I apologize for that somewhat childish rant yesterday — what is the recalcitrance of the entire call-center industry to the equanimity of a soul such as mine? (Whatever that means.) My biggest regret is that, after all that bitching, I forgot the punch line:
In this entire move, the easiest and simplest entity to deal with? The one with little or no voice mail, calm and helpful staff, low or no hurdles to getting the job done? The municipal water utility.
You know, one of those agencies Republican sharpies are always clamoring to privatize.
So they can provide better customer service.
Enough. I’m bored, now.
Today was market day in lovely A2. Farmers’ market days are Wednesdays and Saturdays, the way they used to be in Fort Wayne back in the glory days. More merchants come on Saturday, but Wednesday’s turnout was good enough. Evidently Ann Arbor is surrounded by boutique farms that grow nothing but organic vegetables (est. 1972), unless they grow heirloom vegetables, unless they bake artisanal breads. (Did you know "artisanal" was a word? I didn’t. But I’ve seen it on two menus here, so what the hell — a yuppie neologism.) I’m dangerous in a place like that — I start thinking $5 is a perfectly reasonable price for half a pound of "spring salad mix," which appears to contain a tiny quantity of a million different greens, with a sprinkling of nasturtium petals thrown in for color and eye appeal.
So we went to lunch, then to Wallace House for Alan to have a tour. Thus the day is spent.
But Alan got a look at the river today, the Huron River, and learned that some blue-ribbon smallmouth-bass water is only a couple miles from here, so he disappeared sometime after 4 and hasn’t been seen since. It’s now full dark, but I’m not worried. (Too much.) Alan’s never happier than when he’s trying to ruin some poor fish’s day (but not its life). If he got lost or kidnapped by a mutant gang of raccoons, I expect he’ll get a good story out of it and we’ll hear from him sooner or later.
The river along here is pretty, for this latitude. You usually find the shallow, clear, fast-running streams Alan loves a few degrees farther north , where the soil is poor and few bother to farm it for anything other than a vegetable patch. That may be an incorrect observation, but I always associate foul, muddy rivers with farming, where soil runs off and silts up the bottom. My next-desk neighbor in Fort Wayne claims I’m wrong, that historians estimate the three smelly, chocolate-brown rivers of the Fort were always muddy, even though they once held pike and bass and other desirable game fish (but no longer, although you should see those carp feed at the sewer outflow pipes!). Whatever.
But while we’re speaking of the Fort, I have to pass along a week-old link that any Fort blogger worth her salt should say a word or two about, a Page One NYT story from August 6 that dealt with the mystery of our city’s absurdly low real-estate prices. You may have to register to see that, but check out a few passages:
FORT WAYNE, Ind. On a tree-filled boulevard known as Doctors’ Row, the four- and five-bedroom brick Tudor homes that are the jewels of this city’s housing stock were selling for about $150,000 two decades ago. At the time, some homes in the nation’s most desirable suburbs, like Brookline, Mass.; Sausalito, Calif.; and Great Neck, N.Y., cost the same.
Over the last 20 years, however, the nation’s housing market has been cleaved in two, and the break has helped create two very different economies in one country.
Homes in the areas that were already the most expensive California and the Boston-to-Washington corridor have often doubled or tripled in value, even after adjusting for inflation. The increases have created nest eggs for longtime owners and allowed them to borrow billions of dollars against their equity. …Here in Fort Wayne, the homes with elegant porticoes and broad lawns on Doctors’ Row sell for about $300,000 today, roughly the same as they did in the early 80’s, after being adjusted for inflation.
Not a single house in Fort Wayne a small, manufacturing-heavy city halfway between Chicago and Detroit, with a jobless rate below the nation’s has sold this year for more than $800,000, according to real estate industry data. That is roughly the average price of a two-bedroom apartment in Manhattan.
This story ran the day I packed up the computer, and I only read the Journal Gazette’s silly distillation of it the next morning, which made it sound as though it was some wonderful secret we’d been keeping all this time, and now it was finally being shared with the world. Uh, no:
The housing gulf stems in part from the relative open space and lack of building regulations away from the coasts that allow builders in Fort Wayne and elsewhere to put up new homes as soon as there is demand for them, and sometimes even before. Prices in Austin, Tex., and Las Vegas, two fast-growing areas, have risen only moderately, for example, as high-ceilinged houses with room-size closets have sprung up over the last decade.
The gulf is also a byproduct of trends that have drawn educated, highly skilled people to the coasts. The surge of global trade and the growth of finance, health care and other white-collar industries have led the Northeast’s and West Coast’s share of the nation’s economy to grow to almost 45 percent, from 39 percent in 1980, according to Economy.com. High-earning workers have followed the jobs, and not even an economic downturn that has hit Wall Street and Silicon Valley particularly hard has reversed the trend.
"We are seeing a migration pattern of talented, creative people that we may never have seen before," said Richard Florida, a professor of economic development at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. "More and more people are demanding what’s found in New York and Boston and San Francisco, and there’s not enough space to accommodate them."
In other words: When the market values your housing cheap, it’s valuing your town cheap, too. I wouldn’t go that far, but it’s worth noting. Alan and I will be lucky if our house appreciated 30 percent in value — before inflation — in the 12 years we’ve owned it. It’s not all beer and skittles, I’ll tell you. Although it certainly makes you appreciate it more, when you shop for its equivalent elsewhere. Like here, where the median home price must be above $200,000.
P.S. My friend Dr. Frank lives on Doctors’ Row. So does my family physician, Dr. Mitch. They call it that for a reason.