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Saturday September 03, 2005, 00:29 PST

The sprinklers1 are on outside. I can't remember the last time I heard sprinklers. We didn't have them growing up. The community where my grandmother lived had sprinklers, but she's been gone for many years now. I suppose I must have heard sprinklers at some point in the last several years, but they've not registered as sprinklers. And now, over the conversation from the downstairs neighbors and the music and the motorcycles, I hear sprinklers watering the Southern California lawn.

It has been argued by me that my career as a freelance technology consultant can give me the flexibility to travel when I want, to work from anywhere and to be effective in my work from the road. I have friends who do that very thing - work from the road, take off for months at a time and treat home as a base of operation, rather than a place to hang a nightly hat. I am currently ten days into a two week trip and must say that working from the road has been a lot harder than expected.

The truth is that I am on vacation right now, rather than "working from the road," and there is a subtle but very real difference. The other truth is that I am three hours behind my home (and much of my client) base. The thing about vacations is that I'd much rather not work through them than work through them. And given my work schedule for the past several months, it's no surprise that when I wake up in the morning knowing that the east coast has already gotten its day underway, I am far more interested in wandering out into the California morning than sitting down behind my computer. The opposing truth is that I do like work, and I do like my clients and I do like the work that I do.

My friend lives two blocks from the beach. The view out of his living room window is of the Pacific ocean, and when I woke up two days ago I walked down to the beach and for two hours watched surfers get out of their cars and dash into the surf. Most of them were wearing wet suits, and when I let the waves wash over my feet I felt the chill run up my legs settling deep into my bones. How, then, could some of those early morning surfers head out in bikinis and board shorts? Behind me, cyclists raced along the coastline and men and women in flip flops and shorts walked their dogs along the path in front of ocean-view properties. My morning biking up the West Side Highway, the morning commute to my right and New Jersey to my left pales in comparison in all ways - the view is better here, the people seem more relaxed, I've never seen anyone surfing in the Hudson, and before heading out I can't hear the surf pounding the shore outside my window.

And yet for some reason, being on the road has gotten me aching for some stability.

Sitting in my sister's living room in San Diego I can look out the window immediately to my right and see cars driving past, the cool, dry summer air carrying voices and smoke from the downstairs balcony. My home office back east is tucked into the corner, far from the window, and all attempts at moving my view to the window have failed under the constraints of my New York apartment. Though my view back at home is quite stunning, it is high above the city, and the only noises I hear are the screams into the hot New York nights and the vents from the buildings around me. Here, we have sprinklers.

And yet I look out and see the freeway - the lifeblood of California - in the distance, and I've been told that the trolley here runs from stadium to stadium and nowhere else.

I drove to San Diego from Los Angeles and sat in traffic on the 405. I drove the length of Mulholland Drive and gazed at the Hollywood sign and the city below. It really is a magical place, where the weather is always nice - except when it's too hot - and a car is certainly a larger space in which to stash all of the belongings one might need as one navigates through a day. Where New Yorkers live out of knapsacks and shopping bags, Californians live out of SUVs and sedans. I drove a Neon, and it was really quite a comfortable ride, discounting the pinch of the three dollar gallon of gas.

The trouble, of course, is that I miss my life. Diversions from the norm can be nice, when there is a norm to divert from. When your life is as eclectic as the life of a freelancer, it's very hard to break away from the routine that is, by its very nature, non-routine. Oh I try to inject a bit of routine into my everyday, but it always seems to get derailed by yet another unforeseen catastrophe.

But wait a minute. How have I gotten through the last ten days with nary a disaster? I check my emails sporadically and only get to my work when I get to it, and still everything seems to be just fine. How can we account for this? Could it be that I am not as important as I think? That my clients don't need me as much as they might? Or that I've been incredibly lucky? Or, as is more likely to be the case, is it possible that I am just pushing off the inevitable, and that two weeks of backlog are going to be waiting for me upon my return?

The amazing thing is that I will be waiting with open arms as I wake up on my first day back at the office, welcoming my work, welcoming my life, with all of its imperfections, with everything that Southern California is not. I can work from the road, and I can enjoy my time away from the everyday. But when it comes down to it, there's no place like home.

Now will someone please shut off those damn sprinklers please?



1. Interestingly, these sprinklers are watering a four foot wide patch of grass that runs along the road between the curb and the sidewalk. There is a river running across the driveway where the sidewalk and grass both end, and half the sprinkler heads are doing nothing more than watering the pavement anyway.

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