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:: Around the Bay with Beth and Joe

Spring must be just about here, because today we got our first batch of visitors. Our long-time friends Beth and Joe arrived today for their first trip ever to San Francisco (this is also the first time Beth's been to California, for that matter). Beth and Joe found some cheap tickets out here for a short weekend, so we're going to try to pack as much stuff into a visit as we can for them.

Beth n' Joe head west

(Amy wants to point out, that in the photo above, Joe's arms are actually in the air because he's cheering that Amy completed her descent down the cliff with a header into the sand!)

"You mean you don't get any snow?"

From our perspective, the day started off with a leisurely drive to SFO to pick Beth and Joe up from a flight that got in at 10am. The day started much earlier for Beth and Joe, of course, as they had to get up to catch their 8am flight from New York (they spent the previous night at a hotel so they could get there in time). I think they were a bit punchy from the plane ride, because all they could say while we were driving down the interstate away from the airport was stuff like "look at this place", "this is great!", and "wow, I can't believe we're in California!". Now for those of you who haven't seen the vista from the interstate near the airport... it looks a bit like every other industrial slum near an airport. Perfect- guests who are easily impressed(!). That means a lot to us since we don't know much about stuff in the area that would impress people.

Ok, so maybe there are some cool things in Cali

Our first idea was to drive over to Half Moon Bay, because the name sounds cool. It didn't take long to get there, although we had to hop over some hills, and navigate the car through a particularly treacherous Burger King parking lot (which happened to look like a way to the beach). We drove up along the coastline for a bit and stopped at the Half Moon Bay Brewing Company to get some food. I know what you're thinking, "So Craig, how are the reubens at HMBBC?". Well, they're actually pretty good- probably in the top quartile in fact. If you're wondering how the brews were, you'll have to ask the rest of the gang, as I had to drive (it was also slightly before noon, I might add).

Too bad the water's freezing

Having spotted many beach access points along our drive, we decided to stop and show the beach to Beth and Joe. Cool. Big cliffs, big waves, and there was barely anyone out there. We walked along the beach for a while, mystified by what turned out to be a giant, washed up buoy (which Amy promptly climbed). Along the way, Beth went to put her hand in the Pacific (maybe at my encouragement). I told her to be careful, and nervously watched as she was lured into taking just a few more steps towards the receding water. Then a few more... Doah. As soon as she turned her back on the water it rushed up and over her feet. Aye. Never turn ye back on the ocean. It's kind of creepy how that always happens.

Look out, Beth!

From the beach we drove to the interstate, which took us into San Jose. During the drive, Amy and I had plenty of time to draw up our sob story about how insanely priced houses are out here. If anything, people who visit us at least go home appreciating how much of a bargain their houses are (well, everyone but Todd).


You go, buouy.

In San Jose, we went to the Winchester Mystery House. You can read about it on their website, but the Winchester house is this old, gigantic Victorian mansion built from 1884-1922. Thanks to a fortune teller with a sense of humor, Sarah Winchester believed that the day she stopped working on her house would be the day she'd die. Thus, work continued on her house 24/7 for 38 years. The internals are a huge, criss-crossing mess of halls and stairwells that go in random directions for no reason. There are also things like windows in the floor and stairwells that dead-end into the ceiling. We took a tour of part of the place, which involved over a mile of indoor walking. Odd.

The magical mystery house

Because every house needs a flying buttress

Seeing that no visit to Silicon Valley is complete without a demonstration of the traffic nightmare, we started our drive back to Livermore close to rush hour. The stop-and-go traffic nearly rocked our visitors to sleep, but we kindly droned on and on about lively topics like our state's politics so they could get the full effect. Hmm. While we were heading up a back road called 84, Joe provided a potential answer to a question we've had since we moved here about something bizarre. We've noticed that every so often on 84, there's a mailbox in the middle of an empty field. We've been wondering what's going on there, and why people stick these mailboxes so far from the road. Joe pointed out that GE has a nuclear research center nearby, and that they probably stick dosometers in the mailboxes and check them periodically for radioactive contamination. Doah. So much for being a safe, great place to live.

After we got home, we did what some would say is the full tour of Livermore. That means we drove to downtown Livermore, had a couple of beers at the Ale House, and then had dinner at a good Mexican place. Fortunately, Beth and Joe aren't that picky, and suffer from a shortage of good Mexican food in New York. Ooof. In any case, it made a nice end to a long day of driving.

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:: Beth & Joe's Marathon Day

To pick up from where we left off yesterday, Beth and Joe didn't have much time out here this weekend (less than 48 hours), but they wanted to see as much of SF as we could squeeze in. Therefore, we merged several of our previous sight-seeing trips into a single day. It's such a blur, I'm having trouble remembering everything we did. Here are a few of the day's pictures.

The narrative in-a-nutshell is something like this. We drove into San Francisco and parked down by the Embarcadero. We walked through the farmers' market, grabbed some snacks, and hopped on a smelly bus that went along the waterfront. We got off at Pier 39, where we watched the sea lions (webcam here). We continued along the coast, where bush man jumped out and scared Beth. Ghirsardelli Square was crowded, so we caught a bus over to North Beach, where we had lunch at a cafe. Then, we walked down to Washington Square and caught a bus to Coit Tower. After marveling at the murals and the view, we negotiated our way down the hill, and did a lot of walking to get back to the car. From there we drove over to the Golden Gate Bridge (where we saw a deer hanging out at the edge of the park). We got back in the car and raced over to Muir Woods for a quick stroll in the redwoods. After mistakenly ending up at Muir Beach, we found our way up to Muir Overlook. As the sun began to set, we drove back into the city (got lost), and over to the Castro. We couldn't find anywhere to park (duh), got frustrated, and drove to our hotel near the airport. Before calling it a night, we had some great Thai food in San Leandro (where there was plenty of free parking).

Oof, what a day. It's been a marathon tour for Beth and Joe, I hope we didn't wear them out. Looking back on the last two days, I don't believe we just did all of this. Anyways, maybe we won't be going into the city for a little while.. I'm getting to be a little burnt out on the hassles of going in and all (but we had fun Beth and Joe, thanks for coming out).

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:: Atlanta for Recruiting

Once again... I'm back in Atlanta. This time it's for a recruiting event for the lab. Well, that at least was the original motivation for the trip. While the three of us recruiters were busy flying across the country, the career-fair organizers were canceling the whole thing because they were having some funding issues. Funding issues? Huh? How expensive is it to reserve a room on a major campus and have students come in to talk to recruiters? Ahh.. It's good to see that Georgia Tech is continuing that fine tradition of shafting both students and outside companies alike, for no good reason. "So you're about to graduate and the economy sucks? Sounds like a good time to call off those expensive career fairs! So sorry!"

The old Ramblin' Wreck

Pshaw.. Anyways, I managed to make the most out of the trip by meeting with a number of CS/CompE profs to talk about various research projects I'm following. I also sat in on some meetings with some mechanical engineering folks. Hmm.. Talking with random professionals is a perfect example of real-life data mining. One of the ME profs mentioned that things were looking up for ME grads in the job market. He'd noticed that oil companies like Schlumberger were gobbling up MEs, because they're in a rush to get oil out of the ground and over to the pump while prices were still above $2 a gallon. I guess I'd never really thought through the whole tumbling chain of cause and effect. It also makes you realize how artificial gas prices really are.

Ok, Technology Square is pretty cool

Heh heh.. I also sat in on the ground-breaking ceremony for the new computer science building (they're going to build it where the old infirmary used to be). Aye. For those of you who don't know this sob story, here's what happened. Boy goes to Tech and is mediocre student. Boy goes to an unnamed DOE lab for the summer, but when he arrives, is told that there's no money to pay him. Boy stays at lab for summer anyways (???), working on network security stuff. Boy goes back to school, starts selling port-scanning software. Boy starts making lots of money, drops out of school, and creates network security company. People think security is hard and give company lots of money. Boy becomes very rich, years pass, and boy wants to give back to school (ie, put his name on campus map as a nice "screw you, thanks for nothing"). School leaders always happy accept the money ("gosh, this school is so great, you don't even have to take the classes to be successful!"). Boy gives atrocious speech, while school people do lame "virtual ground breaking" demo (which crashes mid-demo, btw). Aye.. and I graduated from this place?

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:: Pam and Justin have an Offspring

Holy crap. Well, I guess it's fair to say that we've officially moved on to a new stage in our lives, the one where everyone around us starts having babies. This weekend we went to a baby shower for Pam and Justin's new little one. P&J are the first couple in our "click" to actually make good on that dare to produce offspring. The whole gang was there (Beth and Joe, John, Jane and Stephen, Ryan, and that other guy that I met at the hockey game who designs oil pipelines). The baby was as cute as he looks in the pictures, although he didn't seem to enjoy his new toys as much as the adults did.

Aye.. this is all pretty weird. Part of it is that Justin lives in infamy as the Justin I knew when I met him in the dorms in college. Back then he was this guy that wandered the halls with a jug of kool-aide hanging from a string around his neck, who talked about Fugazi and Bob Mould, and who quite frankly scared a lot of people. In hindsight, we were all a bit rough around the edges back then. It's hard to imagine that in less than 10 years, Justin has climbed the McDonald corporation's executive ladder to become Senior Vice President of Promotions. Hard to imagine because it didn't happen. Not for the lack of trying, mind you, but mainly for the lack of trying within the McDonald's corporation.

You see, this is a fine example of why you should ask me, El Noodle del Angry, to give some kind of complementary speech for you at a formal event. Weddings, funerals, knightings.. In all occasions I am very elegant, if not equestrian, with the words. The dispencing of pearled-up wisdom snack packets is what I'm all about. Now let's all raise our glasses and thank the host of this great (celebration of / memorial to) life. Enjoy your steak.

Er..yeah. Anyways, it was a nice little shindig. We're a little freaked out about the having kids thing (crap- we finally just got out of college, now everyone is moving on to have kids?). We'll get by though. Maybe I'll just have to start charging for my public speaking events though.

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:: Quick Atlanta Goodbyes

As expected, the Atlanta trip was a blur of short visits with old friends. Saturday night we met up with Ivan for bocadilla latinos and spicy salsa at La Fonda Latina on Ponce. Dinner reminded me of a lot of the things I miss about Atlanta and my former grad student lifestyle. I doubt I'll find myself chatting with many international folks in Livermore, especially about interesting things like what life was really like in a communist country. Likewise, I don't know of anywhere in Livermore where you can order a nicely-pressed Cuban sandwich. Ah.. if only I could get the nice guy from Kool Korners to move out here ("Nobody worries, we got sanweeches for everyone").

MY A-DI-DAS.. Amer does it up like RUN DMC

"What's wrong with you? Take the picture already?"

Second from the left- Hey, it's Nic from Nicola's

Sunday morning we met up with master-brunchers Steve and Tuba at a midtown vegetarian/Asian place (below Ru-San's). They were sympathetic about the California housing situation, as they're running into their own problems looking for houses in Atlanta. From there we zipped over to Little Five Points, where Amer's church was having it's outdoor Easter shindig. It was some pretty cool stuff, with lots of happy folks and dancing. Amer seems to be doing good- he's wisely taking his time with his dissertation, and waiting out the job market to pick up a bit. From there we swung by Erin and Amanda's before rushing over to the airport. The trip back was terrible of course. Plane, AIRBART, BART, an hour long bus ride, and then a $7 can ride to go 3 miles (the bus apparently stops going to my house after 8pm). Man, these trips are killing me.

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:: Back in SC

I don't want to ramble on too much about it, but this week I was back in Charleston, South Carolina for a DOE workshop. The whole thing kind of got dumped on me at the last minute- someone had to cancel their talk, and they said I should go in their place since I knew something about the material. The short of it is that I've been scrambling for the last week, booking tickets and working on a talk for a bunch of influential people I've never met. Eh, in the end it went ok, and it was a good thing to do. I just wish I had some better data to stand in front of.

The perk of this trip of course was that the workshop wasn't too far away from my hometown, Summerville. Given that I blew a lot of money on the only flight out this way, I decided to save the taxpayers some money by staying at my parents' place and driving to the workshop. Stepping off the plane I was greeted by my two childhood friends humidity and overcast-skies. Ahh.. it was good to be back near the Atlantic Ocean again, the ocean that they say is formed in Charleston, where the Ashley and Cooper rivers mix.

Being back in South Carolina brought on the usual weirdness of being back home. Like every trip back home, the first thing I did was prepare a mental list of old friends that I'd just call out of the blue to check up on. Whenever I come up with such a list, it usually ends we me thinking about having a beer with my old friend Keith. Sigh.. Unfortunately, the natural conclusion of these daydreams is that I start wondering if I'd have anything to say that he'd be interested in, which reminds me of the first time I was introduced to my neighbors in Rochester and all I could do was tell them about the kool 486dx4 computer that I just put together. Aye.. so if any of you wonder why I don't call or write, well, it's usually because I go through these "good intentions squashed by embarrassing memories" dialogs in my head.

While I knew I wasn't going to be able to get that beer with Keith, SC still had all the old familiar sights to cheer me up. Palmetto trees.. Radio stations that play the exact same music that they did when I was a kid.. At the airport, they even lined up a bunch of C-141's to welcome me back. When I was a kid, you'd see them flying these whale-like planes all over the place, practicing maneuvers, delivering pizzas (maybe?), taunting you and your birthday bottle-rockets by flying low. Now though, you can't help but think about why they're all lined up ready to go, and the consequences that they'll be bringing back with them.

For the most part, the only thing that was different back home was the traffic. Towards the end of when I was in high-school, they really started knocking down trees and putting in more and more subdivisions. Now that these subdivisions have had a chance to fill up, the roads have really gotten clogged. The four-lane road I took to get to the interstate every day was a 5 mile crawl. Ugh.. I remember when they went from two to four lanes- it seemed like a speedway with nobody on it. Hellinahandbasket, I tell you, hellinahandbasket.

Overall the trip went well. My parents were nice enough to put up with my pre-talk jitters. After the talk, they took me out to Sticky Fingers in Summerville, which is a good Memphis-style bbq joint that I've mentioned before. Yep.. Going home is odd, especially for business. Like I keep telling myself, I'll have to go and stay for longer someday.

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:: Catching up..

Oye vey, am I behind in writing this stuff. My apologies to those involved, but I'm going to have to skim through a few stories in order to get caught up. Pretend I'm Billy Joel and this is a "we didn't start the fire" web entry. Without the clever rhymes or catchy music. Oh, oh oh oh..

Visiting DC: Amy's cousin Emily had her Bat Mitzvah in May, so we flew over to DC to see her get old testament on her synagogue. It was the first time I'd been to a temple, and the first time I'd been to a service. Wow.. The service was.. a solid three hours of Hebrew. Emily was awesome- she spoke with confidence and led the service like a pro. I don't know Hebrew so maybe she was just telling knock-knock jokes the whole time, but from the looks on people's faces, they were very compelling knock-knock jokes.

So the service had a few readings from Leviticus, which is some pretty rough reading (you know, stuff like "don't eat thy donkey"). Anyways, when it came to the bit about who you could marry, the rabbi did some fancy footwork about modern society and culturally accepted relationships. At first I thought he was giving the "well, you know, whatever" kind of quasi-approval of homosexuality that I expect from a compassionate church. However, if you listened closely, you realized he wasn't giving any kind of approval at all. After the service, Amy's dad went up to say hi to him, and apparently called him out on this. I'm not sure how exactly the conversation went, but I think Amy's dad left him with a "maybe you'll come around some day and realize the error of your thinking" sentiment. Amy's dad kicks ass.

Anyways, the rest of the DC trip was kind of interesting. As I've said before, Jewish food rocks. Lox, bagels, noodle-koogle, hi-c... The only thing missing was alcohol (c'mon, we've all seen how Tevye likes to throw down). After the family get togethers, we met up with Genevieve and her new guy (an economist, who told us that we'd be fools if we bought a house now). We also met up with Zachary and his steady fella Mike (extremely courteous, and quite a keeper). All of this was packed into three short days.

Ivan: Ivan came to San Jose for a conference and stayed a couple of extra days to hang out with us in Livermore. I met him at the train stop in Livermore, and hauled him over to the ale house for a few beers and a little debate about microkernels (Linux sux :). I was a bad host for the weekend, but luckily, Ivan's a good guest. We pretty much just hung out and bounced around Livermore. We did stumble into one cool thing- while on the way to showing him the Del Valle park, we noticed that there were people tossing RC airplanes off the hillside along the road. We stopped for about an hour and watched people throw their planes into the valley and guide them around. The coolest part was that a couple of the planes were actually gliders, and that the guys could keep them in the air for a long time by riding the thermals. Thanks for coming out Ivan.

Cherry Blossom Festival: Ratish called me up one Sunday and convinced me that we should go into the city to check out some Cherry Blossom festival. The streets were packed, and the beginning of the parade was kind of ho-hum, but the last part was awesome. The main thing was the last float- it was this big stack of rice bags, that was lifted up by a pack of crazy, near naked guys. Two skinny guys rode on top of the float, barking out orders, and jumping up and down. These two guys would occasionally pour what looked like water on people. As things got going, we noticed that the water smelled a lot like sake. Heh heh.. pretty cool stuff.

Moving the sake down the hill

Biking in the Hills: Ratish called up another weekend and said that he wanted to get outside and do some biking. We looked around on the web and found a place near Pleasanton that sounded like it was relaxing rides on the top of a ridge. Well, when we got there, we found out that the ride was more like a trip up to the ridge rather than along it. The three of us wound up walking our bikes most of the way (which was just fine, by us), peddling on the occasional level areas.

Ratish and Amy climb the hill

Amy smiling on a bike ride? wha..?

As we started getting higher, we got more adventurerous and started peddling more. I was doing pretty good, until I reached the top of one hill, and heard a ka-lunk as I started to push down on the right pedal. Yep, once again I managed to break my bike chain. Ah well, at least it was at a point that was not too far from the top. I paddled along for the rest of the trip up, and then glided on the way down. Cool scenery overall.. Just wish I'd quit breaking stuff..

Bus'n up another chain

The top of the ride is pretty high

Ok, enough ketchup for one post. Hopefully, that Billy Joel song isn't stuck in your head now. (Could have been worse, I could have planted "Mmmm Bop" instead, eh?)

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:: We Bought a House

So.. for the last half year or so, Amy and I have been going back and forth about whether we should buy a house or not. In general, we're sick of apartments (rent, neighbors, the lack of space or a backyard, etc.), but we're not fond of the headaches associated with housing out here (California prices, where to live in the bay area, the hassle of finding and buying something, etc). A couple of months ago we decided to pick up a paper and start going to open houses, just to see what things were really like.

Our initial open house visits were pretty bleak. The first area that we looked in was Oakland. Oakland is about 40 minutes away from Livermore, but the prices are much better (3BRs start at ~$350k as opposed to $410k). Oakland also reminds us of Atlanta, so we were pretty psyched at the thought of moving back into the city. Unfortunately the houses we looked at were really discouraging- sure they were "cheap", but they were also really run down and in dicey neighborhoods. Plus, real estate agents told us that (1) about 80% of the houses in the Oakland have some kind of unfixable structural/foundation problem and (2) houses there usually sell in less than a week for about $20-50k above what they're listed at. Depressed, we gave up on Oakland and started digesting the idea of living out here in the suburbs.

A couple of months passed before we mustered up the enthusiasm to visit open houses here in Livermore. While Livermore is on the other side of the hills from the real bay area, a lot of people commute from here (and further out), so house prices are still pretty expensive. Because of this, the only houses you see out here in our price range are old, ranch-style houses that were built for the original lab workers back in the 1950's. No air conditioning.. 2-Wire electrical outlets.. 1000 sqft floor plans.. yards that are measured in square feet instead of acres.. Good stuff, eh?

Going to open houses in a place like Livermore is something that everyone in this town should do, if only to see the bizarre modifications people have made to their houses. Since the houses are small and people have had 50 years to work on them, just about every house out here has undergone some kind of customization. A lot of folks have built additional rooms for their houses to help make up for the small floor plans. Usually these extensions are utilitarian and clash with the original style of the house- imagine that a small mobile home rolled in one night and attached itself to the back of your neighbor's place.

Other people go crazy with modifying the inside of their house. We saw one house where the guy converted his garage to be another room for the house. Normally, I think that's ok, but it looked like all this guy had done was roll out some vinyl flooring, mounted a deer-head trophy on the wall, and put a TV/Lazy Boy in there. Such work of course meant that he was asking 20k more than what others were asking for places without the extra room. In any case, my favorite modification was this house where a guy had added a second bathroom to his house... in the closet of the guest bedroom. And when I say closet, I mean you walked into a normal room, slid the closet door open, and there was a toilet. Uh, yeah..

Anyways, we finally found a place that we thought was decent enough to make an offer on. It was a 1300 sqft, 3BR1BA place in a not-so-good part of town. It was listed at $420k, but we put in an offer for $418k since a similar house down the street had sold a week earlier for about $410k. It only took a few days for our bid to get rejected- they didn't even ask us to raise it or anything. Someone else had bid at least the asking price, and also had a larger down payment ready to go. Frustrated, we told ourselves it was good to practice, and that there were at least a few things wrong with the place anyways (no attic, pretty close to the railroad tracks, etc). Still, it's a roller coaster ride for your emotions.

Did I mention that California's real estate market is just crazy? Places don't stay on the market for very long- say a weekend for most places, a week or two for the overpriced ones. There are usually multiple offers on a house, and they tell you you need to bid over the asking price to get considered. To me, the most annoying part of the whole thing is that the frenzy is fed by the realtors, many of whom have become elitist snobs about the whole thing ("Oh, you can ask for concessions, but you won't get them"). Personally, I think many of the realtors out here (whom are supposed to be looking out for you the buyer) are just lazy, and wanting to jack you on the price so they get a better commission. Weak.

Fortunately, we had the luxury of time when looking for a house. We walked away from a few places that realtors tried pushing on us because there were small issues that we didn't want to just live with. Amy hung out with our agent a lot (whom we both thought was pretty good), and tagged along on a few "agent only" real estate shows. Slowly, we got a feel for what a good deal was, and where we should avoid. Our hard work paid off in the end though- we came across a nice little place about a mile from downtown that we thought was just right. We put in an offer that was $5k over the asking price, but asked that about $2-3k of repairs be made to the place. A day or two later, we heard that there were three offers made on the house, and that ours was one of the two that were in the running. Despite a stand-in real estate agent telling us to raise our bid to "sweeten the offer", we held our ground. A couple of days later we got the call from our agent saying that our offer had been accepted (even with our conditionals). Poof.. And that's how we started the process of getting ourselves into a massive amount of debt.

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:: Our House

Once your offer on a house has been accepted, you get stuck in this limbo land for about a month while things sort themselves out. During this month, it's a weird mix of waiting around and going into a blind panic about random documents that need to be signed immediately. Being more meticulous than I am, Amy did most of the day-to-day stuff, so she wrote the following.

The financing was a mysterious process. We were pre-approved, of course, as no offer gets accepted here without pre-approval. In fact, the selling realtor actually called up the bank we were using and talked to the lady there about how financially stable we were. She assured him that we were very fiscally responsible and that she couldn't wait to loan us hundreds of thousands of dollars and rake in the interest. Seems like the bank lady isn't the most objective person to be asking, as banks want nothing more than to get you deeper and deeper into debt. I can't even tell you how many times we were offered equity lines of credit, before we even had any equity. We've always been pay-as-you-go types, and this whole going into enormous piles of debt thing has been unsettling.

Getting the real loan, as opposed to getting the phantom pre-approval, mainly consisted of Amy bringing lots of papers down to the bank for them to photocopy. The best part of this was that they needed a copy of Craig's diploma, since he'd graduated less than two years ago. (See, it -is- good for something!) The diploma was beautifully and permanently framed by Craig's mom. It had a sealed back, and with the matting it was pretty large. When Amy showed up with the diploma, all of the office ladies were all a-flutter, just not knowing how they were going to manage to get a copy of that huge thing! Amy just said, "I'm sure you'll figure something out" and waited for them to discover the fancier features of the office copy machine. Our attitude towards the bank, we realize after the fact, was the opposite of what we always thought it would be when we speculated about getting a huge loan. On tv, people get all dressed up before they go to the bank, and sweat it out trying to look responsible while the bank manager hems and haws about whether you're too much of a risk. Your house hangs in the balance. But I think we've been so inundated with random offers of credit in the mail that we had this attitude that hey, we're the customer, they should be competing for our business, we're the ones with the power... this isn't quite true, of course. Our house did hang in the balance. But you know, we really didn't care that much.

Really the only thing we had to do, other than mess around with bank documents, was to get an overall property inspection. The sellers had already done roof, termite, and dry rot inspections, so we figured we'd be lazy (and save a few hundred dollars) and just accept them. That basically left a house inspection. Our agent knew a reliable guy, so we booked him for a Saturday morning. Just like they say in the Big Lebowski, he was thorough. He poked all around the house, climbed on top of it, and crawled below it. The whole time he gave us suggestions as to how we could fix minor things with the house, which we certainly appreciated. He gave a positive review of the house, saying that the only major things we should do were fix up the bathroom some.

We used the inspection to help be specific about what we wanted the seller to do before the house was turned over. Contrary to what other real estate agents had told us, the seller agreed to do two of the three repairs (patch the roof and do some plumbing work in the bathroom. The third, strengthen the fence, was something we threw in so they could say no to something). After a week or so, the repairs were done and we were invited to go check them out.

The rest of the stuff for the house was mostly paperwork. We signed stuff for the bank, the city, our agent (eg, "your house is in an earthquake zone" acknowledgment), and then finally the title company. The lady at the title company was the least lifelike of all the folks we met with. If Livermore is overtaken by zombies and you need to find the ring leader, head to the Olde Republic title company and ask around. Olde Republic.. If that's not a zombie cult name I don't know what is. On the bright side of things, they were all business, and they seemed to do that just fine. Zombies with MBAs. Now I've seen everything!

So anyway, we finally got the call that everything was done and that we could come pick up the keys to the house. For all the planning, worrying, and signing that we did, you'd think there'd be some kind of grand ceremony or something. Nope. Our agent gave us a set of keys and a bottle of champagne, and that was about it. The people were still in the house (they were moving out later that night), so we couldn't even go by and run around the house. Eh, still.. It was kind of nice to think that we finally had a place of our own.

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