Whew. So you remember those logic puzzles they used to give you in elementary school, where it was like, “You have a bag of grain, a sheep, and a wolf that you have to take across the river. Your boat is very small, so you can only take across one item at a time. The wolf will eat the sheep if left alone with it, and the sheep will eat the grain if given the chance, and how do you get them all across without losing any of them?” And you’re like, “I don’t know, man — why the hell are you traveling around with a wolf?” Do you remember that?
Well, apparently they were trying to train you for real life, because that that’s what moving with a baby is like. “Okay, he can never be more than two hours away from his mother, because he needs to breastfeed. Also, he hates the car. Also, you can’t put him down for more than 15 minutes. Now move your family and all your stuff and two cars from New York to California. You have three days.”
It worked out fine in the end, but for the second time in less than two years, we took an enormous gamble that could easily have ruined us. The first time, of course, was having a baby together when we were both unemployed hobo writers. This second time wasn’t nearly as dramatic, but here’s what happened. We were visiting Elana’s parents in the Netherlands when we got the call that Elana needed to come back to L.A. right away for an interview for DREAM JOB.
That sounds great, but here are some of the moving parts involved:
- Getting back to Syracuse from New York.
- Getting back to L.A.
- Conducting two separate apartment searches in L.A. — one for if she got the job; one for if she didn’t.
- One baby who, realistically, could only be taken across the continent by plane.
- One car that needed to be fixed before it could be safely driven cross-country. Cost: ~$2300
- One car we desperately needed to get rid of.
- A bedroom’s worth of stuff, including stuff I can no longer recall our motivation in bringing to New York in the first place. (Why did we bring this TiVo to someone else’s house?)
All of this, of course, is stuff that can be handled with money. But we couldn’t be sure we would have the money until we got to L.A. and she interviewed for the job. So we debated, agonized, and finally just said, “Fuck it.” We abandoned the cars and the gear and went to L.A. (We took the baby.)
And it all worked out. My wife kicked ass, which didn’t surprise me. She got DREAM JOB, and all our problems were instantly solved. We’re having our car fixed and shipped to us, and we’ll probably work out having our possessions shipped as well. As a family friend used to say, “Anything that can be fixed with money isn’t really a problem.”
But somehow, taking that enormous leap of faith (which, even now, on the other side, strikes me as a bit of madness) cost me a bit, psychically. A few days after Elana’s interview, we were in IKEA, trying to re-acquaint ourselves with the idea of owning basic household goods. We rolled Henry around on beds and tried to develop metrics for couches and chairs. But somewhere in the middle of all this, I began tolling up how much we could end up spending on just the necessities: a few pieces of furniture, some sheets, a small lamp so we wouldn’t have to live in total darkness. And then Elana said the words that sent me over the edge: “We might need a new dish-drying rack, too. I think they’re seven dollars.”
SEVEN DOLLARS… SEVEN DOLLARS… SEVEN DOLLARS…!!!! the words echoed in my mind.
“AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAGGGGGGGHHHHH!” I shouted. “AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAGGGGHH! SEVEN DOLLARS! IT’LL BE THE RUIN OF US!”
And I bolted from the showroom floor and ran down to the checkout area, where I drowned myself in a bucket of Swedish meatballs.
Anyway, in a bid to (haha!) save money in L.A. until we could get an apartment, we decided to stay with Elana’s cousin Bobby. Well, actually, we stayed at the “short stay unit” in Bobby’s apartment building, The EcoVillage.
The EcoVillage sounds like a great idea — a bunch of people get together and save the planet by growing their own vegetables and riding bicycles and so on. Unfortunately, that idea gets mixed with another great idea — the anarchist commune where people can do whatever they want, and there aren’t any fascist “rules,” man.
And so although there’s a lot of rhetoric around the EcoVillage about “reducing your footprint,” nothing about living in the EcoVillage, as far as we could tell in our week of living there, actually helps you to reduce anything. The building itself is in Koreatown, one of the least bike-friendly neighborhoods in the city. The garden is beautiful but ramshackle; nobody appears to be in charge of it, so each new person who moves in is like, “I’m gonna plant an artichoke!” And everywhere you find evidence of hoarding masquerading as “recycling.” The raised beds in the courtyard are made of “urbanite” — a.k.a. hunks of old concrete someone found in the alley. And some guy has been “remodeling” an empty unit for seven years.
The short stay unit also does not help you out. The latch on the bathroom door has been painted so many times it no longer closes, so you run the water to cover the sound of your activities. The building is so old it almost certainly has lead pipes, so you run the water for a minute before getting a drink. And — again, hoarding! — you can’t make your own coffee in the morning, even though there are two coffee pots, because someone has helpfully left a nasal irrigator on top of one of them:
So you go out for coffee every morning.
Everywhere in the EcoVillage you find half-hearted attempts to live ecologically, but none of it really comes together. And because the residents appear to be anarchists rather than true hippie fascists, no one has emerged to take control of the enterprise and force everyone to live in accordance with nature. People pretty much do what they want. Which is fine, except there’s a mild omnipresent guilt about how you ought to be living green that casts a pall over everything.
(To be fair, I want to point out that Bobby — remember Bobby? — Bobby actually lives the real deal. He is not a hoarder, he raises bees, and he doesn’t go anywhere he can’t bike to. He’s pretty cool.)
If you want to reduce your footprint while traveling, you could try staying somewhere that’s literally smaller. citizenM is a hotel chain in Europe that has cleverly repackaged “cramming more rooms into the same square footage” as “a fun experience for hipsters who travel light.” Mostly they serve airports and other tourist and business travel centers. Their rooms are only as wide as a king-size mattress, and they manage, through clever engineering (foldout everything, mood lighting) and a few gimmes (free movies and music), to make the experience cozy and delightful rather than, say, cramped.
The only minor drawback is that, to save space, the toilet and the shower are in freestanding glass tubes in the forward portion of the room, rather than being in, you know, a bathroom.
So if you really are a hip young traveler, and you hook up with some other hip young traveler and bring that person back to your hotel… you’re going to have to be really, really cool with each other’s bodily functions.
(Business travelers, you can probably cover this with your “dates” for an additional fee.)