Friday, August 31, 2007

Top 10 least affordable cities

Found this list, via CNN Money, of the top 10 least affordable U.S. cities (median household income vs. media home price):

  1. Los Angeles-Long Beach-Glendale, CA
  2. Santa Ana-Anaheim-Irvine, CA
  3. Salinas, CA
  4. Merced, CA
  5. Santa Barbara-Santa Maria-Goleta, CA
  6. New York-White Plains-Wayne, NY-NJ
  7. San Francisco-San Mateo-Redwood City, CA
  8. Napa, CA
  9. San Luis Obispo-Paso Robles, CA
  10. Modesto, CA
Nine out of 10 are in California, including SLO. So tell me, why are so many people flocking to California? I know, California's a great place and (humbly speaking) may be the best state in the nation in terms of a total package.

But there ARE other places to live, folks--where young people can actually fulfill a dream of owning their own home and saving for their kids' college funds.

And believe it or not, there are jobs elsewhere, too--some that even pay well!

I know NYC is on the list, too. But there are lots of suburb areas around here that are affordable, like Riverdale--where we'll be living in a few months!

Thursday, August 30, 2007

OK, I'm awake now

(This is Mary.)

So this morning, the commute seems pretty easy. I ride the bus into the city, then take my time walking to the subway. While I sit, I continue to read Hamlet (it's been awhile, and thought I should reacquaint myself with the prince).

We arrive at my stop--110th Street--and a woman next to me jumps out of her seat, clearly in a hurry to get off the train (I think she might have been a Columbia student). She rushes out of the train car, and I hear the loudest shriek I can remember hearing for a long time. I look down at the ground, and right in the pathway between the subway and the exit turnstile is a dead rat.

Fortunately dead, I suppose. But nevertheless, not something you'd want to step on (the woman was wearing flip flops, too).

When I say rat, I do mean rat, not mouse. I'm not good at judging size, but they're hefty.

We see rats fairly frequently in the subway--running across the tracks, hanging out on the platform (but usually only at the fringes), and bolting into their cubby holes. Frankly, it's only disconcerting to me when I see a group of them. Somehow, one at a time seems less frightening--almost as if it's the same one I keep seeing over and over. (Do you like how I lie to myself?)

But when there's a group, there's a sense of an entire community of rats that, in some way, may mimic what I see every day above ground. The rat race--now I know why it has that name!

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Keep meaning to post this photo ...

A couple of weeks ago, some folks from home came out to NYC. Mary, her husband Adam, and son AJ had an opportunity to fly out to the Big Apple for a few days, and we were able to spend an evening with them. They were also generous enough to take us to dinner at a nice restaurant on the Upper East Side. Thank you again, Mary & Adam!

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The agony of de feet

NYC is brutal on the feet. When you don't have a car, you have to walk--a lot. Coming from California, where no one walks ANYWHERE, this whole walking culture has been an interesting adjustment. Good for the waistline, but an adjustment, nevertheless.

Never before have we been so conscious of our feet and our shoes. For Mary, it's become an experiment in shoe shopping, with mostly hits and a few misses. It's one thing to say, "Well, I'm only going to wear this pair of high heels if we go out to dinner." But the thing is, you have to GET to dinner--which involves walking to the bus stop (10-15 minutes), then arriving at the bus terminal and walking to the subway line (maybe another 10 minutes), and then walking from the subway stop to your destination (who knows how long).

Now you're thinking, "Thirty minutes of walking ... that's not so bad." It isn't, unless you're wearing shoes that simply aren't made for walking (ladies, you know what that means!). With all the grates and other obstacles, stilettos are out--don't really know how NYC women manage to keep their ankles from snapping when they wear these, and they DO wear them.

Wedge heels aren't all that sexy, but they're stable. Shorter heels are OK, but only if the shoes have a lot of padding toward the front to absorb the shocks.

Or you can do the tacky thing, and wear your sneakers until you actually arrive at the restaurant or other evening event. Yuck.

Right now, Mary is still trying to find the perfect brand. Clarks are OK but the styles aren't all that sophisticated--although they have a couple of new ones that might pass muster. Aerosoles are so-so. Her favorite pair of Geox (black patent leather flats) are cute around the office but don't offer much help when walking many, many blocks because the subway had suddenly stopped running (ah, the mysteries of the MTA).

Dankso is a definite maybe: one pair worked very well and are a good choice for fall (a bit heavy for summer).

Mary plans to look at the Camper and Fluevog stores in Soho for one more pair of work shoes. Boots for the winter are next on the list.

You may think this is awfully spendy, investigating (read: buying) all these shoe options. But there is nothing like the agony--or the ecstasy--of de feet. The perfect shoe is out there, somewhere ...

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Dorm move-in day

This was a busy weekend. Saturday was spent finalizing Rachel's packing to move into the dorm, which she did today.

She lives in a high-rise near Wall Street (about 20 minutes from the main "campus" area of Washington Square Park). This year, she has an apartment-style dorm room, with 2 BR's and 2 BA's. There's also a kitchen and a large living room. The BR's aren't very big, but they offer something incomparable: amazing views!

That's Rachel's bedroom that she shares with a roommate, and no, that's not a poster of the Brooklyn Bridge--that's the view out the window. She and her roommate have the corner room, so they have windows on both sides. They have a wonderful view of the Empire State Building through the other set of windows (it's red/white/blue tonight, by the way!). In the photo on the left, you can't quite see it, but it's there. There's a beautiful domed building close by, and some other wonderful sights out the windows. Think they'll get any work done?

The third photo is the living area--with three large windows overlooking the water/bridges. Not too shabby. We're a bit jealous ... that area of Manhattan is very nice, and relatively quiet. Couldn't hear much of anything from the street, which is a nice change for Rachel: Washington Square Park is a romantic place to live and she enjoyed it last year, but it is L O U D.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

No, there's no such thing as climate change

OK, so Mary has asked people around here if this weather is "normal" or "typical" for August in NYC--or any other time of year, for that matter.

The answer? A resounding "No!"

Earlier this week, it was pouring rain and downright cold for summer: highs around 60, cooler at night (also unusual). On Tuesday night, Mary wore a sweater and a light jacket and still felt chilly in the evening.

So the weekend arrives, and we look outside--and see nothing! It is COMPLETELY fogged in (I guess it's fog). Can't see a bloody thing.

And to make it worse, the weather report says it's going to feel like 105 degrees when you combine the air temperature with the humidity.

Steam, anyone?

This weather is driving us a bit nuts! It's not the heat and humidity so much as the inconsistency right now that's making it challenging.

As we prepare for Rachel to move back into the dorm tomorrow, we're staying indoors as much as possible: except that we're going to see a double feature of "Rear Window" and "Rope" later this afternoon at Film Forum:

Spooky movies in an air-conditioned theater sounded like a good idea to us ...

Monday, August 20, 2007

Cat in Manhattan

Chelsea--our oldest cat, at 15--was a metropolitan pet this weekend. She went into Manhattan via bus and subway to get groomed at Happy Paws, a pet "resort," they call it.

The price tag was hefty, but luckily we don't have to do this too often. Chelsea had so many mats that we had to have most of her fur shaved. But it will grow back, and we promise to pay more attention to grooming her ourselves. By the time we realized she wasn't able to care for her fur as well as she used to, the whole situation was out of control.

The weather here is a bit weird this week. Cool temps--60s and 70s--and rain forecast every day. It beats 90-plus, that's for sure. But is this typical of August? That, we're not so sure about.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Yes, it really is possible

Saw a blog comment here by our niece, Debbie, who lives in the Bay area. Yes, it does exist: a well-kept 1 BR apartment, in a nice, pretty and safe area, for $169K within a 45-minute train ride of Times (click photo to see more photos of this apartment).

Can you find something comparable in the Bay area? Within a 45-minute commute of SF by train? Somehow I doubt it.

Manhattan itself is ridiculously priced. Truly ridiculous--the perspective on pricing here is almost comical to us normal folks who don't have millions in the bank.

Even Brooklyn is berserk, price-wise--and no offense to Brooklynites, but it's just not our thing (even though many areas are quite interesting). Some areas of Queens are affordable and nice, too, but the commute options are not great.

So the remaining boroughs are the Bronx and Staten Island. Staten Island is a definite "no," especially because it's way too far from where we work. So the Bronx neighborhood of Riverdale/Fieldston is a great choice for us. It's still affordable, it's pretty, it's an easy commute to Columbia and elsewhere.

Where we live now, in Union City, NJ, has its pluses: notably the stunning view of the Manhattan skyline and southward and a very short commute to 42nd Street (on the weekend, for instance, we can leave the house at 9 am and be at 42nd Street before 9:30, easy).

But the minuses for us include the lack of services here and the 60-70-minute commute to work, by bus and then subway. From Riverdale, it would be about 25 minutes on the subway (part of which is above ground)--which still may seem long to some people, but it's not bad at all when you can just sit and read a book the entire time!

People thought we were crazy to move here without jobs. They said our cost of living would go up, well past what we could earn, and that we'd be in worse financial shape than we were before.

We did this calculation before, but if we move to Riverdale, here's what the percentages will be:

Mary's take-home pay has gone up about 15 percent
Jeff's take-home pay has gone up 50 percent (yes, you read that correctly)
Our monthly mortgage, if we get this place, will have gone down 20 percent (granted, we'd be living in 600 square feet instead of 1450 square feet, but downsizing has its advantages)
Transportation: Costs down 80 percent (from making 2 car payments, paying for gas and insurance, to buying 2 monthly subway passes)--and that doesn't even count depreciation of the cars
Cost of Rachel's education at NYU: Down from about $185K to about $80K, thanks to us scoring jobs at Columbia University with the tuition scholarship benefit.

So if some of you were thinking this was a crazy idea, this should show you that if you do it conservatively and plan things out, a move to the NYC metro area is not only affordable, but can substantially turn your future around in a positive direction. And we're just talking money here, not even quality of life (which, actually, is a lot better than you might imagine).

More comments?

Friday, August 17, 2007

Niiiiice subway

The three of us met for dinner near Union Square, at a cute French restaurant called Le Pain Quotidien. It's a chain: They have lots of locations in Europe, but in the U.S. are only in NY and LA.

Anyway, afterwards we went to Virgin and then hopped on the N subway line to ride back up to the Port Authority, where we catch the bus.

That was the niiiiiicest NYC subway car we have ever been in. Brand spankin' new. New LED info boards, a snazzy route chart, video alerts from MTA, and man, was it QUIET and smooth compared to the old cars.

They have been doing a lot of work on the subway lines, so this must be the end result. If that's the case, we hope MTA has funding to work on ALL the subway lines!

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Soon to be city dwellers?

We are seriously considering buying an apartment from a colleague who lives in Riverdale, a nice neighborhood in the northern part of the Bronx, a borough of New York City. See more photos here.

It would cut our 70-minute commute to Columbia in half, our mortgage and transportation costs would be 30% less than our current rent, and we'd be making an investment instead of sending off rent checks each month never to be seen again. We'd also be closer to shopping, dinners out, etc. We'd have to take just one train - instead of a bus and a train - to get to work, saving bus fare and the hassle of waiting in a station (the subway stop for the apartment is the end of the line, there's always a train waiting with its doors open). We have been looking for a rental on the Upper West Side, but we didn't see anything livable under $2,500/mo. for a one bedroom. That's almost double what our mortgage would be.

What do you all think, based on the photos and the rationale? Make sense?

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

A strange phenomenon

Hi: Don't know if anyone's still reading our blog. It's been awhile since we posted. Life has been busy and fun lately!

Anyway, just wanted to write briefly about a strange phenomenon. Since we moved here, anytime there is a crime reported in the national news that took place anywhere in the NYC metro area, people assume that we were affected by it.

I know people know this, but NYC and the surrounding metro area is HUGE! Believe me, if we are ever affected by a crime, you'll know about it! (God forbid.)

Most of the time, I don't even pay attention to these reports. Yes, there was a murder of an NYU student, but her boyfriend did it--a crime that happens several times every day in towns large and small, unfortunately.

Yes, there were the murders of the high school students in Newark: again, a crime that happens in small towns, too.

So far, we have been untouched personally by any crime. Have known people here who have gotten mugged, since we moved here. But fortunately, it's been rare.

We appreciate you worrying about us, but it's not necessary. We are safe, and the city is a lot safer than many people believe.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Hip waders not required

Although news accounts on the West Coast apparently made it seem like New York City had washed down the Hudson River and into the Atlantic, yesterday morning's deluge was somewhat less dramatic.

The lightning and thunder started in the 4 o'clock hour - am - and ended around 7ish, but it left a lasting result. The subways were flooded and not running until around noon. We left a half-hour early but it took an hour to ride a bus from 42nd street to Columbia, some 70+ blocks north. That usually take about 15 minutes by subway. Oh well. We were only about half an hour late to work. Some colleagues from Brooklyn couldn't even get to work and telecommuted instead.

The prediction is or more of the same tomorrow. The MTA seemed completely unprepared for it all and there were no workers directing commuters away from the tunnels until after they had swiped their cards in the turnstiles, depositing their fares. Inside the stations, New York's finest were milling about, apparently wondering where the coffee and donuts were. They were just as useless.

Tomorrow will be a real test of the MTA and Mayor Bloomberg. Will it happen twice in one week?

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Getting used to controlled chaos

After living here awhile, it seems like we're beginning to get used to the controlled chaos that is New York City. The subways are making sense, and we have figured out alternate ways to commute if our "normal" subway line isn't running, or if the bus breaks down (it's happened more than once), or ...

What's still fascinating--among many other things--are the people who live and work here. Perhaps there isn't a city in the world with this much variety: of ages, nationalities, varying degrees of ability and disability, fashion sense, you name it.

Yesterday, Mary saw a woman get on the subway with a seeing eye dog. How does she do it? Clearly 100 percent blind, she and her dog navigated the underground tunnels with more ease than you could imagine.

And there's the pair of female workers in the Westside Market (Mary loves this place!) who speak not to the customers--one does the checkout, the other bags--but only to each other, in an African language that's probably the most exotic tongue Mary has ever heard.

Every day, the population here presents new and astonishing sights, sounds and, sometimes unfortunately, smells.