Friday, August 16, 2013

War Stories: Episode 2 - "Independence Day"

Moving Day #1

June 19, 1978 was getting close.  That was my first day of my job as Mechanical Trainee at Conrail.  Further correspondence from Conrail told me that 16 of us were to assemble in Six Penn Center, Philadelphia that morning, but we were free to leave later in the morning to head for Altoona, our location for the next four months.  We had to arrange our own lodging and report to work the next morning.  (Gee, how generous!  Not even one night's hotel stay and a half day to apartment hunt?)

Armed with this information, my mom and I had made a trip out to Altoona a couple weeks earlier to apartment hunt.  How hard could it possibly be to find a decent place to stay in Altoona?

It was hard.

I was figuring on a plain-old, modern garden style, one bedroom apt.  I had a real job.  I wanted a real place to live. There were zillions of them around the Philadelphia suburbs.  There had be some in Altoona, right?  Wrong, or nearly so.  Altoona is not Philadelphia.  Altoona was not growing - it was shrinking.  There was no transient population at all.  People who were born there, died there.  Not that they couldn't leave, they just never really considered it.  So, no need for new apartments.

Not what a boy from the 'burbs was expecting!

What was available was typically the space over an storefront or the top floor of an old framed house. There was one such place just across the street from the Juniata shops, above a turn-of-the-20th Century vacant storefront.  With time and money, it could have been fixed up to "slightly less dingy and depressing".  There was another in a hotter-than-hot attic of a "newer", i.e. 1920's vintage house, out on old US 220.  It needed some paint and repair.  With a little work, it could have been fixed up to "a hot attic over an old house."

Ugh.  This was not going very well.

Finally, we wandered down to Duncansville.  It was about a 30 minute drive to Juniata, but only about 5 to Hollidaysburg.  There, tucked away behind a block of houses, was a development of very nice looking garden apartments!  Like a shining beacon on a hill!

They only had a two bedroom, one and a half bath available. I didn't care.
I'd get stuck eating the one month security deposit.  I didn't care.
They were unfurnished.  I didn't care.
They were $240 a month - I signed a lease.

June 19th came.  I went to Six Penn Center and met the other 15 trainees.  "I've rented a two bedroom apartment.  Anyone want to share?"  I had a roommate in 10 seconds flat.

It was great.  Utilities were included in the rent, so the AC ran a lot and kept cool.  We furnished it with the bare minimum of hand-me-downs and an old B&W TV.  A mattress on the floor and an old desk, about all I could fit in the parent's borrowed station wagon, were enough for me.

In the end, was it REALLY any better than any of the other choices?  Probably not.  The other guys wound up in some interesting places, but none seemed any worse for the wear.  It was an interesting summer in an interesting place - and I learned more than just locomotive and freight car repair.

But, that's another story.

1 comment:

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