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Thursday, December 21, 2006

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.

Comments (13)

I did a similar commute between PDX and San Diego for a full year in 1989 (I was involved in some collaborative research at UC San Diego that year). About 1/3 of the way through, the Loma Prieta earthquake happened and my commuting through SFO was bollixed up for the rest of my year. I discovered that there are quite a number of creative ways to get to San Diego from here. Alas, the one non-stop flight always left Portland at an impossible time for me, so I had to settle for the one-stop flights. Reno is an interesting connection. So is Las Vegas. My least favorite was Salt Lake City, but when your family is in one city and you're in another, the commute becomes an important part of the weekly routine. (Thankfully, commuting through LAX never seemed to be an option). At the end of the year, I was about dead. I truly cannot imagine how commuter couples do it these days. At least in 1989, I didn't have the horrific security issues to deal with. Now, that regular commute seems unimaginable.

The school enjoyed your visit. Any chance you'd move down here to teach? ;)

That's a heckuva commute! Glad you're home, safe and sound. That must have been quite a temptation to post about other goings-on but I can definitely see how (security-wise) it's a good idea to keep that hush-hush.

"I'm not home" is not a real smart message to be posting on the internet.

My daily commute is exactly 26 blocks. Instead of a dream commute I have le cauchemar. If poetry is emotion recollected in tranquility, the daily conclusion of my commute is poetry.

What I wouldn't give to be subjected to the pointless humiliations of airport security.

First commenting on that last comment: I beg to differ. It can be wise to say "I'm not home, can someone check this or cover that for me." I just dispute that there is all so much INsecurity around us -- like, for one thing, we really don't need the Pentagon, REAL World'y, there is no insecurity anywhere going to get us that what they got there is going to stop; and then just roll that attitude from the top, down - and onto Main St. -- most people you meet are good, nice people, everyone says so.

The psychological trade-offs seem to be an inverse ratio, where the more a person feels secure, the less they think they are specially privileged or elite. Bliss vs. ignorance, maybe.

Unless you have enemies, or think you are important enough to have enemies -- then maybe don't say "I'm not home" on the internet. It just depends on who you are when you are home, eh?

Comment on sabbatical: Good.

Esquire magazine ran an article one time, 'A Modest Proposal,' was the title, I think, proposing (union-type) workers 'put aside' two months' wages a year -- one-sixth of pay -- in a sabbatical fund; and after six years, everyone gets a seventh year off at 'full pay.'

Really, the main point of my commenting was to say congratulations, Jack, for cancelling your subscription to that newspaper. I expect there'll always be papers, smaller, localler, kinder. But the heyday is hey, don't. They'll blame it on the internet hurting them, but it was more the fetid decay of an unspirited product -- they just thought they were important enough to have enemies. They should have thought that friends are important enough to have. O, got any?

I'm not worried about personal enemies so much as burglars.

Great post. And a fabulous illustration of how effectively the internet can be used to make you appear to be something you're not. In that, like everything else about your blog, you've been notably successful.

I'm going with keeping mum on the "I'm not home" bit. Not just for the burglars, but there's no need to advertise that your wife and two young girls are home on their own. I won't go so far as to say you've got personal enemies, but you've also got a high-profile website and there are a lot of nutballs in the world. They don't need to dislike you to gain an unhealthy interest in your life.

As to the school, I thought about going there, for a bit, but chose [our home school] instead. Your sabbatical place supposedly has quite a solid IP program, which was my style, but the Portland area had much more for me.

As for "free WiFi" at PDX, check your property tax detail for the amount going to the Port of Portland. Ditto for "fareless" square. Perhaps you mean "without charging a user fee"?

I keep looking for something that is free (besides air), yet it always seems that "free" is simply a catch all phrase for "paid by somebody else" or paid via another method (government subsidy, advertising, corporate marketing budget, etc.).

The distinction is only important if you're afraid of the rise in Socialist policy that dominates the City Commissars of the Peoples Republic of Portland.

the rise in Socialist policy that dominates the City Commissars of the Peoples Republic of Portland.

Such erudition. Does this person even know what "socialist" means?

One thing I forgot to mention here was my first trips on the airport line of MAX. On the two occasions when all I was carrying on the plane was my laptop, I took MAX in from the airport (and one of those times, back out to the airport as well). I had free Tri-Met day tickets from a Chinook book, and so all the rides were free. It took a little longer than the taxi, but not too much longer, but I had good weather, and you can't do better price-wise than free.

I'm not at all sure that building airport MAX was a good policy decision, but since it's there, one might as well use it.

Wow, giving up after only 4-months? And here I thought I was the short timer, I'm burning out after 2-years of it. I made over 100 flights on SWA in a single 365-day period, oh how I hate the San Jose airport. Its true that absence makes the heart grow fonder, the more time I spend in the endless sprawl they call the Bay Area the more I really like Portland. Something about neighborhoods, a functional downtown and trees is nice.

As for the travel, its fully possible we sat on the same SWA flight on a Monday morning to San Jose. Not sure how many guys/gals you met that make the weekly commute, but some have been doing it for a long time and have plans to keep it up. I can't deal with it much longer, need to mix it up. You can't sell me on Californication.

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