Investment Property No. 3

Sherwin Avenue, a two bed one bath condo, is officially in the books. Its story is different from Lunt Avenue’s (property no. 1), the empty canvas of a place in which we lived for a year, taking that long to paint, rewire the electrical and install a kitchen. Nor was it like Farwell Avenue (no. 2), the spacious exposed-brick beauty that required barely lifting a finger before it was move-in ready.

Sherwin Ave was the ugly duckling with good bones, the one that needed a lot of cosmetic work in a very short amount of time.

On a Friday at three in the morning, Kirk, his parents and I left Michigan in a car packed full of tools, food and sleeping bags. At ten o’clock Kirk signed on the dotted line at a title office in Chicago. At noon we unlocked the front door.

The place was a mess. It needed a serious deep cleaning before we could even paint. A million little things needed fixing or replacing, including door locks, light switches, outlet covers and bathroom fixtures.

The tasks on our To Do list carried different levels of importance. Many were style and taste changes, things we liked that someone else may or may not prefer. As the list contained much more than we’d ever finish in four days, we needed to constantly remind ourselves that we weren’t moving in, and focus rather on what our tenant would deem important. “It’s a rental!” became our mantra.

“We should replace the bathroom light. It could use an update,” said Kirk.
“Sure, that would be nice,” I said.
“It does still work though.”
“And it’s going to cost a lot anyway to buy another light/exhaust fan combo unit…”
“Do we really need…?”
“Nope.”
“You’re right.”
“It’s a rental,” we said together.

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Some tasks proved trickier than others, like fixing the microwave panel or rebalancing the noisy ceiling fans. Some situations left us scratching our heads, like discovering our unit didn’t have a gas meter. Others, still, required eschewing embarrassment and relying on the kindness of fellow humans.

Saturday afternoon, a lightning storm took out our power. We needed to figure out how to fill the air mattress to keep Kirk’s parents from sleeping on the hardwood floor. Blowing it up the old fashioned way would’ve resulted in four light-headed adults dropping like flies onto said floor. What to do…

We went out to dinner. We brought the mattress and pump to the restaurant. The storm still hadn’t abated. As the lightning illuminated the windows and the thunder rattled the panes, we politely asked the server if there might be an outlet we could use to fill our air mattress. ‘Maybe a little further away from the other patrons because it’s really loud and obnoxious,’ we said, smiling sheepishly. She looked at us, slightly puzzled, but with every intention to help if she could. The manager came over to our table. He told us his first thought was we wanted to sleep at the restaurant.

No, no, we laughed. We have a dark, half painted mess of an unfinished condo we are going to sleep in. Just not directly on the floor, if you can help it.

No problem! he said.

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[View from the condo’s back porch.]

– – –

Tuesday. After working four 18-hour days with us, Kirk’s parents headed back to Michigan. His dad needed to return to work the next day. (He was on vacation. Yes. Toiling away with us to fix up this property. Saints, both him and Kirk’s mom.)

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Kirk and I scrambled to finish painting, cleaning, and putting the place back together. On Wednesday at 1 o’clock the washer and dryer were installed, at 2 pm a cleaning crew infused new sparkle into the floors and furnished the last bit of elbow grease Kirk and I couldn’t conceive of mustering. At 3 pm I shot photos. At 5 pm our tenant arrived.

She had seen the place two days prior, when the kitchen was still draped with plastic, when the floors were covered in paint cans, brushes, tools… and there was crap everywhere. When envisioning living there required a really good imagination.

She walked into the kitchen, surveying the space. “It looks fantastic.”

We smiled. We kind of thought so, too.

She signed the lease. We handed her the keys.

Property no. 3, in the books. ☼

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[Kirk and downpayment #3, the day before closing.]

Snapshots from Montreal

“You’re staying where?” asked Hadley.

Kirk and I had just booked an Airbnb in Montreal for the weekend of Hadley and Phil’s wedding. It was a little pricier than we’d hoped for, but since both Kirk and I would be working remotely there, we wanted to make sure the space was comfortable.

I told Hadley the address.

“Better learn French,” she quipped.

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The official language of Montreal (pronounced MUNN-tree-all by English-speaking natives) is French. Despite the handful of unpleasant Parisians I’d met while my mom and I fumbled our way around Paris in 2011, I didn’t think this whole not-speaking-French thing would be a problem in Montreal. I mean, it’s Canada.

“Come on, really?” I countered.

“I told you not to go past St Denis!”

Apparently we’d strayed a bit far from the English-speaking ‘island’ of Westmount where Hadley lives. I was nonplussed. We’d be fine. Besides, our biggest hurdle was communicating with our Airbnb host — and she spoke English. That, and finding the apartment in the first place.

I arrived in Montreal by myself at 6 pm. Kirk’s flight didn’t land until 11 pm (he was en route from Detroit), so I was off to find the apartment by myself. It’s been a long time since I’ve traveled alone in a foreign country. (I know, it’s Canada, but as this was French-speaking Quebec [pronounced KUH-BEK, not KWE-BEK, as Hadley taught me]), it was more foreign than not.) I was excited. I had to do this old-school. With maps.

My iPhone became much less phone and more camera when I touched down at Trudeau International Airport. It was worthless except for the screen shots of the Google-mapped public transportation route I’d looked up before leaving the airport’s wifi.

Kirk was worried about me. At 16 I traveled around Europe with my 76 year-old grandmother. Guess who was the navigator? “This is cake,” I assured him.

After declaring a bag of nuts and an orange at customs, I followed the flow of people out into the world. Right before the exit doors, which led to a curb full of taxis and buses, an information desk stood awaiting the clueless. I walked up. The woman spoke English. She showed me the ticket machine and pointed to the bus I needed to catch into the city.

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I bought my ticket. Hopped on the bus. Checked my phone. Got off at the first stop. Crossed a park to the metro station. Found the northbound green line, hopped on. Ten stops, off. About ten blocks walk, and it should be here somewhere…

I stopped halfway up the street, seeing the address numbers get higher than the one I was looking for. I’d passed it. I turned around 180 degrees. The building was across the street.

I carried my suitcase up the stairs to the second floor. A tiny table and chairs sat on the balcony. Spotting the lockbox on the doorknob, I checked the email from our host, and punched in the pin. Click. Smile.

Cake.

The apartment? Lovely. Decked out like an IKEA showroom, it wasn’t exactly unique, but who doesn’t like the tastefully designed IKEA room? The lights were on and casting a warm glow in the living room and kitchen. The temperature was pleasantly cooled by the A/C. A radio played from the bathroom. Our host must have just been by making final preparations.

A bowl of chocolates sat on the bar. A bag of fresh bagels on the kitchen counter. Orange juice and bottled water in the fridge — and even cream cheese for the bagels.

Yesss.

I sat on the couch and logged onto the wifi to text Kirk the journey was indeed cake. And there was chocolate.

– – –

After spending a couple days holed up in the apartment glued to our laptops, we made it out to see the city. We were both excited to discover Montreal had a bike-sharing program (very similar to DC‘s).

We grabbed bikes from a station just a few blocks from our apartment and started riding toward downtown.

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Downtown. (One street, anyway. The most photogenic, hands down.)

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So what’s with the ‘pink balls’? Officially named Le Projet de Boules Roses, it’s an annual installation taking place every summer created to support the growing LGBT community. The strings stretch across Sainte-Catherine Street for an entire kilometer.

That’s a lot of balls.

200,000 in fact.

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Street art is everywhere. I was a particular fan of the above work. I couldn’t not smile seeing a three-story brick wall covered in cake.

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Or, fish in hats, for that matter.

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This city is full of parks. This one is right in the middle of downtown. Kudos, Montreal, for having your greenspace figured out.

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And a community garden, too! This concept — grow food where people live — seemingly so simple, unfortunately still eludes the vast majority of America.

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Old Montreal. Its brick buildings reminiscent of Europe, their insides filled no longer with retail or services for residents, but trinket shops for tourists.

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Look at that, I knew I forgot something:

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Isn’t it interesting how all the “cool” places are eventually/inevitably scraped of their souls?

Ooh sheesh, I’m getting dark.

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Riddle me this: Why do all the street artists seem to draw the same style of caricature?

“It’s a glitch in the Matrix,” said Kirk.

I snapped a photo for posterity. “Oh really?”

“Yeah, they only wrote one program for the ‘Caricature-drawing Street Artist.'”

“They messed that one up.”

“Mhmm. We’re onto them.”

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My favorite part of Montreal was walking up Mount Royal, a small mountain located within the 500-acre Mount Royal Park. This park is located directly west of downtown, meaning you only need to veer off the main drag of Rue Sherbrooke for a few blocks before finding yourself in the trees.

A half-hour walk with roughly 500 feet in elevation gain brought us to this terrace overlooking the city.

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The verdict on Montreal? Lovely (just like our accommodations). Pretty architecture, abundant greenery, great public transportation. Food is fantastic, too, I heard, though we didn’t get much chance to eat out.

Or practice our French.

Next time. ☼

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Phil & Hadley’s Wedding

Last month in Montreal, in a beautiful park on a warm summer evening, our friends Phil and Hadley were married.

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The ceremony took place next to a tower that looked like a life-size rook from chess. Inside the tower was cocktail hour seating, an oyster bar, and a staircase to 360-degree city views.

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My date.

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Jeff, who works with Phil at Hobie, and his girlfriend, Tiffany.

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Goat cheese on gingerbread.

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Graeme (on the right), one of the wedding officiants.

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Julie, a fellow Osider, and me.

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The wedding photographer, Madeline.

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[Photo credit to Kirk for the above evening portraits.]

Montreal hosts a fireworks show every Saturday during the summer which we could see from the park.

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Congratulations, my lovely friends! ☼


San Francisco: Airbnb in Dogpatch

While our Airbnb host talked to us about keys, wifi, and and other mundane-but-necessary apartment details, I could barely contain my delight. As soon as he took off, I danced around the space, ran up and down the stairs, and climbed the exposed I-beam to look out the window.

“You’re like a cat,” said Kirk.

I clawed the air. “Rarrw.”

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Kirk found this place on Airbnb for our trip to San Francisco. Next to staying with a friend or relative, Airbnb is my preferred type of accommodation while traveling. Every home you stay in is unique, and if your host is decent, you’ll feel welcomed, and maybe even a bit like you belong in this place you don’t call home.

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The area where the loft was located, Dogpatch, has transformed over the last few decades from a gritty industrial district into a quiet neighborhood occupied by young working professionals putting down welcome mats by the dozens in repurposed warehouses.

I mentioned where we were staying to my friend Julie who’s living in Palo Alto while she’s finishing her PhD at Stanford.

“Dogpatch,” she joked, “how very hipster of you.”

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Hipster or not, no matter. Hey, swings!

They looked like fun chairs, but proved to be much too low for the table. The swings were in fact, better swings than chairs. Surprise!

I shoved the table out of the way, and voilĂ ! Playground. I kicked hard enough my toes touched the staircase.

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A space big enough to swing in? Even without the swings the loft felt huge. Occupying this volume of space in San Francisco, one of the most expensive places to live, felt luxurious. Yet the surfaces, decorated only by a few rugs and a handful of framed posters, allowed the bones of the building to remind us of its repurposed life.

In the mornings Kirk left for the office while I remained at the loft. The openness and light fostered a motivating working environment, and the building’s recycled soul sparked creativity in my veins.

I loved the space. ☼

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