Crappy vs. Crappy: a study in cross country flying with Continental and Delta

I’m not going to bitch and moan about the price of oil in today’s post. But I WILL SAY THIS: if P Diddy can no longer afford to fly private, we Regular Joe Schmoe Americans are all royally screwed. The hopes and dreams of even upgrading to Business or First Class are dissolving before I can even try to make them a reality. So I’m posting “Just Diddy”‘s video message because a) it’s hilarious and b) it doesn’t get more eloquent than, “Gas prices are too muthafuckin high.” Relish that before you read on to my more mundane bit of blathering below.

Considering I’ve flown to LAX twice in the past two months, I decided to do a compare and contrast report on the two flights (well, four really), since I flew out of two different airports on two different airlines from NYC. Now, my memories of Continental are going to be a tad fuzzier since they happened in late May. But I’ve still managed to retain the important stuff. And hey, maybe this will actually help someone make a decision on which airline to choose. But nothing takes away from the fact that Coach/Economy/3rd Class/Basic all amounts to Crap Travel. It’s not fun to fly, generally speaking, and if you have more than a two-hour flight it gets tiresome preeeeetty fast. I prefer road trips myself, especially when I can stretch out and take a nap without worrying if my arm or shoulder is bumping into a complete stranger and if s/he or his/her spawn will have to use the bathroom while I attempt to “sleep” sitting up with my mouth open at a generous 95 degree angle.

(Okay sorry, but remember Compare and Contrast homework from elementary school? Anyone? The whole point was that you had to remember that in comparing, you were to find simliarities and in contrasting, you were to find differences. Anyone? This feels sort of like a book report in that sense. With curse words.)

Both trips took place over a holiday weekend, so I’m really gauging things from a high pressure situation. Most airlines can barely keep you on time on a Wednesday at 9pm, much less 5pm on the Friday of Memorial Day weekend. Airlines have decreased the number of available flights so as to get chock full bodies in seats on every flight, maximizing the usage of precious, expensive-as-gold jet fuel.

In May, I flew over Memorial Day weekend on Continental. I had to fly out of Newark for that one – one of their hubs. Since I work in Midtown, I thought it’d be easy enough to walk down to Penn Station so I could catch a NJ Transit train over to Newark. It turned out to be the equivalent of twenty blocks, dragging a suitcase behind me in the hot sun. There must have been a thousand people in line for tickets by the time I got there.

There was only one train leaving within the hour that was stopping at Newark. So I crammed on and it was a mad scramble for a seat. Who I don’t understand are the people who insist on trying to have a leisurely sit-down on a train where people are standing in the aisle in order to get to the same destination, and they get huffy when people are pushed up against them. I sat next to a man with hardly any room between us, and sure enough I-Gotta-Have-A-Seat Suzie comes barging through and forces me to squish over. She got so fed up at having our hips and upper legs touch that she got up and moved five minutes later to cram next to a window seat beside some poor gent. I just wish she would have thought about that before she sat down but….whatever.

We finally arrived at Newark and I got to my gate just fine. My memories of the terminal are really poor, which is actually a good thing for Continental, because the Delta terminal at JFK was horrid. More on that later. What I do remember is that the seats on Continental were really, really small.

The sad view in Economy.

The sad view in Economy.

These must have been former French planes and/or the planes are 100 years old, because honestly, even in today’s tight-airplane-seat age, these were not built for anyone who has anything extra on his or her body whatsoever. If you’re a woman like me, you sometimes sit at an angle if you don’t have anyone sitting between you and the other person, so you can cross your legs or whatever. Or you have hips. What I’m saying was that the seats were exceedingly uncomfortable. This particular airplane had not been updated with having more than one TV screen hanging down every three or four seats, and you’ll watch what they tell you you’re gonna watch. What an airline chooses to show is hardly ever good AND suitable for all ages.

The upside, however, is that Continental still serves meals for free (although after having paid hundreds of dollars for your ticket, it’s already been paid for), which is nigh on extinct in the airline world.

I also remember my flight being two hours delayed. I forget the reason why, but if anyone tries to tell you that Newark has better air traffic than JFK, they are dead balls wrong. Between sitting at the gate, inside the plane and then on the tarmac for takeoff, we were nowhere close to being on schedule. I ignorantly held out for a better return flight.

Unfortunately, my redeye was also delayed and jam packed. Apparently it’s all the rage for New Yorkers to take a redeye because there was not an empty seat to be found. This time, I was seated at the window next to an older Asian couple. They spoke softly to one another in their native tongue but after a time, I could tell that for whatever reason, my presence was disturbing the woman next to me, who was stuck in the middle seat. I could fathom no earthly idea what could have bothered her about me. I do not hog the armrest, I don’t dare go to the bathroom in that situation unless it’s an emergency, I stared out the window (keeping my right arm and eyeballs to myself) and I said nothing. But her tone of voice suggested she was irritated.

You and me and everyone else on here, lady, I thought.

I finally dozed off. I woke up a short time later and started a bit when I realized that it was now the older man sitting next to me and the woman was in the aisle seat. Coincidence? I think not. Did I smell? No, I’d showered that day. What was the deal? I gave up worrying about it, since I didn’t have to listen to her nag at her husband in her annoyed tone of voice. But still, I did wonder…One of life’s greater mysteries.

Because my flight was delayed out of LAX back to Newark, instead of coming in at 6am and handling mild traffic on NJ Transit back into Manhattan (where I would then pick up the subway), I was now in full-blown, rush hour morning traffic. To add whipped cream to this delicious, frothy brew, the trains going into Manhattan were also delayed; due to what, I’m unsure. To add to the fun, they did not properly demarcate which tracks held the trains going into Manhattan. The announcements over the loudspeaker were confusing and garbled. If a NJ Transit employee hadn’t been standing on the platform, I definitely would have missed the train that came along which was not supposed to be on the track going into Manhattan. But going it was.

When you fly in and out of New York City, you have to take into account how much time or money you’re willing to invest in getting to and from the airports. Even if you got a flight for free, if you were going to take a car service or a cab both ways, you’ll be shelling out anywhere from $60 to $100. More, if you live in Manhattan and you tip somewhat decently. It’s $15 to get a NJ Transit ticket, but it took me two hours to get home from Newark to Queens. Priceless.

Overall grade for Continental: C+

Flying to LA over Labor Day weekend had a different feeling to it. Perhaps it’s because it signifies the end of the summer instead of the beginning. Maybe because I was going into LA there were less New Yorkers on the flight. Whatever the reason, the overall experience flying to LA on Delta was a bit better – with a few exceptions, of course.

Since my flight was out of JFK, I ordered a recommended car service from a friend. They quoted me $30 to get to JFK on Friday morning. Not too bad. Twenty dollars cheaper before tip than going from Manhattan, and there are no bridges to cross. I felt like a winner already.

The cab service came a few minutes after 9 and despite the driver’s loud hacking noise he made every thirty seconds, the ride was smooth and we didn’t get held up in traffic. He dropped me off at the terminal and when I said, “Thirty, right?” he stared at me and said, “Thirty? Thirty dollars to get to JFK?” I replied, “Yeeeeeah….that’s what they told me over the phone.”

Acting like he was doing me a gigantic favor and letting it slide, he says to me, “Thirty-three.” Hm, I had no idea this was a negotiation. Did he think the three extra dollars would protect him should I give him a crappy tip? I did not see how three dollars would change his life. But I was peeved that he felt it was a negotiation and that he did not keep consistent with what I was quoted over the phone. It remains to be seen whether I use that car service again.

I checked in smoothly and got to Security, where I removed my flip flops and put them in a bin, along with my little zip-up jacket and purse. Standard protocol for 2008 when flying in the domestic United States. I only had to wait for one person to get through Security before my turn.

The gentleman in front of me put his entire laptop briefcase in a bin and stood there wondering why the Security guards were getting feisty with him, when he left his bulky leather jacket and boots on. I stood there with a bored expression on my face, because anyone who has flown since 9/11 knows that this is S.O.P. Where did this guy come from? But then I felt bad when the woman snapped at him, “Hell-OOO, you have to take the laptop out and put it in its own bin. Take off your jacket and shoes!” I don’t think he spoke English very well. Finally, the guard who watches you walk through the metal detector let me go ahead of him, since my things had made it through the X-ray machine long before me. I hoped the man made it through without being strip searched but I had my doubts. I get nervous walking through the detector even when I know 100% that I have nothing metal on my person. The Security guards at airports are only too happy to pull you out of line and go through your things one by one, interrogating you about anything and everything they deem relevant before you step foot on an airplane and fly the sunny skies.

After gathering my things, it was time to figure out where I would get a bite to eat before the long trip. The first place I passed was a Dunkin Donuts. I needed zero seconds to pass that one up. Being in an airport is an extension of my trip or vacation, so I try not to frequent anyplace that I could go to on any given day of the week. The exception is McDonald’s, since they’re everywhere and sometimes, they really are that much more convenient. But there was nothing to be found. I walked through this empty terminal (it sorta felt like that Stephen King movie The Langoliers, where time stood still and you couldn’t hear or taste or smell anything) and only found a map of the terminal maze, showing me where I was and where I was headed, which was to Gate 8. Gate 8 was at the end of a cul-de-sac of other gates, not anywhere near to something that sold more than bottles of water and keychains.

I got to Gate 8, realizing that somehow I had passed up anything resembling food. I turned around and walked halfway back down this poorly developed terminal, finally coming across the “food court” that was stashed away on the side of the hall. I saw the Starbucks first, heading there as if I were in a desert and it was my oasis. I should mention that while I am not a diehard Starbucks freak, that I do enjoy some of their stronger, sugary espresso drinks. But I don’t boycott them based on their having a corner on the coffee stand market. I also found a Burger King in operation that had some of their breakfast sandwiches ready to go. I ordered a sausage and egg “Croissanwich” and soon discovered how inferior it was to a certain other fast food place that sells delicious breakfast sandwiches. I’ll leave it at that.

While it is probably not the fault of Delta itself that its terminal is so shabby and lacking at JFK, one of the biggest airports in the country, it still didn’t go along with their revamped image. I’m just saying. When I boarded the plane, I was delighted to see that I was on an updated plane that had TV screens in each headrest, so we could each tune in to our own thing. Blankets were handed out to each person without our having to ask (points for that), and I had even managed to snag a flight where there was no one in the middle seat. So both the lovely, British woman in the aisle seat and myself quickly piled our lady things on the middle seat and had more room to spread out, which was bottom line fantastic. Having that extra room to cross my legs or sit at an angle while I leaned up against the window on my blanke for some shuteye was a real treat.

In between napping, reading and solving Sudoku puzzles, I watched six commercial-free episodes of sitcoms, from The Office to How I Met Your Mother and The Bill Engvall Show (which, I have to say, was pretty good!). Unfortunately, they did ask that you pay for the HBO movies, which were $5. If they had been $2, I might have caved. But five bucks just for watching a selection on a cross-country flight? I’d rather stare out the window, thanks.

But Delta did score points with having their safety instructions done on-screen so you didn’t have to crane your neck to watch someone in the aisle do the seatbelt dance while listening to someone over the PA. I enjoyed that bit. It wasn’t overly corny so they had clearly shelled out some dough to make sure people could watch without cringing.

The flight attendants came around twice on the flight, which also earned a couple more points. However, everything was a la carte unless you could settle for two small cinnamon cookies and your free drink. Alcoholic beverages with real liquor cost $7, my chicken sandwich that I ‘sauced up’ (that’s what the menu said!) was $8 and they also had Pringles and Peanut M&Ms for sale. I bought the M&Ms and was happy I got the large package. That was worth $2, in my estimation.

My baggage came pretty promptly and my friends and I even saw three of the Pussycat Dolls waiting for their luggage at the baggage claim, including the lead singer Nicole (if you click on that hyperlink, she’s the girl with the long hair, too much makeup/tranny looking one – much prettier in person). I have no idea why they were on a commercial Delta flight, but oh wait! If Diddy isn’t flying private, they probably aren’t, either. They have nowhere near the personal wealth of that guy. How he has amassed his riches is beyond me but he’s a self starter and a fighter….and cocky as hell. Maybe that’s what it takes. If being arrogant is the case, then I’ll always be poor.

The overall experience from JFK to LAX was a B+. I have to distinguish it from my return flight.

I double checked to make sure my flight was on time before I got to LAX for my return. The green On Time lit up my iPhone on Delta’s website. Perfect. I get to the Delta check-in terminal and go up to the self-serve kiosk. Despite the numbers of my e-ticket I punched in, it baldly declared that no e-ticket could be found. Sorry, mate – out of luck. Guess you’re not flying.

Fuck.

I started getting a little anxious, wondering how I would butt in front of someone who had already checked in properly and was just dropping his/her bags. Luckily, I jumped in at the right time. The ticket agent didn’t say anything but was able to find my ticket easily and printed a boarding pass. No explanation why it wasn’t found. Still, I didn’t believe it to be a good omen. I wish I had been wrong.

At LAX, you have to drag your own bags over to another line to drop them off for X-ray screening. Deduct a point. I preferred the conveyor belt at JFK that whisks your bags away without you wondering where on earth it’s going and who’s handling it.

So after waiting in line and dropping it off, I went through Security without any hangups. Since LAX is so huge, however, getting down to my gate was a bit more of an ordeal. I will say, however, that the terminal is much better outfitted for lots of travelers, with more than one large bookshop/souvenir/snack shop available. Points to LAX for that. I browsed for a couple of books, got a gigantic bottle of water for the flight (since 6oz over the course of six hours was not enough on my way out) and some See’s toffee. I can’t resist those Toffee-ettes. Yum. Perfect for a long flight, since the almond pieces had protein and some fat and would keep any real hunger at bay.

Finally getting to my gate, it turns out my flight was delayed by a half hour. Great. Then the ticket agents at the counter announced that if you didn’t have a special code on your boarding pass, you needed to check back in with them. They were calling all sorts of people’s names and upgrading and grabbing people out of stand-by, etc. I could tell it was going to be a full flight. I stood in line to re-check in, since I didn’t see the magic code that declared me safe with a seat on the flight. A tiny, elderly Asian woman ran to the counter. She wasn’t deigning to stand in line, because after all, her question was much more important. Maybe she thought that she’d earned a cut in line (or multiple) since she was old. I glared at her. I was satisfied to see the ticket agent tell her to calm down and have a seat and that everything with her ticket was fine. I could tell that others in the line were unhappy she felt so entitled but there was nothing to be done. My turn came and turns out I had the magic code on my ticket so I was safe. I triple checked that I hadn’t been placed in a middle seat and waited to board.

When we finally boarded and I got to my seat at the middle of the plane, I cursed loudly to myself when I saw I would be sitting in the aisle seat with a small child at the window and her mother in the middle. The only way it gets worse than that is if you’re in the middle and one person has a baby in his or her lap. But I immediately knew my entire flight could only achieve a B at BEST because of my fellow passengers.

The woman had not yet pulled down the armrest between hers and my seat, leaving me to be Boundaries Girl. So while she helped her daughter settle in, I quickly pulled it down to give us the illusion we weren’t sitting hip to hip, as well as to give me access to my headphones jack. Maybe she wasn’t thrilled to have me next to her, either. I can’t say. But I noted immediately I was sitting behind her husband and their other two children. Thankfully they were both potty trained and older. Side story: Once, when I was on a very crowded holiday flight, I was sitting next to a father with a baby in his lap, while his wife and two other small children sat in front of us. The kid in front of my seat barfed mid-flight, and it dripped all over my things underneath the seat. Isn’t that fun? I had to hand over the plastic bag that had been holding my books, covered in child vomit, to the very unhappy and frowning flight attendant. I wanted to say to him, “It’s my stuff that’s been spewed on! Don’t I get a coupon for another flight or something?” To make matters worse, the father and the small baby happened to be up from the seat at that point, so he had no idea that his other spawn had purged a Happy Meal on my things. That flight clearly got an F.

Back to the flight at hand. The male flight attendant ran up and down the aisle giving out the last few remaining blankets to needy passengers and then lifted his hands palms out, saying, “That’s it, that’s all we have.” How does a large 757 run out of blankets before everyone has even boarded? Big points lost there, Delta. Then come to find out, not only was my headphones jack completely screwed up and would not hold the jack in place, but I received nothing but the Weather Channel on my personal television screen. Everyone else was enjoying the free Trivial Pursuit and working channels. Not me. AND, this flight had a different selection of inflight movies but they charged $6 apiece! I was appalled. I resigned myself to a good old-fashioned flight of “sleeping,” reading and playing Sudoku.

Okay I also listened to my iPod, which I had thankfully charged. But I was miffed that my one seat was the broken one: 33F. Next time I will make sure I sit in an even numbered seat. (I’m weird like that.) So Delta lost big points on that one, as well, pulling my current experience down to a flat C. I prayed the woman and her daughter wouldn’t have to get up to use the restroom much but I knew it was futile to hope for that.

The airline staff came around twice on the flight to serve refreshments, the same as my outbound flight. Same video safety song and dance on-screen, etc. The little girl at the window thought the window shade was the most fun toy she’d ever discovered and shrieked with delight as she opened it, closed it, opened it, closed it. I don’t know which was worse – her acting like this was a jungle gym or the mother VERY loudly saying, “SHHHHH!” every ten seconds. I jammed my headphones into my ears, praying the music and the sound of the jet engines would drown some of this out.

To my relief, the little girl fell asleep quickly at the beginning of the flight. But I knew that would mean she’d be wired for the second half of the flight. Why am I always right? It’s quite tiring.

This time around, I chose the fruit and cheese plate for $6. It came with a large wedge of cheddar, a smaller wedge of Brie and one of smoked Gouda. Can I say something here? Smoked Gouda rocks. It has risen on the cheese scale for me. It was quite delicious.

Smoky, tantalizing Gouda

Smoky, tantalizing Gouda

I also had some grapes, two pecan halves and two dried apricot halves – the exact same amount as pictured on the menu. Not three pecan halves, just two. I put one dried apricot in my mouth and quickly spit it back out. It tasted like it had been sitting out on the carpet of someone’s apartment for a year. The opposite of delicious. Take away one point. The rest was pretty good, despite having to shell out actual cash for it.
When the mother and her child finally awoke, the mom decided to listen to her headphones – so naturally she tried my headphones jack, which not only didn’t work, anyway, BUT if I had been using it, I know she would have assumed I had taken hers, instead of her looking to see that the jacks are to the left of each seat and not to the right. Moreover, she would have heard whatever channel I had on my TV set and it wouldn’t have matched hers. So she attempts to stab her headphones into the jack multiple times before I turned to her and said, “Try the one on the left. That one’s broken.”

She stared at me a second before saying, “Oh.” Then she found that I was right and thanked me.

Unfortunately, it didn’t take long for the rugrat to need to use the bathroom. I had to gather up both my books, plastic cup, iPod and put away my tray table for her to get out. Her and every other child in my immediate vicinity all had to go at the same time. There was another mother with her two children sitting behind me. These were the kinds of kids who put their hands completely around the back of my headrest, pulling hard, as they slinked out into the aisle. So two kids times two trips to the bathroom equals at least eight times that my headrest was yanked and the back of my seat kicked as the little dear lambs buckled themselves back into their seats. You would think I would be more understanding, since I was a child myself and I’m certain I annoyed someone at some point in my life with my small bladder, but I have no patience or empathy as a single adult with no children.

(Speaking of airplane seatbelts: does it really matter if we’re strapped in during light turbulence? On my flight out to LA, we were approaching some very slightly bumpy air. I had my legs crossed and was relaxing sans ceinture when the captain came on to announce that we needed to buckle up. I strapped the thing back on and didn’t feel any immediate sense of safety. Maybe it just prevents you from becoming decapitated on something as you crash down into the mountains or river.)

After the Pee Brigade finally did their thing, I settled back in, sending up silent pleas for no more bathroom trips. Didn’t happen. Towards the end of the flight, right as the flight crew was telling everyone that we needed to sit down, shut everything off, sit upright and stare into space like a zombie for the next thirty minutes as we attempted to land, the girl and her mom had to go yet again. I didn’t even look at her when she said, “Excuse me.” I just sighed, got up and made it clear that I wouldn’t be sitting aisle on a long trip again. I am a camel and can hold it, so I will be at the window from now on.

Towards the end of the flight, the captain came on to inform us sarcastically, “Due to the severe clear weather in New York, we’re being asked to do a holding pattern before we can approach the airport. Seems everyone has decided to depart at the same time.” Fortunately, we only had to take one turn around Pennsylvania before we went in for the landing but not before the entire cabin groaned.

We finally landed, after I must have checked our flight progress on-screen (that function worked) about twenty times throughout the entire flight. We taxied for what seemed to be about 25 minutes and finally exited. Unfortunately, Baggage was delayed and after they switched the belts twice and not informing us which carousel our things would be coming out on, I fiiiiinally picked up my suitcase.

Overall grade for Delta: B-/C+

(I’d say the difference between Delta winning and Continental losing is about as close as Michael Phelps winning the butterfly race.)

It is no fault of Delta’s that there was an accident on the Van Wyck or that my taxi driver yelled at me for daring to use a credit card to pay for my $40.00 fare from JFK to Astoria, to which I snottily replied to his barrage of chastising that it was credit card or nothing and then, “I just want to get the fuck out of here.” I am not a moody person and don’t easily get into a grouchy mood. But by midnight on Sunday after an entire day of travel, I was thoroughly exhausted and just wanted to get into my apartment. After hearing once more that I absolutely had to inform a taxi driver that I was using a credit card, even if it looked like he takes them by the touch screen in the back of the cab, I slammed out of the car and in a huff I arrived at my door.

I think it’s safe to reiterate my original point: that traveling Coach is a crapshoot. Sometimes the airport itself will lend more problems to your travel woes. The bottom line is that traveling out of Newark or JFK is going to give a person different pros and cons, and it’s up to you to decide whether you’d rather spend more time or money to get to your final destination and back again.

Apartment hunting with Craigslist in NYC or, Five Weeks of Rejection from Strangers

*Thanks to David for his lovely photos of Astoria while he was in town.*

Recently, I had the pleasure (read: horror) of apartment hunting. Again. Throw in the facts that I’m in New York City, I have to look for a roommate situation since I’m broke AND it’s summertime and well, you just triple your fun. Let me start at the beginning, because why I was looking in the first place deserves its own story.

I moved out of my boyfriend’s apartment in February of this year, deciding I wanted to try Astoria, Queens. It’s convenient to Manhattan, less expensive and still has most of the conveniences New Yorkers come to depend on. Roasted peanuts guy? Check. Street meat guy? Check. Drugstore on every corner? Check. Bodegas that sell lotto tickets, beer and questionable deli meat? Yup. Unlike some other parts of the outer boroughs, you can even catch NYC taxi cabs since both the Queensboro and Triborough Bridges run to Astoria. And when those fail you, there are plenty of gypsy cabs to be hailed (or who will honk at you while you’re walking down the street or standing at the curb, regardless if you look like you need a cab or not). For those who are unfamiliar, a gypsy cab is a random sedan that doesn’t look like any sort of cab but maybe a car you would ride in from the airport with a shady car service. There are no meters and if you do not explicitly ask how much the driver will charge you before you get in the car, prepare to be ripped off. Moving on.

I had apartment hunted on Craigslist once before, when I first moved to New York in 2005. So I did what any person who can’t afford a broker fee does – I looked for a room/share situation. So I repeated the process and successfully found an apartment on the second story of a house in the Heart of Astoria (around 30th Avenue). It was almost too easy, between the seemingly instant roommate chemistry and it being the first place I looked at. Turns out, it was too easy. While the rent was reasonable and the landlord even paid for all the utilities (including electricity!), things quickly unraveled. Come to find out, I was living with a woman in her early 30s who did not live as though she had two other roommates, unless it was convenient for her. If she needed someone to check on her loud, screeching bird while she was away on weekends or needed a body to let a delivery guy in, she would casually ask you about your weekend before asking you for a favor. The other time she appreciated you was for paying for anything she didn’t want to buy on her own, so she would buy stuff “for the apartment” and then ask you for the money, claiming it as a shared expense. I believe I paid for a new shower rod, painting supplies, various cleaning supplies and a hamper that acted as a recycling bin, which was already purchased and in use when I moved in. She also needed quarters to wash the kitchen tablecloth one afternoon, another “shared” expense. Otherwise, she lived in the house as if she was the only one there, with visitors in and out at random or planned ahead but up to a week at a time, exercising late at night, vacuuming at times when most people are asleep, taking 30 minute showers in the mornings AND at midnight (sometimes with the bird, sometimes without) – the list goes on. Throw into the mix that she turned out to be an anal control freak about cleaning (the smell of bleach permeated our house every weekend – it was like living with my Italian mother all over again) AND she was a passive aggressive, Olympic Gold Medalist in the sport of pathological lying, and I threw in my hat and decided I needed to vacate immediately. This is only half the problem, as the other half turned out to be the crazy landlady who clearly received her real estate license at a drive-thru, as adhering to any kind of tenant law was beyond her scope of capability (or caring). We scalded ourselves on the metal shower knobs, had to light matches to turn the gas burners on, froze in the winter with our poor radiators and thermostat set at 68 degrees and suffocated in the summer from their having kindly painted our living room windows shut when she conceded to repaint. The only time she sent her soon-to-be-ex husband/super to come even replace a lightbulb was if we threatened a lawsuit.

Armed with what I knew I didn’t want in a roommate (e.g., liars, OCD, had noisy pets, drug addicts, complete slobs and aggressive passive-aggressivity), I quietly began searching for a new place to live with two weeks left in June. That gave me six whole weeks to look if I gave notice on June 30. Inwardly, I scoffed at how much time I had on my hands, eagerly anticipating that I could probably land something by July 1st or 15th. Clearly my optimistm had toked on some very good crack-cocaine or crystal meth. I had no idea what I was about to embark upon.

Combing through the Room/Shares listings became my second job. I already work nine to ten hours a day at a desk job, but whenever I could get away with it, I read and replied to ads, frantically checking my email to see if anyone had written back. If I wasn’t responding to ads, I was filling my evenings with as many apartment appointments as possible (which weren’t that many), thinking that since it’s all a numbers game, something would pop within two weeks. I didn’t really believe I could land something on the first or second place I saw, since that clearly didn’t work out for me. But I naively did not understand how many new kids move to this city in the summertime, thereby exponentially increasing my competition for the finite number of (crappy) room/shares available. If you ever saw the episode of Friends where Ross bribes the current renter of the apartment he wants by sending him a basket of mini muffins and hanging out with the guy naked (it was Ugly Naked Guy’s apartment, remember?), it really does have that much of a feeling of desperation stickily shellacking the entire experience. And not for nothing, but when it’s balls hot outside and you are visiting other people’s apartments that probably don’t have air conditioning, it intensifies the desperation.

But having lived in New York for three years and this being my third time doing a Craigslist roommate situation, I felt I had a superior edge over those who were moving here and would just throw their stuff and money down to the first people who opened their door to them. I assumed that since I am a normal, down-to-earth person who has a pretty decent sense of humor and knows how to write and spell correctly (and let’s face it, a serial killer could write and spell correctly but we generally take people more seriously who know how to put sentences together with correct grammar and punctuation), that I would get snatched up quickly. Writing your introduction email to the people who are posting ads for an available room is exactly like writing a cover letter for a job. Once you have the right one down, you simply change the facts that will be appropriate for the place at which you’re applying. I had quickly thrown together a 2-3 paragraph introduction about myself, including all the basic need-to-know stuff, a few extras to display some semblance of personality and occasionally inserted something slightly witty but not overly quirky – you don’t wanna scare any potential roommates off.

But there is a delicate balance to this process. You can’t write too much nor too little. Any typo or spelling error will convey that you are either careless or a moron, or a careless moron. If you do not address each of the specific roommate qualities or answer the questions that the roommate seeker puts forth in the ad, you could and would certainly be disqualified. Then there is the je ne sais quoi aspect of the entire thing, which is to say that there is an intangible factor that no one can ever predict why someone does or does not respond. And it’s a two-way street: if I do not hear back from a person within a couple of days, I write that one off. I got at least two emails weeks after my original reply, asking me if I was still looking for a place. Even if I had been, it is obvious I could not count on that person to be reliable or even really interested in me – s/he was just scraping from the bottom of the barrel. No thanks. I did not want to simply be just one-third or one-half of the rent to the landlord. I was really looking for a home, and you have a small window of a few minutes to take in everything you can about someon else’s apartment, where you have to ask yourself, “Could I live here? Could I deal with that grout in the bathroom? What’s that smell? Could I get rid of that? Is there room for my DVD collection?”

My friends agree that when apartment hunting in New York, one must ALWAYS ask him or herself the following question: “What’s the catch?” I defy anyone to move to this city and not have at least one glaring flaw or big catch to the living situation he or she chooses. Usually, it’s the cost of the rent. But after rent comes the question of landlord, size, location/neighborhood, proximity to the subway, and let’s not forget – the current roommates with whom you’ll be living. I had presumed that since Astoria was such a popular place to live (albeit old), that it would not be difficult to find a decent apartment. I could not have been more wrong. I probably interviewed at two dozen places, most of which were tiny shoeboxes, with rent ranging from $750 to $950 for my share. Putting the common area of the apartment aside, the issues with the rooms ran the gamut of whether it was too small to even fit a double bed and a dresser (aka “cozy” or “nice size”), didn’t have any windows, didn’t come with a closet, hadn’t seen a coat of paint or spackling in two decades, had questionable flooring, couldn’t accommodate an air-conditioner, had accoutrements on the wall(s) that couldn’t be removed, were a horrid color, came partially furnished, didn’t have a real door and you had to enter through either the bathroom or the roommate’s room (really), shared a wall with the one roommate you were interviewing with that you just knew would do something noisy or gross to disturb you, faced a “courtyard” or a brick wall or the trash bins, and the list goes on and on.

My needs were simple, at least to me: I wanted a room more than 10×10 since I had 5 pieces of bedroom furniture to cram into it, at least one functioning window that could accommodate an air conditioner, preferably uncarpeted, with its own door (yes, my own door!) and if there was no decent closet, space to put my wardrobe that I had purchased for my current apartment (where I also had no closet – but instead, six large windows facing west that baked me in the summer like I was in my own terrarium). I also required there to be enough living room space to accommodate a bookshelf, two DVD stands and possibly a small purple bucket chair. I also have some kitchen things. I knew I was pushing the boundaries of the room/share situation since I have enough stuff to help furnish an apartment, but I had never had any trouble fitting these things into any other apartment I had lived in – and this was my fifth move! Five. In three years. Yeah.

I got a LOT of “You sound like a great/ideal roommate” responses. And let’s face it, I’m awesome. But as I learned, I had to be wary because there are freaks out there who post for a roommate but have something else in mind altogether or conveniently forget to tell you that the 2-bedroom apartment they advertised was really a 1-bedroom but s/he was going to live in the living room. I wanted a real place to live. Not a dorm. I visited an absolutely gorgeous, newly constructed 3-bedroom apartment that clearly was meant for recent college graduates. The living room (or “common area,” as college kids call it) was probably 5×7, adjacent to the same open area as the kitchen. The absolutely gigantic side-by-side, stainless steel refrigerator sat where a table might go, as it was too large to sit next to the counter and stove across from it. All three bedroom doors faced the living room, two in the back and one in the front. All three bedrooms were way too small for what you were paying. I quickly interviewed with the nice kids who lived there and said I would be in touch. As with job interviews, there is a definite code for if you will hear back from someone and whether they will hear from you. What I didn’t understand was, these people are interviewing strangers to come into their home to potentially live there. Why not come up with some questions to ask? Is it really that hard? Surely they must have some semblance of an idea of the type of roommate I want. But I lost count of how many apartments I showed up at where I had to carry the conversation all on my own. I loathe talking about the weather, but it was a frequent topic of discussion. I had to compliment furniture or floor plans I thought were hideous, ask about hobbies and backgrounds, anything and everything to come across as a laid back person who can carry a conversation. Meanwhile, that person is sizing you up in ways you can’t even imagine. I got turned down via email immediately after an hour-long interview, saying they were going with someone else. I got the hint. I wasn’t the right fit. I wasn’t overly broken-hearted.

Then you have the scam artists. One girl was advertising for an apartment at which she hadn’t even signed the lease. She and I hit it off in our emails but then when I learned that she didn’t even have the place yet, I began to get suspicious. She eventually did sign the lease, but because she was also paying a broker’s fee, she was only advertising what she wanted the roommate’s share of the rent to be but wouldn’t part with the information on how much the apartment actually cost per month. I caught on to that one pretty quickly, thank God. I saw her ad go up every other day until she finally found someone about four weeks in. Another guy wanted to meet at a coffee shop to see if we had the right vibe before he even showed me the apartment. I agreed, but only because his ad was very well written and he came across as a nice guy with a dog that he liked to take to the park. Towards the end of our emailing, he threw me his MySpace link and told me to check it out. I was at work but a friend of mine agreed to look at it for me, just so I could get some background info before our little tete-a-tete. I got a sour feeling in my stomach when the link turned out to be his name followed by “datesyourmom.” His favorite book was American Psycho, favorite movie was A Clockwork Orange, one of his “interests” was beautiful women and he had all kinds of girls writing on his page things like, “Hey lol why is your phone off? I keep trying to call you lol.” I quickly wrote him that after checking out his profile I didn’t think we were a match. He was fine with it so that was the end of that.

The other dude apartments I actually got to visit weren’t much better. I tried to keep an open mind that the apartments didn’t necessarily have to be gross if they were advertising that they were clean and were open to having a female roommate. But each time, I would enter and my hopes would be dashed virtually instantaneously. Clear signs that the place was not meant for a girly girl: dartboard or foosball table in the living room, shitty, ragged or makeshift furniture, weird smell and/or just downright filthy. One dude apartment was right next to the elevated subway tracks and you could barely hear yourself think every 2-5 minutes as a train squealed overhead. The guy was nice enough but he thought his apartment was just the absolute shit and actually said to me after a few minutes of me trying to keep my eyes from bugging out of my head in disbelief, “So ya diggin it? You like it more than your current place?” I had no words. How could I possibly tell him that I was living in an apartment three times the size of his on a beautiful, tree-lined street where things were kept clean and the subway is blissfully far enough away? Moreover, the amazing bedroom he had for rent was an oversized closet that boasted its own (teensy) balcony that overlooked a crappy backyard onto the backs of other crappy buildings. I told him I would let him know my decision in a few days time and he did the laid back cool guy thing by saying, “By all means, go check out some other places and then let me know.” I think he really convinced himself I’d come back and say “Hey roomie when can I give you a check?!” I saw a revised ad for that same place a few days later where they stipulated that a girly girl probably would not be a good fit and they wanted someone who could fit into their beer swizzling lives. That would have been nice to know upfront. The other dude apartment I saw was bigger and less offensive but the room for rent had no window except for a skylight in the ceiling and thus you’d have to get creative about staying cool. I’m really sensitive to heat so this just wasn’t going to fly. As it was, I was roasting in the apartment just standing in there and had already made up my mind (dartboard in the living room! Ding.). Plus, I was doing the tour with this other desperate guy who was trying to vacate his place in Spanish Harlem and he was basically telling the guys he’d take the place on the spot. I dutifully filled out the “interested parties” sheet where we put our names and phone numbers but I emailed the guys a short while later to politely decline. As an aside, I hate having simultaneous interviews because you’re expected to be friendly to this person who is competing with you for the same place. You can’t be yourself, and if you’re less yourself, you have even less of a chance of impressing the person or people considering you as a roommate. When I showed up and there was already someone in the apartment or someone showed up shortly after me, I took off major points for the people interviewing, because it was so disingenuous.*  And as it turns out, I moved in with someone with whom I had a one-on-one with no interruptions. So there you have it.

In apartment hunting, you can’t take anything personally, but that’s harder to practice than it sounds. I had zero problems with writing to someone whom I had just told “Yeah I’ll be in touch, I’m totally interested” that in fact, I had given it “serious consideration” but had decided to go with another place. Similarly, I got turned down just like that – sometimes sooner, sometimes later. The worst was getting turned down for the apartment(s) I really, really wanted and from the people I really clicked with. At one point, I had received so many “Thanks but we’ve gone with someone else” emails that I began speculating that I was getting turned down because I’m not skinny. I just couldn’t possibly fathom why the decision process was taking so goddamn long. I’d meet someone, we’d have an awesome interview (and the good ones lasted anywhere from 40 minutes to an hour) and then I’d express my total interest and s/he’d say “Well we’re making our decision in about a week and a half.” And I was just shocked. I was getting turned down practically on a daily basis in favor of others had been decided upon immediately, but I always got the people who had to really think on the decision. I wanted to scream. I’m totally normal! Courteous! Respectful! I pay bills on time! Clean! I just have more furniture than the average person who can’t afford her own apartment and has to ask permission to move in to someone else’s.

After looking for one solid month, having two interviews with these two fantastic people who lived not very far away and really believing I had it in the bag, I received a call about their final decision on Friday, July 18, the same day I had one of my best friends in town. (Thank God he wasn’t around when I got the call, seeing as I promptly burst into tears upon hearing I didn’t get it.) It was a very kind turn-down, and the guy even expressed how disappointed he was that he couldn’t take both me and the Other Perfect Roommate, but they “went with a hunch” and were turning me down. I was taken aback, appalled, a little hurt and so fucking tired of apartment hunting at that point. It was all I could do to get off the phone without my voice wavering and sounding like a 5th grader who just got picked last for kickball. I had my defeated crying jag complete with sniveling and feeling very sorry for myself, but what other choice did I have but to pick myself up and continue apartment hunting? I saw two more places that same weekend and incidentally was picked as a roommate (versus the other place at which I interviewed twice – again! – but I think the fact that I wanted to get cable and they were anti-TV was the deciding factor), but it was with an apartment that I never really believed I’d get. Maybe in the end that’s why I got it, since my expectations were so low and I was just like “Yeah, whatever” about it.

Since I was keeping an open mind, let’s remember, I responded to the posting for this 2-bedroom place because it was right down the street from me and I thought, eh what can it hurt? I could tell by the way it was written that a guy had written it. That’s no disrespect to guys, but they write very differently than a female. The ad was strictly about the apartment with bare bones details. The saving grace was that there were some photos attached, so at least you could see that it was a cute place. Keeping my expectations in the gutter, I went and met with my soon-to-be-roommate but I barely glanced at the bathroom and kitchen and just focused on having a nice conversation. I was shocked when he flat out offered to have me apply for it (with a legitimate landlord!). Incidentally, between my credit score and the fact that I’m awesome (I have to believe that), I was chosen to move in and it was the best move I’ve had in three years. I moved 500 feet down the street and didn’t even have to rent a truck. The relief that came when I signed my name over the old tenant’s on the lease and got new keys was immense. I didn’t really know what to do with myself when I got to work and I didn’t have to go onto Craigslist anymore. I had grown to loathe Craig and his list. I had started to become bitter about New Yorkers and living in this godforsaken town. But Craigslist came through for me once again and so far, I’m happily residing psycho-free. I made it over the cuckoo’s nest.

*I changed the word “ingenuine” to “disingenuous” because the Grammar Police alerted me to my incorrect word. Apparently my blog is “aflood” with errors. Not like I care too much, but I don’t like using erroneous or fake words.*