Room with a Few

A young San Franciscan’s dream: A room in a nice house, affordable rent, and a built-in social network.

Out of all of the qualifications, i'd list myself as "hysterically funny." Not evidenced in that sentence, but these things take time. I'm 23 and have lived with roommates throughout college and for the past year. I left New York to get away from the desk life after realizing I was doing the same thing at 23 that I could be doing at 50. I just got off a cross country camping trip for a month, so i'm slowly adjusting back to the big city life. I was hoping to go to burning man to finish off the trip, but my bank account disagreed with me and insisted I get a job ...

This sizeable chunk of Amy's Tiger House response — written in August 2005 — represented her biggest effort in the month she had been searching. She had been subletting a room in a four-bedroom apartment at Van Ness and 16th Street in the Mission, which a friend had given up while he traveled in Thailand.

Although the room had seemed like a sweet deal at first — just $450 a month — when Amy moved in, she found the living conditions almost unbearable. The kitchen was disgusting. Crusty dishes lined the counter and sink, and a thin layer of dirt clung to the walls. From her tiny room, she could hear people carousing at the gas station each night until 4 a.m.

Her roommates were not friends, but strangers who lived in her space. One quiet, creepy guy with a girlfriend who never went home described himself only as a scientist. "To me, it was a generic term I took for 'serial killer,'" Amy jokes.

Her housing search had been equally disappointing. She e-mailed friends, but nobody knew of an open room. She also replied to about 20 Craigslist ads, but unaware she was required to show some personality, most of her responses looked like this: "Hi, I'm Amy. I'm looking for a place to live, and I saw your ad." Nobody was picking her, she remembers: "I felt like the fat kid in gym class."

When Amy received a response from the Danlord, all of that started to fall away. She couldn't make the times his ad had set aside for all the roommates to meet prospective new ones, so on the day she first beheld the Tiger House, she met only the Danlord.

Amy vividly remembers walking up to the house for the first time. She was floored by the tiger painting and the interior design. Her meeting with the Danlord, she thought, went extremely well. They talked about Burning Man. About bicycling. Amy was so sold on this new life she imagined for herself that she never wondered for a second if she might not be chosen. After about a 20-minute tour and what Amy believed was great conversation, she floated out the door.

"I came out of it and thought, I found my San Francisco," she says.

The rest of the day went by without a call back, but Amy figured these things took time. Then another day passed. Then another. "The longer I waited, the more I thought I had messed up." Funny things she could have said kept coming into her mind. Should she have stayed longer and talked more?

On the fourth day, she got the call. The Danlord told Amy that it had come down to her and another guy, and that the house had decided to go with the other guy. "It began to really sink in that I had picked up my entire life and moved across the country with no job, no money, and no place to live," she says. "I began to feel a little irresponsible."

With a week to move, Amy replied to a few ads here and there. She went on two interviews she considered disasters — one involving a smelly place owned by an obese Russian taxi driver with a penchant for leopard print, another in the Haight where she'd be expected to live in a basement with no windows but with a sauna, to and from which an eightysomething folksinger and her friends would be coming and going.

Finally, Amy found a three-bedroom place in North Beach painted in bright colors with funky art everywhere. Rent was just $650, and the guy she interviewed with seemed amazing. He spoke passionately about a number of subjects, gesticulating wildly.

Three days after Amy moved in, she realized he was insane. "He wasn't an artist; he was unemployed," she says. "His art kind of sucked and he had severe ADD." The guy and his friends had no jobs, so they'd be up until 4 a.m., snorting coke, playing dice, and yammering incessantly.

Four months later, the landlord discovered the guy had illegally converted the kitchen into his bedroom, and he was out. That's when Amy found out she and another roommate had been paying the lion's share of the rent.

Soon after, Amy took off for Thailand for eight months. She taught English and spent most of her time alone, so when she moved back to the city in February, she was again looking for a shared house with a bunch of roommates. But there were factors working against her.

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