Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Day 24: Recap, Pt. 5 -- Monday, Oct. 15

Salem landmark, Oct. 15, 2012. History happened here.
So we had a temporary home, but two places in Lowell we wanted to see for future reference. We figured that in time we might want to live not so in-the-middle-of-it-all, and it appeared that Lowell might be an area that was making an interesting comeback.

Lowell's place in history is not unimportant. It was a leading center of the 19th century American Industrial Revolution, a mill town that peaked 100 years ago. After World War I, a lot of its businesses faltered as production migrated south. For most of the 20th century the city fell into disrepair.

But recently those abandoned mills have been bought up and converted into hip loft living spaces, the city has tried to provide an alternative to the congestion of central Boston and the arts scene has taken root. Lowell looks to be a comer. We were interested.

On our last day in Boston, we ventured north. Our first stop was a converted mill called Perkins Park, located near the campus of UMass-Lowell and adjacent to a charming Class A minor league ballfield. The places looked nice, the prices seemed reasonable and their Web site spoke of some dog-friendly events. We'd contacted them well in advance of traveling to Massachusetts and set a date.

We don't really dig "complex" living spaces. Anything run by a giant property management firm tends to be a little too impersonal and stiff. But we'd hoped this place might be different. But one advantage to corporate-controlled housing is that they generally have broad rules that give them appeal to a range of customer needs. In our case, the dogs were a paramount issue. Often big complexes will allow dogs, and with loft floors typically concrete, this seemed a great fallback. We didn't really want to live here, but if we couldn't find a more suitable fit, this could be our safety valve.

In every instance in contacting potential landlords, the dog situation was brought up immediately. It would do us no good to find a great place only to find they didn't accept our hounds.

Perkins Park has a controlled-access parking facility across the street from the buildings. Since we couldn't find street parking we called the leasing office and they sent out a rep to open the gate for us.

I'd done some homework about PP and had learned a major complaint was that because of the proximity to the ballpark, sometimes they sold parking at that facility during games, displacing residents. Strike one.

I'd also learned that residents had experienced some crime problems, mostly car break-ins. While this isn't that unusual in an urban setting, I also learned that many theorized that the location of a METHADONE CLINIC a block away was a contributing factor.

M did not like knowing about that clinic. But again, we'd needed to have a backup plan. Now, since we'd already committed to the other place, it might have seemed silly to go to Lowell, but we wanted to learn more about the area and the drive. Yet what was really interesting to us was the place we'd scheduled to see AFTER visiting PP. More on that shortly.

So we park. We walk into the building. Looks nice. We walk into the leasing office. We sit down and are asked, "What are you looking for?"

We note that with three dogs, we need at least a two-bedroom place, and...

"Oh I'm sorry, we only allow TWO dogs."

"In the first contact we had with you, we told you we had THREE dogs."

"Well, my name is signed to that, but staff actually respond to those e-mails."

"Well, do they not know the rules?"

"I'm so sorry."

Yeah, we were pissed.

So this I do know: If you rent from a company known as Hallkeen Management, you're probably dealing with dipshits. You never get a second chance to make a first impression. The impressions I have of them is that they don't pay attention to details and they waste people's time. Next. NEXT.

So we had a little time to kill before our 11 a.m. meeting at the cool place. We drove around Lowell a bit to get a taste, but without really knowing where anything was, I don't think we learned much. We did cross the Merrimack, an impressive river that fueled that mill economy in the first place.

Our next destination was a place called the Western Avenue Lofts. It's an experiment that looks to be a home run in every way. The building is connected to a larger building that houses artists's studios and workshops. The attached lofts are rented at affordable prices to those artists and like-minded souls.

The twist: each living space as you enter has an enclosed bathroom immediately near the door, backed by a line of kitchen appliances. The rest of the space is completely open and a blank canvas. Two long walls, ending in a wall of windows.

The concept totally turned me on. I began to think differently right away. Think about it: everyplace you've ever lived has been predefined. The walls, the layout... YOU must conform to IT. This place was the antithesis of that. You defined your living space. Want to put up walls? You can. Want to tinker with the layout? Have at it.

It was invigorating. Along the building's long, spacious hallways, the occupant artists are encouraged to  use the public spaces as a gallery of their work. The effect is quite simply magical. We saw museum-quality art everywhere we turned. Just spectacular stuff, professional, beautiful.

Like after seeing Rob and Jillian's place, suddenly the plethora of strong options made us unsure of our original decision. We found ourselves feeling like we had to talk ourselves off the ledge.

Our tour guide was another artist, Maxine, whose work also was impressive and on display, not just outside her apartment, but in a first-class gallery in the Western Avenue Studios. Maxine was a hoot; we liked her instantly.

The knock on Lowell was distance. Since we are such maroons about the area, it's just really hard to know the challenges we'll face getting into the city from certain distances, either by car or public transportation. On the trip to Lowell, the incoming traffic was a fright. And the dickish behavior we witnessed of some of the drivers also did not seem promising.

Western is a winner. I'm certain that if we decide that Lowell is viable, the problem we're going to run into is that these places will all be rented. With the ability to truly customize your living space, you're not going to find compelling reasons to go someplace else. It's enormously cool and appealing. I could live there in a heartbeat.

We said our goodbyes to the fabulous Maxine and it was just after noon. Our flight was in seven hours. We had free time. We went back to Salem because we wanted to see the ocean and grab a bite. Near downtown we parked and sat down at an outdoor area and ordered not-so-great food. But then the craziest thing happened...

We overheard the word "Arkansas" spoken a few times in a couple's conversation at the next table. Just too weird! I couldn't resist... I asked why. Turns out the vivacious young woman there was from around here; her mom lives in Eureka. What are the odds?

And, she is in my field. JOB LEAD! I got her card and pitched her a story. I might have some work lined up. As freelance, it won't pay much, but it's a start.

We moved on and drove along the coast to Independence Park, which overlooks the Atlantic. The historic sign noted that the Declaration of Independence was read there.

How freaking cool is that?

It was about 3 by now. We had to hustle back to Boston to return the car and get on a plane. Traffic was picking up.

The airport was mostly uneventful; the flight out was a little late leaving. It was an amazing view to see the Boston city lights as we flew toward Charlotte and our connection.

Unfortunately, the flight left so late that we had to hustle to the gate to get to that connection once in Charlotte. We made it by about 25 minutes before departure. The connection was crammed, and I had the abject pleasure of sitting next to a person who told me he had stomach flu (don't breathe on me, dude), and a guy just across the aisle who was a special snowflake and didn't feel the rules about turning off his electronic devices applied to him.

Do. Not. Like.

Sigh. Finally we got back to XNA. By the time we got home, it was close to 2 a.m. We'd wake up five hours later and reunite with our beloved pups. Now, the real work begins: making the move.

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