Determination, Home

Ready, Go, Set

The paperwork is not hard. Neither is combing through the matted threads of text filling 72 pages of contract. The paying is not hard, though willing the fingers to let go of the cash takes a little prompting. The saving is not hard. That is simply a daily commitment to a higher degree of deprivation, and in any event, not doing is always easier than becoming or achieving. The moving itself isn’t even hard. It’s just sort, pack, schlep, unpack, sort.
This is the secret that mountain climbers keep. Those who don’t hike marvel at the fortitude required to summit Pike’s Peak. Of course it takes strength, training, and determination. But it is not hard. In fact, it is the simplest thing in the world. Zen simple. You go forward. You go up. You put one foot down and then lift the other.
The steps are not the challenge.
The decisions? Now those are hard.
To scale that peak on that date, to re-organize commitments, to gear up and pack right and make time every day to train, these choices require a trickier sort of grit. Every assessment is complex. Someone always throws a monkey wrench in the plan. The weather forecast looks grim or an Achilles is torn or a hiking partner starts to hem and haw. It’s time to calculate risks and weigh options. To re-draw the map.
It’s the decisions that take grit.
This week, a co-worker mentioned that she and her husband are looking to buy a home for the first time. “We’re still shoe-shopping,” she said. “It’s kind of fun.” The beginning is just browsing. Try it on, imagine life in those four walls, stash the picture, let go. Then the just-looking begins to draw ever tightening circles around the realm of the possible. The window shopper returns to this place or that and walks the neighborhood. A call goes in to the agent, “Just to get a little more info.”
Now things get serious. The would-be buyer is suddenly You.
Cue the decisions.
How much can you afford? Between commute, schools, size, price, amenities, noise, layout, storage, neighbors, construction, and condition, what are your priorities? What is the relative value of feature, and what combinations are acceptable? Does dream trump reality or the other way around?
You see a place you really like but low ceilings or high taxes give you pause. Do you make the offer? Do you sign the dotted line? You take a few days to cogitate. Now it’s under contract with someone else. You missed your chance. You keep looking.
The pace picks up. The decisions get harder.
Are you really ready to buy? What’s the right thing for now and for the maybe-future? You see another place. Walking through the door makes you swoon. It’s more money for less space in the right place, or less money for more space in the wrong place. The agent takes your offer and your check for earnest money. Waiting, still looking elsewhere. Counter offer. Higher, no contingencies, three days to decide.
Hold or fold?
If you’re in, brace yourself. The inspection, negotiations, loan application, and HOA documents fly at you like a freak hailstorm, bam bam bam. Every time you turn around, a decision blindsides you. People you’ve never met call you up and demand your life savings. The clock won’t wait and the storm won’t relent. In a process like this in a market like this, people who need quiet time to think are out of luck. Adapt or die.
Lisa Sturtevant stopped me in the hall at work the other day. Chatting about my condo search, she said, “This area is weird. Nowhere else in the country is experiencing a feeding frenzy like this.” The inventory at the more affordable end is at a record low while demand is at a record high. This sends prices to the top of Mt. McKinley and shrinks time frames to barely a blink. As a part of the Center for Regional Analysis, she knows her stuff. A few of Lisa’s articles on the DC area housing market are here and here.
Home buying in the greater Washington region means making momentous decisions very quickly with little information against cutthroat competition. Forget climbing Mt. Shasta. This is landing behind the wheel of an F1 McLaren on the final lap of the Grand Prix the day after you’ve gotten your license.
All those mountains don’t prepare you for this kind of hard. It’s everything at stake and right now. Think fast and keep those reflexes honed to a fine point.
Terrifying? Absolutely. Too much? Probably.
But, oh, my. The rush!


Beater Love, Part II

Part I, wherein the son and father makes his appearance.


It was a 1979 Honda Civic, the silver weathered down to a dull, bruised gray. It had a hatchback and faded fabric seats the color of old theater curtains. In the summer months, you could catch a whiff of Oklahoma road dust and old man sweat. The wheezing thing had belonged to my grandfather, my father, my sister, and finally, me.

It amazed me to crawl into the tiny bucket seat and feel the weight of my old man’s old man still there. He had been a giant, a gnarled oak, all red dirt prairie and World War II battlefield scars. Why such a fellow would have chosen a tiny Japanese car made out of tin foil and pipe cleaners is beyond me. When so many of his fellow grizzlies were driving Ford pickups, why would he have squeezed his bulk into a motorized foot locker?

Unless, of course, that was the point.

The hillbillies who sat around his restaurant pontificating to maddening pointlessness may have paid his bills, but that didn’t earn them his respect. He made a living for his family in that two-bit town despite what they all thought of his no-account daddy. For as long as I can recall, my grandfather kept a soggy, wooden toothpick forever jammed into the corner of his mouth. Maybe it helped him hold his tongue in the company of his neighbors. The car let him thumb his nose instead.

None of this mattered to me when I was little. I just remember his lap. John Deere, semi truck, VW bus, and who knows what all else – all my earliest driving experiences found me perched on the massive trunks of my grandfather’s legs. A muscled arm sheathed in hog bristles and tree bark slung casually around my belly kept me upright. The effortlessness of his might was both a marvel and a source of great comfort. Even as a wisp of a thing, I could grip the wheel of whatever beast growled its restrained power at me, and I could surrender to the thrill of driving. As ever, the pointed end of a toothpick hovered near the back of my dopey, bobbing head.  Every time I drove with him, I came out unscathed. Granddaddy never seemed to be surprised by this.

When the Honda made its way down to me, it came complete with the busted seat springs and an ancient cylinder of Grandaddy’s toothpicks still in the glove box. The problem was, the old fella kicked the bucket before he had a chance to teach me how to drive stick.

In July of my 16th year, I finished driver’s ed. My instructor came away with a heart condition and no desire to see me in the remedial lessons I doubtless required. He gave me the nod, and I hounded my mother to ferry me to the DMV. She had to take the morning off work to get me there. Twice. When I finally passed, my mom whisked me back home just ahead of the perpetual cloud of exasperation that follows working mothers everywhere. She sped off and left me standing in the driveway, keys in hand, staring at the little gray package of manually-operated freedom waiting just out of reach.

Damn. Summer day. Nothing but wide-open streets, a full tank of gas and. . . ?

Get to it, girl. A car wasn’t the only thing your granddaddy left you.

I marched up the block and knocked on a neighbor’s door. Glory be! Marco was home. So what if he was three years older? And already a college man? And couldn’t care less about a dingbat teenager from his old neighborhood? Marco’s mama had raised all three of her big, Italian boys to be courteous, and I was hungry enough to take full advantage of his mandatory chivalry. He sighed and followed me back down the block.

Whiplash, teary hysterics, a fried clutch, and several dozen unrepeatable four-letter words later, I jolted and screeched up to Marco’s curb and deposited him home. He went tumbling out the door before I had even come to a complete stop. “It’s just a see-saw,” he called to me from the safe remove of the sidewalk. “Remember, easy does it. You’ll be fine.” Neither his forced smile nor his hoarse voice echoed the confidence of his words.

It was okay. I didn’t care if I had to stall and jerk along the highways for next hundred years. I settled myself into the easy grip of the caved-in seat and took the wheel. I worked the pedals and got the thing moving. In the glove box, Grandaddy’s toothpicks rolled right along with me.