The Bad Karma Cafe

Our house earned the name “Bad Karma Cafe” years ago, after a number of disasters struck it in rapid succession. The first thing that happened to it was a fire. Then it was struck by lightning. Then a large tree branch fell on it. Any of these events would have been enough to completely demolish a lesser house, but not the Bad Karma Cafe. The house might have had bad vibes, but it also had staying power.


After each incident we were able to patch up the house, more or less, and keep going on with our everyday lives. We even moved out for a few months after the fire while the insurance company sent out contractors to work on the house, but we still kept to our routine. I don’t want to make it sound easy, because it wasn’t. We also had other neighborhood problems — renters who set bonfires in the yard, a crackhouse on our street for three years — yeah, such a nice place. But none of those things managed to completely break us or the house. Perhaps by then we were just numb.

Then in September 2001, an F3 tornado ripped through College Park. We felt sure that it was coming for us. We had just bought a new car on the previous Saturday, and we were sure it was tornado fodder. After all, didn’t we still live in the Bad Karma Cafe on Irwin Alley? Ben had nicknamed our street “Irwin Alley” in homage to Irwin Allen, nicknamed “The Master of Disaster,” a film producer who made many disaster movies during the 1970s. It seemed like a fitting address for the Bad Karma Cafe.

It’s true what they say — a tornado does sound like a freight train. We could see the leading edge of the storm (not the funnel) from our front porch, and raced for the basement to wait it out. Fortunately, the tornado stayed to the west of Route 1, which is just three blocks from our house. We fortunately had no tornado damage, and that was when we knew that the Bad Karma Cafe’s luck had changed.

This week the Bad Karma Cafe is starting on a journey to have a major face-lift, or more exactly, a roof-lift. After 25 years of patching the roof and drywall and other things too numerous to list, we’ve managed to get enough financing to have major renovation work done on the house and really fix its problems. After all, duct tape only goes so far! Currently the house is a one-and-a-half story Cape Cod, but we’re changing the house to a full two-story structure to maximize the space upstairs and allow us some breathing room. I’ll be adding before-and-after photos as well as a running commentary of the process. Stay tuned.