A semester on the road, Part 1
For four months that ended last week, I traveled back and forth between Portland and the Bay Area on nearly a weekly basis to serve as a visiting professor at a law school down there. The visit was part of a sabbatical leave, one of the true joys of academic life. Every seventh year, we get time away from our already fairly cushy routine to write, think, work at something at least slightly different, and recharge. We can take either a half-year or a full-year leave. I always choose the full-year option, even though as a practical matter it requires that I come up with some income from outside sources. I believe that when given the chance at new experiences, one should take all that's placed before you.
When I first committed to head down to California, there was a pretty good chance that my family was coming with me. But personal circumstances eventually led us to the decision that I would travel south on my own, returning to Portland as often as I could for "conjugal visits." The crew came down to see me for a week at the outset in August, but that was the last they made it to the Golden State.
The term away constituted a great learning experience, on several levels. I got to see another academic institution from the inside. I met a new group of students, and a few faculty colleagues. I got to work for a Catholic school after attending them for 17 years. I got to return to northern California for some spectacular weather, and a chance to revisit my old haunts of 30 years ago. I spent a fair amount of time with an old buddy of mine from my law school days.
But perhaps most interestingly, I got to experience regular travel to and fro, which involved a lot of taxi rides, security checkpoints, airport waits, plane rides, and dark nights spent away from the family. I'm still feeling the effects of that aspect of the trip at the moment, a week after my return, and so it's worth a bit of reflection.
Flying from PDX to San Francisco and San Jose is pretty easy. There are lots of departure times to choose from. To San Fran, United has the best schedule; to San Jose, Southwest or Alaska seem like the ways to go.
The flight's typically an hour and a half in the air. You're hardly up at cruising altitude when it's time to start descending. But when you add ground transportation on both ends, the security theater, and the baggage carousel, it works out to a half-day. A round trip, therefore, is the equivalent of a full day. You do that every week, and we're talking one seventh of your life.
I got good at it after a while. Before boarding the aircraft, I always had the laptop out, interacting with the world on the web. At Portland Airport, the wi-fi was free -- a nice touch. In San Francisco, T-Mobile hit me up for six bucks a pop. My flights were always in the morning, and I worked it so that my shoes were off and I was asleep the minute my butt hit the seat, always on the window. The hour-plus naps were nice, but there were days when I had shorted myself on sleep by about four times that.
I drove down in August and back up last week, and so I had my car with me in the Bay Area. In addition to my air travel, I had some freeway driving to do when I got down there. Given my somewhat crazed schedule, it simply would not have been possible on the southern end to rely on mass transit.
Running a Portland-centric blog while being out of town three days a week wasn't hard at all. All the city's media outlets have web sites that kept me up to speed while I watched from a distance. Indeed, so well did these sites serve my need for Rose City news that I wound up cancelling my print subscription to the O entirely, and I never pick up a Willamette Week or Portland Tribune out of the box any more. The trip definitely moved me into the ranks of those for whom news on paper is a thing of the past.
One tough thing about being on the road was not blogging about it. For security reasons, I don't like to talk about being out of town until I'm already back home, or at least on my way back. As a consequence, a lot of obvious blog topics about my situation weren't available. Early on in the trip, the catastrophic crashing of the blog took place, and although I wrote extensively about the horror of it all, I couldn't add an important detail -- that I was trying to patch everything up on an unfamiliar laptop and a "borrowed" wi-fi connection from a neighboring town house.
I had a great time teaching down there, and the travel was fun for longer than I expected. But the last few weeks, it got tough. The wear and tear was gradual, but quite real. I understand that there are many techies who commute between Silicon Valley and Portland on a long-term basis. I had a colleague here in Portland who for several years schlepped between her job in Portland and her husband in San Francisco. But having seen their world, I can't imagine signing up for it indefinitely. Four months was plenty.
There was much more to think and write about in that trip, and I hope to get to it in some future posts. But a fair amount of it was viewed through a haze of travel fatigue. It's nice to get that element out of the way, both in the living and in the telling.