It was frustrating especially because I kept open parameters, not wanting to limit my options, and yet a strict list of criteria. I looked at studios and shares. I looked at every town within about 10 miles of work: RWC, San Mateo, Belmont, San Carlos, Burlingame, Millbrae, and Foster City. It was exhausting! I've encountered everything from the pristine townhome furnished completely from Cost Plus, to the houseful of hippies and fruit trees, to well-maintained but boxlike apartments built in the 1970s, to a decrepit old house at the tippy top of a steep incline, which was built in the 1880s and looked 150 years old, an abode befitting witches or old professors. I must have clocked 100s of miles on my car and became familiar with the nuances of how neighborhoods changed, if you crossed the tracks, or if you landed on the wrong side of a particular intersection.
- No laundry on the premises
- No parking spot included
- No dishwasher (this was common)
- Cave-like, with no light
- "Kitchenette" with a mini-fridge and sink so small you can't even fit a plate in it.
- Hallway smells of old cats
- Faces industrial railroad yards and auto repair shops
- Faces El Camino: loud/noisy, dusty, and those damn eucalyptus trees make it near impossible to get out of the complex safely
- Roommates teach channeling classes and renaissance swordfighting out of the house.
- 3-4 roommates sharing one bathroom
- Etc. etc. etc.
Out of all the place I saw, I could count on one hand the number of places I truly liked. Then, I saw 1021 El Camino Real in Burlingame.
I liked the manager, Barry, as soon as I talked to him on the phone. I didn't like that the place was on El Camino, and it was kind of expensive, but as I approached the old building with its stately facade, I was intrigued. The lobby made me smile - someone had taken pains to set up some lovely chairs, lamps, and a coffee table. Barry called me from somewhere up the stairs, and I never thought the stairs would end. But it was only after I reached the fourth-floor landing that I lost my breath.
Barry was in the middle of fixing the place up and repainting - he kept warning me not to lean on anything - but under all the clutter, what I saw was a golden, light-filled aerie. It looked out over the rooftops of the surrounding buildings, with one window that faced north and two giant windows that faced full west, inviting all the light from the setting sun. You don't understand, it is so difficult to find an apartment in the area with good natural sunlight.
My eyes started to adjust and I started to explore. All the little nooks and crannies, from the built-in bookshelves to the built-in glass-front cabinets, only enchanted me further. The apartments had been built in 1931 and retained all the old charm. The hallways were as thoughtfully decorated as the lobby, giving the whole place the feeling of an old, jewel-like, and storied hotel. I loved it all immediately, madly and deeply, and that was even before Barry pointed out the exercise room on the top floor, and the rooftop deck that allowed an almost 360-degree view of trees, the Woodside hills, and all the way to the East Bay.
There were two major drawbacks though: the apartment was on the fourth floor of an old building with no elevator, and the windows faced El Camino and all the rush-hour traffic noise. The fourth floor would not be a problem as long as I am able-bodied, but I injure myself a LOT, what with my weak ankles and knee that tends toward dislocation. The romantic, delusional part of me wanted to overlook these imperfections, embrace them even. It was prepared to sign the lease right then and there, and Barry seemed pleased to have me as a potential tenant. "You suit this place," he told me.
The realist in me told me to hold out for something better, as if that were even possible after one finds the apartment-love of one's life.
I told Barry I'd continue looking and think for another a day or two.
Well friends, it was not meant to be. In the end, my practicality defeated my romanticism, even though the studio at 1021 El Camino really felt like home, like I truly belonged and could be myself. The next day I found a place which, by all practical measures, completely outweighed the place I loved. It is closer to downtown shops and restaurants, it is walkable to Caltrain and the library, it is cheaper (with utilities included!), it's in a much quieter and more affluent neighborhood, and it has decent light, though it faces east, not west, and will have none of that magical "golden hour" light that photographers love so much, and which the studio at 1021 El Camino had in abundance. So I signed the lease on the more practical place and I hope I can make a home of it.
But it's been days, and I still can't stop thinking fondly of 1021 El Camino. So I wanted to immortalize it here. Thanks for humoring me.