Friday, July 30, 2010

Updates From The Heartland: The Move, Pt. 2

Yeah, so I was stressed out and nervous about the entire concept of moving away from The City, and my much-loved Brooklyn to go to a new area, a new life, a new everything. And, I hoped, a new me. Which is a horrifically cliche thing to say, I realize, but definitely has been on my mind. I realize that journalism is a tough career choice, and one that has lead to a certain amount of burnout. Year after year of writing about markets and investing advice left me no wealthier personally, or, for that matter, more marketable.

Despite that I wasn't necessarily ready to move 800 miles away to make this change manifest. But these were the discussions/arguments that Randi and I had, many many time, over the course of a year. If we didn't move how would we know what else is out there? Aren't we concerned about where Stella will go to school? (The New York public schools are a notoriously mixed bunch, and saying they are "mixed" is being generous.) Another issue is that we hadn't had much of a life since Stella was born, as babysitting rates in the city can be upwards of $20 an hour, and we had few options for family members to come and watch out daughter. As a result we were more or less shut-ins for the first year of Stella's life, and while that got gradually better over time, it never got all that much better. The demands of raising a high-spirited child in the city proved exhausting, even overwhelming at times. It was all us, all the time.

If we moved we felt confident that some of this burden could be lifted from our shoulders because Randi has a large extended family in the greater Louisville area, and her mother had already volunteered to babysit.

Plus, and this is huge, the cost of living in New York had gotten outrageous. I recently saw a graph that said that over the past decade the average price to purchase a home had risen by roughly 70% in the city, which was already expensive, while salaries have stagnated. Our apartment was and is a steal at $1700 a month. Meanwhile, in Louisville, we would find a fairly deluxe two bedroom for $900, almost. And this is the expensive place!

But there's a reason it's less, and that reason is because it's in Louisville. A place that is far away from the bright lights, although for me personally the much larger issue is that it is also far from the publishing capital of the world, and the entertainment scene. This was a tough pill for me to swallow because I am a writer, for starters, and I have long loved to see and perform music and comedy. (Although it's been several years since I've performed on a regular basis.)

Plus, and this is most key, I was really scared by the prospect of having no close friends nearby, or family. The reasons for this may be obvious, but they still loomed extremely large as I fretted, back and forth, over how a move could play out. It was impossible to come to a conclusive answer, because there were just too many variables. Meanwhile, while we dawdled over our decision the clock ticked away. I will explain why in the next entry.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Updates from The Heartland: The Move

So yes, we have moved to Kentucky. I still can't quite believe this, even as I write it. We have been here about two weeks, and have been busy with the usual moving in stuff. I have been writing, but not every day, and mostly in a journal, not in a blog. I just haven't felt ready to share my thoughts with the world. Not that the world necessarily cared! But this is what's going on now, so I will give a little rundown, probably in shorter doses, over the next few days of how it's gone so far. But let me start by describing the drive out, because it was a nightmarish experience.


The decision was made that the most cost-efficient way to do the move was for me to rent a U-Haul truck, pay movers on either end to pack it, rent a trailer, put the car on it, and drive to Kentucky, rather than pay movers to ship our things.

The main inducement, as always, was price. About two weeks before our move-out date I had brought in a company called Flat Rate Movers to come into our apartment to give me an estimate as to how much it would cost if we simply paid them to move everything. (The way they do it is that they would reserve room for us on an 18-wheeler, along with the gear from other people who are also moving.) The guy who came to our place was a pleasant Israeli guy named Oran. (By the way, ever notice that a ton of movers are Israeli? I have.)

He did a complete and thorough job, and spent about 15 or 20 minutes reviewing every conceivable thing. We were doing a clean move out, that was the plan. The other half of the plan was that we wanted to sublet our apartment, in case we decide to return down the road. (Randi's teaching job in Brooklyn grants up to five years of leave after you have a child. Meaning that you can leave the job for up to five years after the birth of a child and come back and be guaranteed your old job back. It's a union thing. Pretty neat, right?)

So anyway, Oran looked everything over and entered a bunch of numbers into some sort of portable computer. The entire process was fairly complex as he even had to call in to headquarters, and get some sort of code. About ten minutes later he had his figure for how much it would cost to move us. And remember this was the Flat Rate, so this was it: $3900.

Whoa boy, that's a lot of dough! I asked how much it might cost if we left two large pieces of furniture behind, and he brought it down to $3600. I realized that we would only have to buy furniture out here anyway, for such nominal savings it didn't make sense to leave the pieces behind.

I tried to rationalize how we could pull this off, because I really didn't want to drive this stuff almost 800 miles, towing a car the entire way. But the more we discussed it, the more we realized that there just was no way. Renting a truck from U-Haul would not be cheap, in fact it would cost roughly $1300, including furniture pads and the dolly for the car. Factor in gas, which would for now be an unknown, and we're looking at hundreds more. Factor in a hotel for one overnight and we're looking at more, add in food and it's more. But still, I could find no scenario where we didn't save serious money, at least $1000, by doing the move ourselves. And at this stage of the game, with my wife without a job, and myself without a job as well, $1000 meant a lot to us. Maybe some day it won't seem worth it, but I kind of doubt it. At least not some day soon.

Of course realizing that we were going to have to do it ourselves lead to a whole series of logistical challenges that we wouldn't have to contend with had we just paid Flat Rate to do it. Chief on my mind was what we were going to do with our beloved cats, Cromwell and Talisker.

Here I thought to reach out to the one person I've ever met whom I can truly say is an expert in the area of moving pets: David, the head of a company called The Pet Chauffeur. How did I know David? It's a story, but maybe not a very long one. Years and years ago I wrote a story about him for The New York Post, my one and only piece for that newspaper by the way. (You can read the story here if you scroll down the page.)

I remember the impetus for the piece. I was in my old Hell's Kitchen neighborhood and I saw a sign on this car as it drove down the block: The Pet Chauffeur. Right away this seemed kind of crazy, and very New York; a taxi service for your pet. Meanwhile I could rarely afford cabs, but here was an entire service meant to ferry around four-legged friends. As mentioned I couldn't think of anything more urban that that, in a city where so many people have pets instead of children, and then treat these pets better than so many families treat their actual kids.

I called the one and only contact I had at The 'Post, business editor Dan Colaruso. (Now long departed.) He said he was interested in the story, and I wrote it up. It was actually one of the easier pieces I ever did, and I was happy to see it in the paper about a week later.

Anyway, this is a digression I realize, but who cares, right? So I called David, to get his advice about the best way to move the cats. Randi had great trepidation about whether she could handle it all if we boarded them on the airplane with her and Stella, which I understood. It's hard enough to fly with a toddler as a couple, you always need more hands that even two adults seem to have, and it's a struggle to stay on top of all the stuff you have to do in order to simply get on an airplane these days. Plus we had concerns about whether it would be best for the cats to do it that way, as cargo holds may not be the best places for living creatures.

Do you think I over-thought this much? Hmm, sure seems like it. In truth the moving of the cats became perhaps my single biggest source of stress during this entire process. Maybe I did this deliberately in order to focus on something, anything, other than the reality of the move at hand and what it might mean to me personally. I just could not imagine what life would be like in Kentucky, a place where I had no friends, no real contacts, far less in the way of career options, I feared, and only my in-laws for family outside of Randi and Stella. Not that my in-laws aren't wonderful, of course they are, but it was hard for me to see myself in this reality, let alone get psyched for it. The truth was the entire process was enormously, extremely, all-consumingly stressful for me, and the stress gradually built up over several months. Eventually I became extremely depressed and anxious about the entire idea, and things started to spiral out of control with me personally.

But more about that tomorrow.