Sunday, March 24, 2013

The Perfect Compromise


“Nostalgia is truly one of the great human weaknesses. Second only to the neck.” – Dwight Schrute

Source: Deborah Austin

I moved from Austin in August 2010 for work, and as part of relocation I was given a month of corporate housing in Redmond. While the short commute to work was great, it seemed to be the only perk of living in a place where the sound of crying babies broke the overwhelming suburban silence. When I’d interned the previous summer, I noticed how those interns who had found accommodation in Seattle were instantly cooler. They walked into house parties with an enviable aloofness, a detached “Ya, I live in the city” entering most conversations. Terribly impressed I decided that I had to live in Seattle. I was twenty-one, and starting off at my first real job: city living beckoned. I imagined the nights out in bars, weekend mornings at Pike Place Market, and afternoons in coffee shops. Beautiful women were always part of these wonderful imaginings, of course. Unfortunately, the optimism began to fade quickly as I encountered apartments with no vacancies, apartments with vacancies but poor commute options, and a fast dwindling timer on my corporate housing. Before too long, my mind was doing that thing it was so good at: make compromise tempting.

I decided to give Bellevue a shot. A suburb west of Redmond, and east of Seattle: the perfect compromise. I’d heard one of the leasing managers mention a place called Elements that had cropped up recently in downtown Bellevue. As I pulled my car into the building, I was immediately taken by how fancy it was. The floor-mats were boldly inviting (“Welcome to artful living”), the elevator spoke (“Going up!”), the artwork on the walls made no sense, and the cement pillars were intentionally left unpainted. The place also smelled so nice and adult. There was potpourri everywhere; a stark contrast to the apartment I’d shared in Austin that smelled like a Febreeze-Axe cocktail at the best of times. As I waited at the concierge desk (they had a concierge!) for the leasing agent to show me around, my brain went into fifth gear to convince me that Seattle living was over-rated: I could always drive there if I wanted to, right?

During the tour, the leasing agent tossed more things in: a heated swimming pool that was always maintained at 72F, a gym with designer dumb-bells, a television screen in the mailroom to let me know if I had any packages to pick up, and a French bakery downstairs to meet my munching needs. The one downside he said was that there was construction going on in the commercial space below their only vacant apartment. “The construction will happen between 8-4 on weekdays, and we’ll give you an insane discount to compensate for the noise. Would you be OK with that?” he asked. Would I be OK with that? I thought about the apartment in Austin I’d just moved out of, the futon I used to sleep on, the leaves we discovered beneath my futon when we threw it out, the flies that bred in the kitchen, the washers and dryers in the common area that were often casualties of booze fuelled weekend nights.  “Would you be OK with that?” he asked again. I scratched my non-existent beard, nodded and said, “I think I can make that work."

So for two and a half years, I lived in Bellevue. On paper, the area had everything: bars, parks, malls, a multiplex, an art museum, a public library, even a statue of Gandhi. But it felt a little too planned. It’s as if a survey was run to determine what constituted good living and then lo and behold downtown Bellevue was born. The problem was, you hardly saw people on the streets. The mall was the main draw, and if you were so inclined you could spend an entire Friday night there – start with happy hour at the Parlor on the third floor, go bowling at Lucky Strike on the second floor, sign off with shots at Paddy Coyne’s on the first floor, and then stumble back home. I loved my apartment, though, and while the itch to live in Seattle didn’t go away, it was hard to give up the terrific deal I’d landed. But the construction below my apartment eventually ended, and my rent rose to more accurately reflect the market price. I went on another apartment hunt and due to an enormous amount of luck, I found a place in the Cap Hill neighborhood that met my every requirement—barring intentionally unpainted pillar.

I remember when I was in middle school my parents sold the washing machine we had used for many years. It was well past its prime, but I felt a pang of sadness as I saw it dragged away to be dismantled and have its parts sold. So imagine my hits of nostalgia as I moved out of my first apartment post-college. I walked around to check if I’d left anything behind. The movers had come and gone, and the emptiness of the place reminded me of the day I moved in. I had sat by the window, waiting for the truck carrying my stuff from Austin to show up. I was twenty-one, and starting off at my first real job. It wasn’t too long ago, but it certainly felt that way as I locked the door to #317 one final time.