Friday, August 05, 2005

A Busy Week

I've got my student ID at Berkeley (I'm not ready yet to call it Cal), set up my computer account (though not my Berkeley e-mail account), changed my cell phone to the 510 area code (e-mail me, I'll tell you what it is now), asked after student health insurance, figured out public transit from Newark to Berkeley (see below), signed up for the school rentals listings, visited the libraries and circuited the hilly campus, called after about nine listed rooms and set up appointments for four (see below), checked out my options for daily Mass near campus (the Newman Center is better than its fifties-ish architecture indicates), and joined the study group for the preliminary exam (a six-hour written exam covering undergraduate preparation in analysis and algebra). Oh, and I took Wednesday off to visit Alice in San Francisco, where we strolled around North Beach and the Embarcadero. It's been a good week, but...

A Costly Lesson

Tuesday, I didn't make it up to Berkeley. See, I tried to catch the BART train (thinking that this would be more convenient), but I got lost on the way there, trying to remember the directions from the time that Alice and I visited Saint Edward Parish in April. After finding my way back to the parish and printing out directions, I proceeded there to find half the parking lot closed for resurfacing. Every remaining spot was taken, and twenty or so other cars circled like vultures for the three or four people who would come back in the middle of the day. I tried to find another available parking lot, but they all warned against using their spaces for BART overflow. So I turned back in dejection (OK, in conniptions), and promptly got incredibly lost (eventually circling the one-way streets of Niles, California). The morning was a total wash.

Not a costly lesson, you say? Well, that wasn't it. I'm tricky like that. The real costly lesson about BART was learned on Thursday, when I finally arranged everything to take the BART to Berkeley. I stayed there that evening to see a room for rent, then met the other new math grad students later for some beers at Three Rocks Brewery. We argued about the culture of math (whether we make too much of the story of Galois), the funding of math (whether the NSF grant program is really worth it), and tried in vain to stop talking shop.

It was 12:45 when I finally left for the BART station, where I discovered I had missed the last southbound train. I did not want to be transferring between buses until 3 AM, so I took a cab.

My costly lesson was twofold: (1) know when the last train leaves if you plan on taking it late, and (2) don't take a cab 30 miles without first checking its rate. That lesson, I'm humiliated to say, cost me $90 in the end. Thus it supplants my previous Most Costly Lesson.

A New Hope

At the same time as all this, I have been looking for a place to rent. Actually, I've secretly been hoping that something great will just fall into my lap, as it has before. The greatest blessings in my life, it seems, are the good things I wasn't even looking for. When I was applying to colleges, the University of Chicago wasn't even on my radar until the head of the math department at MIT named it as one of the country's four best mathematics schools. I was offered the great summer job at Midtown without asking; the next year, I was offered a spot housesitting for the Bevingtons without asking; the next year, the Cal Poly REU offered me a fantastic deal for room, board, travel and stipend which was much better than I expected. And then, of course, I wasn't lonely or looking for a girlfriend when Alice came along; I had in fact decided to forgo dating for studying that quarter. My plans went agley, and for the better.

Anyway, back to the housing search. I saw my first room on Thursday, then two more today.

Place #1 required walking 40 minutes from campus, past abandoned/bulldozed lots and a scene with police questioning a city block full of people. The house and room were pretty good, but the couple who owned it were sort of averse to contact with others. Well, the husband was; the wife might have been friendlier if she and I had a language in common. And the rent was above my ideal range. Eh.

Place #2 was in a good neighborhood, at least. But when I looked through the dwelling, I noticed that someone had already moved in. The landlady was showing me a room she had agreed to rent, "in case the check didn't clear". Great.

After spending a total of 15 minutes inside the first two places, my expectations were lowered a bit for the third. But boy, third time was the charm! Great neighborhood (Elmwood, south of campus), a bit of a walk to Berkeley but not as much as Place #1. It is a big old house with several rooms being let out to grad students and postdocs (so far, all in the sciences this year), and the room is going for a great rate with biweekly cleaning thrown in. But the best part is really the owner, Barbara.

We'd talked a bit about the housing arrangements, then wandered off into real conversation- about movies, my family, her sequence of careers and hobby of ballroom dancing. When I let on that I was a devout Catholic, she exclaimed, "Oh, good! I'd hoped that you were" (I'd mentioned in our phone conversation that I was staying at a church), and mentioned how she loved Gregorian Chant. Though she's a Quaker herself, she's thought highly of her previous Catholic renters (though part of that was the joy of watching her tenants Paul and Mary meet, fall in love and marry). She's picky about what people she wants to stay in her home, and I seemed to pass the test. Of course, to satisfy Dad's standards of shopping around, I'll see the fourth place on Monday and try to catch a fifth. But I'm excited, because I think this is the one.

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