4 The She-Shell Smells a Rat

edit-chapter-4-she-shell“So these river condos, how do I know there aren’t any rats?” Michelle pretended to be kidding.

“Creatures and plants lose habitat as new developments appear. Do you know they get a reward for vacating their homes for the new residents?”

“What reward?”

“Posterity development names. Pheasant Run, Beaver Lodge, Gooseberry Gate, Dahlia Dell, and so on.”

“Funny. Would anyone actually move into a place called Dahlia Dell?”

“My mother grew dahlias so I guess I lived there, once. At our current house, and mind you, this is in the leafy, near north shore on a residential block, we have deer, opossum, coyotes, voles and mice, plus the occasional wandering skunk. In fall, whole brigades of starlings sweep from yard to yard. They set off the dogs. Come spring, ducks waddle the lawns and a scourge of geese poop up the parks.”


“We even boast a local falcon, and sometimes glimpse eagles soaring over the lake bluffs. Squirrels and chipmunks visit us daily. Rabbits are the worst. One died under our front porch last year. We couldn’t sit out for a week.” Warming to his theme, and uninterrupted by either the he-Shell or the she-Shell, fallen silent in the wake of this description of city fauna, R.M. rambled on.

“And last summer, I took up a new hobby. Every morning, I went out hunting the voracious, rose-ruining Japanese beetle. According to the witness of regular early walkers I cut quite a figure in my straw hat and bathrobe, armed with my stick and drowning bucket. Not a common sight at downtown condos, where higher standards prevail. You, I expect, would not be caught dead out chasing rats, especially so early and so minimally dressed.”

“Maybe we should skip the river condos,” stammered the squeamish he-Shell.

“So if you live near a river,” speculated R.M., “there might be river rats. But mostly you won’t see them. They would remain like Ratty, the Wind in the Willows rat, unseen and simply ‘messing about in boats.’ It was only Toad, he of dubious character, who messed with humans. Do you mind toads, terribly?” This remark at last loosened a giggle from Michelle.

“Seriously, have you ever seen a rat?”

“I cannot tell a lie. I have seen a rat, and you just might too, if you live near the river.”

“So I’m sitting on my balcony, and I see rats swimming or, as you suggest, rowing by underneath?” She persisted in tapping R.M’s scope of this subject.

“As long as we’re not swimming or boating with them,”  insisted the he-Shell.

“Think of it like this. It’s the urban experience. When you live in a condo with an attached garage, it’s as though it never snows for you. Not so’s you have to clear it. It’s only happening outside and you are mainly inside. Same with the local wildlife.  Nobody has named a condominium project the ‘River Residences at Rat Point.’ Any problems should be disclosed in the property condition report.”

“The what?” This came, in chorus.

“In short, it’s a document that a seller fills out and signs stating awareness of the general, physical condition of the property. You’ll see it during the offer process.”

“So you don’t live in a condo, yourself. Why?”

“I’m just a farm boy from north Wisconsin. I grew up in a farm town and, in my mis-spent youth, I worked for farmers.”

“So you pitched hay and plowed fields…that kind of farming?”

“That was me. I still prefer the yard, the outside.”

“Do you have many farmer customers for condos? I’ve never had a farmer for a neighbor.” The he-Shell was a city boy.

“Well, there was one man who admitted to a previous life as a farmer in Kentucky. He didn’t say much about it. Sometimes it’s best not to ask. The Gold Coast is just ahead.” R.M. turned left onto the one-way Prospect Avenue. “Home of the high-rise.”

“I’m not seeing any lake.”

“Let me assure you it’s always there. Just difficult to see, past the buildings, from street level.”

Drawing up to a stoplight, R.M. rolled down the window, hallooed to a impeccably dressed man walking a pink-be-ribboned Sheltie, and quipped to Michelle.

“Looks like you have company over there…that female Sheltie…another she-Shell.” The Sheltie’s coordinating neon collar, leash, and pooper-scooper did nothing to lessen the dignity of the man walking her. The concierge at one of the nearby buildings, he sported the shiniest buttons R.M. had ever seen outside of the military.

“Bon jour, Gervase. Fine day for a walk.”

Gervase Richard, concierge at the POPS, keeper of the keys and of secrets, too.

Gervase Richard, concierge at the POPS, keeper of the keys and of secrets, too.

“Cheers, R.M. Leading the famous tour? Excellent!” Gervase gave a friendly nod to R.M.’s passengers. The light turned green. R.M. introduced Gervase, after the fact.

“Gervase Richard, French Canadian import and concierge extraordinaire, walking a resident’s dog.  He gets high marks for all the service he gives to a grateful association. You can see his building, just over there.”

“That looks nice.” Michelle craned her neck to see. “From what I can see from here.”

“Does it pass the ‘ugly’ test?”

“Can we get inside, so I can tell?”

“Easily. But let’s wait ’til Gervase can walk us through, instead of the dog he’s with now. We’ll come back, okay?”

Driving north on Prospect, they left the Gold Coast and turned west onto North Avenue.

“North Avenue is an east-west street that marks the northern edge of downtown on your map, and also most high-rises. To the north is the Upper East Side. A mix of condos again, new construction and conversions both, with apartment styles and townhouses. Are you readers? Just there is the East branch of the public library system. It’s the only branch within the downtown map other than Central, right downtown. I’ve had buyers who wanted to be able to walk to one.”

“If we go to a library, it’s going to be Central.”

“And coming up next is the North Avenue bridge. You can get a good view of the river valley, to the north and south. To the south you can see where it bends into Caesar’s Pool. And to the north, and on the west side of the river, is an area called Riverwest. There are some condos there,  a very eclectic mix. We’ll be turning south and going back into the downtown neighborhoods.”

“This is a lot to take in, all at once. But it’s good.”

“We’ll go over it all, again. Generally speaking, the farther you go outside this downtown map the more you get for your dollar in terms of unit size. That’s the square foot price. Compare that to the added value of amenities included in a unit or development.”

“Such as?”

“Pools, courts, spas. Commonly owned facilities. Plus those in the unit, itself. For some buyers, quality and size beat location. Others want to live in a specific neighborhood. Being there matters more than unit size, or quality. I offer this tour so buyers get a sense of where they might end up in this equation.” They crossed the bridge.

“Suppose we got a terrier, Shel? That would take care of any rats.”