Jul 31, 2010

Oklahoma City

We made it to Oklahoma City today! We're at my grandma's house now. Suki handled the tranquilizer much better today. I think yesterday I might have overdosed her a little bit. There wasn't the sleepy confused eyes as much and she seemed more alert when she was awake. No stumbling this time around. The drive to OK from Albuquerque was definately not as pretty as the ride out from Phoenix, but then again, the road was murderously flat and the skies were clear. Stopped at a Subway part of a gas station for lunch on the way out here. The Prius is doing good- supposedly averaging better than 50 miles to the gallon, despite my usual speed of around 75-80 mph, and I know its probably closer to 45, but still, not bad. Weather here is hot and humid. We're going to leave Grandma behind here tomorrow on our continued journey onward as we head NE from our eastern course.

Jul 30, 2010

Albuquerque

We've made our first stop on our 1400 mile journey to St. Louis- Albuquerque.

Yesterday was a very long day. A very very long day. I'll write about it later and spare you the details here, but suffice it to say we got to mom's house around 8pm filthy, exhausted, stressed out, and still in possession of the apartment on Monte Vista. We just got so behind there was no way we could do a final walkthrough, so that got added to today's plate of events.

 I had a hard time sleeping last night, after going to bed around midnight. Then, I got up at 6 AM and drove back from Awhatukee for the final cleaning and walkthrough at 7 AM. The apartment rep was nice, slightly early, and said we were good to go. Next stop was Tempe, where I picked up my old roommate Sal, who is also an architecture graduate student at ASU. We drove back to Ahwatukee, and mom made us all breakfast before we took off. Also, before we took off was the challenge of tranquilizing the cat. Our vet gave us some pills and told us to give her a quarter pill, up to twice a day, each one effective for 12 hours.

Once I got it down her, it was like we'd hit her with an elephant dart. Her eyes got really confused and sleepy, she staggered around, and rested frequently. I'd prepared a little "cat zone" in the back of the Prius with her big pillow, fresh water and food, and even her kitty litter box, but we were not even out of Phoenix before she somehow managed to jump out of the completely covered area and start making her way towards the front of the car, stumbling and sliding over the other baggage I'd stored in the backseat. She really wanted to sit in my lap, but Grandma Perkins grabbed her and held her in her lap for awhile. Finally Suki wandered into the backseat and attempted to climb into her kitty carrier, so we stopped for gas in Payson, I put her in the kitty carrier in the back seat with the door open and she quietly rested in there for the remainder of the trip. So much for the kitty class seating.

It was a beautiful drive out of Phoenix, up into Payson, but soon after we left the town, with Grandma behind the wheel, it started absolutely pouring like it does in AZ and visibility plummeted. We kept driving on slowly, keeping an eye out for cars ahead of us, and keeping a sharp eye out for our turn. When Saori and Sal came to the turn, the visibility was so poor they completely missed the sign and didn't realize after they had far passed it, so they had to detour by way of Show Low, which put them about an hour behind us.

We grabbed a bite at A&W in Holbrook, where we jointed I-40, and kept driving all the way to Albuquerque. Hit more downpours along the way, almost always the most severe weather while grandma was driving. Checked into our motel, and now I'm just waiting for Saori and Sal to arrive.

Tomorrow night: Oklahoma city.

Jul 29, 2010

Trials, Tribulations, and Trailers

Yesterday we got our trailer at 5 pm. It's a huge, 28' long cargo trailer 9 feet wide. The way the whole thing works is the shipping co. drops off the trailer and then we get three days to load it before we call themto pick it up. We estimated using around 9 feet of the trailer, but we actually only get charged for what we actually use. If we use less space(and I think we will) we get a credit to the tune of about a hundred dollars per foot. When we're done loading, there's a big bulkhead we install wherever we stop. The shipping co. then picks it up, and fills the rest with freight at their shipping center before driving on east. They'll clear out the freight and drop the trailer in front of our duplex in st. Louis.

Loading and packing is so frustrating. We pack and load and load and load, and the apartment never seems to empty. Part of it is we're taking stuff out of the incredible storage capacity of the apartment and our furniture, and part of it is just having a lot of stuff. I think we might be halfway packed and it's now Wednesday evening. I was hoping to have had our packing done by tonight so we could clean and patch the walls ahead of our walkthrough win the landlord at 3 tomorrow.

To be fair, we did take a nice lunch break at the Parlor, a nice pizza restaurant on Camelback. We meet up with two friends of ours who both work at the same architecture firm, incidently the same firm that designed the pizza restaurant. Lunch was very nice, we split a few pies and a salad, and I felt started to feel relatively normal.

It's wednesday night now, and we're nowhere near done. We're about out of boxes, so we made a run to Wal-Mart for some big storage bins, and we're going to hit up Safeway tomorrow first thing for boxes. We'll see what we can get, and then its going to turn into a pack and load scramble. We just ran out of time. We've inflated the blow-up mattress, and we're showering (carefully) without a curtain, but we just can't have a slow start tomorrow by driving down to mom's tonight. Looking around our bedroom, and around the apartment, it strikes me that there's still so much to do. And today's rain did NOT help.

Jul 26, 2010

The Sofa is Complete

About three years ago, I wrote about my sleeper couch:
This is a low gray fabric covered couch which unfolds into a bed, and while the couch is decently sittable, the bed is incredibly uncomfortable. The four inch thick mattress has been folded so many times, its compressed the springs in spots and you literally feel the bars of the bed frame beneath your back spaced out every three feet. The best way to lay on this mattress is to lie parallel to the couch if you are short enough, or diagonally, with lots of padding beneath you. Interestingly, this was the same couch owned by my parents since before I can remember, and sold to Sally before my parents moved overseas for the first time about ten years ago. Now, Sally and Jonathan are moving, and the couch is passed back to the son like Anakin's lightsaber. The circle is complete.
I have expanded the circle- today I sold the couch to a new family. I'd originally posted it on Craigslist for $40, but slashed the price to $20 after a day of no contacts or questions. They showed up with a pickup truck and a big guy helped me muscle the couch down the stairs. I'd spent the morning toying with the idea of removing the bed mechanism and installing some simple wood reinforcing and MDF board, since I really did like the couch. However, it would have been a lot of work, taken a lot of time and expense, and there's no saying if the couch would even fit up the L-shaped stairs in our apartment in St.Louis.

Anyway, I'm still going to miss it. It's literally been passed around in my family and friends for decades. It's an incredibly hard wearing sofa- the bed may not be comfortable at all, but the fabric looks fantastic for being over 20 years old.
Today I was going through the contents of our bedroom when I stumbled across a container of small construction bricks. I thought nothing of it until later, when this mysterious stranger ran across my path. He was nicely dressed except for the white ski mask and large automatic weapon. And the fact that he was running at high speed towards me.  I ducked out of the way, but not before snapping this photo with my camera. 














The reason he was running became evident shortly thereafter, a interpol inspector and a member of the special forces unit with full tactical hoth helmets were hot on his trail. I snapped a few quick photos before the inspector "I.M. Brikmann" told me to clear out of the area and threatened to confiscate my camera. Apparently, he masked businessman was none other than internally wanted assassin Le Goblox!


I can't believe I was just standing right there when it all happened!


Yeah, today, not so productive.

Jul 25, 2010

Saturday - Packing

Started packing in earnest today. I'm not making much progress, although I've taken everything down off the walls that was formerly affixed to the walls. Removed some mollybolts from the bathroom which was holding up my bathroom shelving unit. The secret to removing mollybolts from walls is that you don't really remove them. You cut away the flange around the outside, and push the whole bolt into the wall cavity. The problem now is you have a hole about a 1/4" to 3/8" wide. I stuffed a little wad of paper in each one as a backing and patched it with spackle. I'm probably going to need a little paint too to touch everything up.

Sunday morning:

Jul 24, 2010

The Secret Salsa

Yesterday was pretty busy considering that I only was at work for an hour, and I went to a party in the afternoon that didn't even go that late. The thing of it was that I was cleaning out my cubicle and the party was one I threw at our apartment.

I went into work early and wrote a draft of a letter of recommendation for myself on behalf of my boss. That was an odd experience. I'm naturally a little egoistic, so I try really hard to keep that in check through humility. But it does come through in subtle ways, as I'm sure my astute readers have seen. This letter of recommendation was different and difficult to write, and actually took me about an hour to get a short, one page letter.

It wasn't hard to write really nice, positive things about me (my direct supervisor wrote an absolutely glowing letter of recommendation for me for graduate school that she gave to me as a reference), but to pull it back enough to give it credibility. I'm writing as a vice president of the company, about an impressive subordinate employee. Here's a line from the letter.
His insightful spatial analysis, creative and intelligent solutions to complex problems, and ability to work collaboratively within the office and with numerous consultants have made him an invaluable team member.
I think I did a pretty decent job. I sent it to my boss who changed very little and signed it. It will definitely help in my later job searches.

After work, I joined Saori in cleaning up the apartment. We have a one bedroom apartment which has the benefit of large spaces and intelligent design. O Architecture! Not all one bedroom apartments are created equal. The layout of these apartments makes them feel bigger than they actually are, and the utility and amount of storage is phenomenal.

We made a run to Fresh & Easy, and to Safeway to pick up ice and some other party foods, and came back to start preparing for the small party. Most of our prep work time was spent cleaning, more than anything else. The white sangria I made the previous day so it had time to sit and chill and let the flavors infuse. We picked up pita breads and hummus, cheese, small pizzas, and grapes. Too much food actually. It was a nice small party of friends and colleagues, and people dropped by from noon until around 9. There was enough seating surprisingly, and everyone seemed to have a good time.

My sangria got some nice comments, but was vastly outshone by the fresh salsa and spicy walnuts mom brought. Almost everyone commented on how good the salsa was, and many of them were people who lived in Mexico. Mom actually apologized when she brought the salsa over, as the recipe actually calls for the tomatoes to be charred on a gas stove, but she's got an electric range. The recipe is from of mom's friends that she made in Beijing, who is an incredibly talented cook. She only gave mom the recipe after making mom essentially swear to only divulge it if she were ever subject to waterboarding.

Anyway, party is over, time to get packing.

Jul 22, 2010

Snack Time

Today was my last day of work, although really there was very little I actually did for the project. I spent a lot of time going through my computer files, hunting down and sorting out all the random files that accumulate, looking for stuff relevant to the project. I went through my old notes and old tasks, setting up a short list of items and areas of concern on which I was focusing. I sent a short email out to our consultants letting them know my time at the firm was up and thanking them for working with me.

I was taken out to a nice lunch by a group of my co-workers and my boss, which was pretty nice of everyone, and then at 3, they announced snack time. It was a nice little break. Someone had brought a boston cream pie, there were ice cream bars, cookies, etc. It's actually much more preferable to a lunch, especially as I'm not great at being the center of attention. I definitely have difficulty holding an audience. At any rate, I got up in front of the group,  and talked a little about my experience at the company, and how lucky I was to have had the position, and how much I appreciated working with the people within the firm. The whole thing felt very surreal, like it wasn't my last day at all.

Tomorrow, I'll go back in early, say goodbye to the rest of the principals, and finish collecting my stuff from my desk. Tomorrow is going to be a busy day, but at least I don't have to go to work.

Jul 21, 2010

We signed the lease and emailed it monday afternoon, sealing the deal, and Saori mailed off our checks (which actually seals the deal). So we're set. At this point I have a new address. And some items to add to my list of things to do, including:

  • Set up electrical account
  • Set up gas account
  • Get internet hooked up
  • Register with University City as a resident
I got around to looking at the apartment finding company affiliated with the school, which showed a very large amount of apartments and houses and duplexes for lease. The rents were all over the place, but reassuringly, they seemed to jibe with what I'd found online in other places. Location is almost everything, especially where prices are concerned. Oh what a difference a few blocks makes. 

Speaking of relative distances, St.Louis area is incredibly segregated.
St.Louis County, (metro St.Louis if you will) is 70% white, 24% African-American. The city of St.Louis itself is 47% white, 50% black, and East St.Louis, Illinois, just across the Mississippi, is 97% black. Other depressing demographics- the city of St.Louis has 2.4% Asians, about the same number as 2.6% Hispanic/Latino. It's going to be tough to find good Mexican food. It's also going to be a bit of a change for me, very used to seeing Latinos everywhere, to start seeing black people everywhere. Even downtown Phoenix, which probably has a very high proportion of black people in the valley really doesn't have that many, or rather, downtown tends to be a big ethnic polyglot. 

So tomorrow is my last day of work. I was surprised to hear that they're actually going to have a little going away party downstairs complete with snacks. To be honest, I feel a little awkward about it, apart from my natural social awkwardness, that is. On the one hand, its great that the office is going to miss me, and it's a good opportunity to tell everyone goodbye, and I am kind of touched by the sentimentality. On the other hand, I am the first person to voluntarily leave the company in about two years. For the dozen-odd people who were laid off over the depths of the depression, there was no fond farewell for them. At least it sounds like a pretty small thing- 3pm for snacks, as opposed to a goodbye luncheon.

Jul 18, 2010

Live at Tulane, learn at WashU

The landlord of the unit on Tulane is giving us a go! He sent us the lease and we're going to review it. He also mentioned that he's going to send us a "lead disclosure form" which made me slightly concerned until I realized that the main concern will probably be lead in soil and paint, rather than lead in plumbing (although there may very well be lead in the plumbing as solder- we'll see). 

Anyway, I'm happy to have a place lined up, that's one major thing down. So here are some photos I took while I was there looking around.




Jul 17, 2010

The Mid-Sized Firm

This monday will mark my last week of work. Since technically we're on a shortened week, it will really be my last four days. It's been a great job, and thinking about not working makes me think I'll miss working there. Honestly, when I first saw the place I'd be working as a summer intern, I felt a little deflated. 

Consider, you spend two years as an architecture student, coming up with wild ideas, and you get this vague idea in your head about what an architecture firm is like. Since studio focuses on fast-paced, creative exploration and expression, you get this idea that firms are fast paced, cutting edge, fun environments, with either creative mess everywhere or uber-minimalist sleek coolness where everyone wears slim black ties and rolled up sleeves. While firms like that do exist, and get occationally get some attention from the press, the reality is that most architecture firms are just that; firms. They gots biz to do, and furthermore, the vast majority of architecture that gets built is not the cutting edge, Metropolis cover shot. 

Anyway, when I came to my office for the first time, I saw cubicles, I saw people hunched over computers, I saw a small corporate firm that seemed to be producing a lot of very not-Metropolis-worthy architecture. I was kind of expecting something a little more, design-y.This is the first post where I mentioned working in my blog, way back in May of 2006 as an intern:
Today I rose and showered before 7 AM. I wore pleated pants and a belt. In my minivan, I fought the morning traffic to downtown. I wore a tie. I sat in a cubicle and attended an office meeting. I drove home through rushour traffic, in a minivan.

These are new things to me.
 A year later, when I approached graduation, I was asked by the head of HR if I wanted a full-time, salaried position there. It was a time when the Phoenix economy was still booming. It was a time of bounty when architecture workers were jumping from one firm to another since the pickings were so sweet. I'd worked there long enough to know the kind of work they did, and what other firms in the valley were doing.

I decided to take the job anyway, despite my initial misgivings about working in a firm that did civic and educational projects. The working environment was good, I was learning a lot, the people were low-key and friendly, and the salaried offer was very generous, along with the benefits and paid vacations.

In the three years of working full time there, I'm really glad I made that decision. Personally, and professionally, I saw a lot of growth. The firm's commitment to education (they call it "stewardship") pushed me to see all the different aspects of the business of architecture. I was invited to meetings with clients, product representatives, consultants, and contractors. I was taken out in the field. They sent me on field trips to other buildings, to conferences. They paid for me to take a 3 day Revit class, and told me not to worry about coming in during those days. I worked on projects from programming through construction administration, which is pretty rare for an architecture firm of our size. I got to design, which is why I got into this field in the first place.

More ambiguously, or ambivalently, work has changed how I view architecture; its nature, its role in the world, what it can or should be. My view of architecture is colored by what I've done and seen. It would have been different if I'd been working at a national corporate firm, or at a four-person firm. I think my design philosophy has also changed. I'm a lot more aware of building systems, of structure.

And of course, it goes without saying that taking that position kept me employed throughout the recession. I saw people in the firm being let go, in various waves of layoffs. The first round was hard, and they had to keep letting go of better and better people. But my firm was nothing to hearing about the gradual bloodbath in the industry. Scores of small boutique firms just dropped off the face of the earth as the cutting edge (read by clients as "expensive") design disappeared. Work in general pretty much dried up, and our firm would probably not have been able to make it had it not been for the fact that have 60 years of experience with a core group of large, well-funded clients. The municipalities and universities that gave us the civic and educational work that I initially was reluctant to accept was just about the only kind of work left, which was a lesson in itself.

But I'm ready to move on. In order to find the right kind of job, and to continue my education as an architect, I need to see what else is out there. I want to spend some time working for the huge corporate firms, where there is a constant revolving door of architects and designers who are basically used like plug-in commodities (or so I hear). Ditto for the small firms, where you work for a single architect/owner who is never in because she's out finding work and you have to do all the work (also, so I hear).

I think I'm kind of rambling here, so I'll conclude.

Basically, it was a fantastic job where I learned a lot, and now I'm ready to move on.
But I will miss the easy life, the money, and the sleep. Definitely the sleep.

Super Productivity Smash Bros.

My saturday started off with so much productivity. I was up by 6:30, called mom, and we met at Harlow's for breakfast right when it opened at 7. I called the moving truck people and re-arranged the delivery time and date. I hauled a massive load of books, music, and movies to Bookmans, Zias, and Goodwill. Bookmans, for you non-AZ people, is a used books/media store with several locations in the state. Each store is about the size of a supermarket. Zia's operates on a similar concept, except they almost exclusively sell new and used CDs and DVDs. Unfortunately, there are no other Zia Record stores outside of AZ. Unfortuantely, I wound up with a ton of Zia trade credit. Unfortunately, they happened to have Super Smash Bros Brawl for Wii, which is what Saori's been wanting for awhile, so unfortunately I took it home and slotted it.

(fast forward three hours)

So much for productivity.

Jul 15, 2010

Apartment updates

We decided to go for the Tulane apartment. Even though it is farther from campus, the location and route to school is a lot safer. Its not as convenient to other things like light rail, stores, or food, but I thought that since (A) we're new to the city (B) St.Louis has more crime than Phoenix and (C) as architecture students we tend to come and go at odd hours, it was better to err on the side of caution at least until we get the feel for the city.


View Larger Map
So, we scanned in our applications, mailed in our application fees, and now we're waiting to hear back from the landlord. The other place we had lined up, on Waterman, we let the realtor know that we were no longer interested. 

It's been really stressful, actually, since I kind of feel like the place to live is kind of a critical path. Saori's working on figuring out the specifics of how to move with a big ABF trailer. My biggest concerns right now are making sure we're reserving it with enough time (we theoertically move in about two weeks), and also the legality and logistics of parking essentially an interstate freight container on our street. And in St.Louis, which had little curbside parking even during the doldrums of summer. So that's stressing me out a little bit. 

Gotta keep moving forward though. Got a few things done on my to do list, but I've added more, so its spilling onto a second page. As I keep telling myself, everything will work itself out, and I act to direct things to work out in my favor.

Jul 13, 2010

Ten apartments

Friday, Saturday, and Sunday in St.Louis and I ended up seeing ten apartments/houses/condos. These were all over the place, ranging from $950 a month down to the low $500s. Some were less than a mile from campus while others were more than five miles away. 

There was one apartment in a very sketchy neighborhood that had apparently been caught on fire by one of the former tenants, and which was a total disaster inside. This was actually the one that Saori and I had both liked based on what we saw on the internet (obviously the before photos) and the location on the map (without understanding what the neighborhoods were like).

There was a fantastic apartment, not too from campus but unfortunately located in a sketchier neighborhood, that looked essentially unchanged from the 1940s, complete with arts&crafts leaded glass doors in the bedrooms, decorative iron radiators in all the rooms, enameled iron sinks, and even the built in ice box. Not an old refrigerator, an actual piece of integral cabinetry that you would stick a big block of ice in to keep your food cold. Amazing place, cheap, I was almost sold on the charm, but the reality of having no central ac or heating tempered my excitement. If we wanted ac, we would have to put down a deposit for a window unit for each of the rooms.

I learned a lot about apartment hunting. Having never really apartment hunted outside of Phoenix, it was a new challenge. Here are some things I learned about looking for places in St.Louis
  • Location, Location, Location. Old realtor's adage holds true. The city of St.Louis is ranked in the top five most dangerous and most segregated cities in the US. Some of the places I looked at were clearly in a bad area, some looked not so bad, but when I looked at crime maps of the area, were actually several times as dangerous as our current neighborhood in central Phoenix. 
  • St.Louis is an old city. Most of the apartments I was looking in would count as historic buildings in Phoenix. Some were over a hundred years old. Things to check for: sufficient water pressure, updated piping, updated wiring, double pane windows.
  • Parking is an issue. Some places only had street side parking. When school starts, its going to be a hairy mess. We get back home at odd hours in architecture and I don't really want to be hiking a million miles late at night, regardless of where we're living.
  • We went in dead set to get a place with a washer and dryer. The reality is that unless you get a townhome with a private washer dryer in the basement, most places don't have them, since the buildings were built before the time of the washer dryer, and there's no utilities running to them.
  • Rooms are a lot smaller. My current bedroom size is about 14 by 16 feet. Most places I saw had bedrooms much smaller than that, probably because people lived in smaller rooms back when things were built. There was also a great lack of storage. A few token closets in these places were maybe a foot or two deep, and there were not many of them. Much less storage space than here, unless we get a place with a basement.
Right now we're kind of playing the location game. Proximity to campus vs neighborhood safety. There's one place that we can see the crime stats that look pretty grim. Not bad at all for the city overall, but worse than the crime in our neighborhood, or even really central Phoenix. It's right by the light rail, 1.4 miles to campus, and to get to school, we would bicycle past all the old mansions lined up in front of the huge forest park. It comes with a washer and dryer in unit, wood floors, granite countertops, a nice sun room/bedroom, and an actual parking lot in the back. During the day I visited, I would not peg it as a bad neighborhood. Crime maps of St.Louis aren't reassuring. 

I did a contrasting study, I looked at the police beat where we are currently living in central Phoenix, and looked at all the crimes in January and February. There were 105 crimes, including property crimes. I did a similar study in the neighborhood we were looking to rent, in approximately the same area, and the number of crimes for the same time period was closer to 350. So, you could say that the neighborhood is three times as dangerous. Most of the crime is vehicle related- auto theft or theft from vehicles, although there is the periodic assault, robbery, and burglary. It's questionable. We're currently living in a higher crime area of Phoenix, and we take precautions here, and I think its reasonable that we could stay safe in St.Louis with further precautions, not traveling alone, not bicycling or walking home after certain hours, things like that.

The other place we're looking at the owner originaly rejected Suki, but has since negotiated a $300 pet deposit, and a slightly increased rent. It's really pretty, I really liked it and the neighborhood, the one on Tulane Ave I mentioned in my first blog from St.Louis, but the problem is 2.6 miles from campus, which pretty much means we either have to drive daily to bike since its about a mile from any public transportation. However, this old, private residential neighborhood is very safe, and I'd feel more comfortable walking around at night here.

Its a tough call. I'm leaning more towards the safer property, but I'm checking out one more place thats closer to campus than either one, in a safe neighborhood, but has no washer or dryer. We shall see.

But can't wait too long. I need to reserve the moving van before the end of the week, I'm sweating already since its not done. There's a bajillion things to coordinate, shuffle, plan, toss, and switch before we move, which would theoretically take place in about three weeks. Once I get the housing thing settled, I'll feel like I;ve got a better grasp of the situation. (although we still need to actually apply for the lease, be checked out by the landlords, and get accepted and sign the lease).

Jul 9, 2010

There are some architectural interests in studying in St.Louis.

  • The Mississippi mound-builders from the prehistoric times, built mounds.
  • The city's massive population explosion in the 19th century led to hard learned lessons in urban planning and infrastructure.
  • The Wainwright building, considered by many architectural historians to be the first "skyscraper" was built here and still stands today.
  • The Worlds Fair in 1904 kicked off the City Beautiful movement, which set a neoclassical standard for civic and public buildings that deeply impacted the architectural styles of the US. 
  • Pruitt-Igoe, the public housing project infamous to architects and planners, was unveiled and given many architectural awards as a Modern architecture solution to the urban poor. It was demolished 20 years later as a failure after crime, extreme poverty, abuse, and neglect spiraled.
  • The iconic arch, built by architect Ereo Saarinan, is located here, and is pretty cool looking. One of the senior partners of my architecture firm told me that when he was a student in St.Louis, one of his friends' aligators died, they put it in small coffin and buried it under the planned apex of the then in-construction arch with a small funeral. Alcohol may have been a factor.
  • The city straddles the border of its own state, which is very odd to me, having lived in a state where the distance one has to drive to reach the state border would cross several eastern seaboard states.
  • Not so architectural, but certainly work-generating: apparently St.Louis is the largest city to be repeatedly struck by lethal tornadoes.
  • If one measures a city's vitality by its population increase and decreases, St.Louis shone most brightly in the early 1900s. Following the slow decline of industry and the rust belt, the population of St.Louis fell by half between 1950 and 2000. This alone creates what I consider very interesting conditions. What happens to a city when half the people just leave? However, it is also representative the more recent phenomenon of inner city gentrification. Educated, wealthier, mostly young, moving out of the 'burbs to the inner city. This has the overall effect of making the suburbs poorer, with higher percentages of minority groups as well. 

Apartment hunting 1

Day 1 of apartment hunting began with me waking up at 8 am. Because its 6 am Phoenix time, this was a slight endeavor. Grabbed a quick breakfast in the lobby. Like some other budget hotels trumpeting a "deluxe hot breakfast" they had a do-it-yourself waffle iron, which was provides a hot crisp waffle. I had a bit of free time before my first scheduled appointment, so first place on the list was:

Hafner Court Apartments
This looked like a good cheap option. Under $530 a month, with an in-unit washer and dryer. The washer and dryer are a plus, but that and the price are the only things going for this apartment. It's pretty cheap, very similar to the gobs of student apartments which surround ASU. Plastic laminate countertops, carpeting and vinyl tile. The place doesn't have central cooling so it relies on wall units which would be new for me. Driving up to it, I passed a big yellow street sign: Caution: Area prone to Flooding. I asked the woman who showed me around about it and she said that a few years back there were some really bad floods that actually flooded a lot of St.Louis, including these apartments. She told me that since then, the state had dredged out the rivers and that they hadn't had any problems since. It's close to the ethnic food strip, which is a positive, but according to one of my friends I met later for lunch, its in a higher crime area.

7360 Tulane Ave. 
This place I was excited to see. A house, a bit more pricey, 2 bed. The neighborhood is really nice, very beautiful with a lot of trees. Not too far from school, but a little far. Cool things- washer and dryer included, an enclosed garage, nice hardwood floors, very spacious. Historic, too. Its actually a duplex, the other guy is a WashU student as well apparently. The only catch is they dont want pets. Nada, at least, that was the impression I got from the agent showing the house. I'm going to call the owner this evening to figure out if there isn't some way to get around it. We're talking about an overweight, declawed, neutered, 11 year old cat who spend most of her time sleeping. Money, as they say, solves a lot of problems.

6270 Cabanne Ave
We had high hopes for this place. The photos make it look great, but it was kind of a dump to be honest. The current residents apparently ripped up the carpeting in the basement, which was "partially finished." Partially finished looks like the workmen just dropped their tools and walked away, leaving a kind of mess. It also smelled kind of funky and smokey. Apparently, one of the renters had lit the the building exterior on fire accidently, melting some of the vinyl siding. The neighborhood looked really bad too, it looked very run down. When I pointed out this property to my friend, he said "try really really hard not to rent there."
The rent is cheap, it comes with a washer and dryer and yes it would be our own place, but my overall impression was no thanks, not so much.

743 Heman Ave
This was the other property shown to me by the same company as the Cabanne ave house. This one was in a better location, closer to the school and very close to Delmar Loop, which is the main drag of University City. This apartment was in much better shape than the house. Not a terrible option, but not really one that gets me excited. Coin-op washer and dryer in the basement, although they do offer hookups in the unit. For the price, I'd much rather be someplace that excites me a little more.

After checking out these apartments, it was about time for me to meet up with a friend for lunch. Richard graduated from ASU's planning program and went straight into the Wash U masters of architecture. He just graduated from there and is still living in St.Louis, so he offered to show me his place and grab a bite to eat.

He lives in an apartment tower in CWE (central west end) although I think of it as the central EAST end since its on the east end of the giant central park. Its a luxury place with a garage with a guard, doormen, upgraded finishes, etc. etc. His one bedroom apartment was bigger than some of the 2 bedroom places I'd seen. It was interesting to see what apartment tower life could be like, but its not quite what I'm looking for. Pricy, and pretty far from campus.

Richard did take me to a great BBQ joint in town called Pappy's Smokehouse, which has apparently won numerous awards and is a considered one of the best BBQ places in StL. Richard warned me about the line, and indeed it did stretch out of the restaurant and around the corner. There's only 1 cashier. Actually it works to regulate the number of customers so that by the time you get to the front, there's a seat available. We spent about half an hour standing in line. By the time I got to the end, I was half expecting to get on a pig-themed ride. I got a pulled rib sandwich which was pretty darn good. Best rib sandwich I've ever had (not that I've had many) but very nice meat. Next time got to try the brisket.

Jul 8, 2010

Midwestern Adventures

I've gotten to the age where I'm going to work on a travel day. I went into work this morning after packing everything last night, and Saori picked me up and drove me to the airport at 10 for my noon flight to STL. I think I must have been either one of the last people to check in, because I got an oddly good seat. I was in the last zone to board, the flight was "full" yet the row I was sitting in was empty. Maybe they filled up the plane of the regular priced seats, then all they had left were the 'upgraded' seats with a little extra legroom, and then since they overbooked, they automatically located me to this nice row. The seat they gave me was actually in the middle, but with noone left or right, I slid over to the window seat to listen to Wait Wait don't Tell me on the 2.5 hour flight over.

I was actually pretty nervous once I got off the plane. I've never rented a car before, and my printout reservation mentioned the facility potentially being off-site, so clutched my duffel and wandered around following various signs. Signs pointing to the car rental desks, signs for Budget, sign on the empty Budget desk directing me to the platform to catch the Aivs/Budget bus, signs on the busses...

It's hot and humid in STL. Reminds me of Oklahoma. Beautiful cloudy skies though, with storm clouds roiling in the skies punctuated by bright, midwestern sunshine.

Two things I forgot to bring with me. A city street map, and directions to the hotel from the car rental place. Did I say hotel? I meant "motel." I don't want there to be any confusion with a place with class. I asked the bus driver if he knew how to get to the Ramada north of the airport, and he gave me verbal directions, involving multiple twists and turns. Amazingly, I was able to get there, but first I had to get my car.

The rental was actually pretty easy despite how nervous I was. The people in STL are very friendly, at least the ones I've encountered so far. I'd pre-paid and arranged the car and the hotel as part of a package, together around $70 a day. What that got me, walking down to the very last lane of the Budget lot, was not much. I was looking at the space numbers, but this tiny little compact, looking somehow narrower than the standard car, caught my eye between two standard compact cars. This was it. A Hyundai Accent, from the car maker with a reputation for tin-foil cars. I jumped in, adjusted the mirrors and the seat, and drove off.

It took awhile to find the hotel, I actually passed it twice trying to get to it. In LA the freeway entrances and exits are hidden, in STL they are clearly marked but for some reason, damned near impossible to get to the right one. This Ramada looked like the sketchiest hotel I've been to outside of China and Eastern Europe. At the end of a short road, overlooking the airport runway, the broken asphalt and concrete parking lot was relatively empty. On my way in, I passed the hotel restaurant, offering American and Italian food, was shuttered with a sunbleached printout in the door: restaurant closed until further notice.

After waiting about 20 minutes while the desk clerk helped other people and answered phone calls, it transpired that I was not at the right Ramada. I was registered at the one three miles away. The clerk asked if I wanted to just call them to transfer me to this one. I asked the clerk how to get to the right Ramada and left, humming "On the Road Again" as I walked back out the tiny Hyundai.

I did make it to the right hotel, right next door to the sports bar and the freeway, and got my netbook set up so I could locate a bookstore and buy a freaking street atlas so I would have some clue about where the hell I was. There's a fire sprinkler head coming out of the wall near the ceiling, and next to it is a sticker of a "do not hang clotheshangers from this." The Ramada I'm staying at is actually very close to a huge Boeing complex, and the road nearby is called McDonnell.

With the help of Google, I found a convenient typical shopping center, you know, the one with the GameStop, the Barnes&Noble, the Home Depot, the Cold Stone Creamery, and the Target? Picked up a street atlas there, and grabbed a bite at the Sonic. Flipped through the street atlas and worked on my next move. It was getting a little late, so I decided to just take a quick spin through the area we'd been searching for apartments to get a feel for the neighborhood.

There's a bit of a Chinatown, or Chinastrip along Olive road, close to the 270. The area of University City is quite beautiful. Very lush and green in the middle of summer, and it kind of reminds me of the old Ponca city, with mossy stone walls, small, old hilltop cemeteries, old houses and quiet residential streets. Delmar is a bit like Mill avenue, or really, any big boutique/bar/restaurant strip close to a major university. Mill avenue in Tempe, for example.

Wandered my way back to the hotel by backroads. Armed with a detailed street atlas, its fun to get lost and drive on whim and intuition. I've got a busy day tomorrow, so now I'm back at the hotel, planning out my day and mapping when and where I need to be.

Jul 5, 2010

Tay-Tay

Every week or so, Saori, me, Tay, and Brit meet at mom's house for dinner and to play games or cards. Sometimes, Saori or Brit can't make it, but its a pretty regular thing.

Last night, we had a fourth of July dinner. I brought my white sangria, and made a salad, Tay made the fried chicken and mashed potatoes, Brit made the broccoli, and mom made some cloverleaf rolls and some chocolate melting cake. It was all pretty good and we stuffed ourselves. So it was kind of a comedown, when mom reminded us that this was our last time together for awhile. It hadn't really occurred to me, or Tay either, for that matter. 

Part of my brain knew that Tay was going to London and Egypt for a month, and another part of my brain knew that I was leaving Phoenix before the end of the month, but sometimes my inter-cranial meetings get cancelled. 

It really just snuck up on me. I suggested to Tay that we meet him at the airport in the morning for a pre-flight coffee. Saori was working Sunday night, and I knew she'd really want to see Tay again, I wasn't going into work today since its a company paid time off, and besides, you have to show up at the airport two hours before your flight anyway.

So that's what we did. Tay met us at the airport. With a huge goodbye gift. I felt kind of low, having nothing to give but a hug and a java chip frappuchino with whipped cream. Anyway, we plonked down in front of one of the airport Starbucks and chatted for awhile, until it was time for Tay to get going to his gate. I don't know when I'll get to see him again. Maybe in a few months. 

My brother is really a great guy, and I've been really lucky to have had the time with him here that I did. There's a view out there that luck is nothing but when opportunity meets preparedness, but there's no accounting for my family and friends. I've just been plain lucky to know and spend time with such wonderful people. Call it gifted, blessed, providence, whatever you want, I'm just unaccountably lucky.

Tay's off to Philadelphia first, then London, and the wide world beyond after. 
May the winds favor his plane, may the kindness of strangers safeguard his path, may his luggage meet him at his final destination. May his travels be easy, free from sickness or jet lag, and may he find the joy and beauty of the world. Traveler, I wish you well.

Jul 4, 2010

Scoring a little pot

Dude, there we were in Puerto Vallerta, in the heart of Sinaloa, Mexico. Saori and I were down a side street off of the main tourist stretch when we found a dealer. We'd been scouting around for a little pot since we both decided that was the souvenir we wanted from Mexico while on the cruise, and what we'd seen before was nice, but not quite the highest quality of pot we were looking for. Anyway, this place had some great stuff. The owner was a very interesting bespectacled gentleman named Antonio, who looked vaguely European but spoke with an hint of a British accent. It turns out he had studied in England, probably from a wealthy Mexican family, and had finally settled in Puerto Vallerta to sell high quality goods.

There was such a great selection, Saori and I stayed for about an hour trying to make up our minds what we wanted. In the end, we picked up a little high grade pot that was half-off, and since we paid in cash we got a further discount. Antonio rolled our pot up in newspaper and bubble wrap. Brining it back on the ship was no problem, they didn't even want us to unwrap it. I guess contraband booze is a bigger issue than a little pot to them. Anyway, we brought it back the US, no problems at the border, and now its sitting out in our living room for anyone to enjoy.


Here's a photo; I suppose it's more of a small pitcher than a pot, but I didn't want people to be confused.

America

The author Vonnegut was not exactly a patriot. In fact, he classified nationalities as 'granfalloons,' or as "a proud and meaningless association of human beings." I think it goes a bit far- to many people the association carries great personal meaning. However, he does make a point about the nature of nationality. What is a nation? It's a group of shared ideas, many of them completely arbitrary. 

If you go out to the southern Arizona desert, there is no line across the desert, separating Mexico from USA. If there are boundaries in this world, they largely man-made. It's not really defined by where you live, as there are many Americans living outside the US, and there are many non-Americans living in America. 

What is an American? An American looks like anyone in the world. There is no ethnicity, no color, no race of Americans. There is an American accent and way of speaking, but these are cultural constructs, shared ideas.

Countries are experimental social agreements. Power and politics are games to determine how and how long a group of people can keep control of other people. Long ago, a group of people loosely under the control of a social agreement based on a European island decided that the social agreements were not valid and fought a war for the establishment of a new social agreement.

I support America, I am proud to be an American, because I think we have the best experiment going. The founders and leaders of America were and are self-serving hypocrites, like any person who willingly assumes power over the lives of others, but with a difference. Flawed as they were as individuals, they fought for and established a system based on admirable ideals. Governance of the people, by the people, and for the people.  A humanitarian system of laws and justice centered on the idea that individuals have fundamental rights. These are the things for which I stand and choke me up. History, culture, Americana, symbols, and songs are so much fluff when you get down to it. Burn the stars and stripes, blow up the Statue of Liberty, tear down the Mall of America and the mom n' pop hamburger stand. You can't destroy an idea. This is the land that I love.

Jul 2, 2010

Xenocinemaphile

I just saw the strangest Japanese film I've ever seen. Most likely, you will have not heard of it, or of this one either, but it was the same director as Sharkskin man and Peachhip Girl, and Taste of Tea. This film was called Party 7, and loosely follows the interrelated paths of 7 really dumb people, half of which are yakuza. The style is very flash and very odd, and the movie kind of reminds me of Guy Richie's style, although there's a lot more surreal humor. There's not much plot, really just enough to string together these really odd characters who were actually kind of fun in their own way. Here's the trailer:

Medium is the message

I moved the blog again. I deleted the Tumblr account and moved everything to Medium.com, a more writing-centric website. medium.com/@wende...