If you’re reading this, then you already know: I’ve moved to Chicago. Unless you found out just now as you’re reading it… Anyhow, I’m gone. Unless you’re in Chicago, in which case: I’m here.

You don’t just move, though—it can’t be that easy. First, you have to decide to take the job. You hear that a position may open up, and you think, “that would be an awesome position! …For someone else.” You come up with reasons that you shouldn’t go, reason number one being comfort. You know this town, you have a solid base of friends here, and you’ve finally figured out how to get into Mojo’s without paying that $3 cover.   *See below for details.

Months go by and the position officially opens. You start thinking about your number one reason for staying: comfort. (Break that word down, and you get the Latin prefix cum, meaning with, and then the root word, fort, meaning a fort. Forts were more comfortable for the Latins, so obviously they would go with forts instead of traveling abroad.)

Then, you think about famous people, folks who have changed the world. What if they all made their decisions based on what was most comfortable? You think, “Yeah, but that’s cliché and I’m not going to change the world. Look at me, I’m not important.” But secretly, you think that you absolutely will. I’ve learned this: I’ve never had any adventures by staying in my house. (Except for that time those two squirrels came into my room. And the bat. And the mourning dove. And those mice.) Screw it. You interview, and wonder if you’ll be any good at it. You convince yourself that you’ll be good at it.

You’re ready for an adventure. Five months go by. You’ve grown tired of telling people that you’re moving. That no, you still don’t have a place to live yet, no your roommate situation isn’t cleared up yet, no, you can’t quite bench press your body weight ten times. Here’s something else I’ve learned in the past six months: do one thing at a time.

First things first: find a place. How do you find a place? You use a website called Craigslist.

What is Craigslist? you may ask. If you’re like me, you’ll be sorry to discover that it is not, in fact, a list of people named Craig. It’s basically the largest yard sale in the world, that sells everything, and it’s all online. It’s a huge help when you’re looking for a used car, sketchy jobs, damaged furniture and people, and, in my case, an apartment. It can also be a huge annoyance. I spent five months browsing Craigslist before I finally found a place last week, not using Craigslist. I couldn’t help but feel solidarity with those who are still attempting to find their dream pad on the List. But how can you find your dream place if you don’t know how to speak the language of Craigslist? I’m glad you asked.

1. Keep this in mind: Whatever they say, it’s a lie.

a. “HUGE” = not tiny

b. “Spacious kitchen!” = two is a crowd in there, and three is freaking insane.

c. “Vintage” = Absolute crap.

d. “Garage parking available” = If you spend $200/month for it. You idiot.

e. “Stunning” = doesn’t look broken.

f. “Beautifully renovated” = someone recently mopped.

g. “A must see unit” = No pictures. I clicked on the link.

h. “Perfect for Creative Space for Artist or Musician!” = “Not a good place!  We’re betting that artists are weird enough to live in this dump!” And you can live there…you just have to be okay with lack of plumbing, lack of paint on unfinished walls, and lack of walls.

i. Actual title that I came across for a four bedroom: “Hello, is it me you’re looking for?” Of course I clicked the link. Of course, it wasn’t.

2. Expect to be irritated. People post the same thing fourteen times in a row, and this is not an exaggeration. Sometimes they post it with different wording, different facts, and even different prices. Sometimes there are five different agents trying to sell the same place, and they all figure Craigslist is the best place to put their ads.

I became so fed up with these ads that when I posted my Crown Victoria on Craigslist, I took a different route.

Craigslist didn’t pan out. Thankfully, we had someone on the inside. Sort of.

In Chicago there are people called “apartment finders.” There’s probably a technical term, like a broker or a realtor, but who cares. You tell them what you’re looking for and they hunt it down. They show you tons of a places that you don’t like, that aren’t in your price range, or that get snatched up literally just before you arrive.

My apartment finder was a woman named Morgan. I put my information down in a website in order to see a picture of a three-bedroom, and she called and emailed me three hours later. No, I don’t just put my personal information down everywhere that the internet asks for it. I’m not that dumb. But if I do it in exchange for something, like photos of a house, or a secret trick that a normal mom found for how to keep your teeth white that makes dentists hate her, then it’s worth it. Morgan began with business: “So you’re looking for a three-bedroom? Location? Amenities? Square footage? How soon can you sign?”

Let’s pump the brakes. The most important question I had for her: “Do I pay you?” “No—my services are free for you.” Hmmm. “If I don’t pay you, who does?” I know she’s not doing this for charity. This ain’t no pro-bono apartment finding. “I get paid by the landlord who rents the unit to you. It’s like a finder’s fee.” Someone else pays. Very neat. She leads us to a place that “hasn’t even come on the market yet.” Sounds dangerous. I’m in.

All I have to do now is sign the lease, sell my car, buy a different one that would actually fit in Chicago, move all my stuff out of my house and into the new place with a not-fit-for-the-road rental truck, say goodbye too many times, and hit the road. Everything takes longer than I thought it would.


*Concerning Mojo’s (a Grand Rapids bar/club/dueling piano venue):

So I like to dance, so what? Here’s three ways to get in without spending the wildly unreasonable fee of $3.

1. Walk right in and don’t make eye-contact with anyone.

2. Walk in and immediately turn right, stroll past the piano guys, and act like you’re meeting your friends who are already in there. “But Bart, there’s a rope there preventing you from turning riiiiiight.” DON’T YOU THINK I KNOW THAT? They put the rope there after they caught on to our scheme. Stop whining. Get creative.

3. Go straight in, and act like you’re heading to the ATM. Fuss with the numbers until a big group comes in, then float upstairs with them. “But Bart, it’s only three dollaaaaars. Why don’t you just paaaaay it?” PAY IT? AND WHILE I’M AT IT, WHY DON’T I START “PAYING MY TAXES,” and “REGISTERING MY CAR,” and “STOP ROBBING PEOPLE ON THE STREET?”


  1. Avatar

    Love the Craigslist glossary. Good luck with the move!

  2. Bart Tocci

    Thanks, Jenn! So far, so weird. The saga continues.


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