NYC Part Two: A Saga of Fire & Brass

nycnyc daystbtairbnbSeries: My Days in New York City

This post is the second in a series recounting how and why I moved to New York City.

The first post is here.

NYC from an airplane leaving LaGuardia Airport. This was the view I had when it was time for me to move to the city.
NYC from an airplane leaving LaGuardia Airport. This was the view I had when it was time for me to move to the city.

So, I moved to NYC. Not out of passion, but out of the desire to continue working in the field of natural language processing, but with a change of pace. A new team, a new location, and more readily availible pelmeni. What more could one ask for?

For various reasons that I might explain in another post, I spent November and December of 2018 mainly in Berlin, and returned to the U.S. to spend a jetlagged week in Pittsburgh before starting my new role in NYC. It was an internal transfer, and I didn't plan things so I had much time to situate myself.

I landed there, determined to make a life for myself and to secure housing.

But NYC is a place that rewards some advance planning...

I Had One Neighborhood In Mind...

Let me state the obvious: New York City is huge, especially compared to puny Pittsburgh and tiny Tokat.

There are tons of neighborhoods, many of which are well-connected to the capitalist hellscape that is Midtown Manhattan (my then-future office location.) For doing the whole "housing search thing," there are a lot of options for where to live. These are constrained by your budget, obviously, and there are tensions here. The correlation between commute time and rent is so correlated it's honestly insane. If you're relatively open, it's a recipie for mad decision paralysis...

Fortunately, I had one neighborhood in mind. And yes, it was Brighton Beach. What could be better than living on a beach with a bunch of Russia-adjacent folks?

From my own experience of... going there by subway, I had thought the train ride was so long that it would be a completely ludicrous choice. Except, I did some detailed research (also known as aspirationally staring at a subway map.) It turns out that the B train runs expresss to Brighton, skipping stops, and shaving minutes off the journey. The catch? The B train only runs on damned weekdays. (It also has one of the worse headways in the system, but not the worst.) But, who cares? I was willing to suffer for love.

The first step, of course was to try it.

So, I got a very nice airbnb in Brighton, and started commuting to work. The B Train was a little slower than it was supposed to be, but door-to-door my commute was about an hour. Maybe an hour and ten minutes at the absolute maximum with the train randomly stopping in the tunnel in that place where you know it's gonna randomly stop.

Oh, and, because the train started from Brighton, well, I was guarenteed a seat!

Defunct bookstore, Brighton Beach.
Defunct bookstore, Brighton Beach.

Reality

As many naysayers predicted, it only took a weekend until I caved.

The real death knell was, curiously enough, the Zlatna Uste Balkan Brass Festival near Prospect Heights. (Which I had also been invited to by Sherri)

It seemed so close to where I was staying, but the train ride there and back took so long... and that was only within South Brooklyn! (Although, to be fair late night MTA is a bit of a hot mess everywhere.)

So, the questions began: Where to go? Where to go? What's affordable? What's nice? How long is the commute?

And the realizations, such as: Oh dear god, what a correlation between commute time and rent!

Vadalma performing Hungarian folk music for an enraptured audience at 11PM. They were really good, and I wish I bought their CD.
Vadalma performing Hungarian folk music for an enraptured audience at 11PM. They were really good, and I wish I bought their CD.

The Next Place

After Brighton Beach, I can't say I had much of a backup plan. How could I possibly narrow down the list of neighborhoods?

Sure, you can look at places with more sensible subway access. And yes, I asked people who were from New York, or who were familiar with the city, "what neighborhood should I move to?" And, I got answers that in and of themselves produced such a range of possible destinations and neighborhoods that I was still stuck with decision paralysis.

I decided to jump between airbnb's in different neighborhoods. That would allow me to actually live through potential commutes, and get a sense of whether a sense of whether they were somewhere I'd want to actualy live or not.

To start out, I figured I'd move north roughly along the Q line. In places people talk about on forum posts parlay, this meant I sound wound up booking myself an AirBnB around Flatbush/Ditmas Park. A neighborhood where I enjoyed some really good Pakistani food, and gradually began to learn that though one could try to go as low as possible on the cost of things, there was a level beyond which the quality was suspect.

Did I need to learn every obvious lesson firsthand?

Apartment hunting, I also learnt that many apartments' Manhattan-based brokers wouldn't even bother to show the place in person, but merely tried to schedule people's visits so that would-be tenants wouldn't visit the same empty places in unison.

Of course, it was cold outside, and also, once one was onto the trick, it was fairly easy to barge in whenever. I will personally cherish the memory of joining an apartment hunter in mocking one particular apartment, with its diminuitive but crazy loud radiator.

Speaking of obvious lessons to learn, I may have learned a few from my Airbnb experience while apartment hunting.

The Airbnb I happened to be staying in was a basement apartment. And I got a message while I was working one Friday afternoon that there had been a fire. From the messages, it wasn't quite clear what had happened, but once I made it down there it was clear that no one had been hurt and none of my belongings had really been damaged.

However, a space heater had caught fire, and the fire department did kick the door in and judiciously use fire extinguishers, annihilating at least one computer (not mine) in the process. Given that where I was staying was more-or-less a mattress on the floor, it was no longer inhabitable per se, and my belongings were soaked in soot.

I was not particularly motivated to take good post-fire pictures, in part, because it wasn't my apartment and it was hella uncomfortable to do so. In any case, here's my clothes packed up in an ashy puddle.
I was not particularly motivated to take good post-fire pictures, in part, because it wasn't my apartment and it was hella uncomfortable to do so. In any case, here's my clothes packed up in an ashy puddle.

So What of Airbnb Support?

I had been calling Airbnb support on the way to the apartment, but of course I was on hold. Once I was off hold I was onto identity verification, which was difficult given that my account had a german phone number on it that I was yet to change and never memorized. Once I was through with that and able to communicate, the call was dropped. :(

It was a cold winter day and I did not feel comfortable calling airbnb to complain about the state of my hosts' apartment while I was there with the hosts only starting to get things cleaned up after a catestrophic disaster. So, I got myself a donut and a piece of banana bread from the coffee shop by Newkirk Plaza, boarded a Q north, and eventually got to my sister's place in Yonkers, where I proceeded to frantically do laundry before her laundry room closed.

(If anyone reading this ever doubts that I have a great sister, I most certainly do!)

So, I eventually got ahold of Airbnb support. They did not reach out to me even after they had it on record that the place where I was staying was subject to a housefire. They did not compensate me in any way. They did refund me for the additional nights I was not able to stay in Flatbush, but I actually had to argue with them to refund Friday night. Apparently, because I visited the recently torched apartment in the evening, I theoretically could have stayed there and that I didn't menat I shouldn't be refunded. Nevermind that I was only there to collect my wet, ashen clothing.

To put it mildly, that experience soured me quite a bit on Airbnb, and consequently I have significantly reduced my use of their "services".

Hypocritically though, here's my affiliate link.

{{airbnb}}

Aftermath: The Upper West Side

I rented the next nice looking apartment I looked at. It was a fifth floor walkup, which I rented from a shell company owned by a rich guy, in a neighborhood with an extremely quick commute to the office.

Shoutout to My Sister!

So, where did I go post-fire, where I was able to sleep for the night, hastily do laundry, and so on... none other than my sister's apartment, north of the city. I super appreciate being taken in at such short notice. The relief was unparallelled.

Needless to say, it was totally worth riding the subway northwards for over an hour with bags of wet ashy clothes, and a lemon poppyseed doughnut.

Thanks again, Al!

Self-portrait of the author, on his way to his sister's apartment.
Self-portrait of the author, on his way to his sister's apartment.