Renovating a Rowhouse, Part I: In which we move to Baltimore.
We are not smart people. Or perhaps we made the mistake that many other young people make when moving to a new city and buying their first house, we were naive.
We moved to Baltimore from Ohio 5 years ago. We bought a house in a safe neighborhood. This would prove to be the best decision we made. It took long enough for the Gods of Job Offers, Thesis Revisions and Life Coordination to catch up with our motives, the housing market had shifted to a place where we could afford a row house in a neighborhood where I can walk the dog alone, after dark, and feel moderately safe while doing so. This is no small task in Baltimore.
The first summer we moved here, we knew absolutely no one. We learned the city by watching the first 4 seasons of the Wire in 3 months. We joined the Downtown Sailing Center (3 blocks from our house) and made friends with people other than Jimmy McNulty and Bunk. We dreamed of the new supermarket that was rumoured to be close, to maybe one day starting, to be built, very close by. We plotted and planned about what to do with our rowhouse on the edge of Locust Point.
The house was problematic. We were optimistic. We'd saved our wedding money. The house didn't care. Among the most severe problems to me was the lack of a garbage disposal and central air conditioning. I had never lived without either, and I considered the prospect of both to be barbaric. I could not wait to get back to the creature comforts and level of luxury I enjoyed as a grad student. I still can't.
One of our new friends, also an Ohio transplant, told us it would take three years to begin to understand, or even like Baltimore. three years sounds like forever. It turns out that it is even longer without central air or a garbage disposal. But after about three years, something did start to change. We began to appreciate the depravity, the corruptness, the insularity, the crookedness, the fact that somehow the city still marginally functioned, even with all of these challenges and dwindling resources. The fact that even as the house disintegrated around us and we still didn't have central air or a grabage disposal, we had an amazing view from our roof probably helped.
It would take us 5 years to start our renovation. It changed from getting important elements in place, like a kitchen ceiling, central air and a garbage disposal (ok, yes, an entirely new kitchen would be necessary) to scorched earth, take it to the rafters, let's gut it, save the only parts woth saving and remake it in our image. But those first three years were crucial. Those first three years, we had to decide if Baltimore was a place that could ever feel like home.
Our friend was right. It took us about three years to like Baltimore. About 4 years to commit ourselves to the relationship. The fifth year was spent designing, gutting and rebuilding our house. We are nearing the end of this project. We have a date when we think we'll be able to move back in. Now, we can't imagine living anywhere else. That sounds like home to me.