Week One

It’s good to start a new job on a four-day week.  Although I’m enjoying playing the rookie role at the office, I think I’ve had enough crammed into my brain for now.

The stuff pouring out of my ears takes several forms.  Each day, I’ve engaged in a sort of one-on-one seminar in the history of my program, along with deep background/mistakes made/lessons learned for my main areas of responsibility, and what the goals are this time around.  Each day I’ve lunched with a different department head, a good way to establish a rapport (or fail miserably at it) and learn who does what.  It doesn’t mean I know how things are done, but knowing who is responsible is a very good thing.  And then there’s the practical — today, for instance, I learned why I have three waste baskets under my desk.  One is for trash, one for recycling, and one for shredding.  I am responsible for emptying the shredded basket into the secure shredder on each floor.

I had a bit of a scare on Wednesday when the gates refused to respond to my security tag.  Had it been revoked already?  A guard came, checked who I was, and directed me to another gate.  It did open, and all was well.

A graduate course’s worth of reading has been recommended to me, and each time I return to my office another book or report or appellate case appears on my chair, with a note that someone (usually my boss) thought it would be good to read.  And it will be.  But I know that all too soon, the tension between learning/preparing and wanting to bust out and actually accomplish something will be hard to bear.

People are friendly here.  Hmmm, that’s reminds me of a line from The Laramie Project.  But it’s true.  The people I’ve met, mostly colleagues, are interesting, smart, intellectually curious people.  And they have opinions about life in Montgomery, mainly where to live.

In Staten Island, the first question is often, “So, are you a native?”  Here, it’s “Have you decided where you want to live?’  And then the lobbying begins.

There are several historic areas, with three very close to downtown and too mixed with restored and run-down homes for me.  I don’t want to live next door to a bail bondsman.  A few minutes away are the late 19th and early 20th century neighborhoods, also historic, of the Garden District and Old Cloverdale.  These are not all that historic in the sense that  I’m used to — most housing is 20th century, in fact I’ve not seen much in the city so far that pre-dates the Civil War — but they are distinctive.  The Garden District has wide avenues with imposing homes; perpendicular to these are smaller streets lined with cottages.  It’s laid out in a grid.  Next to it, Old Cloverdale has curving streets that maddeningly turn sharply left or right while going straight puts you on a completely different road.  The  homes here are cottage-y, in a dizzying variety of styles, from craftsman to Spanish, but they all work well together.  Within walking distance are two small town centers with a few shops.

The Garden District and Old Cloverdale have fierce advocates, people who suggest — strongly — that there’s no where else you will feel comfortable.  It’s a compelling and familiar argument, similar to one I’ve deployed on Staten Islanders, where I can’t imagine why anyone would live on the South Shore.  Basically, these places are the equivalent to West Brighton, Stapleton and St. George.  Only with more greenery.

Some folks lobby for specific homes.  I’m planning to look at a house in the Garden District right across from Ms. Atlantic City.  It looks perfect, but perhaps a bit specific — more on that tomorrow — and a bit more than I’d like to spend.  But Ms. Atlantic City has decided that it is the perfect house for me. 

Another colleague has chosen new cottages on Agnew Street.  The street is lovely, as are the brand, spanking new brick cottages with 10-foot ceilings, granite countertops, and plantation shutters, but they have almost no yards, and Mr. NYer’s sole non-negotiable item was that he wants to garden.

A few people argue for East Montgomery.  This would is like moving to New Jersey.  There’s a “long” commute of about 15-20 minutes, and easy access to golf courses, upscale shopping and large, new and relatively inexpensive homes.  I’m tempted by the latter, having struggled to keep our 90-year old Staten Island house warm, dry and intact.  But neither of us plays golf, and the environment, with its scrubby new trees and vast expanses of lawn, looks too bare.  We fear being isolated from the welcoming ferment of a closer community.

Against that, however, a colleague mentioned Hampstead, one of those Truman Show communities that are carefully planned.  This one, modeled on an English village, features a High Street, a community garden, and some buildings that combine commercial and residential use.   “And,” she said, “a lot of people from Old Cloverdale are moving there.”

Tomorrow I have an appointment with a realtor at 9 am.  I’ve sent her a list of about a dozen homes, in Old Cloverdale and the Garden District, that I want to see.  For due diligence alone, I’ll also make sure I see some in the other areas, too.  I’m sure I’ll have a lot to say tomorrow.  

As I write this, I have opened the French door to my porch.  Some nocturnal creature is singing, and a light fills the room.  Once the heat descends, I’ll have this place hermetically sealed, but right now it’s lovely.

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Montgomery on my Own

Today the sun came out and we enjoyed a bright beautiful Montgomery winter day with temperatures in the low 60s.  It felt like an early April day in New York.  

Yesterday was a gloomy day, and it doesn’t help that my apartment complex sits off a major road that resembles Rt. 9 in New Jersey.  It’s a great location if you need to be close to Home Depot, Winn-Dixie, Lowe’s and Best Buy, but not a very neighborhood-like place.

In the afternoon, we drove to Cloverdale and the Garden District, areas recommended to us for a home. We turned into these curvy, quiet tree-lined streets filled with lovely homes to see people out walking dogs, running and just strolling.  “This is a neighborhood,” Mr. NYer observed, and we both felt a surge of relief and remembered why we thought we’d enjoy living here after all.  

We’d arranged to meet one of my colleagues at Louisa’s Cafe, a coffee shop in the small village across from the independent movie house.  He was bringing my new blackberry, hoping to tether it to my computer so I would have Internet access.  He spent well over an hour, not wanting to admit failure, but alas, the tethering function had not been set up.  First thing this morning, though, he texted me:  I was tethered and should try it out.   It worked.

He was genuinely concerned that I not be disconnected and gave up some hours on a Sunday afternoon to come help me out.  That felt good, as did the FB comments appearing on my phone from friends encouraging me to have faith.  Thanks to all.  This is going to be tougher than I thought, but that’s mainly because I tried not to think about how tough it would be.  Denial is powerful, and often useful, but it doesn’t last forever.

This morning, I dropped Mr. NYer at the airport for his flight home.  It was a heavy-hearted parting, with me fighting panic (I need an escape plan!), and with him worried that I wouldn’t feed myself properly.  I have a tendency not to eat much when I’m anxious.

I drove into the nice neighborhood again and called the one person I knew from before.  The person who made me aware of this job is a professional colleague — and friend — whom I’ve known for over ten years.  He asked me to be a reference when he was applying for a position here, and one thing led to another … and now we’re both here.  And for the second time in a decade, I’m his boss. 

TR (not to be confused with the former prez) said, “I’m so glad you called!  Come on over.”   We gave each other a big hug, and he gave me a tour of his new house — the first house he’s ever owned.

TR loves change and has lived around the world, from Turkey to Saudi Arabia to Indonesia.  For him, change of locale is easy; putting down roots not so much.  Buying the house for him is a lot like moving is for me — terra incognito.  He’s waiting until summer for his partner to join him, so he’s struggled some with separation as well.  

I met TR’s cats and was glad to hear that their arrival had helped him feel at home.   After we caught up we decided to take a walk through this beautiful and gracious historical enclave.   In the sunlight, everything feels good.   TR suggested stopping in at the house of a friend of his, which we did.

Ms. Atlantic City is the first person I’ve ever met who born and raised in that New Jersey shore town.   She’s lived in the south for many years, in Atlanta, then Florida and, for the last six years or so in Montgomery.  TR said, “You’re going to love her.”  And I did.   We talked houses (I have my eyes on one across the street from hers), gardens, and personal stories.  

When I came to Montgomery for the first time, back in October, I dined with future colleagues, none of whom were from the area.  Mr NYer and I jokingly referred to it as the “ex-pat” dinner.  In fact, there is a substantial community here of “ex-pats” who seem to find each other.  It helps that they all seem to live in either Old Cloverdale or the Garden District.  I’m told that sooner or later I will meet most of them, and because of the nearby Air Force College, more arrive constantly all the time.  

Now I’m back at the apartment, getting ready soon to go out to dinner with my new boss.   So the evening will pass, and I’ll head into work tomorrow.  I just found out that they start at 8 am, and I’m in a small state of shock about that.  But I still won’t have to get up any earlier than I did when I commuted to Soho.

Tonight I will miss Mr. NYer, whom I clung to for the last two nights as if he were the only life preserver in a rough sea.  I’ll pretend I’m just on a business trip and try to enjoy having the entire bed to myself. 

I took photos once we entered Alabama and will put them up in another post.