with ease. This will just take some time to figure out. . . .

Friday, December 05, 2008

Record Breaking Unpacking Job

It's Friday night and I can't believe that in less than 4.5 days I've unpacked every single box - of about 85 boxes total. I had to get through it. The sooner I finish, the sooner the move is over. Seeing as moving takes up such a large chunk of my life, and I'm tired of it, I like to get it over quickly.

Although everything is unpacked, it isn't quite all in place yet. A lot of the remaining items are part of the decor. But the bulk of the organizing is done - which is most of the work. I had to hang a shelf in my closet yesterday (after a trip via bus to Home Depot). Otherwise, the closet design left no place to hang slacks, skirts, and dresses - only shirts.

Baby has adapted rather nicely. She loves the carpeted floors here. She's used to wood floors. Here, she thinks the whole apartment is one big cat bed. She plops down just about anywhere and sprawls out like she's the Queen or something.

This building reminds me of living in the Gershwin on W. 50th St. in midtown Manhattan a few years ago. The water tastes like aspirin, the shower pressure is greatly lacking, and the water leaves your skin all pruny and dried out. It must be something added to the water in high rise apartment buildings. I hope I can get used to it again. Thank god for Brita pitchers.

Hopefully by Monday I'll be done with all the major moving work (which started about six weeks ago). See what I mean about this taking up so much of my life? It's no small job to move - and no small expense. I've spent roughly $8,500 on moves in the past year. In my whole adult life I've probably spent a year's salary on moving!

What I need to do is get outdoors. I've been in this apartment non-stop since Monday morning, with the exception of returning the rental car, going to Home Depot yesterday, and buying a sandwich at a cafe across the street tonight. Maybe tomorrow I'll get out again.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Murphy's Laws of Moving

I won't even go into how the superintendent at my building in Brooklyn tried to tell me on Saturday the 29th that there are "no Sunday moves" in our building and that I'd have to reschedule my move that was planned for the next day - a move that I'd scheduled with him two weeks previously.

What a jerk. I sent him a scathing email response, educating him in the facts of coordinating an inter-state move. I told him that he should have given me the information about the no-Sunday rule two weeks earlier - but because he hadn't bothered to respond to his boss's own request to schedule my move, he'd have to make an exception. Not only that, but I'd sent two follow-up emails confirming my move, neither of which he bothered to respond to.

So it didn't matter what he said. My movers were showing up at 9:00AM the next morning, and he wasn't stopping me.

Although I'll miss New York (terribly), and I'll miss my gorgeous apartment and living in Brooklyn Heights, one thing I will not miss is the lousy maintenance staff at 110 Livingston. The apartment was great, but I averaged 1.5 maintenance issues for every month that I lived there. And getting those guys to respond was like pulling teeth. Ask any resident there - it is frustrating for all. I actually went an entire month without hot water in my kitchen. It took weeks to get my oven working after moving in. My A/C went out on a 98-degree day in July.

You get the picture.

Anyway, I awoke to pouring rain and gale force winds on Sunday. My movers arrived early, which is a rarity in New York City. There were five of them. Good. I'd completed all the packing of 80+ boxes prior to their arrival, so all they had to do was wrap my furniture and load the truck. It took them a little over four hours. Afterward, I had to walk to my storage unit (about 7/10 of a mile away) and meet them there.

But when I stepped outside into the cold, windy rain and off the sidewalk into the first big puddle, I realized that it wasn't going to be a fun walk. As my socks got wetter and my feet colder, I realized that I'd packed all my shoes except this one pair of sneakers I was wearing. Oops. At least I could change socks later.

We unloaded my small storage unit pretty quickly - it was about the size of a large walk-in closet (a suburban walk-in, not a New York walk-in). As soon as they were done, I needed to head to Manhattan to pick up my rental car. I wanted to get the car as fast as possible so that I could do most my driving in daylight hours. My eyes are bad enough (post-LASIK disaster), but driving at night produces horrible glares, and the rain would only compound my vision issues.

I debated hailing a cab, but being unemployed, I chose the subway. I finally made it to Cadman Plaza where I scanned my Metro card and trekked all the way to the 4/5 train. I got to the platform, and the MTA had hung yellow tape up indicating that the 4/5 train wasn't running at this station. Argh. Why they can't post signs before you've swiped your card and paid your fare, I'll never understand.

So I got on the 2/3, thinking I'll just have to hoof it from Times Square to the Budget place near Grand Central Terminal. My subway nightmare began when I tried to transfer to the 4/5 at Fulton Street. Guess what - the train wasn't running from there either. After running around trying to find an alternate route, I approached a surly MTA employee who told me to "get on the downtown J train" then transfer to the 4/5 at Chambers.

If I'd been thinking, I'd have realized there is no 4/5 at Chambers. Nonetheless, I ran around for a good 20 minutes (in circles), trying to find the nonexistent J train. I tried twice to get a woman in an MTA booth to help me, but she was more sullen than the first. Several other people were running around with me trying to get on the right train. It was painful.

I finally said "Screw it," and got back on the 2/3. Thirty minutes wasted. I should have been at the Budget place no later than 2:00, but after all the rotten subway problems, it was 3:00 when I finally showed up.

But despite all of that, and an equally ugly MTA employee on the 2/3 train, I enjoyed the rest of my subway trip after a young fellow carrying a full-sized Christmas tree got on the train with me. He had everyone's attention. He was a cute young guy (early 20's) who not only had this huge, heavy tree, but was also carrying a big plastic garbage bag containing the tree stand and some garland!

I said, "Now that's a first - I've never seen a Christmas tree on a train before," and the rest of the passengers at our end of the car agreed. The subway was crowded, and this guy was somehow holding up this heavy tree horizontally for the entire train ride. A couple of us commented that his girlfriend had better appreciate it! Apparently she didn't think he could do it. He was bound and determined to get that tree home.

Turns out he needed to get to Grand Central, too. He planned to take the shuttle from Times Square. Hmmm. All the time I've lived in NY I never used that shuttle. Good idea! So I told him I'd go with him and help him. I carried the bag while he hauled the tree through the crowded underground passages of the 42nd Street station. Every once in a while he had to stop and rest. I kept offering to help carry the tree, but he was bent set on doing it himself!

Funny, an older couple came by and told me I wasn't holding up my end of the work load! I said, "I tried but he wouldn't listen." They obviously thought we must be a couple - so I explained, "I don't even know this guy - we just met on the train!" It was a hoot. So anyway, I took his picture with my phone and he had me take his picture with his Blackberry.

Anyway, I walked with him all the way to the 6 train at Grand Central and we parted ways there with happy holiday wishes. That was fun! I'm going to miss New York for that very reason - all the wonderful strangers that I get to meet every day there.

From there I walked in the rain and puddles to pick up my rental car, then drove home to Brooklyn in my nice silver Ford Escape to load up the car, pick up Baby, and head south. If I could get out of the city around 4pm, I'd be in Virginia by 9:00 that night.

Ha. Apparently I didn't learn my lesson in July 2006 about traveling on I-95 during a holiday weekend. You just don't do it. Ever. I didn't even realize until well into my trip that it was Thanksgiving weekend, hence the bumper-to-bumper traffic. It took me 2.5 hours to go the first 75 miles. I kept thinking it would clear up, but it was like that all the way to Baltimore, with traffic getting worse at each of many toll booths along the way. It was stop and go for at least 10 miles before each booth, thanks to the thousands of people who think that paying cash at a toll booth is a good idea.

EZ-Pass is the way to go - you just drive through. But 90% of the traffic was going through the cash booths. With today's advances in technology, there's no excuse for lines at toll booths.

I was on I-295 in D.C. with just 16 miles to go when the rain came down so hard that I couldn't even see the road. Just as I'd been given the opportunity to drive the speed limit, I was forced to slow down to a crawl. Finally, the traffic had lightened up. I should have flown the rest of the way to my motel - but no-o-o-o-o-o. It's my usual Murphy's Law luck.

We finally got to Alexandria a full 7.5 hours after leaving New York for the 240-mile drive. It was late, I was exhausted, and my stupid card key wouldn't open up my motel door. Aaagh! I just wanted to get some sleep, and Baby just wanted out of her carrier.

Here I'd said to her, "Now if Martin can go a full nine hours in this bag flying across country, you can do four or five hours." But that was when I'd thought we'd do the trip in normal time. Geez, I lied to my own cat!

She was not happy in that bag. She's no Martin, that's for sure. Moving freaks her out until she sees our familiar furniture again. Martin was so laid back, he didn't care.

Naturally I couldn't sleep in the motel. I can never sleep with so much going on - especially during a move. I had to get up after just a few hours' sleep to meet with my new landlord to do a walk-through of my apartment. After that, I unloaded the car and waited for the movers, who were over an hour late. We had to rush finishing the job. The four of us managed to do the whole unloading in just three hours.

I drove to Reagan airport to return the car. When I was waiting for the Metro train on the platform, I called my dad to let him know I'd completely my move safely. I said, "Hi Daddy, I'm in Alexandria." His response, "What are you doing there?" is just another indicator that I move so often that my own parents can't keep up with me!

Sleep. . . . I need sleep. Bye.