Haters Gonna Hate: East Bay Edition

When considering a move to the Bay, it quickly becomes obvious that people are very territorial and judgy with their city choices in the area. As we were doing research on where we wanted to live, Google searches kept on bringing us back to one particular website, where the two most common questions appear to be: “is x safe?” and “what’s it like living in y?” After perusing the forums on that web site for the past six months, I have compiled a summary of the every “pro” and “con” argument you will ever see for a number of cities in the East Bay:*

Walnut Creek:
PRO: “Great Schools! Safe! Near Mount Diabolo!”
CON: “All white and snobby! It is the epitome of Blaffluence. What is Blaffluence, you ask? It’s when you have a bunch of rich people who only want to eat and shop at homogenous, overpriced chains where the staff only wears black – it’s like they built a society around The Keg. Also? It’s super hot. For two days in the summer, it get over 85 degrees…so yeah, it’s basically a smoldering hell that shits cash and Neiman Marcus cookies.”

Oakland:
PRO: “It’s like San Francisco, but CHEAPER!”
CON: “It’s basically post-apocalyptic San Francisco. So, if you’re into that…”

Alameda:
PRO: “It’s charming and old. The ferry is the way to commute to San Fran! The weather is perfect!”
CON: “They underreport their crimes. It’s near Oakland. It’s run-down and ghetto.” [seriously, people say this. By the way, the lead image for this post is a picture of one of the many gorgeous houses in Alameda. People? Get out more.]
PRO retort: “Come on, it’s not Antioch.”

San Leandro:
PRO: “People are super-friendly. The Bay-O-Vista and Estudillo Estates neighborhoods are particularly nice!”
CON: “It was nice before 1997, then it went all to shit. They’ve got crime and gangs. People shoot and stab each other at the BART station. Go to Castro Valley instead. San Leandro’s ghetto.” [again, picture of a San Leandro neighborhood:

…Sigh.]
PRO retort: “Sure the city has its problems; what city doesn’t? It’s not like it’s Oakland or Antioch or anything…”

Castro Valley:
PRO: “Great schools! Not ghetto!”
CONS: “Far from San Francisco! Parts of it are ghetto! But it’s way better than San Leandro or Hayward or…Antioch **shudder**” [Real talk, people who use this word excessively: do you even know what a ghetto is? And no, ghetto is not defined as “places that don’t have a Whole Foods.” And newsflash: they are also not “places that happen to have minority residents.” Yeesh.)

Pittsburg:
PRO: “Affordable living! You’ll always have a seat on BART!”
CON: “While it’s not Antioch, it’s a smoldering shithole that is the Roger Clinton to Walnut Creek’s Bill.”

So all in all, the negative perception of the East Bay on message boards is either you’re in Walnut Creek or in a “ghetto”, but just be thankful you don’t live in Antioch, I guess.

[To be fair to the message boards and if you came across this post in hopes of obtaining useful information: if you automatically discount every post that mentions the words “ghetto” or “racists” when describing a city, you are left with some reasonably good information. Pair it up against crimereports.com and walkscore.com, and you’ll be good to go].

*Please note that this post is mocking perceptions that I find to be ridiculous, if that’s not incredibly obvious already.

Menacing Kitten Headquarters Melts Down, Cries Glowing Chernobyl Tears

No one is this happy.

As you know, I am moving. What you may not know is my shit is moving out six weeks before I do, nothing is working the way it’s supposed to, nothing is happening on time, everything sucks and hatehatehatemeltdowncry.

Allow me to back this up a little.

So, we put a bid on a beautiful home. Here’s a picture of it:

The walls, ceiling and crown molding are all plaster and I love it. Here is a picture of the crown molding:

We were supposed to close on said house last Friday. Our mortgage is going through a large banking outfit we will simply call Bells Cargo. We’ve used Bells in the past and had zero problems with them; since our last dealing with them, they instituted a corporate policy of spiking the water cooler with Ambien.  Our initial documents were way, way off: misspellings, incorrect zip codes, years of employment that only make sense if you have been a companion on the TARDIS, and financial numbers that didn’t add up. After a few iterations of documents, a checklist of things to correct and finally a “fuck it, I’ll just scratch it out” resignation, we signed off on a bunch of things. We did inspections and appraisals with three weeks to spare. Periodically, we’d get an email stating something like, “Bells Cargo needs this really important thing in half an hour that we knew about since God touched Adam’s finger, but we thought it would be really fun to wait until now to tell you this.” We panicked, cursed and delivered emergency documents. Things continued to move forward.

We set up movers to come out on Thursday for packing, Friday for loading. The move takes a few days, so we figured that would be a decent amount of time between the Friday closing and getting our stuff at the new house. I’m still not entirely clear why we chose to move the stuff out so early, leaving me with an air mattress and my keyboard to keep me company until the end of March, but I’m fine with it. I don’t need much, and my husband has suffered through rental furniture in his apartment for the past few months. At any rate, the movers seem to be good people who are on top of their shit. Chris booked his flight for the week with the intention to help with the move and get a few estimates to fix up our Arizona house. The movers called me a week out to confirm everything was set up, and called 24 hours before to confirm again. All was good.

Not long after the 24 hour confirmation from the movers, we get another notice from Bells: “That appraisal you reported to us three weeks ago? Yeah, we have this cool algorithm built into our mortgage program that says something like this:
IF AppraisalValue = BidValue, THEN wait >=3 weeks AND RETURN ‘HAHA Fuckers, Closing is delayed.’
And yes, consistent with our reps, our syntax is jacked up.”

So we call the movers and do a change order to delay moving by a week, because storing everything is crazy expensive. We panic, because there is a lot at stake when you get that type of message less than 72 hours before closing. We wait.

The next day, Bells lets us know, 80s style, “PSYYYYEEEK! Appraisal is good.” So…now what? “We want to look at three other random things that didn’t matter previously and can’t give you a timeline yet.”

Awesome.

On Thursday, someone who was supposed to come out and give us an estimate on fixing up the house told us he was double-booked and couldn’t make it out. I’m just adding this because it officially meant Chris came out here for almost no reason.

On Friday, we finally get the final sign-offs from Bells. Friday evening? The Escrow person tells us, regretfully, Bells didn’t send them the loan documents. Color us shocked.

On Saturday, we have an early birthday party for me with our friends. Everyone was amazing as always and I’m reminded how much I love my friends and am going to miss them. Late into Saturday evening partying, I had a drink that included cinnamon whiskey, Crispin hard apple cider, and some kind of schnapps in it. I think. It was very tasty. Someone placed a second one of these drinks in front of me. When a third came out, I vaguely recall telling someone I absolutely could not drink another one and recall a friend double fisting (or rather, double-strawing) the beverage along with his own. My awesome friend Steven was DD for the night and drove Chris and I home. I fell asleep within 30 seconds.

Early Sunday morning. 4:30 a.m. My stomach is killing me. I have cotton mouth, and decide to get a glass of water and powder my nose. This action was clearly too much for my body to handle, and I break out into a cold sweat. After urination is complete, I lie on the floor, lifting the bathmat so I can put my face against the tile. Ahhhh, cool tile. I feel like it is a small miracle I didn’t throw up, but kind of wish I did to get the cinnamon whiskey alien out of my stomach. I crawl back into bed. For two hours I have nightmares where I see drinks being placed down in front of me, and I’m crying out, “No, no! No more!” while still tasting cinnamon whiskey residue in my esophagus. Shot glass with something and lime. No! Tall glass with a straw. Nooo! Limes! Straws! Glasses! Booze! Noooooooooo!

I think I need to curb my drinking a skooch.

Later in the morning on Sunday, I’m feeling a little better despite a lingering taste of cinnamon whiskey I can’t lose. A carpet guy comes over to give us an estimate on replacing the carpet. We schedule them for next Saturday. So, Thursday – packing, Friday – loading, Saturday – Carpets. Okay. I feel like I should put my dog somewhere during all this and still don’t know what to do about that. She’s sensitive. Sunday afternoon, Chris removes a zillion wires and cables that are hooked up to the TV and drops them on the floor. He leaves for California. I organize the cables so they aren’t all over the place.

Monday. I was supposed to get my windshield on my car replaced. They have the wrong windshield and don’t call me back to reschedule. I go home and realize Chris didn’t prep any of his stuff for the movers – we’re not taking all of it, so I need to make sure the right stuff is put aside. I get on a ladder to lift another ladder off the garage wall. It’s heavy, awkward and I’m cursing up a storm. I organize his tool box. There is all sorts of shit around his tool box – screws, wood glue, multi-tools in multi-tools like some Voltron-style nightmare, and I get frustrated. I at least get his tool box to the point where it can close. Chris’ desk isn’t going to California. I have to get it out of his office so the carpet guy can replace the carpet in there, so I first have to remove all of the shit he left behind in the desk. There’s a lot of junk and it annoys me. I have to move one of his towers to get behind his desk and the tower is far heavier than you’d expect it to be. I also have to remove the top part of the desk, because it won’t fit through the door with the top on. I unscrew everything, but the top part alone is 150 pounds of particle board and awkward lifting and I realize I’ll break it and myself if I try to move it. There is a ton to do, and I crumple into a ball and weep.  My dog looks at me like, “bitch, please,” and goes to sleep in the living room. She’s so done with this.

I don’t know when our house is going to close or even when I’m going to get the paperwork to sign (which will need to be FedEx-ed to California when I’m done for Chris to sign). I don’t know if the sellers are even okay with the delay and I hope to god they are. I don’t know when my windshield will be replaced. I don’t know what to do with my dog or my husband’s desk. No matter how much you try and prepare, crazy things happen to throw you for a loop.

I hate moving. Cinnamon whiskey can suck it, too.

Top Image courtesy of Ambro / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Bay Area House-Hunting, Round ??

No matter where I live, I'll always love the homes in Alameda - check out my Instagram account, @themenacingkitten, for more pics of Alameda homes

So, First things first – there have been many rounds of Bay Area house-hunting I didn’t report on, because I was beginning to believe we were cursed.  One of the first things you recognize when looking for a house in the Bay Area is the region is in a little bubble where national economic standards and ways of living do not apply.  It’s kind of like those acropolises in Sim City that would sprout up before you got completely bored and unleashed every disaster upon your unsuspecting residents who already went for 5 years without water because playing God is hard. And kind of boring after a few days.

Anyway, there are two trends going on in the area right now: 1) There is nothing on the market and 2) The few houses that are on the market either go for tens of thousands of dollars over asking or stay on the market forever because they are really just one giant 80 year-old termite tube that will collapse into a heap of masticated wood dust when the next quake hits.

When we first started looking for a house, we really wanted to live on Alameda; it’s an old-fashioned mom-and-pop kind of place with independent book stores, great eateries, and the best shoreline in the East Bay. We love Alameda. Chris has been living in an apartment on the island since he started his new job, and has enjoyed 20-minute ferry rides for his commute.  He’s replaced the clogged, dusty streets of Phoenix metro with a relaxing boat ride offering views of pink and purple sunsets falling behind the hills of San Francisco. It’s not a bad life.

Before we could get pre-approval for a home loan up in Alameda, it seemed as if there were many houses we could choose from that met our needs.  Once we got approval and actually could put down an offer? Everything disappeared and got expensive. If you removed all filters on your house search, you’d find there were less than 25 homes for sale on the entire island at any given time.  Clearly, people love living there and have no intention of ever leaving. We literally could not find a house in fair condition for even 1200 square feet that was under $600,000.  In fact, one house we looked at was only about 1100 square feet and they asked for over $600k (it sold within a week or two). Most recently, we looked at a house that was 1900 square feet and asking $425,000.  Based on the area the house was in, it was clear this would be a fixer. If it was mostly cosmetic, why not? A similar sized house in better condition would go for 700-800 in that area. Sounds like a good investment, right? Upon viewing the house in person, we discovered:

  • The retaining wall sheared
  • Almost every step leading to the front door was wobbly and suffered from dry rot
  • The house still had the original electrical, complete with old-style fuses
  • There were huge holes/rips in the walls
  • Parts of the roof were bowed from water damage
  • Parts of the roof were missing from water damage, with a cute little kiddie pool to catch all the rain.
  • A minor point compared to all that, but they actually partially painted over the hardwood floors.

It seriously felt like the thing would collapse if you had 20 people in there at any given time.  We didn’t even bother to view the entire house. The house sold in about a week.

Needless to say, as much as we love Alameda and as much as we were willing to give up to live there, it quickly became obvious that it wasn’t a realistic option for us. We looked in a few other areas. The Oakland Hills were beautiful, but the hills would be a nightmare to drive everyday, and it is certainly not a walker-friendly area.  Orinda and Lafayette were far our of our price range. Walnut Creek and Pleasant Hill briefly had homes in our price range, but the bidding went insane and it felt too far away from San Francisco. Castro Valley was a decent option, but we couldn’t compete with the bidding.

Enter San Leandro.  It’s an interesting city – parts of it are pretty rough, but parts are very charming in an Alameda kind of way.  The Estudillo Estates neighborhood really caught our eye – unique, historic homes in a very walker-friendly area.  For those in the Phoenix area, I’d liken the neighborhood to the Willo District, except it’s much larger. We were severely outbid on our first attempt at getting a house in the area, but I’m happy to say that we had an offer accepted on a different house.  We went a bit higher than we originally planned, however it’s a beautiful late 1930s-era home with lots of space and a nice backyard complete with two redwoods and balconies galore.  The walls and ceiling have plaster rather than drywall, making for gorgeous textured detailing throughout the house. There’s a little work that remains to be done in the way of earthquake retrofitting and the electrical, but we love it.  We’re less than a mile from the hiking trails for Lake Chabot, and only a third of a mile from a butcher, an organic grocery store (that sells raw milk!), and a few cute mom-and-pop restaurants. In addition to the old standby of Starbucks, there are two independent coffee shops within a mile – both have free wi-fi, one sells their coffee for a dollar after 10 a.m. How can you beat that? We’re a mile from the BART station, which is a 20 minute ride into the city. While we’d much rather go over the Bay via ferry versus going under the Bay via BART (yikes), it still beats driving.

We won’t close until late February (and I won’t make it out there until end of March due to my job), however all indications are pretty good so far. With all of the stress and drama I’ve experienced over the past year, I can’t tell you how much I look forward to closing this chapter and starting fresh in my new home.

Keep vs. Toss, Round One

I like my drinks shaken, not stirred...with a splash of grenadine and a cherry thx ;P

I am moving in a few months, and it is with 97% certainty we will have to move to a smaller house.  For this reason, I have to get rid of a TON of shit.  I’ve decided I need to sort my stuff out in 5 piles:

1) Toss
2) Keep
3) Keep for a yard sale
4) Keep for a bigger sale
5) Donate

I thought this would be easy, but within minutes of tackling a small stack of papers, I was reminded of my problem with getting rid of stuff.  Here was my thought process from night one:

 

- There is a stack of papers and magazines here and I’m going to throw them away.

- Here are some recipe cards from 1974. They’re for like, fondue and weird-looking lasagna. How did I get these? Toss.  There! Thrown away! On to the next.

...You mean another Colonel looked like that?

- OMG I completely forgot I had these old-timey booze recipes.  Let me stop and read them.  They are so amazing and cool! Look at the weird pictures and the outdated recipes! Keep.  Keep.  Keep.

- “The Sportsman’s Way: How to Prepare Wild Game and Waterfowl”.  Do they have squirrel? They do!! And not only that, they have raccoon and bear! How can I get rid of that? Let me show it to Chris…he doesn’t understand this.  What if we’re in a situation where we have to live off the land and eat wild stuff? Yeah, no, I’m not going to skin an animal, ew.  But still… Keep.

- “Sunset’s Favorite Company Dinners”: This is great Stepford Wife stuff – making perfect meals for your Bridge club and whatnot. This is for ladies who wore dresses and pearls just to go to the grocery store; this is historic.  Keep.

- Whole Foods’ “Bulk Basics: A simple guide to cooking and buying bulk foods.”  Oh, this is easy – toss.  But.  It tells you how to cook weird beans and rice and stuff. I really want to keep this if I need it…but INTERNET!…but what if I can’t find it on the internet? But…ughhhhh….Toss.

- Aerogarden guide.  F-ing waste of money. Toss….oh wait, we can sell the Aerogarden at a tag sale.  Maybe I should keep this to give to the new owners of the Shitty Aerogarden Where Only Basil Grows and Oregano is a Wasteland of Brown Death and Fail.  Keep.  With the Hot Chocolate Maker Instruction Manual.

If this weren't you know, BEAR, it would be kind of nom.

- Omaha Steaks cooking guide for all things meaty.  Servicey. Keep.

- Ola’s Norwegian Cookbook. Eh, someone might want this for a tag sale.  Keep.

- A magazine of cookie recipes. I don’t want to throw this away but…ahhhhh…Toss.

- A Cooking Light from 1997? But it’s a Holiday one…but it’s 1997. The way they use trendy ingredients, this shit probably calls for Fen-Fen and Fiona Apple. Toss.

- Bon Appetit Thanksgiving edition. 2003? Ehhh…KEEP.

- A recommendation letter for UNT’s College of Music.  Keep. Really? Yes.  And my signature was so nice back then…

- Music paper?  But…I…might…use…Toss.  Sniff.

- Food & Wine Holidays. 2005. Keep.

- Bon Appetit Holidays 2004. Keep.

- Cooking Light Holidays 2011.  Oh, that looks yummy.  Keep.  I love holiday recipes.

- This is a picture of what I am keeping, and what I am throwing away:

We are in trouble.

Bay Area House-Hunting, Round One

Alameda has more pre-1906 homes than anywhere else in the Bay area

Friday began with me folding clothes to put in our carry-on before I left for work.  As I bent over to place a pair of underwear on a pile, my back muscles suddenly felt like a thick rubber band that couldn’t be stretched.

“Ow…” I yelped, crouched over my pile of underwear.

“Are you okay?” Chris called from elsewhere in the house.

My muscles completely cramped up.  I couldn’t move from my crouched position.  “I need you to help me!”

Chris came in and we tried to figure out the best way to move me to the floor.  After performing what looked like 6 positions for “Karma Sutra for Senior Citizens,” he managed to get me on the floor, and I put my legs up against the wall.  My muscles burned with even the slightest move.  Suzy, my 13 year-old Border Collie, looked at me with concern, knowing something was awry.  “It’s okay,” I scratched her chest, reassuringly.  She thanked me by stepping on my hair and sticking her tongue up my nose.

In the process of her licking, she triggered a nerve in my nose that made me have a fit of sneezes.  “A-CHUun!” As the “choo” came out, I felt it through my entire back, and tried to hold it in.  It was suppressed pain.  The sound that came out made Chris begin to chuckle.  I pointed my finger at him while lying on the floor, my dogs paws on my hair, “it’s not funny! It really – A-CHUun! A-CHUun!” And sure enough, I started laughing with him, sending additional shots of pain down my back.

After working from home in the most awkward position ever, we were off to start house-hunting in Alameda by flying from Mesa Gateway Airport to Oakland International via Allegiant Air.  Allegiant is a super-discount carrier whose itemization of extra charges rivals the Thenardiers in Les Miserables. Nevertheless, they still are incredibly inexpensive, and their flight attendants seem nice.  They fly in and out of much smaller airports, providing us with our first experience in the ghost-town Overlook Hotel less-used Mesa Gateway.  Despite having seats that were not designed to recline and paying $4 for water and a Seagram’s ginger ale (that’s right – Seagram’s – not Canada Dry, which everyone knows won the Kanye Award for the Best Ginger Ale of All Time), it wasn’t a bad flight.  Chris and I used the free time to catch up on the new season of Doctor Who (the first three episodes are kind of a mess, no?).

We landed at 9:30pm, and were relieved that Alameda is but 5-10 minutes from the airport.  Unfortunately for us, the rental car area is located in east Nevada.  The airport has one shuttle bus taking everyone to the Land of Rental Cars, and we had to wait about 20 minutes for this mighty Supershuttle to arrive.  We packed in like sardines, and the driver had to turn away people when the bus literally got so full the doors wouldn’t close.  We soon discovered that because we reserved a car with an “off-brand” rental car agency, we had to take another shuttle from the Land of Rental Cars to the Island of Misfit Rentals, located in South Dakota.  The shuttle waited for us in a dark corner of the parking lot, with no lights on inside.  I thought it was abandoned as I crept up to the door.  The doors opened, and a man nodded to us to get aboard.  His stereo was off, and it was a dark, quiet space.  The driver reminded me of Morgan Freeman in Shawshank Redemption when he got let out of prison but didn’t yet receive the postcard from Tim Robbins.  You know, that part where he couldn’t decide whether to get busy livin’ or get busy dyin’, and you were worried he’d off himself like the sweet old man with the pet bird.  Once our bus driver put his foot on the gas, I realized he was in “get busy dyin’” mode, and I looked forward to putting my feet on solid earth again.  He pulled into a weird industrial lot, and lo and behold, our rental agency was based out of a single-wide.  To their credit, the folks inside were really nice and helpful.  We finally were on our way, and arrived at our hotel at 11pm. So even though our hotel was no more than 10 minutes from the airport, it took us an hour and a half to get there.

After sleeping on a bed a skiier could do moguls on, we were off to check out Alameda.  This is a cool little island town with a lot of history – as we walked the streets, we came across a number of retro ads, old towns, and a huge farmer’s market with beautiful produce.  The entire island seems to be very walker-friendly, loaded with mom-and-pop stores and little shops and cafes.  It reminded me of the little towns along the north shore in Massachusetts, except the architecture was more eclectic – in addition to your Victorians, colonials and craftsman houses, you also have Mediterranean-style homes and bungalows similar to what you would find in the Willo district in Phoenix.  Every house had its own story to tell.

We headed over to our first home, which wasn’t in the best neighborhood, but was in close proximity to shops and restaurants.  The previous owners did an amazing job restoring the 1907 home, adding in a beautiful kitchen with granite countertops, gorgeous dark hardwood floors, upgraded electrical, and innovative windows in the partitions to make the home feel more spacious.  The biggest problem with this house was one of the corners of the foundation was still brick – a big no-no for construction in an earthquake zone.  Retrofitting foundation to meet current earthquake construction standards is quite expensive and we value our safety, so unfortunately, this home was out for us.

House #2 was a rental.  We happened upon a number of abandoned industrial buildings, and this rental home was in the middle of it all – there were no homes surrounding it.   There were no life forms present for at least 1/4 of a mile surrounding the home.  We arrived 1/2 an hour prior to our appointment.  Upon pulling into the driveway, Chris called the realtor and basically said, “yeah, never mind.”

House #3 was a rental open house.  The house was super-cute and in a great neighborhood, but the garage was roughly 3 feet too short for our car, there was no place for a dog door, our bed wouldn’t fit in the bedroom, and the kitchen was really, really tiny.  We’d compromise on one, possibly even two of these things, but all four? Not so much.

House #4 was our final rental option to view for the day, and was located on Bay Farm Island, which is the other “island” that makes up Alameda (it’s actually connected to Oakland, and not really an island).  While Bay Farm doesn’t have that historic charm that the main island has, the house was beautiful. Open design, huge kitchen, beautiful living room area, ginormous yard…we loved it.  While we would really love to live on the main island, the housing stock on Alameda is low and rental options are even lower.  We submitted an application and will find out in a few days if we can rent this lovely home for a year.

Walking felt better on my back than sitting, so we decided to finish out the afternoon walking the neighborhoods on the main island, loving the cute houses and pretty gardens everyone had.  We closed out the night having a nice dinner with friends in San Francisco.

Day two was spent checking out two houses that were for sale.  House #5 was a cute little house with a huge back yard in a great neighborhood.  Its only two drawbacks were its size (1,000 square feet, which we can get used to), and the fact that the only bathroom needs to be completely redone due to dry rot.  House #6 was, to quote our realtor “…not charming.”  It looked rather run down, needs to be tented for termites, and would need an electrical overhaul (the fuse box is from the 50s and only powers 100 amps).

We spent the remainder of our time in Alameda walking along the shore, admiring the cool breeze and views of the bay.  Weather in the 60s, little shops and pretty houses? We could get used to this.