Thursday, January 14, 2010

Collegiate Apartment Hunting

After just one quarter, Emily has to firm up her housing plans for next year. It happens way too quickly at UCSB. Most of the freshmen live on campus and dorm life has been one of the highlights of her experience thus far. Personally, the idea of living in a dorm and sharing a communal bathroom and a closet-sized bedroom sounds extremely unappealing. At 18, however, my enthusiasm was more akin to what Emily is experiencing. She loves the constant hum of campus life and has made several good friends from her hallway. As her mother, I appreciate that there are some rules in place -- no alcohol in the dorms -- and a modicum of supervision. If most of her friends were planning to remain on campus next year, I think she would opt for another year in the dorms. However, for most upper class men, Isla Vista beckons and the pull is too strong for most students to resist.

Isla Vista is an unincorporated community within Santa Barbara County and sits just west of the campus. When the nearby city of Goleta incorporated in 2002, Isla Vista was deliberately excluded. Apparently, no municipality wants to take on the management burden of a transient student population and minimal tax base. But to a college sophomore, it is paradise. Situated on the cliffs above the Pacific Ocean, it is comprised almost entirely of small apartment complexes built in the 1960's and 70's. There is no real "curb appeal" as there is very little landscaping and most of the residences remain unchanged from when they were built, save for the rare fresh coat of paint. As most units house anywhere from 4 to 10 people, there are cars along the curbs, bumper to bumper in the driveways and packed on what used to be front lawns. And because bicycling is a more efficient means of transportation, the cars rarely move. As one who was thrilled to live in an on-campus trailer park at Stanford, I can understand the appeal of living on one's own and experiencing real independence, all while mom and dad are still picking up the tab. Add to that a nightly sunset spectacular and even this cynical suburbanite is excited -- and apprehensive -- for my daughter.

Emily and 4 of her friends are looking at an apartment just two blocks off the beach. It has 3 bedrooms, two doubles and a single, a big party deck, and ONE BATHROOM! Did you do the math? 5 girls sharing one bathroom! Emily is painfully aware of the challenges of this arrangement but seems to be the only one who has considered this. These girls have known one another for a little more than three months and undoubtedly have little notion of what sharing a living space with 4 other women is really like. For those of us in the over 40 crowd, think about what personal items you used in college. Most of us were wash-and-go. We showered at night, went to bed with wet hair and (maybe) brushed it out in the morning. I had the ubiquitous Maybelline brow pencil and liner, the one whose life you could extend by warming it up over an open flame. Add a little Bonnie Bell bronzer and I was good to go. My three roommates had blow dryers -- it was the post-Dorothy Hamill era, after all -- but they were pretty fast. More importantly, we had known each other for 6 months and we chose to be roommates not just because we were friends but because we understood each other's habits and felt we could respect them. After moving in to our home-sweet-trailer, all four of us sat down and drafted a job chart on which we all agreed. A few of my more compulsive ideas, like window washing, were vetoed. But we lived up to both the letter and the spirit of the job chart and had a great experience. Gayle, Linda, Sharon and I are friends for life, in large part due to the success of our sophomore experiment.

My hope for Emily is that she has the kind of experience that I had and that she and her roommates will not regret sacrificing a second bathroom for a really cool party deck. My nagging suspicion is that they will not be as up front with one another as we were, a move that greatly contributed to the success of our living situation. I sense that there may be several bumps in the road ahead of her, but this is one she will have to navigate on her own. (Heavy sigh.) So, I will support her (their) decision, listen to her grievances, pay the rent each month, hope for the best and love her unconditionally.

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