Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Yo....K an' A!

Lets take a mental road trip away from Chicago for a few moments and travel back thirty years to the intersection of Kensington and Allegheny Avenues in the north Philadelphia neighborhood of Kensington. A guy I knew from college lived there and when we went home for Thanksgiving break the autumn semester of my first freshman year (don't ask) the first thing he screamed into the cold, fishy air when we stepped off the elevated platform and into the ghetto was YO...K an' A! ... one fist raised to the sky and the other clenching the strap of his worn army surplus duffel bag stuffed with two months of dirty laundry dragging behind him. He was instantly a different person. He was home.

Our initial collegiate bond hinged on the fact we were both from 'Philly' but I very quickly recognized that I was a fraud. I was not from Philly. I was from Levittown which probably needs no explanation to anyone within this readership. For those who do let me just say that while a little depressing in its own right these days I certainly wouldn't describe it as urban blight. It isn't even a city but a suburban town, for crissakes. Kensington in the 1970s could only be described as urban blight with its gap-toothed grid of city blocks lined up, down and back again with delapidated red brick rowhouses and vacant lots.

And as we walked through the alleys where Rocky had just been filmed the year before I suddenly realized that the place where I grew up, some 45 minutes north by interstate, was a different world entirely. Fifteen minutes later I also realized that buying and selling real estate was what I really wanted to do for the rest of my life.

My friend had an older brother named Louie who was beginning to buy up the worst of the worst on Cambria Street--the left for dead rowhomes that were virtually unlivable to anyone but the 'huffers' --and attempt to do the 1970's urban blighted version of Flip This House.

"Fishtown, is too pricey. I like it here," proclaimed Louie, who looked more to me like a guy who sold pretzels than an investor. Fishtown was the next neighborhood over and even to my untrained teenage eye, pricey was the last word I'd use to describe it. Nevertheless, I listened with great interest as we spent the next couple hours touring his most recent acquisitions. "Getting rid of the huffers is the key to investing," he told me. "Glue sniffing is an epidemic." I had no idea. I felt I might be smart enough to buy and sell property but getting rid of huffers was totally beyond my world.

"What about the suburbs?" I asked. "I don't think there are many huffers there."

"Nah," he said. "I like the city. I like to see the air I breath."

It would be ten years before I made my first real estate purchase, ten more before I ever bought an investment property and five more on top of that before I even got licensed. Needless to say, I lacked whatever it took to make the real estate plunge at an early age and although the concept of investing in property always intrigued me, I was apparently, no Louie.

So now, after a lenghty 'corporate America' sales career crash landed me in Chicago a decade ago, I'm finally a Realtor. I live in the city and sell in the city and my primary sources of business are buy-side represented negotiations and exclusive residential listings. I seldom buy and flip property and I rarely venture into a 'bad' neighborhood (so defined by what a Realtor is not allowed to call it) to see what can be bought on the cheap. And I don't think I've ever met a real life huffer so I never had to worry about Louie's number one peril of investing.

Pat Kitano recently referenced an article of mine on his site. 'My new best friend' (my wife Mona's words) goes on to suggest that she and I be from here on referred to in the blogosphere as "Geno and Mona from Oakbrook..." , no doubt due to the rooted 'East Coast' tone and various Chicago settings from which I write. But Oakbrook? fugeddaboutit....Its a suburb, Mr. K. ...I like to see the air I breath!


  1. And did you not think that I did not know you and Mona are city folk? Your writing reeks of city, your wonderful pictures have that urban sangfroid... We know each other well, I'm a NYC habitue and now that you talk Levittown, I see I pegged you correctly as really an East Coast City guy at heart. I bet you bowed to the pedestal of the Dr. J / Malone Sixers (I did - they are my ATF - they are the classic urban team - and I was still just a left coaster then). We confirmed we admire Martin Scorcese.

    Here's how Oakbrook came about - I was in the film business for a few years and producers are always talking high concept - "yeah, Geno and Mona - great names - where should they be living?"

    (note: for the article's sake, I was just assuming your heritage but I've never heard your last name before, it's hard to peg...)

    So I call my buddy Dino at 10pm and explain "you're gonna just love this blog... you know Chicago... I'm writing this cultural post... where do all the Italians live in Chicago?" Dino says "Cicero, but all the upper class Italians probably live in Oakbrook". "I better not, like, make a dis, so I'll say Oakbrook".

    Vooila! It's great to find brethren...

  2. Hey Pat, I'm right with you. Funny thing about Oakbrook: Its even too Italian for me! Those are the old time guys and (a lot of their nephews) in that burb. I havent gotten to the point where I wear a warm-up suit to work and my office isn't a Cadillac. Yeah, you're 100% right on with Moses--the first and only Malone I ever cared for and that includes that bum Mark who QB'd for the Steelers in the 80's! I'm glad business slowed down enough for me to start writing again and at least checking my e-mail on something rather than my PDA--and I honestly couldn't tell you for certain what a blog was a year ago. I'm used to people in my car and multiple showings daily for weeks on end. Glad we made the hook-up and thank God for the Witness Protection Program...oops

  3. Hilarious! your blog is great! Warm up suits in 2006...

  4. c'mon...fess up. Which "Levittown"? The Bristol side?