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Living la vida Craigslist

Unloading furniture, landing a job, renting a home: James Kwun did it all, just by clicking on Craigslist.

5 min read
James Kwun, a 35-year-old Californian with wispy black hair and slightly graying sideburns, is the definition of the Craigslist-made man.

In just a few months, he has used the Craigslist Web site to unload all his possessions, move across the country to New York, find a job, secure a loft apartment above a fish market, meet friends and maybe find love.

"It's alive," Kwun said of the site the other day, chatting over coffee at a cafe on Spring Street. "It just gives you a sense from day to day that things are moving and changing."

A short time ago, Kwun had never heard of Craigslist. He had just quit his job in California and was planning to embark on a life as a snowboarder and teacher in Salt Lake City. Today he is living in Chinatown with a great new job and planning to make a documentary detailing how the Web site changed his life.

Many strange and intriguing tales can be found inside the Craigslist empire, which now extends its city-by-city listings of jobs, apartments, goods and personals as far as Mumbai and Winnipeg. Yet no city may be as perfect a match for the site as New York. As Craigslist closes out its fifth year in the five boroughs this month, it is hard to imagine a time when New Yorkers did not turn to its bare-bones postings for love and money, for advice and consolation, or just for kicks.

Thousands of thousands of ads and messages have fed the New York version of the site to the point that it now receives 380 million page views per month. And among the site's countless users there exists a band of individuals, the ultimate Friends of Craig, who have earnestly believed that the site could deliver New York lives for them and, to their amazement and delight, have seen their hopes fulfilled.

Kwun is one of these hopefuls. His two months in New York have been dictated entirely by his dealings on the site. But before he logged on, hope seemed elusive.

"I was going to give it all in," Kwun said, talking about his harried life back in Newport Beach, the glittering Orange County oceanfront town featured on the hit Fox series "The O.C." "I was living by the beach and I didn't ever go."

Life in the business world was not thrilling, at least not anymore. He barely had time to take his two big dogs running on the shore. So Kwun left his job as an account manager for T-Mobile and decided to give Utah a try. "I thought I could make $40,000 a year and be a snowboarder," he explained. But before he could attack the slopes, Kwun's brother, who is managing director of a bank in New York, pleaded with him to give the business world one last chance. Come to New York, he urged. You'll like it. So Kwun harnessed his adventurer's spirit and thought to himself, "Why not?"

Rendezvous with Craigslist
In preparation for his move, Kwun logged onto Craigslist for the first time in his life to sell off his large collection of vintage 1950s furniture. Before, he had been an eBay person, but he quickly learned that items moved much faster on Craigslist. Within 45 days, he had dispensed with more than 20 pieces of furniture.

When he used eBay, Kwun would impersonally drop items into the mail, but with Craigslist, he and his buyers often had long conversations and sometimes even lunch. His interest in the site and its easygoing fans piqued, Kwun soon started browsing the "Gigs" section, where people post requests for help with odd jobs, with titles like "Mow my lawn!" and "Spackler needed."

With time on his hands, he found himself hanging pictures for an elderly woman and assembling a grill some fellow had bought at Target, each for about 10 bucks a pop. Suddenly, Kwun's Craigslist destiny seemed clear. He realized that he could set up his entire life in New York through the site. And after a marathon of documentary-watching one day back in Orange County, he decided he could film it, too, despite a complete lack of cinematic know-how.

Scanning job ads, he found one for a marketing manager posted by Scott Jordan, who runs a furniture company in SoHo. Kwun applied and interviewed with Jordan during a preview visit to New York. He lucked out. "I was basically hired on the spot," Kwun said.

Next up was the task of finding an apartment, of which there is no shortage on Craigslist New York, which has the busiest real estate section of any of the 175 cities on the site, with over 100,000 ads at any time. Because the new job was in SoHo and his brother lived in TriBeCa, Kwun chose nearby Chinatown as his new neighborhood. He spotted an ad for a large loft at Grand Street and the Bowery above a fish market ("SOLITA Living Loft With Private Back Yard For Rent!!!") and snagged it. He started furnishing the place through Craigslist, too, picking up a rug here and there, plus a bed frame. He even found someone to walk his dogs.

After setting up his new home, Kwun set his sights on his personal life. He began to dabble on the "Strictly Platonic" category of the personals section, where men and women looking for lunches or movie buddies post ads, and friendly outings always offer the promise of something more. Thus far, he has met a few women for low-key nights out, though not all have shared his view of Craigslist.

"I told one woman that Craigslist is about people meeting people," Kwun said. "She said, 'That's really bizarre.' But maybe she's been here longer and been upset before. I really haven't had a bad outing."

As for his documentary, the task of finding housing and a job in New York kept him so busy, he didn't have time to record a minute of it.

Although Craigslist has been the key to his life here, Kwun occasionally reflects upon how his life could be better. Back in Orange County, where things moved at a slower pace, so did Craigslist. Not so in New York. "I believe Craigslist here is a little bit infected," Kwun said. "It takes on the character of the city, and this is a very transaction-oriented city. It's very fast."

Nevertheless, he still logs onto the site several times a day and wishes he could get it on his BlackBerry for browsing on the go. He spoke hopefully of another meeting he had scheduled for the next day, with someone who sounded nice and normal. "But," he insisted, "it's strictly platonic."