Well, it has been a long time since I last posted something on this blog. I suppose this is the standard place in the blogworld to come up with some pretentious phrase, like, "I've been too busy doing absolutely fabulous and fantastic things that you will make you terribly jealous to write in my blog." Whether they've been fantastic or not, I'll leave up to you, but honestly, I've been so busy lately that I forgot that I even had a blog. It dawned on me when the latest bill arrived, and I was like, "Oh yah, I have one of those things."
Actually, it has been more than a half a year since I've written anything longer than a paragraph or two here, and a lot has happened in that half a year, more than I can possibly relate in a single blog entry. But that's part of the reason that the art of the catalog was invented. There were parties in New York, hiking in Vermont, the all night music festival in Chicago called Looptopia, the Chicago Blues Festival that played in my apartment (more on that in a moment), beautiful runs along the lake, great bike rides at 2 AM, runs with famous rock stars (well, they were singing, I was running past), the possibility of being put on a more serious track in my company, days when all of Lake Michigan was covered with ice, early mornings hours when tugboats broke through it, hours of working on my dissertation, presenting papers at workshops, a number of fabulous dinner parties chez moi, connections with old friends and new, and some beautiful moonlit nights.
But the biggest piece of news is probably something that you've all heard about by this point, but since the whole story hasn't been told, it's perhaps worth most of this blog entry. In a nutshell, I moved. Until the beginning of this past month I've lived in a rather extraordinary arrangement for a graduate student. As you know, after having lived for most of a decade in a graduate student apartment in Hyde Park, last fall I decided to move into something a bit better. My apartment in Hyde Park was reasonably nice. It was a one bedroom with one of the larger kitchen spaces I've found near the U of C. It had lots of closet space, and it came furnished with a set of a few comfortable, if slightly dilapidated pieces of furniture. But the apartment was rather expensive, falling apart, and after five years, rather depressing. So, I started checking out other neighborhoods, I searched, I walked into almost every high rise in downtown Chicago, and finally found my bit of paradise.
Compared to my old apartment the new place was stunning. It was on the 39th floor overlooking Lake Michigan, it had all the appliances one would want, including a washer/dryer, central air, a full gym with indoor swimming pool, and the layout was perfect for me. And what's more it had fantastic views. From my windows I could see the sun rise in the morning, observe entire yacht races far out on the lake (The Kennedy's presidential yacht even moors nearby), watch the fireworks when they went off twice a week, and perhaps most spectacularly, watch the moon as it cast it's light over the lake early in the morning. And not only was the apartment on one of the best pieces of real estate in the most expensive zip code in Chicago (11th most expensive zip code in America, by the way), but it also was built on top of what is arguably the greatest grocery store in the world, Fox & Obel. And all this for about $200 more per month than a dilapidated university apartment building.
There was one further detail about the building that was sort of amusing. Although I'm not entirely sure from whence this all started, people sometimes talk about me having a thing for redheads. I'm not entirely sure if it is true, but if it is, perhaps it's the Irish in me, or maybe it can be attributed to some of the relationships/crushes I've had, or perhaps watching Mike Hammer with my dad in my formative years, or perhaps people just assume there's something Charlie Brown about me. Well, whether you think I have a thing for redheads or not, one evening in my little piece of paradise I ran into a cute redhead on the elevator, and noted that she pressed the button for the 57th floor. After a little investigation I decided that she was probably married, so alas it was not to be. Then a couple months later I got on the same elevator, and a second cute redhead got on the elevator with what I take was her boyfriend. I was amazed to discover that she also pressed the button to go to the 57th floor. Finally, one night when I went out to get some groceries for a friend and I, I returned and an even cuter redhead got on the elevator. And guess what? She also was going to the 57th floor. All this made me think that I was living in my own personal castle Anthrax from Monty Python's The Holy Grail: "Welcome to the 57th floor. We are but eight score young redheads, all between twenty-three and thirty-four years of age with college degrees . . . "
Anyway, back to the apartment. How did I do it? How could a graduate student afford paradise? Well, my paradise had fine print. I could rent a $300,000 apartment overlooking Lake Michigan for as long as I wanted, but if the unit sold—and the real estate agents were trying to sell it—I would have to move out within 30 days. Yes, if the unit sold I would not only have to find another place to live, but apply, be approved, and move everything I own into the new place in less than 30 days. But the building management went out of their way to assure me that things were not that bad, and that if there was another unit available in the building, I could move into it in no time. I wouldn't even have to reserve the elevator. It seemed a reasonable risk, so I signed the contract. I just hoped that it wouldn't sell, and that if it did at least not when I was busy.
Well, sure enough, in the seventh week of classes this past spring, when I was working almost full time at my company, teaching a class, grading papers, meeting with professors about my dissertation, and having absolutely no time to do anything, I got the notice under my door that the unit had sold. That meant that I had 30 days to pull off something close to a miracle. I went to talk to my building's management, and discovered that they did not have any available apartments, so I'd have to move to a different building. That very weekend I went out looking for a place, and, to my disappointment, none of the buildings I wanted to live in had apartments available. I looked through Craigslist, and every time I inquired about an apartment it had either already sold or I couldn't move into it for at least a couple months. Finally, when all hope seemed lost an advertisement came up on Craigslist: a studio with "Million Dollar Views." I applied for it immediately, but was not really hoping for much, since it was probably already taken, and surely an apartment with a million dollar view would sell in no time. But to my surprise the very next day I received a message that it was available and I could view the place that day. I had planned on looking at a half dozen other apartments, but after seeing the view from this particular unit, I almost decided on the spot it was where I was going to live. What I actually did was tell the owner I was interested, wandered out into the park, made a few phone calls to my sister, and then called the owner back to say that I would take the place.
Of course, this was only half the ordeal. The next stage was trying to figure out the day I was going to move. This turned out to be more of a challenge than I initially thought. When I applied for this new apartment, I had looked at the elevator sign-up sheet in the new building, and saw that it was completely free the entire week. This meant that all I would need to do is find a day during that week when my old building would let me reserve an elevator to move out. So I went to my old building and discovered there was indeed one day that week I could move. So, I went back to the new building to book the elevator and discovered to my horror that in the meantime the freight elevator was taken off line the entire week! Apparently, a building manager also looked at the same elevator sign-up sheet, and decided that it would be a most excellent time to repair the elevator. So, the only day I could move in was well after I had to be out of my new building. This is actually the recipe for a disaster move: move everything out of the apartment onto a truck, then from a truck into storage (which would have to be rented for a month), then back onto the truck, and then into my new apartment. I had gone through that hell before, and I didn't want to see it again. So I had to begin negotiations between the two buildings. Negotiations involved walking back and forth between the buildings a half dozen times throughout an entire afternoon. Finally, after getting concessions from each management company, I got my solution: if my landlord was willing to let me move in three days before my lease began, I could move out of my first building one day and into the second building the next. Finally the move was possible.
But then the second challenge had to be met. In between teaching classes, writing my dissertation, working in the research firm, and trying to live a normal life, I had to put everything I own into boxes. Then I had to move all these boxes onto a truck, then off of a truck, then into my new building. Thank god I had some friends to help me. The heroes in this operation included my friends Brian, Manasi, and Janet. The four of us managed to perform the whole operation, and everyone was a hero. Brian probably lifted just about every box into the truck, and also took me out to the U-Haul place in the middle of a not very nice neighborhood; Manasi pulled off the miracle of moving boxes that were bigger than she was with her collapsible luggage cart, and Janet was there at the end of the first day to move boxes, and be sure everything worked out alright. Actually, Janet was also my voice of reason, and even paid for my dinner when I thought I was taking her out to dinner. And the next day, when Manasi and Brian had scheduling conflicts, she came through in a big way, and the two of us on our own managed to move everything I own from the truck, up the elevator and into the apartment in under five hours. Everything including ten book shelves, two dining room tables, eight chairs, a full-sized keyboard and stand, a stand-up copier, about 20 boxes of appliances and kitchen supplies, all my blankets, and last but not least, 50 boxes of books. Mind you Janet is not a very big woman—quite petite actually—but she earned super-hero status by lifting dozens of boxes that were bigger than she was, and at one moment single-handedly moving enormous bookshelves off of the truck without the slightest complaint. To say that I owe her one is an understatement. I owe her dozens and dozens, and probably couldn't have handled the situation without her. Anyway, a thanks to you all! And next time I'll get movers : )
One amusing note about the move was when Janet and I first got on the elevator. My building actually has a fair number of retirees in it, and the first one we encountered in the elevator was a large old man who breathed very deeply and looked at us out of the corner of his eyes. It was actually marvelous, since he looked just like the radish spirit from Spirited Away. I suppose the reference was reinforced even more by the fact that just the evening before I watched a boat crossing lake Michigan towards my old apartment that looked just like a boat from that movie. If you haven't seen Spirited Away, you should really check it out. It is an awesome movie. I suppose I just like the aesthetic: there are sparse scenes with enormous beauty, like the scene when they take the train through the water.
So there you have it, my eviction from paradise. But after having lived in my new apartment for two months I can honestly say that I have moved from paradise to Shangri-La. My new apartment may even be better than my old one. For one thing, the view is equally stunning. From my full wall of windows I can see almost the entire skyline of the loop in Chicago from McCormick Place, past the museums and the aquarium, past the harbor, through the south loop, throughout the full expanse of Grant Park including the bean, all the way north to the new Trump Tower. In fact, when the Trump Tower is finished I will be able to see the three tallest buildings in North America from my windows (well, with the possible exception of the CN tower in Toronto). Location-wise I think it is the equivalent of being at the corner of Central Park West in New York City. And since the apartment faces southwest I can see most of the approaching weather fronts and the spectacular lightning storms the Midwest sends our way. The apartment layout is even better in many respects than my last one, and it has all the appliances I need, again including the marvelous power of a washer and dryer. The building is on a peninsula by the lake, and it also has a full athletic club with racquetball courts, and an indoor swimming pool with a speaker system that plays classical music, lots of public spaces, and even a grocery store. But perhaps what is better than all of that is the fact that it has green spaces. Even now, as I write this e-mail I'm sitting in a little outdoor courtyard surrounded by trees, and complete with hammocks. Not bad for downtown Chicago.
Oh, and yes, to follow up on the comment about the Chicago Blues Festival. My apartment is located directly parallel to the main stage of the Grant Park music festivals, so I'm technically in the back row at all the concerts. So when the Chicago Blues Festival happened earlier this month, I was able to listen to the louder acts from my apartment windows. Not bad for a graduate student dig. And amusingly enough, the first morning that I was in my apartment I woke up to singers praising the Lord at the Chicago Gospel Festival. A rather nice welcome if you ask me.
So, the story has a happy ending. And now all my friends still have a nice place to stay in the city, complete with a good inflatable guest bed.
One final epilogue. On the last day I spent in my old apartment there was a wonderful fireworks show in front of my windows while I packed the last things and cleaned the apartment. This was followed by a gorgeous lightning storm from the windows of my new apartment later that night. So let me end the tale with a video clip of the celebration.