JWR Articles: Commentary - Surviving Apartment Hunting (Author: S. James Wegg) - March 27, 2002
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Surviving Apartment Hunting

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A version of this article appeared in the March 23, 2002 edition of the St. Catharines Standard
After four months, I have finally settled into my own private space

Three thousand, three hundred and fifty-nine kilometres after setting out (with only one wayward turn in Saskatoon), I arrived in St. Catharines eager to begin my two-day search for a new home.

It seemed completely appropriate that the last Travelodge of my cross-country trek lay at the base of the QEW’s Ontario Street ramp.

Sore from four days in the saddle, I set off for downtown on foot.

Having said my farewells to Edmonton—city of strip malls, absentee-hero-named freeway, and premier-sponsored homeless shelters—I was looking forward to re-establishing my roots in the province that could afford licence plates on both ends of its cars.

The mix of restaurants, convenience stores, bedding warehouses and bowling alley with hotel en suite was reassuring; the complete blocks of General Motors most impressive. I marvelled inwardly at how Alberta’s oil and Ontario’s assembly lines kept the economies of both Tory hotbeds aflame just as their low taxes but plethora of user fees sealed the fate of their disenfranchised citizens.

It took longer than it looked on my CAA map to reach St. Paul Street, but I was glad for the chance to walk the cobwebs out of my knees. One-way main streets made me pine for Kingston and I immediately took to the storefronts’ architecture.

But I soon realized that Brock’s two-lane pub crawl would be a fierce competitor to University of Alberta’s Whyte Ave in the bar-seats-per-square-student category. I remembered last July’s appalling Canada Day riot and hoped that revelry Niagara-style precluded the actions of an ugly few ruining the fun and frolic of the majority. I vowed to investigate, but housing came first.

A two-bedroom, close to shopping, clean, warm and “with view” apartment was my goal. Nothing too fancy, as recent tragedies have forever purged my “bottom-line” envy.

An unexpected heavy rain (like Calgary, where the weather changes more frequently than a politician’s platform) forced me to take refuge in the bowels of a courthouse where I scanned the rental ads sipping a deftly constructed Manhattan. As I peered up through the barred windows, I realized the ironic wisdom of locating the “honest” lawyers just across the street.

Armed with six circled prospects, I sloshed back to my room and began setting up the viewings.

Early next morning my trip nearly ended abruptly as I attempted to turn onto Bunting from the Garden City Skyway. Map Reading for Dummies went to the top of my library list.

After the consequent side-trip that included Niagara-on-the-Lake and beaver-dam suburbia, I reached my first appointment where the Emerald Isle agent assured me that despite its location (no shops in sight), ”Once you’ve had a look ‘round, dear, you won’t want anything else. We’re just one big family.”

All sweetness and charm, she broadly hinted that I could move in a few days early if I’d sign immediately. However, as I wrestled with wish-list compromise, an inflamed tenant burst into the office accusing the saccharine super of unlawful entry and demanding the Ontario Rental Housing Tribunal’s telephone number, which she frantically jabbed into her palm.

Nonplussed, my hostess remarked—in a tone that would freeze mercury—“I’ll deal with you later.” But not with me!

The last two possibilities were both on the same street. One had just come available—the result of “a domestic.” The manger was efficient and to the point: “It’ll be repainted and cleaned—use your imagination.” Nonetheless, its corner position meant a balcony with two views.

Perfect! When I tired of the auto wrecker’s tableau, I could browse the endless stream of vehicles that burned up more fuel in line than the price of the hockey-hero-coffee that kept their drivers going.

The final stop was pretentiously up-scale and reminded me of being forced out of my atrium-enhanced digs in Ottawa when they suddenly flipped into condos just as rent controls ended: buy, or move, or pay the “new” rent.

I waited expectantly in the marble-like foyer perched on a plush easy chair that was discreetly anchored to the floor.

“You’ll love it here. We get a different kind of tenant,” demurred the building’s commandant. “Not like that other place up the street—cops go there every Saturday night,” she concluded confidentially. That clinched it.

Four months later, I’ve come to enjoy my freshly painted suite. Having finally found, then settled into “my space,” I now look forward to sharing the other facets of life in Niagara that have further validated my decision to come home. JWR

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