There’s this thing called a “cruft house”, when a group of MIT graduates live together after graduation. And the cruft houses I’ve seen have such interesting names, like Castle Kingside, Soviet Russia, or The Bunker. The first night the three of us moved into our new place, I insisted we come up with a name.
The three of us-Sathwik, Rohan, and I-are all interns for the same startup this summer. We met when some intern scoped a few of us on LinkedIn and sent us a Discord invite, and then one of the intern coordinators sent the invite to everyone else. On the server, we shared pictures of all the swag we got sent months before, in January. Shirts, caps, jackets, water bottles, all branded with the company logo.
This was before we knew that the internship would be in-person. We were informed in early March, ten months before we had to move in. We had the option to pick the Menlo Park or New York offices, and I chose Menlo Park. And on the Discord server us interns were in, I looked for others finding housing, and found Sathwik and Rohan.
We’d been told that they’d give “assistance” in finding housing. This amounted to linking us to the websites for Airbnb and Kopa. Well, it’s not like we had any better leads, and it’s not like I wanted to put in any effort. I told the other two that I’d be okay with whatever choice they picked, as long as they were okay with it too.
It turns out that none of the choices were okay. Everything was either too far or too expensive. Was it tricky because there were three of us, because we were searching for a short-term lease in short notice, or because it was the Bay Area? We settled for a one-bedroom, one-bathroom apartment in Mountain View. The bedroom had two beds, and there was a couch, so we’d fit.
It costs $5500 per month.
“Beggars can’t be choosers,” Sathwik said.
We took stock of the unit the night we moved in. It didn’t have air conditioning or three-prong outlets or bowls. The shower temperature was fickle, and we only had one copy of the keys, even when they said they’d give us three.
“You can copy it yourselves,” said the owner. “We can reimburse if you want.”
As much as I want to complain about housing in the bay area, though, this isn’t a post about that. This is a post about how I’m sharing a house with people who started as two randos, who became roommates and, eventually… coworkers.
On our first night together, we talked to each other about where we’re from and what we’re studying, because we didn’t even know that about each other. Sathwik’s from UT Austin and is an incoming senior, Rohan’s from Georgia Tech and is a master’s student. We crack jokes about the tech stack and living in Silicon Valley, gossip about where we’ve worked before (or haven’t worked before, in my case), and talk about logistics like how we get to work.
On days when we all go to our office in Menlo Park, which is most days of the week, we wake up at around 7 or 8 or 9, depending on what time whoever’s first meeting was. On some days we all go to our WeWork in San Francisco, and carpool with Sue, one of the interns who lives down in South Bay. But some days when we go to SF we take the Caltrain up. And sometimes we take a Lyft to get back home, but most of the time we commute.
I remember the experience of going home from SF with Rohan after eating dinner with coworkers, one Thursday night. It was our first time commuting from SF, and we had to wrangle with the many transport systems. We learned that there was a difference between the BART and the Muni, and how if you ride the BART to Millbrae it reverses direction toward the end. It doesn’t make a u-turn, it starts going in reverse.
Rohan and I weren’t ready for it, much in the same way I’ve experienced dealing with some transport systems for the first time. But the difference is that we were together doing it. Even if we spent most of the time on our phones or sleeping or not talking to each other, we were there together, and that made it feel different, and it made me feel less alone.
Near the end of our BART trip, we get this beautiful view of the city at sunset. The sky was alight with bright, orange mushrooms, and red lights rolling on a river. The city was a hundreds of colorful pebbles on a beach of black sand, its shore fading from red, to orange, to yellow, to bright blue, to dark blue. Across us, the lights of the airport were like red stitches on gray fabric, with white cones of light cutting through.
I was too timid to tell Rohan about it, but I’m sure he saw me gaping in awe at the scene.
It took us two hours to commute home, because the local Caltrain took forever. Shortly after we arrived, Sathwik came back too, also from SF. He left the city 75 minutes after we did, and arrived at the same time, because he took a Lyft with Sue. Ah well.
The day before our first Monday, which was our first day all moved in, we went for groceries at this corner shop five minutes away from us. It’s the only grocery store that’s in a reasonable distance, because that’s how suburbs are, I guess. We got pasta and milk and fruit. For dinner, we cooked some pasta. And by “we”, I mean mostly them, as I had to leave a few minutes in to go to a dance.
The pasta was edible, but it wasn’t spectacular. The leftovers stayed in our fridge for a month. Evidently, we thought we’d be eating our leftovers more than we ended up doing.
We don’t cook that often. For breakfast we eat cereal, or microwave oatmeal, or make toast, or eat yogurt. We all eat our lunches in the office, and sometimes we eat dinner with coworkers or have leftovers from lunch. On weekends, Rohan usually cooks something, Sathwik is out with his friends, and I get takeout. There was one time we made pancakes together, but that was it.
For all that we don’t cook, though, we buy groceries together weekly. We’d stock up on breakfast foods and buy things like toiletries or chips. There’s a Safeway near our office in Menlo Park, and sometimes we walk there after work and take a Lyft to bring groceries home. One time, our Lyft driver was this person named Anh, who talked to us about their music tastes and how they’re studying aviation and what games they’re into right now. It’s mostly Sathwik who keeps the conversation afloat, with Rohan and I inserting the occasional comment.
When we eat lunch at work, our conversation topics abound, and we talk about careers and frameworks and what we did on weekends. Some nights, we eat out with coworkers, and the conversation is alight, and some other nights, we eat with only the three of us.
There’s this cheap burrito place about a fifteen minute walk away, that we get dinner at sometimes. We’d take a Lyft from work straight to the diner, eat dinner, then walk home together. Because that place is near the Google Quad, we often see tech workers, talking about crypto or other companies. We eat mostly in silence, scrolling on our phones. When we do talk, it’s about logistics: when’s your earliest meeting tomorrow? The lack of conversation is a welcome change of pace, sometimes.
In the evenings after work, we stay in. Sometimes we have our own dinners with friends or events, but most of the time, we’re at home. We’re off on our own little corners of the house: Sathwik on the desk in the living room, me on the couch, Rohan in the bedroom or the kitchen, or whatever permutation we feel like that night. We spend a lot of our time on calls with family or friends, but after work, we mostly get out of the way of each other’s lives.
Mostly. We have one rule in the house: no work. That was part of our accountability to each other. Sathwik and I used to pull Rohan out of working, those first few weeks. Whenever we’d see him doing something that looks like VS Code or Google Docs, we’d tell him to do it tomorrow.
It came to the point that on one holiday, we spotted Rohan doing work in the bedroom, and Sathwik had to call me for an “intervention”. I came in, and see Rohan complaining that Sathwik hid his work laptop.
“Rohan, the first step toward getting better is admitting you have a problem,” I said. “Alone, we are weak, and we must learn to embrace the guidance of a higher power.”
“Is that from a twelve-step program?” Rohan asked.
“Why would I know anything about addiction?” I replied.
“Have you considered, say, watching a movie? Reading a book? Playing a video game?” Sathwik asked. “You know my Switch is right there, we can play Smash or something.”
“Yeah, don’t we have a Netflix account?” I asked.
Rohan nods. Sathwik and I trade glances.
“Go watch some Netflix,” Sathwik said. “I’ll give you back your work laptop tomorrow.”
Rohan stands up. “Okay, fiiiiine. You’re right,” Rohan said, “I’m doing too much work. I’m going for a walk.”
“That works too,” I reply.
Sathwik and I stayed in the bedroom, as Sathwik shows me where he’s been hiding the laptop: on his lap, under the sheets. We waited until Rohan was out of sight. Sathwik broke the silence.
“I’m a bad influence.”
“Why?” I asked. “Because you do work at home and claim it’s for a ‘different project’? We get it Sathwik, you’re doing research with a lab on the side.”
“Not that. It’s because I work too hard at work.”
“I’m not saying that’s not true.”
“Do I work too hard?”
I paused, thinking about how to reply.
On weekends, we do our own things. Meet up with friends, go sightseeing, go to events, watch movies. Sometimes we ride into the city together, go off alone, and come back together to take the Caltrain home.
And come weekdays, we go back to work. Wake up at the same time, take a Lyft, go to meetings, eat lunch, program, eat dinner, go home, go on voice calls, go to sleep. I thought that the monotony would be a nice change of pace, but it’s not. The only reason I can withstand living here is because of Rohan and Sathwik.
On that first Sunday night together, we set up a Splitwise for group buys, talk about rent, talk about what we need to buy. And I bring up that we need a name: a name for the house, which would name our group chats, and our Splitwise group, and whatever else. Rohan looked like he couldn’t care less, and Sathwik said he trusted whatever I’d come up with.
“That’s it, then,” I said. “I’m deciding.”
“Okay,” said Sathwik. “What’s the name, then?”
“We’re going to be called baysed area,” I replied.
Rohan giggles. Sathwik doesn’t.
“That’s such an awful pun,” Sathwik said.
“Do you have any better ideas?” I asked.
No response from either of them.
“I thought not,” I said.