In your face, short sale

So there's a good reason why I haven't had a post in a long time — I've been stumbling along the road to home ownership. I didn't want to post anything while the whole thing was going on, because this one was close enough that I didn't want to jinx it.

But it came through, and now I own a lovely condo in downtown Silver Spring, MD. Those of you who've been reading this blog since the beginning know that I've always been on a quest to find a great coffee shop, and I've always wanted to live really close to one. Ideally within a short walking distance.

And now I'm a max 5 minute walk from Mayorga Coffee Factory, which I picked out pretty early on after moving to this area as my favorite coffee shop in the area. So, finally, after years of not living near anything (except Target and the metro at my last apartment), I live near LOTS of stuff, and I'm really excited about that.

Getting here, though, had a fair amount of drama. The thing about condos is they're not very big, so there aren't as many variables about them as, say, a house, that you can judge them on. I had a pretty small list of requirements for my new place, and a lot of nice to haves. But a lot of the places I looked at would have required compromises — jettisoning some furniture, living farther from the metro than I wanted to, street parking, etc.

I looked at a lot of places and saw a lot of places that would work okay, but none that jumped out at me. Then I walked into this one, and immediately, I could see myself living there. It met all of my requirements AND all of my nice to haves. The problem was, it was a short sale.

If you don't know what a short sale is, you're not alone. I didn't either when I first started looking, but there are a lot on the market right now because of the housing crisis. Basically, it's where someone owes more on the home than it's worth, and they make a deal with the bank to sell the property at a loss. It's a step before foreclosure, and many don't go through, so making an offer on a short sale is a bit of a gamble. This one was even more of a gamble because there were already two other offers on it.

I thought about it for awhile, and decided that the place was worth the gamble. As my sister likes to say, if it was meant to be, it would be. So I put in an offer. And then my realtor and I went several weeks without hearing anything. The property was eventually listed as being under contract, and that's when I gave up on it and decided I was going to have to start making those compromises.

I was almost ready to make an offer on another place that was smaller and farther from the metro, when my realtor called. The property had been listed as under contract because they were getting too many offers on it (there were 15!), but mine was one of the top offers, and they were going to make a decision the next day.

And they chose my offer! My sister is right — if it's meant to be, it will be. What came after was still not easy — my bank, Wachovia, nearly failed before they could fork over the money for my mortgage.

My furniture's moved in now, and in a sort of bizarre epilogue to everything else that happened, I woke up my first official morning there and smelled something burning in my foyer. I could hear beeping in the hallway, and, eventually decided that it was probably someone's smoke alarm going off. I waited to hear if the beeping would stop, indicating they got what smelled like a cooking fire under control. But it didn't stop.

I decided to grab my laptops and exit the building to see if there were fire trucks outside. No fire trucks. I didn't really want to be the person who called in the fire department for a little cooking fire, but at the same time, I'd rather be the asshole who calls the fire department than the asshole who doesn't call the fire department when there's a real problem.

So I called 911. The dispatcher told me to set off the building alarm. So in my first morning at my condo, I evacuated a high rise building. The fire department got there super quick, and it turns out it was indeed a cooking fire, but that the people had left something cooking, and weren't in their unit.

That's been the largest bit of drama since I moved in, though. I've been caught up in the holidays lately and not as able to take advantage of living near all this stuff, but there will be plenty of exploring in order in the new year.


Naked man and Spoonman (Virgin Fest)

So Melvin and I had a shorter trek to make this year to see Underworld. Last year we had to go to New York, and we were prepared to go to New Jersey to see them at All Points West this year, but then they were announced for Virgin Fest in Baltimore. A 45 minute drive to see Underworld!

But first, the rest of the festival. We thought it was going to take a lot longer to get there — that there was going to be a giant line of cars heading into Pimlico. But that was not in fact the case. So we were there WAY early with plenty of time to catch Cat Power's set to start out.

I wasn't quite sure how she was going to sound live, but she sounded great and did a good, bluesy set. I love the way she completely reinvents songs for covers, and she did a cover of "Fortunate Son" that was very much reinvented.

We headed to the other stage after that, for Gogol Bordello's set (we wanted to be able to get a decent spot for Lupe Fiasco, who was on after them). I had never heard of Gogol Bordello, and I'm not necessarily sure that I'd put them on my ipod, but they put on a hell of a show. Their lineup at the beginning of the show included a fiddle and accordion, and by the end they had out a marching band bass drum and the lead singer was banging on a bucket. Fun times.

We moved up close for Lupe Fiasco's set, and I realized it was TOO close not too far into the set when the crowd surfers started going forward from far behind us. The crowd was pretty hepped up already, and they were flinging all kinds of things in the air — frisbees and water bottles. We saw a girl get hit in the head with a frisbee, and at one point a gallon jug full of water went up and came back down almost in slow motion. It didn't look like anyone got hit in the head with that one. I got kicked in the face by a crowd surfer at one point, but no serious harm. After Lupe's short but great set, we retreated farther back on the lawn where we could chill out and listen to Bloc Party and The Offspring — if the crowd was that wired for Lupe Fiasco it was only going to get worse, and I needed some rest to be ready for two hours of solid dancing during Underworld.

Bloc Party's set sounded good but they didn't have a lot of stage presence. They just pretty much went out there and played. The crowd perked up a lot more for The Offspring. They sounded exactly the same as they always have, but I tell you what — nothing that's happened as I approach 30 has made me feel as old as seeing Dexter Holland look more like a guy who just dropped his kids off at soccer practice and grabbed a microphone than the lead singer of the punk band of my high school days. Yikes. It was fun, though. As they kept bringing out more hits, I kept going, "I forgot about this song!" They closed, of course, with "Self Esteem," and it had the crowd jumping all over the place.

Then it was time to head over to the dance tent and scope things out. In the midst of our pizza eating/Underworld-prepping, Melvin and other people around me started pointing and giggling. I turned around to see what they were pointing at, and there was a naked man standing not too far away from us. He looked more disoriented than drunk or protesting something, and eventually he wandered behind some bushes as the crowd continued to grow.

I'd been trying to figure out what to do with the beach towel I was using to sit on the lawn, as I didn't want to lug it through the Underworld set. Melvin wisely suggested we give it to the naked guy, so he chucked it over the bushes. Naked guy picked it up, and we thought he was going to use it to cover up, but instead he just put it around his neck. So that's the story of what happened to my beach towel — Melvin gave it to the naked guy.

And then it was time to find a good spot for Underworld. We were able to get pretty close this time, but not scary close.

Again this time, I had expectations for Underworld, but this time they were actually based on having seen them live before. Once again, they met and maybe even surpassed my expectations — although the "Dance Tent" venue was not as good at Virgin Fest, Underworld sounded as good as they did last year, and maybe even better.

About that Dance Tent — I suppose it was a good idea in terms of making it dark enough for lights for the day acts. But by the evening, the grass that had served as the floor was pretty ragged, and once the concert started, the air got hot and stifling with all of the dust the crowd was kicking up. Not quite the same as astroturf and open skies at Central Park. But Underworld can't be blamed for that.

The set:

1. Crocodile — This was the only song they played off of the new album, which surprised me. I thought we'd get "Ring Road" or "Glam Bucket" at least. This was called the Dance Tent, though, and Underworld definitely kept the pace up the entire show.

2. Spoonman — !!! Worth the price of admission. For the entire festival. There was a transition period and then they played the distinctive "muuuuuurwgh" They wound into it slowly, got up to pace, and then went through another slowdown where Karl was reading the lyrics. Then they kicked the pace back up to close it out.

3. Rez/Cowgirl — They rolled this out early, and the crowd went nuts from the opening blips of Rez. I preferred the more unique arrangement they did in Central Park last year (still my all time favorite rendering of this), but it was still note-perfect.

4. Pearl's Girl — This might be my least-favorite song off of Second Toughest in the Infants. Being my least favorite song off of my all-time favorite album, though, is still pretty damn good, and I've really enjoyed this song both times live. That big helicopter beat down low really hits you.

5. Push Upstairs — They did this brilliant, sneaky transition out of "Pearl's Girl." We were in that song, dancing away, and then all of a sudden it morphed, and twisted around, and it was "Push Upstairs." And once they got to the song, it was great — huge on the bottom, and Karl Hyde really selling it on the mike.

6. New Train — This came on all stealthy and foreboding, and then they built it up to the big crescendo, with the lights flashing on the chords.

7. You Do Scribble — They wound things down after "New Train," and then came back with this rarity — a big surprise, but a nice fit — which built slowly on the blippy instrumental, Karl coming in at the end with the vocals.

8. Two Months Off — I was surprised on this one when they started blowing up the giant inflatable tubes, as I'd thought there wouldn't be room on the tiny Dance Tent stage for them. But with a lot of maneuvering by the stage hands — they were still adjusting them well into the song — they got them up and placed and I'm glad they had them. The colors in the tubes really add to the effect, which I think you can see in my pictures. The song, as it was in Central Park, sounded excellent, and was immensely great to dance to.

9. Rowla — I love that they bust this song out live. It sounds different than it does on the album, and it's perfect to dance to. HUGE on the bottom, and a little faster paced.

10. Shudder/Born Slippy .Nuxx — They did that little cymbal crash from the beginning of Shudder/King of Snake, and I thought at that point that was what they were going to launch into. But then...they didn't. And the transition went on, and it became clear that it wasn't "King of Snake," but instead the long-drawn out intro to "Born Slippy .Nuxx" — the same one they did in Central Park, which I think has some of the original "Born Slippy" mixed in. Gradually they started to slip into more recognizable bits of the song, and more and the crowd started to recognize it and anticipate what was coming. When they hit the big, signature chords, and everybody went nuts. The pace was frenetic, and by that time I had inhaled so much dust I had a hard time even shouting "lager lager lager" with everyone. Amazing, as always.

11. Moaner — We never did get "King of Snake," but if the tradeoff was that I got to hear "Moaner," it was so worth it. They came at this one with EVERYTHING, and it was extremely intense, with the huge undercurrent of bass, and Karl singing the vocals in an almost desperate way, and all of the lights flashing with the music.

12. Jumbo — They closed out the show, as they did in Central Park, with "Jumbo," which is my least favorite Underworld song. It wasn't bad at all — it seemed like they sped it up a bit to stick with the whole "Dance Tent" thing. I was just hoping for something different this time around, preferably "Ring Road," or even "Dirty Epic" (which would have thoroughly blown my mind). Still, though, it was a nice way to wind down at the end of the concert.

That's all I've got, words-wise. But I have pictures and video clips up at Flickr.


Big old update

I saw Underworld again last weekend and want to post on the awesomeness that was that. But first I figured I should post on some of the things that have happened lately.

First off, my sister got married! Here's a picture of Jess and Mike at the reception. More pictures are at my Flickr if you want to see.

I also went to the beach for the first time in awhile, and now I totally want to go back. We did a little weekend trip down to the Outer Banks (Kill Devil Hills), which I'd never been to. It was a lot less built up than other beaches on the east coast I've been to, like Myrtle Beach and Virginia Beach. The laid-back attitude was nice. More pics up at Flickr.

I am also looking at condos in an attempt to move out of Rockville, which is basically one giant strip mall. I want to move somewhere walkable, and preferably finally achieve my goal of living within walking distance of a decent coffee shop.

I actually made an offer on a place last weekend, but it is a short sale and there were already two other offers on it. So the odds are not so good for that one, but I figured it was worth a shot.


In the interest of posting something

I kept meaning to post a link to this blog post in The Consumerist (my new favorite blog) about Mazda destroying a bunch of brand new cars. It's terrible that they had to do it, but I'm glad they did (especially since it sounds like materials were recycled where possible). As a Mazda owner, having Mazdas out on the market that could have problems as a result of hanging at an angle and being exposed to salt water would have been bad for my own car's resale value. Check out the Wired article about how the Cougar Ace was saved, too -- pretty fascinating.

Speaking of Kiwi, he began his life of crime this year...

I have to hand it to Montgomery County -- the traffic cam tickets are at a good price point for you to just resign yourself to paying them, especially since you don't get any points on your license.



As I get older, I'm finding myself getting more and more interested in history. I think it's because I can learn it now on my terms, which means knowing what happened and the relationships between events, without the excessive memorizing of dates.

Although I have been oddly interested in naval history in the age of sail, I'm starting to find all history more interesting, including U.S. history. So when my friend Patricia and I got to talking about how we hadn't seen any of the historical places in Philadelphia, it turned into a Memorial Day weekend trip.

Philly was a lot of fun and I really enjoyed seeing Independence Hall and the other historic sites. I was glad I saw them not too long after visiting Boston last year, too. It helped me piece together things. And it was especially nice to go there by train — in two stress-free hours from Union Station in DC, we were there. It was odd to feel like I was on vacation without the grief and aggravation of getting there.

The photo below we took just as they were kicking us out of the room. In the background you can see the only actual period piece there — the chair George Washington sat in. More pictures are up at Flickr.



Still kind of shook by this fire. One of the things that has been oddest has been being on this side of a news story. When I went out into the parking lot Monday morning they were doing a press conference with the fire department. I looked as I went past but then I drove on to work.

I've been catching some of the news reports online. The nice big signs in the background for Halpine View were recently installed -- I think they were trying to spruce the place up. I initially couldn't remember them doing any walkthroughs of the apartments to check smoke detectors and the like, but I went through my apartment file and found this:

So the smoke detectors, theoretically, were checked in November last year. I haven't seen that anywhere -- the management company has been less than willing to talk to the press. So I didn't know quite what to do with it, and I thought I'd post it as my short-lived foray into citizen journalism. The building with the fire should have been checked on the same day as my building. It apparently hadn't been inspected by the pros in quite some time, though.

I'm planning to look for condos before my lease is up. Sprinkler systems? Suddenly a factor.


Apartment fire

I walked out of my apartment this morning and was like, "why is there crime scene tape across the parking lot?" The further I walked, the more I saw. Turns out the apartment building next to mine was gutted by fire. One person died and other people had to jump to get to safety. It all happened in the early morning and I had no idea what was going on. Really scary.


Travel mania

I have not updated lately, which is really to be expected from me, anymore. But I have been posting pics to Flickr of my recent travels.

In March it was the now-annual Cincinnati St. Patty's. More photos.

And I just got back from Costa Rica. It was a work trip but I did get some time to explore and chill out, which was good. More photos.


It puts the lotion in the basket

The problem with using Babelfish when I don't understand the instructions for my Italian homework:

"It regards exercise 1 and it binds together every phrase to the just person."


Goth flapper

Attempted self-portraits all looked funny, but here is a link to a photo of Eric's from my friend Chantal's birthday dinner with the full goth flapper look.


I have new hair

It was time for the annual chop. There was some hilarity last week where my friends and co-workers raised $500 in 70 minutes for me to shave my head (for the record, I did not, as Joe says, claim I would shave my head for $500 -- I said I was thinking it would take $500 for me to shave my head...turns out it would take a lot more, heh).

So I felt like I had to do something to my hair that, while short of shaving it all off, still reached some acceptable drama threshold (I mean, my co-workers pretty much gave me carte blanche to have totally unprofessional hair). So I got 7 inches cut off. The photo is from the same day as the cut. Today I dyed it blue black, which I've always wanted to do, but have been mildly afraid of looking too goth or Veruca Salt.

Turns out, blue black is not as dramatic as I thought it would be at this length, but still pretty fun (the water was the color of blueberries when I was rinsing, so I was a bit freaked out mid dye job). My hair is still recovering from the dye so I didn't want to style it, but I'll try to post pics when I attempt to blow it out as well as the stylist at the Aveda Institute did. Or, alternately, when I style it curly, which I think I might even like better than straight -- it makes me feel so much like a 1920s flapper that I feel like I should have a cigarette holder in my hand and know how to dance the Charleston.


Breaking news: London still awesome

Tower Bridge, from our Thames cruise

It's been like 50 years since I posted here, so, uh, first off, I went to London. I know I just went to London in November, 2006, but when some friends here in DC sent out word about a trip, my initial reaction was: "I just went to London. I can't go back so soon." Then I thought about it, for all of about 30 seconds, and I decided: "Oh, I can so go back!"

So I got to take another outstanding trip to London. This time I wanted to catch the one thing I'd wanted to see last time, but had been closed — the London Transport Museum. It was closed for renovations last time, although the gift shop was open in a place in Covent Garden, so I at least wasn't deprived of Mind the Gap merchandise. The museum itself was really cool, and I'm glad I got to go and see the development of the world's first subway, from the early steam locomotives to the development of tube tunneling (and an early tube train). But there were so many out of control kids there, it was like a Lord of the Flies type situation — they were running totally wild — so that sort of took away from it.

I also wanted to see some things that I hadn't really been interested in the last time we went — a side trip to Portsmouth to see, well, everything, but namely the HMS Victory, and to Greenwich for the National Maritime Museum. Not surprisingly, none of the rest of our group had much interest in going to look at old ships, so I went to Portsmouth on the day they all went to the Tower of London, which I'd just seen. I found I felt really comfortable with moving around the UK by myself — the train system is so great and the signage everywhere is so good, it's easy to find your way.

Portsmouth didn't disappoint in the least — the Victory was worth the trip in itself. I have a ton of pictures on Flickr, so I won't go into huge amounts of detail, but I will just say that the Victory, in permanent drydock, was done up much more as a museum (albeit one where you had to duck your head on all of the decks, and that smelled of old wood) than the USS Constitution was. Which makes sense — the Constitution could sail tomorrow, if it needed to. I like that both of these ships, which each have huge historical significance, serve two different roles. But this meant that on the Victory, you got to go down to the Orlop deck and the hold — they really had much of the ship open to explore, and since it was February, they weren't running guided tours, so I got to take my time and see the whole ship at my own pace.

I wasn't quite as impressed by the National Maritime Museum — although it was good in its own right, it paled after the ships and museums of the Historic Dockyard at Portsmouth. We were actually in Greenwich briefly earlier in the trip — on Wednesday, we did a tour to Leeds Castle, Dover, Canterbury, and Greenwich. At Greenwich, we had time only to walk the grounds of the old Royal Naval College a bit, and walk into the Painted Hall, before we took a boat cruise down the Thames back to London. Leeds Castle was impressive, particularly since it was a mix of the period furniture you'd expect, and of 1920s-era French decor. Some of it was a bit over-the-top, but still pretty cool. We stopped at Dover only long enough for photos of the white cliffs, and then on to Canterbury, where I was surprised at the size of the cathedral after others I'd seen (Westminster Abbey, Bath Abbey, Salisbury Cathedral) of similar structure.

But rather than rambling on and on, as I usually do, I thought I'd just post a link to tons and tons of pictures. Take your pick between the whole set of 500-and-some, or the highlights, which are closer to 80:

All of my England photos
Just the highlights

And yes, it was cold. Somehow, 45 degrees in London is not the same as 45 degrees here — it's a much damper, bone-chilling cold. Luckily, I took a fleece jacket in addition to my wool pea coat, and the two of them together generally kept me warm enough to be happy. Lots of ale in nice warm pubs also helped.

HMS Victory, oldest commissioned naval ship in the world


Take me to your leader

Apparently, Mazda very quietly designed a UFO. Also, the Taiki and its other concept cars look way too happy.