Sunday, January 08, 2006

The Day Off

So I declared Friday a day off and headed for Portland. Now, I know you're thinking "You're freelance, every day is a day off". Actually, every day is a day on the job, and you have to specifically go out of your way to make it otherwise. Yes, it is an advantage that you can take an unstructured afternoon to mow the lawn, but in general, a freelance life involved more hours at the desk than in a more organized environment. And it takes effort to make a day off, in that there is always something going on that you need to attend to - a lunch, a meeting, a rewrite, a proposal, a deadline that will still be there, looming over your monitor like a gargoyle, when you get back. It took me two months to get to a stage where I felt comfortable making a pilgramage down to the Rose City, when everything was under control and I had no pressing issues weighing down on me.

But in the end I found it all a little depressing, and it left me more frustrated than refreshed.

Part of it has been the weather. The rain wasn't bad (in fact, it was the best weather around here for the past two weeks) but it was grey and overcast. But the music I listened to on the way down was "Classic Rock" which, it soon was apparent, was the same crap I was listening to when I was was a kid and Jeff Christie (better known as Rush Limbaugh) was spinning platters at 14K (Better known as KQV). You know, the era where making a principled musical stand was to say you were in favor of "Silly Love Songs". It should have prompted nostalgia, but instead just left me marvelling at the barreness of corporate rock.

The rest of the world seemed to share my funk. Red State Sam, a right-wing billboard along the highway, was out of material, railing about International Building Codes and the World Court. The Waddles, a venerable old resturant sign and clock just inside the Oregon border, was being stripped of its neon, to be replaced by a Hooters. I did get to see the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile, but that was the lone bright spot of a long trip.

Powell's City of Books, which is always the Mecca in Portland, disappointed mildly as well, not having two recent books I was searching for. In my search, I was struck by how my reading interests were being influenced by the Monkey King's friends list. I got a copy of Old Man's War, by John Scalzi, who was on MK's list for a while. And a copy of the Wuxia-inspired Weapons of the Gods which was recommended by Gareth-Michael Skarka, also on MK's List. And one of the books I did not get was Fantastic Victoriana, which I had passed on earlier but changed my mind after an excellent review from Prince of Cairo (Also, of course, on MK's list - did I mention the Monkey King kept a very good list?). In addition, I got a book on EBay and found at another nearby bookstore (Countermedia) a copy of the latest Asterix book and a book on news reporting from the Disinformation guys.

And, frustrated with the "Classic Rock", I got a book on tape - City of Fallen Angels, only to discover upon putting it into the car's tape player that the sound was weaving in and out. It could be the tapes or the heads on the tape player, but the people at Powell's were very, very professional in giving me a refund (which was a bright spot, but I would have rather had the tape).

I think the thing that frustrated me most, contributing to this funk, was the new parking meters in Portland. The old "Shove a nickel in and twist the dial" versions have been replaced there (and in Seattle as well) with an electronic station on each block that takes change or charge cards (not bills) and prints out a sticker you slap on the windshield with a time that your parking elapses.

Now, at first light, it seems like the same thing, but in reality there is a key difference. With the hand-cranks, you can extend your time easily, and in the past I would buy books, pop another couple quarters in, then go back for more, or decide to get something to eat, or just hang out. Here, with a specific time on the sticker, you can only buy a new sticker, so if you aren't there exactly when the time is up, you are either risking violation or paying twice for the same time. In my case, I was close to the timer going off, and instead of hitting a small hole-in-the-wall lunch place in town, or going back to brouse more leisurely, I chose to leave.

I ended up stopping at a Mac's on the way back north, something I only do when I'm bummed out (fries and shakes are a portable comfort food). And they shorted me a cheeseburger.

So I'm a little bummed out after a day off. I think its time to go back to work.

More later,