Archive for March, 2007

Two Weeks of Suck, Part 3: Jersey City and JFK (and London, sort of)

Part of the Two Weeks of Suck series, in which b recounts her spring break.

Still Sunday. My boyfriend and I have a few hours to kill– or so we think. We take the PATH train to Jersey City to visit my old house, which my parents sold a few years ago before moving to California. We’re accompanied by my childhood best friend, who helps jog my memory and keeps me up-to-date about friends I’d lost contact with long ago.

We also introduce boyfriend to his first burger (or five) at the White Castle a block away from my house, which, as I point out to everyone who’s watched Harold and Kumar, is the closest White Castle to Hoboken. If Harold and Kumar had gone through Jersey City in their search for a White Castle, the movie never would’ve happened. Bastards.

We also pay a visit to my old haunt, Newport, a mall on the waterfront that amazes boyfriend with its sheer size (Me: “This is nothing compared to Garden State Plaza.”), and even more by its 3.5% sales tax– with no tax on clothing. It’s late afternoon by the time we’re done picking out jeans for him, but we figure we can still catch the train to Howard Beach and get on the plane in time.

6. Nope. As we learned later, check-in for international flights ends an hour before the plane actually leaves, at least for Virgin Atlantic. So by the time we arrived back at the apartment to clean up and pack, we’d already been late. The hour-long train ride to Howard Beach didn’t help, either, and we ran through the airport in vain to catch our flight. We’re rescheduled for the following morning, so boyfriend and I spend ten hours being homeless in the shopping area of JFK, him watching The West Wing on my computer and me checking out perfume at the large duty-free store, practically the only thing open past 11pm.

Monday. The flight itself was pleasant. Virgin Atlantic has ridiculously good customer service for the post-9/11 era, including a large selection of t.v. on demand and a small amenities kit with toothbrush, toothpaste, earplugs and eye mask. Boyfriend slept through just about everything.

7. Tuesday-Thursday. We arrive at our bed and breakfast London wanting to do everything. This is kind of offset by our huge case of sleep deprivation and jet lag, so we slept through most of the day and stayed up through maybe half of the night. This becomes our routine, and we end up having midnight breakfasts instead of the typical breakfast the family of a bed and breakfast provides.

In hindsight, sleeping in probably prevented us from shopping and spending more. That was probably a good thing, given the abominable exchange rate.

Relaxing? Why, yes! But the next few days weren’t.

Next up: Freaking out about my mom freaking out about finances. Oh, and the freaking PLANE!


Two Weeks of Suck, Part 2: the keys and the cat

Part of the Two Weeks of Suck series, in which b recounts her spring break.

4. So after taking my final, I had to move out of my dorm in 24 hours. Easier said than done! Fortunately, since November of freshman year I’ve lived within driving distance of Stanford. Unfortunately, my parents at this point are fed up with me screwing up, so they want to make as few back-and-forth trips as possible.

Thursday. The next morning at 11am, I’m still tossing clothes into two suitcases. My mom just got the keys to the sublet in the mail the night before, so they were tossed into a suitcase. However, after my parents bought me a bigger suitcase that morning, I left one suitcase back in my room. Yes, it was the one with the FREAKING KEYS in it.

I actually think about this in the car on our way to the airport, an hour and a half before our flight.

Me: “Hey [boyfriend], I think I might’ve forgotten the keys.”

Boyfriend: “Well, if you DID forget them… just don’t think about it right now. If we go back for them now, we’ll be late for our flight anyway.”

The thing is, he assumed the keys were at my HOUSE and not my DORM. We would’ve made it in time if we’d gone back for them, but I didn’t do the math because at that point I was used to being screwed. (Also, I can’t do math.)

So six hours later, when we touched down in New York, I look for the keys in my two suitcases. Not there. Shit. Shit. Shit.

“I’m not gonna call home yet,” I tell myself. We crash at a nearby motel for the night and order Domino’s for a late dinner. The motel wasn’t as skeevy as I thought it’d be, but they did have two porn channels, and there were “strange” noises coming from the room next to us. (We were way too jet-lagged and sleep-deprived to laugh about it.)

Luckily, the (now disgruntled) sublet owner is still in the tri-state area, so she’ll meet us at her place in the morning. I call my mom and ask her to FedEx the keys. My dad’s been kept out of the loop, but it would’ve been bad for his blood pressure anyway (Mom: “Don’t tell your dad you stayed in a motel with your boyfriend!”).

5. Friday. We get to the apartment in the morning (with boyfriend playing Superman and dragging our heavy suitcases through the subway) and finally meet our sublet owner, the really cool travel writer I told you about. The apartment is awesome (albeit on the fourth floor of a walk-up), and she has this adorable cat who has a thing for people petting him while he eats. He’s the sweetest cat ever, but she warns us to keep the front door closed and the windows only open to a certain level so he can’t jump out.

Saturday. We follow her instructions, but after watching Spamalot on Saturday evening we return to find a catless apartment. The small screen on the window we kept slightly ajar had been tellingly punched open. I nearly pass out, then scribble an e-mail to the sublet owner, who at this point is not in the country. (Boyfriend comfortingly points out that she has a “Lost Cat” few fliers lying around the apartment, with a “Last Seen” date of a couple of weeks ago, so the cat probably made a bid for freedom like this every so often. I was still distressed.)

Sunday. I call her the next morning, thinking she didn’t get my e-mail. (In reality, her e-mails weren’t dated correctly so they didn’t appear at the very top of my inbox.) Because phone calls to Europe are like $5 a minute, she manages to tell me in thirty seconds that the cat is fine and she has to go.

Whew! But then we go to Jersey City first instead of packing up.

Next up: Being late for an international flight!

Two Weeks of Suck, Part 1: the passport agency

Part of the Two Weeks of Suck series, in which b recounts her spring break.

1. It all started when I decided to apply for a carte de séjour. It was already kind of late in the quarter (as in, ‘the week before finals’ late), but I e-mailed the Stanford-in-Paris program about it. It turned out that I needed to have a passport valid until I left (next March), so off I went to the San Francisco Passport Agency.

Thursday. I call the passport agency through their life-or-death number, because I kept getting a ‘network busy’ announcement through their regular line. Someone tells me to go to the agency at about 7 the next morning. I’m excited because I think I can get my passport renewed before the weekend.

Friday. WRONG. The new passports have an RFID chip in them and take a longer time to produce, plus there’s an unusually high volume of people this week. The agency actually opens at 9am. I don’t actually have an appointment. After standing in numerous lines for a few hours (with my flight itinerary and passport in hand– they need to see proof that you’re leaving very soon to even let you in), the guy at the counter hands me a pink slip that will let me back in on Monday morning at 11:30.

Monday. The day of my visa appointment. After waiting for three hours, I hand my application in and they need my old passport. However, right AFTER they punch a hole in my passport and make it void, they tell me that I won’t be getting a new one until tomorrow morning.

2. I’m in tears and make a visit to the French Consulate to beg for another appointment. The security guard (only one– the consulate is small) kindly agrees to let me in on Wednesday at 9 a.m. Since I’d already been screwed over by so many other people, I thank him but don’t believe a word he says. Besides, how the hell can I get there on Wednesday morning when I have a freaking FINAL? I e-mail my TA to find out. My TA CCs the e-mail to my professor.

3. My professor responds. Their policy cannot allow students to take the final at a different time, else they have to take the final in a subsequent quarter. BUT, he includes a loophole: if I get back to campus before the final ends (before 11:30), they could let me ‘begin late’ and ‘finish late’.

Wednesday. I go to the French Consulate and try my luck. The security guard was right— I got a visa within the hour! My dad-slash-driver gets me back to campus within half an hour and I take my final.

Happy ending! For this post, anyway.

Next up: Why our sublet owner probably wanted to kill us!

you think it sucks to be *you*? not this week. Two Weeks of Suck, Part 0

This post is in retrospect. I’m actually writing it in Paris, but I wanted to make an introduction to a series of posts I’d like to call Two Weeks of Suck.

Don’t get me wrong– Spring Break was fun. I took boyfriend to my old house in Jersey and he ate his first White Castle burger nearby, and I had a lot of fun in London with him and some other friends (god bless English pubs! The legal drinking age is 18!).

However, the name “Two Weeks of Suck” is derived from the lengthy list of things that went wrong with this expensive and elaborate trip, each of which I will explain in detail later:

1. Thursday, March 15. I realize I need to renew my passport. By Monday.

2. Monday, March 19. I don’t get my passport in time and have to reschedule my appointment for my French visa for Wednesday morning, when I have a final exam.

3. Wednesday, March 21. My final exam can only be taken before the exam time ends (or I have to re-take the class), so after getting my visa at San Francisco, I have to haul ass back to campus before 11:30am.

4. Thursday, March 22. Upon getting off the plane in New York I realize I’d forgotten the keys to the sublet we were supposed to stay in.

5. Saturday, March 24. We lose the sublet owner’s cat.

6. Sunday, March 25. We miss our flight to London.

7. Tuesday-Thursday, March 27-29. We sleep through most of the day.

8. Friday, March 30. I find out that my host mother can’t accommodate me for Saturday night when I arrive in Paris. I have to either book a hotel or change my flight. Mom books a hotel.

9. Saturday, March 31. At the Air France check-in counter I find out that my luggage has to be 20kg. Each kilo over that is GBP 8.40 (USD $16.50). I’m 18kg over, so I have to either pay $300 or forfeit my flight.

Once I got to Paris, though, things looked better. I assumed that if the U.S. and London were bad, Paris would be ten times worse, but fortunately that hasn’t been the case. Knock on wood.

So. Let’s start with the first post: How to get your passport renewed in 3 business days!

re: okay, freak-out time

Miracles do happen.

I’ll let you in on a little secret: You can get an appointment at a passport agency on the next day if you call their life-or-death operator number and hold for about half an hour. Granted, I had two temporal reasons: 1) I have a French visa appointment on Monday, and 2) there are two days between Friday and Monday, and neither of them is a regular work day.

I now have to get to the San Francisco Passport Agency at 7 a.m. today. Still don’t know if I’ll get my passport in time, but my chances just jumped from 10% to at least 40%, especially since my visa appointment is at 3 p.m. on Monday, which means I could pick my passport up that morning before the appointment.

Also, about the French Consulate:

In the words of one of the coordinators from the Stanford Overseas Program,

“Immigration is about keeping people out, not letting people in”.

Stanford students have already gotten rejected for extended-stay visas because the consulate didn’t deem them worthy of getting one. “Don’t be wishy-washy about your reasons for getting an extended-stay visa,” the coordinator warned me. I have to come into the consulate like a lion-tamer: confident, respectful, but above all, clear about what I want.

Well, I’ve wanted Paris so bad I could taste it. I’m sure I’ll hate it very often once I get there, but hey, even Stanford students gripe about how much Stanford sucks sometimes. People will never stop complaining. Just let me enjoy my romantic notions for a moment.

okay, freak-out time

Apparently, you can’t NOT be without a passport while in ANY foreign country. So much for waiting until I get my residence permit to renew my passport.

There’s also apparently a way to renew your passport on the same day. Unfortunately, today is Thursday. I am leaving for NYC in exactly a week, and my visa application appointment in San Francisco is slated for next Monday (i.e. SOON).

Maybe I could apply for both during my three days in New York!

Wait, nope, I’m not from the tri-state area anymore.

Holy shit, I’m screwed.

maybe craigslist isn’t as sketchy as i thought

After getting a way-too-sketchy job through craigslist a few years back, I decided not to trust the site again. I mean, come on! A community site done completely in Times New Roman? Wayyyy sketchy.

But a week or two ago, while I was freaking out over the exchange rates and finding a job, I figured I’d give it another shot. Of course, I now know better than to give out all of my personal information (like my full name!) in the first e-mail, and I figured out how to tailor my formulaic replies of interest to each particular post.

So, when I was trying to look for a cheaper place to stay in Manhattan, I took to heart the advice from this Get Rich Slowly post about craigslisting and did three things:

1. Formulated a clear idea of what I wanted before I searched for it. I wanted a sublease of a nice (read: not seedy) apartment for three specific nights within a specific price range.

2. Pounced on each post that had what I wanted when I started looking. This is where RSS feeds came in handy. (A visual guide to making craigslist RSS feeds is in this lifehacker post called Apartment Hunting 101.)

And I’m sure those template replies that you can configure in most mail clients would’ve come in handy if I’d remembered them, but cutting and pasting a set reply, then tailoring it to the specific poster also worked fine.

3. Established my legitimacy when I e-mailed the poster. Having learned my lesson from the sketchy craigslist job, I didn’t include my full name, address, or phone number in the first few e-mails. However, I decided to use my e-mail address so they’d know I really was a California student. I included other details accordingly. As a general rule, the more detailed their post was, the more background info I included about myself and the circumstances of my interest in their ‘goodies’.

Here’s the rundown of the events surrounding my sublease:

I quickly replied to an ad for an apartment in the right location, at the right price, and almost during the right time span (the subletter graciously banished herself elsewhere so I could get an earlier night). The post seemed friendly, clear and concise (and didn’t have cringe-inducing typos and grammatical errors).

The subletter replied a few days later. I actually got the bid a bit faster than I’d expected– she wanted me to mail her the payment and damage deposit checks ASAP!

This made me panic a little; it sounded sketchy. But after some Googling of said subletter’s name and e-mail address, I found out she was a travel writer (which she confirmed in her next e-mail. It explained why she needed everything so quickly– she was going out of the country!).

But just in case:

– I wrote up a sublease agreement that she would electronically sign and send before I mailed her the checks. (I originally wanted her to notarize it and snail mail it before I sent anything. Yeah, that was my old Jersey City paranoia talking.) I would include with the checks a signed paper copy of the same agreement.

– I asked for pictures of the place since she didn’t include any in the ad, and

– I asked about a few other details about what my boyfriend and I could use in the apartment, like utensils and sheets and food (and about the cat she mentioned in her ad!).

Her reply to my e-mail was timely, with everything I asked for, and the details she included went far beyond my expectations. (In short: She’s Awesome.) That’s why two checks and a signed contract are currently in a Priority Mail envelope on their way to Manhattan.

I am excited. This is FANTASTIC. I just need to cancel my hotel reservation once everything clears.


This is a blog of things place-related, by a cash-strapped Stanford grad who's lived in various places and writes about life. She's currently looking for a job in Manhattan or the Bay Area.

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