Yes, I did it again. I accompanied my eldest daughter on her search for an apartment in a totally unfamiliar city in an unfamiliar state where we know no one. And, this time we did it in a blizzard, technically an Alberta Clipper. One week ago, we left our respective Southern homes, where it has felt like spring for weeks now, for the bitterly cold Midwestern plains just in time to experience a weather event for which the area is famous. My eldest had been invited to leave the warm confines of Auburn, Alabama, where she is working on a doctorate in Clinical Psychology, for a one-year internship at the University of Wisconsin. Hence, Madison was our destination, via the Milwaukee airport. You might have heard of Winter Storm Stella which pounded the Northeast early last week. Well, Stella was born crossing the Great Lakes, specifically Lake Michigan upon which Milwaukee sits. We breathed a sigh of relief upon landing and seeing nary a speck of snow. The lake looked beautiful and placid upon approach to the airport. But, we had been warned. Dashing to the rental car counter, we joked that being from Texas, we weren’t sure what to expect with this winter storm. The agent smiled sweetly and said, “Oh, you may need an upgrade.” How about an armored tank, is what I wanted to say. Instead, we jumped into our all-wheel drive vehicle and took off for an 80-mile trip. Chatting all the way, time passed quickly and we soon arrived in downtown Madison. Still no snow, no ice, nothing! We had the audacity to walk a couple of blocks to dinner at Dotty’s Dumpling Dowry – it’s a well-regarded establishment, apparently. We enjoyed such local fare as cheese curds with ranch dressing and an abysmal Old Fashioned cocktail, which I should have declined as soon as the waitress asked “sour or sweet?” I tried to explain what I wanted but somehow was served a drink with muddled cherries on the bottom and olives on top. Due to our exhaustion and anticipation of a busy day ahead, we left after only an hour. Stepping outside we were blasted by a biting wind. We pulled our coats tighter and began walking. Softly falling snowflakes already covered the sidewalks and made everything look prettier. My daughter thought it was lovely. I prayed it wouldn’t get much worse.
Monday dawned and our busy day of apartment searching began. I threw back the curtains of our hotel room and faced the day. And reality. Snow covered everything. And it seemed to be blowing all around and still falling. Let’s go downstairs for breakfast and re-assess the situation, I suggested. Based upon my Texas experience with snow, I expected the restaurant and streets to be empty, an accidental holiday declared by Mother Nature. Instead, it was jammed with businessmen, students with backpacks, groups of young women in yoga gear, all chatting and carrying on as if there wasn’t half a foot of slippery white stuff on the ground. We took a table by the window and watched in awe as university students hurried along the sidewalks to class, seemingly oblivious to the wintry weather. Cars, buses and trucks passed by without a tire chain in sight. And every few minutes a truck with a plow attached to its front end raked the street free of its snowy cover. This town was impressive! Fortified by hot coffee and warm donuts, we headed toward our car.
I took the wheel and slowly turned out of the hotel garage onto a busy street near the University of 43,000 students, all of whom appeared to be crossing at the first traffic light we encountered. I pulled to a slow stop. Please don’t let me slide, was my constant prayer. I recalled the words of my first ski instructor as I struggled over an icy patch, “Quietly go.” That became my mantra for the day. Amazingly, and to our complete surprise, we went all day without incident. To clarify, without a traffic incident. Our first stop was an apartment complex called The Normandy, perhaps because it appeared to have been built shortly after the D-Day invasion of 1944. Our search proceeded. On to The Carolina just about a block down the street, next door to The Monticello. I was getting an Old South vibe. I won’t go into much detail here, except to say that after our viewing, the agent who showed us the apartment apologized, adding that it was the worst apartment she’d ever seen…or smelled. But she assured Claire that it would be really nice by the time she needed it because the abysmally stained carpet would undoubtedly be replaced and the oily walls would receive a fresh coat of paint. We were slightly deflated but undaunted as we continued to quietly go down the streets of Madison for two and a half days. We saw other units with cozier names, like The Lodge and Yorktown Estates, which described itself as “A Place of Comfort and Refuge from the Demands of Your Lifestyle.” That might be true if you considered a bathtub overflowing in the unit above your kitchen, necessitating replacement of the ceiling, to be a comforting haven. The painter was making the necessary repairs as we gingerly stepped around his ladder to admire the “updated kitchen” and “large pantry.” I should mention that these places are not cheap. Picture Austin but on an isthmus, as Madison is situated, with less land mass and nearly as many students. All agents delightedly touted their gas grills, available year round, for tenants’ use. Seeing them covered with 6 inches of snow, I tried to imagine friends gathered outside roasting wieners and marshmallows while covered head to toe in parkas and snow boots. I nearly shouted to the fourth or fifth such agent, “SHE DOESN’T GRILL, OK?” That’s when my daughter sweetly said, “We must get going to our next appointment. Bye-bye.”
That night we consoled ourselves at one of the city’s many farm-to-table restaurants, where we enjoyed a veggie platter (like charcuterie, but with carrots and fennel instead of meat), finished with a dusting of chocolate dirt. “I feel hopeful,” I said to my daughter. “Tomorrow we’ll find your home away from home.” And, you know what? We did. A cozy little 525 square foot nook with nary a courtyard or gas grill in sight. And, no cooking odors, no stained carpet, no repairman busily working on the ceiling. In the words of Goldilocks, “I think it will be just right.” I sure hope that’s not a fairy tale.
(For another similar adventure, see my previous post, “Apartment Hunting,” published approximately four years ago when I helped same daughter find her dream home in Alabama.)