My first big city apartment was in Ravenswood, and when my roommate and I signed the lease we were convinced we had just landed the coolest apartment in the history of renting. We were getting three bedrooms AND hardwood floors AND huge closets AND a dishwasher AND heat was included in the rent AND we were close to all kinds of transportation AND every kind of essential shopping (i.e. grocery store, Walgreens, Rayan's Liquors) we needed was just down the block. Perfect, I thought. Absolutely perfect.
When you're moving from the suburbs to the city, there are a few things you don't notice until it's too late. Things like how loud a radiator is when it kicks on in the middle of the night. Or how the whole building shakes when that oh-so-convenient Wilson Ave. bus runs by your building. Or how very little noise from a very major street is kept out by your paper-thin windows ("Are you outside?" was what my mom always asked when we talked on the phone; No, mom, I'm actually in my kitchen).
Remember those hardwood floors? They look real nice...but you start to hate them after a) you realize they're all warped and your rolling desk chair won't stop rolling and b) you get new upstairs neighbors who have what sounds like ten children that like to run around like wild dogs (Other hobbies of these kids included jumping up and down, dribbling basketballs, playing in the main stairway of the building, and screaming their guts out day and night).
And we'll leave the collapsing bathroom ceiling story for another day. Two other days actually, since it happened twice. In the same week. Nasty.
The next (and current) neighborhood was Wicker Park, where we landed in hopes of better nightlife, fewer kids upstairs, crazier times and a move on up, so to speak. And for the most part we found all that...at first. There are a lot of places to go in this part of town. Lots to do and a lot of people to meet.
The downside of that is the pricetag attached to it all. I'm not just talking about the exorbitant amount we're paying for a 2-bedroom garden apartment (I prefer the term "dungeon"), or the $300 gas bills that come along with our recently-discovered-to-be-leaking heating system.
Shockingly, right here in this upscale and top-shelf neighborhood we suddenly found ourselves more surrounded by crime and uneasiness than at our old, boring, middle-of-the-road place. Constant fear of muggings, cars getting broken into or flat-out stolen, nearly every building on my block getting broken into over the course of the past 18 months, and so on and so on.
It's funny how that works. At the old place I would walk home at any weird hour from the Wilson Red Line stop through allegedly-sketchy-at-the-time Sheridan Park not thinking twice about what could happen - probably because nothing ever did happen. Our cars and apartments and bodies got left alone. Maybe people in that part of town had better things to do than smash in a windshield or a stranger's head.
The idea that moving to a so-called "better" neighborhood would actually leave me surrounded by more danger and peril never even crossed my mind. And why would it?
But like one of the area police officers told me: "If you're going to steal things, you have to go where there's things to steal, and neighborhoods like this one have plenty of that."
I was searching the listings a few weeks ago and found a promising place: nice neighborhood, well-lit, heat included, three bedroom apartment for two-bedroom rent. It had a dishwasher and was close to public transportation as an added bonus. Not too shabby, I thought.
I was about to take down the number until I saw the address and immediately realized why it was such a deal.
It was my old apartment, bus traffic and all.
For a minute, I let myself smile thinking about that afternoon spent in the Starbucks down Wilson Ave., reading over the lease and trying to figure out how to get to the property manager's office. Back then I only thought about how cool hardwood floors were. Now I wonder who's going to be following me home at night.
But I kept right on looking. It's a big city out there and there's no way some overly persistent junkie can scare me into thinking I'm done with it just yet.
[UPDATE 7/26/2006: No sooner had I posted this than the girls down the street got robbed WHILE ONE OF THEM WAS HOME!!! Unbelievable. New condos be damned, I am paying way too much to live in this awful neighborhood.]