It’s Happening, I’m doing UX Design!

You read that right! I’m in it!

After I arrived in Columbus and it became clear my freelance situation wasn’t working out as planned, I sent a few emails out to creative recruitment companies; a lazy lure with a crude hook, just to see who’d bite.

TEK Systems, as it happens, did. I was contacted by a recruiter who asked to meet me for coffee rather than the usual trek into the office to shake hands of people I’d never see again, explain exactly everything that’s already on my resume and in my letter of intent, and be told they’d get to me when they could. I’d been through that song and dance before, in the rain, on a 45 minute round trip commute downtown, across from an eager but entirely replaceable and temporary recent college grad. I had little hope for TEK but they seemed to meet me where I was and I thought perhaps that may be a good sign. I began to keep score.

We picked a Starbucks closer to my house than her office (+1) and chatted about where I’d been, what I’d been doing, and what I hoped to do. She was clear to say that they understood the needs of the agencies and companies they worked with, and wouldn’t put me up for a job they couldn’t explain to me or anyone who asked. Unfortunately, placement companies creative or not, have a reputation for putting butts in seats and not much else, so this gave me some comfort (+2). As we parted, she said she had a few ideas and would be in touch.

The following week, she contacted me about a basic design position doing logos and email design, for which I am at this point frankly, way overqualified. I wasn’t so desperate that I’d be willing to take a job that would likely bore me, so I passed and asked her to keep looking. A few days later, she approached me with a position at an agency on the edge of downtown Columbus in a renovated warehouse, doing proper UX. I didn’t hesitate before agreeing. A few days later, she let me know they liked my resume and book, and were interested to meet me (+3). A few more days later, after they got the numbers and dates worked out, I drove 20 minutes towards downtown and met my recruiter’s boss at the door to the agency building and we went upstairs to meet the Creative Director I’d be working with, the Direct or Ops, and the owner of the company and site for which the UX was being done. The meeting was over in 10 minutes, and simply involved chatting and project outlining, and I’d start on Monday (+10).

I’m at the end of my fourth day on site and I love it. It’s everything I thought it would be, and not just in terms of the office environment, which is very cool and welcoming. I get to collaborate and renovate, there’s room for all conversation and edits, and they aren’t so bent on producing the site right away that they won’t take the time to do it right (+347).

******

I had to walk away from the draft and it is now day #5 on site. I lost yesterday (Monday) to a cluster headache, which I’d never had before and hope never happens again. Fortunately, both of my contracted companies were fantastic about it and completely understanding (again, new to me).

A few days ago, I drove to New York to spend the weekend camping with friends and about halfway there, got a few emails from the copywriter assigned to the project. I responded with the PDF of the work I’d completed the day before and mentally checked out of work. Today however, I arrived to find her updated copy corresponding to the wrong page of the PDF and unable to make more changes this week. My main contact isn’t in (at all or yet, I’m not sure), and the second person I’ve only sort of worked with on the project emailed to say he’d get with me later today to write new copy for the updated work. So here I sit, for the foreseeable next few hours, with nothing to do. I’m being paid to do nothing, which I can’t stand, but I have no choice. The downside of contact work is that I have only one job to do, and if I can’t do that job, I have to sit here sucking time and money out of the parent company.

In the meantime, my recruiter contacted me to see if we could meet for a drink next week to catch up about the position and how I felt it went. By then I’m sure I will have a fully formed opinion but as of today, I can say that I wish communication was better at the agency for which I’m working. But still, regardless of that bit of frustration, there’s nowhere I’d rather be (except maybe home, also working). I’m getting my hands dirty, the collaboration has been valuable and worthwhile, and I’m learning more in the last week than I tried to teach myself during the previous year in my attempts to break into the field. This is what the kids these days call, “winning””.

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Stranger in a Strange Land

The move to a new location can bring observations which can be baffling at worst, and entertaining at best. Some are about as subtle as a whisper, and some a sledgehammer. Ohio has brought with it a mix of both, but mostly good. Here are mine:

  1. Drivers: I know that Illinois and especially Chicago have their own…styles… of driving. In Chicago, we presume everyone is in the same rush, most know what they’re doing and know how to get out of the way (that goes for pedestrians and public transit, too). In Ohio? Not so much. Almost no one is in a hurry, the lines on the road are mere suggestions, and if someone is passing you on your right it must mean they’re in a bigger hurry and best to keep where you are so as not to disturb their intentions. Turn signals 100′ ahead of the turn? Sure! Merge at the very last second and then cut across two lanes of traffic to reach the turn lane? Of course! How about idle in the neutral center turn lane until everyone’s done doing what they need to do, and then another minute more thus creating a stalemate? Not confusing at all. Ask me if I’ve taken my scooter out since we’ve been here.
  2. Cost: Our first month in town, we witnessed gas prices increase more than twenty cents between gas stations only a mile apart, then drop again a mile later. At its lowest, we paid $1.92 per gallon and now it’s back up to something like $2.15 (Chicago is hovering around $2.50-$2.75). The cheapest gas was, I should mention, found over the July 4th weekend – the exact opposite of how it goes for most of the country. Costco was almost always over twenty cents cheaper in Chicago but here, there is virtually no difference and in fact, the BP on the corner is usually less than Costco (but I don’t get gas at BP, those killers).
  3. Food: Remarkably good, except for pizza. We were warned we would have a difficult time finding good pizza in Columbus and that has so far proven to be true. Super thin gourmet-style pizzas are common, and we even encountered some canned mushrooms which we sat stunned to observe when the pie arrived at our door. We haven’t been out to a pizza joint yet, only delivery, so there’s much research yet to be done. Unfortunately, the only Chicago representation is Giordano’s, which no self-respecting Chicagoan would recommend (though I hear the thin crust is good). We stumbled upon an Asian market and were able to stock up on snacks and ingredients, but not as many as we were used to in Chicago at our beloved Broadway Market. We have a running list of items we’ll most likely have to buy online because finding them here may be hopeless, though I did just stumble across an Asian market down the street from an appointment I’ll be at later today. I ordered some sushi last night that was excellent. Probably the best I’ve had in a very long time anywhere, AND they were open on a Monday to deliver. It wasn’t cheap but it was great. We’ve had delicious Lebanese, solid BBQ, fantastic hot chicken, and of course, Jeni’s ice cream is never to be missed.
  4. Beer: Columbus has more breweries than I know what to do with. They participate in the Columbus Ale Trail, a passport booklet where intrepid boozers collect stamps from each participating brewery for fun and prizes. I think I’m up to maybe eight stamps or so, with many more to come. Having organized and participated in the planning of beer events via my beer club in Chicago, I appreciate all that goes into a well-run, supportive, and connected beer scene. So far all the females I’ve seen are behind the bar but I like to think there is perhaps a decent female representation in the brewhouses too, we’ll see. The jury is still out as to whether or not I’ll start a She’s Crafty Columbus edition, though. The break from planning has been nice, and I don’t really miss the hustle or constant recruitment aspect that much yet.
  5. Working from Home: True, the arrangement I had with my previous company hasn’t quite worked out. If I line graphed the amount of work I had in my first weeks and the amount of work they’ve given me recently, let’s just say it would look a lot like the descent of the Leaning Tower. However, I am still parked in front of my computer in hopes something will materialize, from about 9 am to 5:30 pm, daily. Sometimes things come in, occasionally that time is spent on a job search, and even more often, it’s spent bouncing from article to article. But a few times, it’s actually spent on the couch, with Fred, watching Netflix when I just can’t bring myself to do the aforementioned for another minute more. I have a local recruiter – just one this time, I learned my lesson – who’s making a few things happen for me. She has me (knock wood, it’s not set yet) slated to start a UX gig in a few days at an agency downtown. It’s for only about 40 hours or so, but finally it’s something relevant I can put on my resume and get some real experience doing actual UX. Imposter syndrome is starting already and I’m not even in the door.

    I’ve come to love being home all day, though. Yes, I get bored and frustrated and sometimes go to the grocery store or make appointments just to get out of the house, but I love it enough that the idea of a regular office job, away from home and requiring a commute, makes me sad. Even with a decent paycheck and something to do, I find myself hoping it doesn’t happen too soon. I’m so fortunate that I can be picky in the search and only go if it seems like a good fit and feels right. Dylan’s company is growing very fast and they’re finally starting to talk about bringing a User Experience Designer on staff, so naturally he told them about me (good man). They’re all in Chicago today and tomorrow for a quarterly meeting and I’m told, I’m on the docket. If that conversation happens, possibly as soon as next week, and the opportunity presents to join his company, which is strictly remote, to do work I love, all connecting points will have come together. I would be thrilled. He loves his company and it is truly a unique one. They don’t blink at the request for time away to take care of things or people, and they are truly invested in each other’s wellbeing as humans, not just money-makers. A friend asked if he and I could work together day in and day out, live together, sleep together, cook together, and not kill one another. I said yes, so far no one is dead, but I suspect we’ll have to develop some changes in our daily routines to buy a little more time to ourselves or with people who aren’t us. Still, I’d rather have that than go to an office, all said and done. I don’t know what kind of office I’d ever actually be happy in, honestly.

  6. Our Apartment: Aside from walls that are paper-thin and our occasionally loud neighbors, we love it. The good far outweighs the bad, but they still haven’t fixed up the pool or gym, which we didn’t know were under construction when we signed our lease. That has been disappointing because the weather here is often sunny with temps that hover in the 80s and lower humidity than we’d been used to, aka, perfect pool days. They tell me mid-August and since the pool is heated, they hope to keep it open for a good long time. I’d been counting on that pool for a workout regimen but without it, here I sit, gaining weight and getting flabbier. The most unfortunate development has been our location, actually. We aren’t technically in the city our address indicates but rather, we’re in Columbus proper. This means we can’t take advantage of any resident rates at rec facilities (because Columbus has only one rate), and the really nice pool centers are like, $15 per day for non-residents in the bordering towns. Columbus’s pools are well south of us, too. A functional facility was supposed to come with this apartment, after all. Sirens are far and few, we keep a fan running at night because of the quiet, cicadas have taken over the airwaves, and there are even wildlife sightings (and smells) within yards of our door (deer, skunks, chipmunks).
  7. Our Dog: Fred is thriving. He’s running the stairs like a pro and is comfortable with all the new space in his life. We have a stripe of woods outside our door that someone generously carved a trail through, which leads to a clearing that borders a huge parking lot. That clearing has been perfect for Fred’s romps off leash, previously impossible in Chicago. fredThere are never any other dogs around and for the first time since we’ve had him, he’s been running around full blast. Within a few weeks, he developed some definition in his hind quarters and trimmed down. We started feeding him four times a day because we believe he’s hypoglycemic, but (against my better judgment) after the chaos of the move and his uncertainty, we allowed pee pads to come into our home. If I can catch him before using it, I run him outside and have him pee there but breaking him of the pee pads will be like housebreaking him all over again. Shih Tzus are notoriously stubborn and hard to housebreak, which doesn’t help. He’s never developed clear signs that he has to go out besides staring at us with a certain amount of desperation and maybe a butt wiggle or whine, so the use of the pee pad usually occurs when he sneaks off undetected. Fortunately, it’s still just pee. We’re going to start a routine of sprays that will hopefully deter using the pads entirely, wish us luck.
  8. Groceries: This might be the strangest development. In Chicago, there is a grocery chain called Tony’s, that covers a lot of international bases plus supplies a butcher, fish monger, salad and hot bars, bakery, and a full booze section. It’s a typical grocery store, nothing fancy, and has a huge Mexican section with all the staples. We got spoiled, we see that now. Columbus’s meat, produce, and fish prices are nuts. There has been no explanation so far how that can be, considering the central states are where a lot of the meat comes from. Steaks are at least $1-$2 more per pound, fish is almost never on sale and if it is, the sale price is still several dollars more than Tony’s ever had it. We got way into trout and cod before we moved, stovetop smoking or baking it in the oven. Since our move? Haven’t bought any. We found some perch that we used for fish tacos which were delightful, but it has almost no flavor and isn’t good for much else but tacos, or another heavily reinforced meal. We picked up a huge fresh salmon slab on sale for about $8, but made the singular error of buying a large frozen salmon filet, that we smoked. Previously-frozen fish is a mushy, flavorless heartbreaker.

    Produce fares no better. Green peppers are $1 each, yellow or red peppers push $1.50 each. Avocados hover near 2/$5, cherry tomatoes over $4 a carton, ears of corn are at least $.50 each, and mushrooms are rarely loose so they’re around $2.50-$3 a package. Every single time we go shopping, we stand there shaking our heads in the produce section, trying to understand how a store in Chicago could have food priced less than a city of only 850,000 people. Oddly, we found at discount chain + catch-all Marc’s a huge section of Bob’s Red Mill products for almost half what they usually go for (and a lot of it is gluten-free, if you’re into that kind of thing). Marc’s produce is limited but will certainly do, for less than anywhere else. Unfortunately, their soda pop section is enormous and lends itself well to my theory that Ohio is being intentionally kept fat and unhealthy. There’s a huge medical community statewide, and there is little money to be made from healthy people. Attempting to escape high fructose corn syrup has been tricky, it’s in everything from store brand bread to breakfast meats and several points between. A large portion of our food budget goes to shopping for items that are ideally healthy, but it’s not been easy. The high cost of produce makes this worse.

    Oh and butter! Butter is almost $5 a package, can you believe that?! I was horrified to find a four-pack of sticks at Target for $5, their store brand even, then I started to see it everywhere for that price. Costco’s price is reasonable, but not by much. Again, Tony’s often had packs for $1.50 on sale, but we haven’t come across anything close to that yet.

  9. People: Jury is out on this one so far. My litmus test for how friendly a location is, is two-fold. Do strangers greet one another on the street? – and – Will bartenders or patrons at the bars chat up a stranger without much prompting (or warning)? So far we have yes, and we have no. People definitely greet one another on sidewalks and in common areas, sometimes a head nod, sometimes a “good morning/day/evening”. I admit I am still terrible at anticipating this and the return is always stuttering and surprised. I’ll get there. Clerks and customer service workers are exceedingly friendly, which makes their slower pace a little easier to take.

    The second however, not so much. Granted, I’ve not been to a bar alone yet and many breweries don’t open until after 3 or 4 during weekdays so the opportunities have been slim. When I was in Cleveland, women remarked often how rare it was to see a female at a bar alone, especially with a book, and the guys didn’t know what to make of it at all. I think Columbus is probably a little more progressive than that, maybe, but in our many bar visits, only one bartender has been very engaging and talkative. The others so far just kind of sling your drinks and leave you alone (not the worst quality in bar staff). I’m about to venture out for my first local haircut at the salon of a mutual friend, and up the street from that salon is bar I’ve not hear of but that has extensive guest taps featuring beers not available on draft in Chicago. They open about an hour before my appointment, so when I’m done I’m going to pop in there and see how it is during the quiet of the day. My opinion may change, we’ll see. Also, no public transit means one-and-done is key.

  10. The Airport: We’ve each flown once since we’ve been here and both times we laughed at how short a drive it is to and from (26 minutes one-way), and how simple it is to get into and out of it. We can park at the curb long enough to say a proper goodbye, no one is hoking, whistling, or shouting to move it along, and while pickup is still chaotic with one person circling, the airport is small and simple enough to snatch someone curbside from departures rather than arrivals (old family trick) and poof, you’re on your way. We were watching a show the other day where someone was standing at the curb of an airport, on the phone. He agrees to meet the person on the other side of the conversation “in an hour” at a coffee shop in town, after he’d left the airport and reached his hotel to drop off his things. We laughed at the thought of trying to make that plan in Chicago vs. here (or almost anywhere else, really). In Chicago if you want to meet someone after arrival and a hotel stop, you’re looking at at least two hours.

To sum up: Chicago is more expensive in almost every aspect except for, inexplicably, groceries. Ohio is full of charms and pleasant discoveries. And we’ve only run into one Trump supporter, live in the flesh. Fortunately, he didn’t try to talk to us.

This was the right move, our move here. It’s not permanent, we occasionally discuss what and where is next, and if we both wind up working remote full time the world – literally – is ours to explore. I feel often that we’re on the precipice of something big, and that our lives together are taking a shape that while uncommon, will be full of great stories and adventures. It’s hard to be far away from friends and family and to feel like we’re missing things that are happening with them, but there hasn’t been a moment of regret. Our friendship with our friends here is blooming and growing, and Dylan even got himself a bi-weekly RPG game to run. Now if we can just get to the DMV to transfer our registration and get new licenses…

I Used to Love You

I found myself back in Chicago over the weekend for a planned trip to celebrate a friend’s birthday. I had enough points to make it there and back just by paying tax, where I’d stay stay with said friend who lives downtown and central to all the public I needed for my entrance and exit. It was a perfect setup for a very quick visit and the timing was pretty solid as well.

Arriving a little late thanks to storms between our cities, I worked my way through Midway with purse slung over messenger-style and wheelie bag in my wake. As I was repeatedly cut off by groups of three and four walking abreast so as to take up the entire walkway, the old familiar rage came back. I thought angry things as my brow furrowed and I grabbed my opening of a few spare feet on the outside of the slow-moving, oblivious groups. My calves and feet ached with strain as I stepped intentionally and faster than I had in weeks, if not months. By the time I reached the entrance to the CTA, my shins were begging for respite.

I plopped down on a single seat of the Orange Line (the best seats for zero human interaction), destined for the Washington/Wells stop in the Loop where I’d meet my best friend for a quick lunch before heading to my host’s apartment in River North. I caught up on my phone instead of leaning into the old familiar butterflies when Chinatown and the city skyline grow into view. I felt instead…nothing. If not nothing, then a tinge of something I can only describe as: this again? It was a strange sensation, to feel more obligation and duty than joy and happiness at being, how I’d always thought of Chicago, home.

The train arrived at the stop, I grabbed my bag and wheeled it to the platform, the stairs, then the street. The first thing I realized, maybe it was the 83 degrees and 80% humidity, that the city stinks. It just…stinks. It smells of garbage and sewer and cigarette smoke and exhaust, all mixed with reverberating heat and endless humidity. I had to have known that before, there’s no way it was a special mix just for the day, but it was startling. The coming days would bring witness of garbage thrown from car windows and by careless pedestrians who barely intended to get it in the bin, various piles of vomit from the evening before, inconsiderate public transit users (stand right, walk left), and the standard one person shouting across traffic at another, from the middles of sidewalks in busy stretches where pedestrians went single file to pass. In other words, things I’d witnessed and become 100% used to in the previous 15 years of city living. Suddenly it was like a giant highlighter ran over every offense and I couldn’t help but see them, and hate them all a little bit. My shoulders tightened, my eyes judged, I averted my gaze from everyone else’s because no one was smiling or saying hello on the street, no way.

By Saturday evening’s party end, I was ready to go home (my friend’s home and my own, for that matter). I had to get up at 8 the next morning to leave for the airport and by then D and I had exchanged something like 58 “I miss you, I don’t like this” texts. It was after all, the longest we’d been apart from one another in three years. Hours of conversations with friends who had a few extra drinks then became close-talkers, plus nonstop chit chat and action which started at 9 am on Friday and wouldn’t stop until after 1 on Sunday, mixed in with not great nights of sleep in a strange bed meant I was just done. I went back to my friend’s house without her and tried to sleep, which came in fits and ended much earlier than planned or hoped. I rose an hour early and by 8:05 Sunday morning, I was walking a strangely quiet stretch of Chicago Avenue to the Brown Line station where I’d wait for the train that would eventually take me to my plane home.

The Orange Line runs in a southwestern diagonal from the center of Chicago’s Loop to Midway airport, its terminus. If you sit on the right hand side of the train, particularly facing backwards, you get a beautiful view of the shrinking skyline as you head south. It was a view I always, always caught. I’d stand if I had to. This time, I found myself unintentionally on the left of the train, facing forward to nothing but homes and buildings. I closed my eyes here and there in fits of sleepiness, and by the time the 20 minutes were up and we left the train, I marched headlong and fast to the terminal and waited for Boarding Group C to be called into position.

The only souvenirs that returned with me were two Lou Malnati’s sausage pizzas (with a cup of extra sauce because the frozens are always scant), and two jars of giardiniera, one for a friend. I ate exactly the one meal I missed before we moved, and didn’t miss others. I cannot explain the shift. Maybe it’s marriage and a dog to come home to, maybe the city finally just ended our relationship and it took going back to realize it. Maybe I’d simply grown past everything that comes with living in a town of that size and scope.

D’s job is remote but they gather quarterly to be together and do fun stuff like go on boats and play Whirlyball. I was invited to attend the August 1st gathering back in Chicago. After discussing it, we decided that to make the 11-hour round trip drive worth it, we’d have to stay for at least two or three days, and if we did that, what would we do to fill time? We couldn’t come up with enough missed foods or social activities between us to justify it, and ultimately decided I would stay back and he’d fly out then fly home the next day. What a strange place to be, I keep thinking. When I lived in Cleveland, I returned to Chicago four times in 14 months and could not wait to go back again and again to see family and friends. But as I said to D when he picked me up curbside Sunday, I won’t do that again until I absolutely have to.

It wasn’t a bad breakup, the city and we are just…done. We’d gained all we had to from one another, we both gave and lost repeatedly. We found ourselves paying too much for too little, and in the end took no advantage of what a world class city like Chicago has to offer, it was literally being wasted on us. And when we drive around with the now-expired city sticker in the windshield of our car, we are continually reminded how much it cost for the privilege of living in such a place. And at the end of the day, it was just too much. The air where we are now is clearer, cleaner, far more relaxed, and if I’m honest, welcoming. I’m still trying to get used to greeting strangers on the street, though.

Careful of Those Wishes

For the better part of my working life, I wished to not be working. Don’t read me wrong, I’m not a layabout (except when I am, which is sometimes because I friggin’ love naps). I need purpose and action, it’s hard for me to do nothing for too long…which is kind of where I’m at right now. I hesitate to complain, working at home and freedom throughout the day is usually exactly what’s at the finish line of my brain. However, I don’t have much freelance work to do and the whole reason for being home all day, was to do freelance work.

Last week I clocked I think 18 working hours. I won’t get into pay or anything like that, let’s say that was alright, but it didn’t keep me busy for more than three days out of five. The other two were taken up with unpacking, collapsing boxes, arranging and rearranging the kitchen, running errands, etc. Again: I’m not complaining about that bit because I loved being able to run around during the day when most people were not on the roads or in the stores and make real headway getting the new place in order. That’s not really the point, though.

I need to feel like I have something going on that isn’t housework, since housework needs to always happen, particularly after a move. It feels good to get my hands dirty with design work. I throw my earphones in, put a playlist on, and have at it. Hours go by, I don’t even realize that it’s quitting time until either my stomach or my butt tells me so and I like it. Love it, maybe. But right now, the well is if not dry, at least so deep I can barely see the water in it and my boss goes radio silent sometimes for days at a time. Our agreement before I left my job was that he’d give me x amount of hours per week to a) keep me working on whatever they (urgently, according to him) need and b) make not working freelance financially viable for the summer. After much discussion, we decided against paying for insurance for the handful of months I’d be freelancing, and pray for health and safety (thanks, America!), but we still have to pay rent and bills. Our handshake was that I’d stay on doing freelance through the summer and not start seriously job shopping until fall, which would ostensibly help both of us during the transition. As of today, Thursday, I’ve done three hours of work this week. I sent my boss a chat an hour ago asking for more work and after a basic response of, “I’m sorry/I’m really busy/I’m working on it” finally gave me the option of working on a project he allotted 12 hours’ pay to. Uh, yes. Hello, yes. Why did I have to pull that out of him?

So now the question is: Do I stick the freelancing out through August as planned, or do I gear up for the harder conversation that may or may not involve a professional boundary of something like, more work by July or I find a real job. A risky move, but not as risky as working less than the agreed-upon hours per week, indeed.

It makes me cranky to be bored or aimless and while there are other hobby-type things I could/should be doing, or geez, even sit in the sun and read a book or wander around Target noting the things we still need to set up house, that’s not what I want. I want to work. If I don’t work, I don’t enjoy my leisure time because I haven’t earned it.

From Under Boxes Comes the Light (grab some crackers, this is a long one)

Oh friends, I have so much to share about our move experience but rather than kill the next 17 minutes of your time reading the details, I’ll just give you the list:

1. Paced our packing nicely throughout the weekend, with enough time to spare to have dinner at the site of our first date, our last night in town.

2. Got a call 16 hours before we were to pick our moving truck up that the truck had mechanical problems and there were no other trucks available in the Chicagoland area. This resulted in a mad scramble to find another one (successful) and a $50 (accidental) charge from the initial company for not officially cancelling (reimbursed).

3. Truck packing went fairly well if not slightly delayed, and in spite of my inherited dining room table getting a large scrape/chunk taken out of the edge of the table leaf, everything arrived intact.

4. … this is the longer story of which I’ll spare you most… We signed our lease online over 25 days prior to moving in. They knew we were coming, we emailed several times between when we applied and when we left Chicago. Upon arrival to the subdivision, we drove past our unit and found the garage door open. Hmm. We drove around to the office and went in, everyone was happy to meet us and Fred finally, and excited to get the move-in going. Our mover Mario (found on Craigslist, fully awesome individual) was already there waiting for us. Together, we drove back to the unit and went in. We found the only thing in order was the internet installer present. Everything else – aside from the new flooring and paint on the walls – was in total disarray. Nothing was ready for us. The upstairs carpet smelled of dog pee and clearly still needed to be replaced. Doors were off of hinges, light bulbs were out, the new paint was marred and marked with dirty handprints, new toilets were off their mounts, the master bathtub had water in it from somewhere, etc… we stared at each other in confused silence.

The property manager was horrified and obviously embarrassed at the failing. He apologized, I think we guessed before it was all over, somewhere around 47 times. He promised he’d get his crews on the unit immediately and we’d be fine to come back at 4 pm to a sparkling, perfect apartment. We agreed, easily rescheduled with our mover (because he’s awesome), and left to find a dog-friendly patio with food and beer (found and loved). By 4pm we were rested and ready to face unloading the truck.

We drove up to the unit and discovered a car parked in our garage, and when we walked in, the Mr. & Mrs. Nice Guy we’d put forward at first left the room along with all those 4 pm promises. Nothing was done, there was absolutely no difference in the state of things other than the cleaning lady who was in the kitchen, scrubbing away (it was her car, turns out). We drove over to the office and let the manager know that it was after 4 but nothing was done. Again, together we drove back to the unit and walked through. He apologized, made many phone calls to his crew, and apologized some more. We rescheduled our mover again (did I mention he’s awesome?) and took the manager at his word that the carpet would be changed, cleaning finished, and we’d have some help unloading our truck since our mover couldn’t coordinate a crew with so much shuffling. At about 5, they unloaded the contents of the truck into the first floor (of two) and we trusted the manager that we’d have help moving the upstairs items to their places.

By 6:30, the carpet was almost finished being installed but the manager’s upstairs-moving crew was nowhere to be found. I’d overheard them say they couldn’t install the toilets or threshold strips until the carpet was done, so by 6:45 it was clear we weren’t going to be able to stay there that night since our bed and mattress were buried in one huge disorganized, conglomerate pile of our life contents, in the living room.

The manager assured us we’d be reimbursed for any expenses incurred due to the screw up, so we called to let him know his crew disappeared, nothing was done to completion, and we booked a hotel that night. It should be noted that he too, vacated the property by 6 pm, presuming his crew would stay and help us. He stammered yet another apology and let us know that his boss sent his apology as well as the offer of a $100 rent credit and… my favorite part… an Edible Arrangement. It was all so ridiculous by that point that all I could do was laugh, and laugh through the rest of the evening every time I remembered it. The hotel room was nice but the $100 non-refundable pet fee just to have Fred with us, was not.

The next day around noon we went over to the unit and remarkably, found it all to be in order. The carpet was installed and aside from paint that still needed touching up and an accordion door off its hinges, it was done and ready. Our belongings filled up almost the entirety of the living room in absolutely no order, with the larger pieces of furniture blocking the boxes (because they were loaded into the truck first, they were the last to come out and the last to go into the home. Professional movers would never have allowed that to happen but we were long past professionalism).

Now it was time to negotiate terms. We had a feeling the apartment manager was promising things he couldn’t pull off, indicated by his manager’s subpar restitution, and it was clear we had to come to some sort of agreement. We started out nice, our mover, the internet guy, and the manager all made it a point to say so and wonder aloud what they would do if it was happening to them (“probably not be that nice!” /laugh). With each progressive letdown though, we got less nice. By the time the three of us were standing in our freshly-carpeted bedroom, the gloves were off. Manager asked straight up how much we wanted to make it right. We did the math and told him how we came to the number (let’s say it was under $500), but that was just to break even. To make us less livid, we asked him to waive Fred’s cost to move in ($250, non-refundable…which is a ridiculous rip off but par for Columbus, as much as we could tell). We also asked we be assured his staff would help us carry things up the stairs, particularly because we paid a mover to do it who couldn’t, and my back doesn’t allow it anyway.

From there, he started to get a little defensive and less willing to take responsibility. I said at least twice that we weren’t even supposed to be having any of the conversations we were having, and the reason we were was because of an epic failure on their end that somehow took a month to come to fruition. He admitted he outsourced the work to a third party (on the Friday before a holiday weekend, three days before we were to move in…makes sense) and didn’t stay on top of his employees. He also said that he spent some time the day it all blew up purchasing a white board and meeting with his staff to explain how it can never happen again.

In all truth and sincerity, I told him that if that’s the good that comes out of all of it, that’s great and we hope it works. Ultimately, my feeling is that he’s a middle manager with almost zero power and is likely a terrible communicator whose staff doesn’t respect him a whole lot. I’ve seen it before, his staff may last at the property longer than he will. A manager in that situation does not go home without making sure everything that has to be done, is being done and moreover, stays to make sure it’s done at all. I kept that thought to myself until after he left.

Anyway, we stated our requests and he said he’d make some calls to corporate and get back to us but not before saying he thought it would be impossible for his staff to help us with our furniture after all, due to their insurance policies. I understood that but still felt my blood boil. We walked him to the door and waited to hear what he’d come back with after he spoke to his boss, while slowly unloading things from our car into the garage.

An hour passed and he came back to our door holding some bright green papers in his hand. He held them out and explained they were $100 rent credits, five of them (though actually six, accidental or no), and it was their best and final offer. We’d still have to pay for Fred, and we wouldn’t get help from them to move anything, the corporate office is again, terribly sorry for the problems and hopes it doesn’t sully our entire experience with the complex. We were out at least $500 in actual cash plus Dylan’s day of work revenue lost, and the ability to get a day’s worth of cash paid back for returning the moving truck early. They found a way to pay us back but only in terms that would ultimately benefit the company, how very GOP of them. We accepted our fate and watched the Manager get into his golf cart and drive off as I silently hoped I’d never have to talk to him ever again.

Sigh. So here we are, five days moved in. That door is still off its hinges, no one has come to clean the marked-up paint so I finally took a Magic Eraser to most of it, and about 30% of our boxes remain taped up and waiting in the living room. On the other hand, we still haven’t paid for Fred.

I overdid it moving boxes, bending and lifting and have had to take it easy for a day or two as my back was singing at me most rudely. The silver lining is that the rent credits, in addition to credits that we already received as a move-in incentive, mean we won’t have to pay rent until August. Our kitchen is almost done and has been used a few times already, and our shared office is set up. Today was our first day of working side-by-side with Fred asleep between us. I found myself smiling occasionally at the dream realized and wondering if I could really make it as a remote worker, freelance or not.

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At the end of the day, moving is still the best decision we could have made. We love the apartment (in spite of its paper-thin walls and loud but nice family next door), we really like our little neighborhood so far, and live ridiculously close to all the shopping comforts. We have friends nearby and are excited to celebrate our 2nd anniversary in a few days (possibly by visiting the Ikea up the street, due to open the same day). I could never have gone through this alone, Dylan has been a rock and together we feel like a very good team. He’s let me indulge in my badly needed naps and reminds me to take breaks whenever he sees me bending and lifting too much. We have patio chairs set up on our slab out front and are slowly getting those boxes unpacked and broken down. I told him the other day that I haven’t decorated more than one room of the places I’ve lived since I left Cleveland five years ago because none of them ever felt long-term enough to care about, but since our first night I’ve found myself looking at the walls, cruising Think Geek and considering all those canvases I have but haven’t painted anything on yet.

So entry was rocky at first to say the very least, but it’s shaping up well and we’re pulling through. Fred is adjusting and isn’t nearly as freaked out as he was the first few days of car rides and strange sleeping arrangements. We’re happy. Which, really, is what it was all about in the first place. Now if only we had a Weber grill…

Boxes, Markers, and Stepping on Fred

This week has been long, this is an earned Friday. Tuesday was my last day of work at the office, Wednesday I was in an inexplicable funk but managed to get some errands run between naps (my escapist drug of choice), and yesterday marked the first day of Full On Packing. Today, my plan is to pack at least half of one very crowded room and not leave the house until we go to dinner tonight to the Thai restaurant which was the site of our first date.

Dylan, champ that he is, worked hard enough all week to hit his 80 hours early so he could take today off to run errands for himself and for us. Reminding myself that I’m not in this move alone, well, for the third time in our history, is a constant companion. A little string around my finger that I glance at when I’m suddenly overwhelmed at the pile of boxes and seemingly endless amount of tiny things that can’t be thrown away but appear to have no actual home. Last night I asked him the best favor to which he replied, “That’s it? Of course!” and that is: Clean out the fridge. I can manage a lot but cleaning out the fridge makes me nuts, I don’t know why. Knowing I have a willing partner that will carry a load for me when asked is, to put it mildly, a relief. Literally lately too, since I strained my back during our yard sale prep of last weekend.

We’ve seen our friends to say goodbye, most of them anyway, we’ve eaten our foods, we’ve said our silent see ya later to various buildings and neighborhoods as we drive around town. It’s all gone by so fast but it feels like we’re careening towards something amazing. While I’m rarely unhappy these days, I’m rarely at peace. My mind runs, it goes through lists with items checked and unchecked, I wake up at 3:30 am and wonder if Fred was taken out after I fell asleep while we watched TV, I finally get up an hour later and take some Benadryl or read to force myself back to slumber and while that usually works, I’m awake before 7 most mornings where the brain fires up all over again. TV

Our new home though, that feels like peace. We haven’t even set foot in yet or experienced it with our own eyes, just a walk-through via Skype and good friends. But it feels like ours already and I know we both decorate and organize it in our minds, only occasionally discussing our ideas. Woodburning fireplace, chest freezer, our shared office setup,  all the mall stores nearby we can wander around when bored or curious. We don’t know much about Columbus yet, and the mystery is part of the allure. Cleveland I knew, at least I knew people and a lot of things about it, but Columbus I only really know through our friends’ eyes, there is so much to discover. And all those trees and hills! And cheaper! And like, 60% less people everywhere!

But today, right now, it’s 10:24 in the morning and I have yet to do much but put a load of wash in the dryer. So I’m going to get up and attempt to tackle the kitchen, starting with a small box for the spices. In all this fast, drastic change, starting small seems like a good way to quiet the chatter parade in my head.

Goodbyes to Good Pizza

I remember when I was getting ready to move to Cleveland six years ago. It seemed that people who I never saw or made the effort to see (or see me) had the strongest reactions. “You’re going?! Really? Awww! (sad face)” and I thought… yeah. I’m going. Did you want to make plans after lo these four years of living in the same city but never spending intentional time together…? I felt like a face in their own personal Sgt. Pepper and suddenly having a blank spot where I was, would mess up the whole composition. There were also times I’d run into people I so rarely saw that it seemed the universe was conspiring to make sure I said goodbye to them, particularly in places I’d either never been before or meant to go or accidentally wound up in, which was pretty cool. And then there were the friends who just kind of vanished altogether. They didn’t attend any going away events or even send goodbye texts. I wondered why, if we were really friends at all or if I was being too sensitive to the very normal thing of transience in life. Now I know they simply just weren’t good friends. My good friends helped me through that entire situation. Packing, loading, little gifts, even driving with me to Ohio and making sure I had a soft landing there.

Now I’m watching that whole thing play out again through D’s experience, and it’s a little hard to witness. Simply put, he’s so far disappointed by the silence of friends he’s had his whole life. Granted, we have almost a month before we head out and so much can happen before then, but right now he’s struggling the same way I did. A stoic and resigned shrug that indicates he doesn’t care if they show up to this or that, but sad eyes that reveal his heart if you look closely enough.

I submitted my resignation today, which felt so good. My boss has asked me to stay on as freelance for design needs, and we’ll need to hammer out exactly what that means and how many hours of work he may need per week, but he also offered a letter of recommendation (without me asking) because he’s smart enough to know that I will eventually want something local and more (without me saying).

Not being much of a daydreamer or fantasizer anymore, I haven’t spent a lot of time on my back staring up at the sky, imagining wall color or furniture placement. That is, until we were approved for our lease, booked our truck, and started collecting boxes. Now it’s happening, now that the wheels are in motion. Now I find myself cruising Amazon for firewood holders (because we’ll have a wood burning fireplace), and wondering which bathroom (of the 2.5) should have the Hahn and Leia towels in it, and if we should decorate around them as a theme.

Goodbye events are starting to be planned, dinners and lunches scheduled, and most importantly maybe, time blocked for packing. It always comes down to the last second and I always forget that part until I’m well in it. Fortunately this time I have a very helpful husband who won’t let me take so much on myself, as I do, and who supports my desire to throw money at the problem by hiring muscle either with money or pizza, to pack and unpack the truck.

It all feels slightly dreamlike still, it’s far enough away that the pressure isn’t quite on yet, but there is a small stack of large, sturdy boxes leaned against a wall just waiting. Taunting. Promising. Tempting. After mid-May and we participate in a neighborhood yard sale, the house will be emptier as I mentally and emotionally prepared to sell the kitchen table I inherited from my grandmother. The 1963 chrome and Formica table I grew up making Christmas cookies at and eating spiral Kraft mac & cheese on. I’ve kept it with me through five apartments, two states, and two storage spaces, and now it sits against a wall where it supports plants, a computer monitor, mail, and the cage of our Leopard Gecko, Stavros. It’s a great table and I’m sad to part with it. Fortunately, the story is not so sad because in our new home, will be another table also inherited from my other grandmother. It’s beautiful wood, mid-century and has rapidly become a cherished piece I now get to attach to the way I attached to the other.