Ah, the fabled land of Berkeley, California. Home of the top public university in the world, a summer hotspot for Irish youth, and also a victim of the housing crisis it shares with its older brother: San Francisco. Due to a combination of planning and happenstance, I had the pleasure of subletting a room for two and half months, from June 1 to August 15.
I didn’t plan to wind up in Berkeley; ever since my visit outlined in San Francisco: Take 2 I’ve had a yearning to take in more of the Bay Area, so much so that instead of visiting again (like a normal person) I decided to try my hand at packing up and settling down there. And although some bumps along the way followed, I did manage to snag a sublet. In a double. With a house that holds thirteen people. (Did I mention the area is experiencing a housing crisis?)
(This is a common type of ad you’ll see and I’m posting it only because I couldn’t find the one of a shopping cart for $100 / month. Yes, I’m serious.)
But for today’s post, we’re rewinding to where I was before I tumbled into this sublet. I had packed up my things and drove to San Francisco (detailed in the post 5 Things I Learned Driving Across America (Again) to a small studio I had reserved in South San Francisco. Because I was on the other side of the country when I booked it, the result was predictable: I got there and was not liking what I found. The neighborhood was really sketchy, there was no parking for my car, and the woman running the place gave me a really hard time.
That’s all well and good, and maybe I may have taken the place despite my misgivings, but something happened that pushed me over the edge. To make a long story short, I opened a Chase Bank account (because there are no TD Bank branches out west) and transferred the first month’s rent via mobile deposit from TD to Chase. I did this on a Wednesday and on Friday when I was in Chicago I got a message saying that due to “fraud” I would not be able to access those funds until Tuesday, with the rent being due on Monday. Surely this was a mistake. Surely Chase would understand if I showed them the actual check I used and that it wasn’t fraud, right?
(“Sorry, sir. The guy at Chase’s Fraud Department is on a TV break. Oh well.”)
For those of you that said “yes” I would encourage you to buy a passport and visit America one day. Parts of it are really pretty. Safe too! But for the rest of you Yankees who understand that part of “Adulting” (as the millennials call it) is doing everyone else’s job for them you won’t be surprised to learn my visit to a Chase branch in downtown Chicago resulted in them saying there’s nothing they can do after I laid everything out and told them how badly I needed the funds.
My only option was to arrive at my building in South San Francisco and try to appeal to my landlord’s sympathies. I wasn’t too worried because after all, what was she going to? Let go of the room she’d held onto for weeks because she had to wait an extra day to be paid? I had the deposit in cash and MOST of the first month’s rent! In addition to the email saying what happened! AND I could show them on my phone how the funds were pending clearance! Everything would be fine, right? RIGHT!?
(Was I really asking too much?)
Yeah. NO. The room I reserved was in a hotel renting out rooms to long-term residents and because they INSISTED on cash only, it sent my legality sensors (tack-sharp from working for small businesses on Staten Island) buzzing. But it got worse: the neighborhood seemed really sketchy and there was nowhere to park my car; on the contrary, the landlord took me to the second or third floor and pointed to a parking garage (known as a parking “structure” in CA) and said that for a monthly fee I could park it in there and walk like 20 minutes or however long it was to retrieve it, every morning.
Yeah. NO. Then came time to look over our shoulders for feds and slip the cash under the table in an unmarked envelope pay my rent, pay my deposit, and sign a 6 month lease. But before I did anything, I made her aware of the situation, and it didn’t go over well. Because I didn’t have the full amount in cash, she couldn’t make an exception and let me stay the night. I tried to grease her palms by offering my luggage and valuables as collateral for the night, but she wouldn’t budge. Not even letting her hang onto my credit card or writing her a check worked either, so I had no choice but to walk out into the cold with my tail between my legs with no place to go, exhausted from driving for 5 days straight.
(Oddly enough she kissed me on both cheeks before letting me go. Huh.)
I needed a second to think. So, I put the coordinates for Buena Vista Park into my GPS and drove for 25 minutes. My insides were about to fall apart, but I coached myself to keep it together until I arrived. Then I could howl about my troubles like the rest of the homeless people there!
Kidding: that park was free of the homeless. Anyway, I sat on a bench and thought about what to do next. Then my grandma called and offered me to stay at her place in Las Vegas. I told her I’d consider it. Once I got bored of the park I went to the library in the Richmond district to charge my phone and try to look up an Airbnb or a cheap hotel. I had never used Airbnb before and I couldn’t find anything suitable for THAT night. The best I was able to do on such short notice was to find a room at the CitigGarden Hotel near the SFO airport for $89 before taxes and fees.
(No jokes here. CitiGarden offers competitively priced lodgings with a friendly staff and complimentary breakfast. #Recommended.)
The library was closing so I headed to Ocean Beach, located along the western side of the SF peninsula, to do more thinking before driving over to the hotel. It was my first visit, and unfortunately it wasn’t the rollicking good time filled with surfing and bonfires like most people probably experience. Seated in my car while a large Mexican family played on the walls separating the parking lot from the shore, I understood that despite all of my planning and good intentions, I was in a really bad spot. In some ways, my adult life always had an element of unpredictably attached to it. Blame it on my fear of commitment or my hunger for novelty if you want, but I always had this “map” in my mind that spelled out the next step.
Only this time said “map” screwed me over. In that moment I entered a rare moment of poeticism and thought, “I followed the map and the map led to the edge of a cliff.” Because it kinda did. The heat was on to find somewhere else to live and with hotels running $100 (on the cheap side!) I had to accept that, in that moment, San Francisco was now a waypoint and not a destination, so I called up my grandma and told her I’d be staying with her in Las Vegas until I could set-up a new living situation.
(Actually, “inner compass” is more accurate than “map,” don’t you think?)
I hit the road again, taking the scenic route down to Santa Cruz on my way to Las Vegas. I figured I might as well, since it was on the way. Sure it was a weekday so it was really just me and groups of high schoolers playing hooky, but I went on a few of the more famous rides (like the fireball) and took in the beautiful beach scenery before making my way out of California and into our great nation’s driest state.
What followed was a month of deciding what to do next. I swung between spending more time in Vegas or figuring out a way to make a life in the Bay Area work out, somehow. Every day I tried to decide what I wanted to do and what would be the best choice. But in the meanwhile, I kept busy with my writing and everything attached to it: I continued to solicit agents with the book my editor and I finished months prior and worked on the sequel to said book as much as I could. But even so, my heart had no peace, and I knew I had to get to California, even if it was for a little bit. I knew it was within reach. Waiting for me. I just had to figure out how to get there.
(Like a cross-dressing Disney princess I was determined to reach my goal no matter how many times I failed.)
So I did what most people do when they need a place to live on short notice: I looked online. Hunched over a computer screen in my pajamas during the middle of May, I found an ad for a sublet in Berkeley, around the corner from the school sharing the same name. The photos showed a messy version of the room with all sorts of textbooks and clothes strewn about, but something about the ad caught my eye.
Probably how cheap the rent was. And it being a sublet meant little commitment on my part. I was sold, so I wrote the best email I could to the college sophomore who posted the ad and hoped for the best. She responded in a timely fashion and we emailed back and forth, eventually graduating to a phone conversation where I asked any lingering questions. And through the power of the Internet I signed and submitted a sublease agreement, taking the first step in an experience that would have a profound influence on my life.
(OH…EM…GEE, Mom. I totally found a subletter for the summer! Go Bears!!!)
Berkeley awaited, ready with its slew of new experiences and challenges. At the time I couldn’t have known what I was in for, but I did know it wouldn’t be a vacation and that more hard choices would be made. On the morning of June 1 as I packed my little Toyota yet again, I told my grandma that I wish I could have stayed with her longer, but I had to leave; for better or worse, California was just a place I needed to spend an extended period of time in, for reasons I wouldn’t learn until I was in the thick of it.
With that said, I’ll cut the post off here. Next up is The Best of Times, The Worst of Times where I breakdown the experience and give my views on it. (Hoping to get it up next week) But otherwise, you know the drill: be sure to SUBSCRIBE by email so you don’t miss any future posts; if you think anyone could value from the information be sure to SHARE it online; and if you have anything relevant to say, be sure to leave a COMMENT below.
See you next week,
J. F. Seegitz
P.S. Anyone else notice that all the pics this week featured women? IN YOUR FACE, BECHDEL TEST!