the end of the no-pants era (or, how I stopped telecommuting and learned to love the office)

I telecommuted 1,865 miles to work, full-time, for three years, three months and three weeks before starting a new (in-person) gig at a place that’s 2.5 miles from my house.

My transition to telecommuting coincided with an even bigger experiment: moving from a big city in Texas to a small town in California. I was lucky to be able to keep my job of three years when we moved, going from being the person who cracked inappropriate jokes IN the office to the person who cracked inappropriate jokes on conference calls WITH the office.

Though I consider both experiments to have been successful, I learned some valuable lessons about telecommuting that I’ll keep in mind if I go down that road again. If you’re considering making the transition, maybe something here will help you.

  • Stay in the same general location as your employer. That way, you can pop into the office for important meetings, meet new coworkers in person and attend the occasional boozy after-work function (the cornerstone of any successful team-building effort).
  • Lean on your friends. Whether you like your coworkers or not, you’re still getting a certain amount of human interaction from being around them 40 hours or more a week. Once you’re working alone in your home office, you can quickly feel isolated. Hit your friends up for the occasional coffee, lunch or happy hour so you don’t go full-hermit.
  • Break for lunch. Though you might have fantasies that your at-home lunches will be a rainbow of healthy foods, freshly prepared, the reality is you’ll probably grab whatever’s easiest to munch on and eat it at your desk while continuing to work. Regardless of what’s on your plate (or, more likely, wrapped in a napkin), taking a real, 30-minute lunch break is important for your mental health. You don’t have to leave your house–just get far enough away from your desk that the crumbs that fall from your mouth don’t land in your keyboard.
  • Ignore the haters. No matter how much work you crank out, there will always be someone in the office who thinks you roll out of bed around 11AM, smoke a bowl, watch cartoons and occasionally call in for meetings in your underwear. Because that’s probably how they’d do things. As long as the person who signs your paycheck knows how much work you’re doing (and you never miss a deadline), you’re good.
  • Take a shower. Though being able to go an entire week without putting on “real” clothes can be wonderfully freeing (you’ll be surprised at how quickly you grow comfortable having calls with your coworkers while wearing a startling lack of clothing), keep up your commitment to your morning toilette. If you don’t, you’ll find yourself on the back end of a long, busy day feeling gross that you haven’t gotten around to bathing yet.
  • Find safety in numbers. The more telecommuters at your workplace, the more comfortable everyone feels. If there are a handful (or more) of you, the people tethered to the office get more used to the idea and roll with it. Your telecommuting coworkers are facing similar challenges, so check in with them to lend and gather support.
  • Keep it professional from the waist up. If you have video calls on the regular, you don’t have to go full-professional. A nice shirt and clean face can pair just fine with shorts. Just remember not to stand up in the middle of your call.
  • Hide your desk/computer. Your office is part of your house, which means your job is always just kind of there. Lurking in the background. If there’s a way to put work to sleep for the night and weekend, like shutting the door to your home office or covering up your computer, do it. The stronger the division between work and personal life, the happier you are with both.

There are some great perks to working from home, from the mundane (not having to take time off when the cable guy is scheduled to show up) to the meaningful (being able to take good care of an elderly, ill dog). I did the best work of my career so far working at a cramped table in my kitchen nook, and I’d absolutely consider telecommuting in the future. But for now, I’m enjoying the ebb and flow of in-person officing. Surprising even myself, I like being part of a team.

I’d love for this to be a resource to future telecommuters, so if you have experiences you’d like to share, please leave a comment.

I’ve become a Dead fan, I guess

Before James and I got together, I only had a passing acquaintance with the Grateful Dead. I didn’t own any of their music, but I could sing along with a few songs. I remember the day Jerry died, mostly because I was bartending back then and had a regular who I knew would be devastated and probably come have a few drinks that night. He was, and he did. I think I bought him a round.

Fast forward a few years, and James and I moved in together. As he unpacked box after box of cassette tapes filled with homemade recordings of live shows from all over the country/all over the past few decades, I realized his love for the band was extensive. Like, more than I loved Duran Duran in junior high (and for completely different reasons).

We listen to music a lot in our house. So it makes sense that over the past decade and a half, I’ve heard a lot of Grateful Dead music. And over time, my relationship with the music has changed.

Initially tolerated with a few eye rolls (and questions like, “How long is this song? Twenty minutes?”), the music became ubiquitous–and then unnoticed. Then at some point in the last handful of years, after seeing what remains of the band half a dozen times (in The Dead or Dead and Company iterations), I finally got it.

Grateful Dead songs, specifically of the live variety, are aural comfort food. Much like theatre, no performance is exactly the same. But there’s still plenty to ground you to other experiences with the music. Plenty to give you that sense of familiarity and togetherness.

Sold-out, tie-dyed, pot-smoking house for the Dead show at Shoreline Amphitheatre, across the street from Google, June 3, 2017.

I’ve seen a lot of live music in my life. A lot. And I’ve never experienced the kind of crowd that has consistently appeared for Dead shows in the aughts and teens of the 21st century (I can’t imagine what the crowds were like in the ’60s and ’70s).

The shows we saw in California last decade, before we moved out here, featured a vibrant parking lot scene. People selling “pizza” made on hotplates powered by a battery resting under their rusted-out VW van. (The pizza being a tortilla topped with watery pizza sauce, a sprinkle of pre-shredded cheese and a few slices of pepperoni.) Thin bed sheets spread on the ground and covered with beaded necklaces, glass pipes and crystals for sale. Stinky, barefoot children running around barely supervised. The dress code for old and young veering past the obvious tie-dye and into crocheted tops and jeans with patches sewn on. All worn un-ironically.

Dancing bear ears on a headband. A somewhat subtle nod.

The parking lot scene has been killed for the most part, but the fashions are still pretty amazing. And the lack of self-consciousness is part of the charm. Where so many people try so hard to be “separate” while being in a crowd (“Yeah, I’m at this Backstreet Boys reunion, but only to make fun of it.”), Dead Heads are all in. They love the scene, they love the songs, and they fucking love you, dude.

The guy in the blue and white cap had the best time of his life. All night.

I’ve never seen anyone get in a fight at a Dead show. If you ever have to lose your wallet, phone or keys at a concert, do it at a Dead show because you’ll quickly find a free beer, borrowed phone or ride home from a perhaps chemically compromised but big-hearted stranger.

The guy sitting next to us printed up his own buttons (two styles) with the date of the show on them and gave us each one.

There’s a dedicated music-nerd army of people at every Dead show who livestream the audio or even provide a video feed. You can go on a couch tour and follow the Dead from show to show, and there are plenty of forums online that share set lists and bets on what they’ll play next. Before we went to see the band last Saturday, I reviewed the set lists from the first few shows of the tour and was disappointed they’d already played a couple of my favorites. Which is when I realized–I have favorite songs by this band.

A little hard to read, this guy’s shirt says, “Mayer is Dead to me.” John “Your Body is a Wonderland” Mayer is touring with The Dead on guitar. Nicknamed “Mayernnaise” by non-fans, he actually works pretty well in the mix. And I know enough about the band at this point to have seen that shirt and chuckled. Life is funny.

The saying is “familiarity breeds contempt,” but that’s not aways the case. There are many things we dismiss out of hand that, upon closer inspection, actually have something to offer. They grow on you slowly, like the frog in the pot of water that’s gradually being heated, and next thing you know you’re boiling to death to the sound of Terrapin Station. And you realize there are worse ways to go.

Half the guys on this stage may be in their 70s, but they can still get thousands of people on their feet and keep them that way the entire show. And if they tour again next summer, we’ll be there, on our feet, all night.

1,095 days

It’s the three-year anniversary of the day James and I loaded up our cars, grabbed the dogs and put Texas in our rearview mirror. We got here two days later with willing spirits and confused dogs and haven’t looked back since.

This move was an experiment. Neither of us had done anything so drastic before–at least, not intentionally. But up until and including the moment we headed west, I never once doubted what we were doing. It felt scary, but it also felt right, and that rightness has never wavered. Something for which I remain grateful.

It’s hard being so far from the people we love (and even the people we just really like), and we’re still trying to figure out how to maintain years-long and even decades-long friendships in a world where no one talks on the phone. Facebook is a sorry substitute for real life/real time, but it’s better than nothing. If we find the solution, I’ll let you know.

So, three years in, some observations:

  • Our palates haven’t converted to CaliMex, nor will they. TexMex forever.
  • The 1,800 miles between us and home seems shorter every time we drive it. It helps that we’re figuring out the best places to eat, pee and sleep along the way.
  • There’s not much of a temperature spread in Pacific Grove, but there are distinct seasons.
  • Newscasts and truck commercials are much less dramatic here than in Houston. For the former, it helps that we watch a local station and not one out of San Francisco. Less drama to report on means less dramatic news. Plus, there’s just a different tone in general. As for the truck commercials, there’s no California equivalent to the pervasive “everything’s bigger in Texas” motif.
  • Speaking of that, I never really felt like a Texan when I lived there. But I did feel like a Houstonian. I’m still figuring out what I feel like now.
  • We lived here for four months before I stopped reading the Houston Chronicle every morning.
  • We lived here for three months before breaking our year-and-a-half meat fast by eating pepperoni pizza at Tommaso’s in San Francisco.
  • We lived here for almost three years before I ended up with a workable queso recipe. Still not quite like the plastic restaurant version that we so love, but close enough to get the job done.
  • We’ve mostly adapted to living in a small house. A key thing we did was replace some of our beloved furniture with smaller pieces that are more appropriate for the footprint of our house. My grandparents’ dining room table (which seats six to eight) moved to the garage and was replaced with a square table that seats four. And suddenly the walls didn’t seem like they were closing in.
  • The PG dog parade remains one of my favorite annual traditions and melts my cold, cold heart every time. If you were thinking about coming out here on vacation, I’d suggest the end of July because the dog parade is followed the next night by a pretty impressive fireworks display over the water. And even though it’s summer, it’s often cold and foggy. And also, we’ll still be here, good lord willin’ and the creek don’t rise.

Points of interest as chronicled in this blog (now I just chronicle on Instagram):
Palo Corona Regional Park
Mill Creek Redwood Preserve
Point Sur Lighthouse
Point Lobos State Natural Reserve
El Carmelo Cemetery
Whale watching trip