Heading home from a week at the Cape today about which there is so much bloggable material… but I have to pack, load the car, clean the rental house, etc. so will get to it later. Meantime though, a moment please to cherish the amazing, delightful pleasure of eating Wellfleet oysters. What a wonderful thing, that these exist, and that I can eat them.
We have decided, after some debate, that “Millennial Towers” is the right name for our new apartment building. Why? Well, there are two Towers (I guess 14 stories qualifies as a Tower, right?), and they are both full of Millennials. Plus it sounds rather grand.
I won’t generalize about Millennials, for two reasons: generalizations about arbitrary age-based groups of people don’t really hold water in the end, and more importantly it makes me sound like a cane-waving geezer. (Oh, look, an age-based generalization! This is going to be tricky.) However I can make some assertions about the occupants of Millennial Towers, based on our observations of them at close range since we moved in in April:
- They do a lot of grilling, even when it’s freezing cold outside.
- They all have dogs. Not the kind you grill, the kind you have to take for a walk, even when it’s freezing cold outside.
- The ones who don’t have a ton of money (Millennial Towers has some affordable housing set-asides) are much more interesting and pleasant than the ones who do.
Wow, this post is just going to keep drifting into unsupportable generalizations, isn’t it… Let me just qualify the third point a bit by saying that we’ve met a few people who live in Millennial Towers who also frequent the “Sky Deck,” as we do, and the ones we would want to talk to again are in occupations (ballet, social work) that can’t possibly pay enough to cover the astronomical rent. More about that rent thing in another blog…
Our choice to live in an apartment building that strongly resembles a hotel (and in fact has some corporate housing units that can be rented like hotel rooms) might seem a bit odd, but it’s kind of perfect for us. We are both super-busy and don’t really want to spend time on home ownership, we don’t really intend to stay in Boston for the long term, and we like the Amenities. The Sky Lounge, the Sky Deck, the Pool Deck, the Mezzanine, the Bike Storage — these are all lovely things that we can enjoy without having to maintain them or worry about them. It turns out that Things you have to Maintain and Worry About take a much greater toll than I ever expect them to… so the fewer the better.
One thing I do find strange though is that when Kim and I were the age that most of the Millennial Towers residents seem to be today, we were up to our armpits in Home Ownership. We bought our first house in our twenties and spent a ton of effort decorating it, caring for it, worrying about it, and so on. We had some family help acquiring it, but it wasn’t financially out of reach for us to keep up. Maybe most importantly, we learned a lot of lessons, some more painful than others, about what it is like to own a house and property, what you get out of it, what kind of toll it takes on you, and so on. I, for example, learned that I never ever want to own anyplace with a yard. Like seriously what a waste of effort…
Anyway from what I understand the residents of Millennial Towers, through no fault of their own, are entirely priced out of this experience. Some combination of student loans and skyrocketing housing prices has pushed the price of even a modest home in a barely acceptable neighborhood out of reach for most people in their twenties or even their thirties. This seems unjust — although I don’t subscribe to the theory that home ownership is the backbone of our society, I do think it should be a reasonable option for young-ish people who are interested in it, not a crazy dream to be put off until middle age.
I suppose all this will resolve itself at some point — we will finally build enough housing where people want it that the price will start coming down again, or cities will figure out ways to provide reasonable commuting times from less-expensive areas, or both. In the meantime though I will continue to observe the quirks of the Millennial Towers residents. We have decided that the collective noun for them should be a Scene of Millennials, because that is what you have when three or more of them assemble. (I first thought a Situation of Millennials would work, but that’s way too Gen-X-ish…)
A note: I apologize sincerely for the long hiatus here — I fell off the wagon when we moved in April and it has taken me this long to climb back on. I still would like to post every day, but I may need to set a less lofty goal for the next few months. I am flattered that a few of you noticed my absence!
We checked out a Zipcar and drove it to Jamestown RI on Thursday to visit the in-process refit of Confetti, my father-in-law Ron’s boat. Beautiful weather, lovely day for a drive, and I find I actually enjoy driving more than I used to mostly because I never do it I think.
On the way back Friday morning, I found myself reflecting on how easy the whole process has become. If I decide I need a car for some reason, I can reserve one within two or three hours of needing it. I walk up to the car with my special card, the car reads the card, lets me in, and off I go with it. I have no idea why the big car rental companies haven’t adopted the same model, honestly — why do I need 15-30 minutes of human interaction for something that is apparently possible with a few clicks on a website?
It’s true that Zipcar is expensive — we spent $100 for the privilege of taking this car to Rhode Island overnight and returning it the next morning. Compared with the actual cost of owning, insuring, and parking a car in Boston, however, it’s a serious bargain. And that doesn’t factor in the time and worry that come along with owning something (you may own things, but they also own you).
I guess our recent decision to rent rather than buy in Boston is based on the same logic. I like being unencumbered, even though in America it is costlier than owning a place. (This is not true for example in Europe, where there is no subsidy to the home-building industry in the form of a mortgage interest tax deduction, and as a result many more people rent.) I wonder if one day renting an apartment will be as easy as checking out a Zipcar? Will the differences between a hotel and an apartment and a house continue to blur?
Now that I think of it, we’re going through the same thing in our Boston office at Red Hat right now. We’ve been blessed with strong growth there, which means that we are outgrowing our current space, and that means that some of us — managers like me, in particular, who spend much of their time on the phone anyway — will switch to “mobile desks.” This doesn’t mean the desk is actually mobile, which is too bad because that would be hilarious. (Especially if motorized… imagine managers wheeling around the office while talking on the phone…) What it means is that there are decent well equipped desks available in the office that no one can “own.” You just walk up to the thing and use it, and leave it clean when you’re done. I’m actually looking forward to this because it will mean I can’t pile useless junk on my desk.
I guess what all of this leads me to is, isn’t it interesting that I am moving into a world where there are fewer and fewer barriers to me moving around as much as I like, wherever I like? And what exactly is it that is making that possible or comfortable or desirable even? Is it that I have a strong network of “neighbors” that I do neighborly things with, online? Is it just that transaction management is so much easier in a computerized world?
What I find even more interesting is that the moment all this is happening is the same moment we find reactionary forces trying to rebuild the old walls around “nations” and “cultures.” I wonder if there is a measurable difference in car ownership rates, between folks who want more walls, and folks like me who want fewer?
Also, where the hell did all this crap come from and who brought it into my house? Oh, I did, you say? WHAT WAS I THINKING.
Kim and I have been looking for a new apartment for quite some time. The place we’re currently in in Boston’s Leather District has a great kitchen and a nice open feel, but the windows are so drafty they might as well just be open, and the traffic outside… let’s just say I have absolutely had it with Bostonians’ habit of just leaning on their goddamn horns at all hours of the day and night.
It is always surprising to me just how exhausting this process is of looking for the right place to live. There are a ton of reasons we will now reject a place — bad windows, noisy street, wrong light — and yet the next thing that pops up on Zillow always looks like THE PERFECT APARTMENT OMG. I find I get emotionally invested in the thing we haven’t seen yet, and then I am inevitably disappointed when it doesn’t turn out to be great.
In the end, we settled on a place we saw early on in this process but held off on at the time: a Giant Apartment Building with tons of Amenities, which is also much farther from the nearest busy road and has windows so tight you could install them on an airplane. We expect great things from the move — in particular Kim, who works from home, is looking forward to a better variety of working spaces and options for walking around in the daytime. The building is at the edge of the South End which is also a lovely area with tons of restaurants and so on.
What’s interesting about this though is that it underscores how much less rooted we have become since we left Philadelphia in 2015. We lived in the same house in Philadelphia for 19 years and never even thought of moving — we loved our house, our neighborhood, and the friends we made there. Now that we’re away from that, though, it’s much easier to consider just moving every couple of years as the fancy strikes us. I confess I like the freedom that comes with not owning the house I live in, even though that comes at a cost (in the US at least).
Of course now we have to move… sigh…