Tim’s an art director for a catalog company. For the past few years, he’s been working with a photography studio in Portland, Maine. He spends a lot of time there—I’m guessing almost 3 months per year, if you were to add up all the weeks.
The longest stint is always in spring. He left Sunday, and he’ll come home around mid-April.
This has the potential to be a real relationship stressor. If we had kids, I don’t see how I could put up with him being gone so much. If he was shooting at some studio on the other side of the country, I would be very cranky. If I were working a regular office job, we’d be stuck being apart all those weeks. But none of these things are true. We are childfree, I am a freelancer, and the fabulous town of Portland is only a 5-hour drive away.
Tim stays at a hotel right downtown on the waterfront. He can walk to work from there. There’s wireless Internet in the room, which means that I can walk to work too—the several feet from the bed to the desk. There’s a small gym, so I don’t have to miss a workout (and when lucky, I can time it to next-day repeats of the Daily Show and the Colbert Report). There’s a promenade by the bay, so when it’s nice out, I can take the fast walk instead of the elliptical cross-train. (Ah, to be a runner. I’m not.)
In Portland, I become a Pedestrian, a life I gave up when I left the city. Within 2 hours of pounding the concrete, macadam, and cobblestones, I have shin splints. I will feel it for 3 days or so. Then I’ll have my city legs back.
And there’s food. Oh sweet Jesus, there’s food.
It’s not that there isn’t food in rural Vermont. It’s just that there’s very little interesting food for the money. I don’t have to go far from home to be offered an opportunity to drop a wad o’ cash for dinner, or even a half-wad, but it’s rare to feel that I’ve gotten my money’s worth. Where is the nearby affordable dive for me to love and frequent? It eludes me.
In Portland, even the dives are great.
People assume I eat a lot of seafood when I’m in Portland. I eat a lot of fish, not a lot of shellfish. (I eat a lot of nonfish too: Indian, Thai, barbecue, and the best duck I’ve ever had.) I’ve never been someone who thought that a bigass lobster was the treat of a lifetime.
After a 25-year hiatus, I did get up the nerve to eat some raw oysters at a nice little bar, and I didn’t hate them. I don’t crave them, but they’re interesting, so oceany, and with a crisp glass of Gavi, it’s a sweet little happy hour.
And then there’s Una, my favorite martini bar. I don’t know why I love it so much. Maybe it’s the company I’ve kept there. Maybe it’s just that I miss cities, and it feels so urban. Maybe it’s because the martinis are good. When I get there early enough to sit at the bar, I’m a happy, tipsy camper.
Have I mentioned the movies? There are eight screens within walking distance, and the downtown theaters tend to run some of the more indie stuff that may never get to my corner of Vermont. The closest movie theater to my house is a half-hour drive.
The people Tim works with are exceptional. I know, they have to be nice to Client Tim, but they’ve become our friends, socializing with us in the off-hours beyond the call of duty. Peter has invited us to two company Christmas parties at his house, parties that I, introvert, have really enjoyed. Tim sometimes plays music with George and Emma at their house; if I’m there, I hang with ultracool wife/mom Michelle.
I leave Friday to join Tim for about 10 days. I’m already getting antsy, wondering if I can wait that long. There are definitely things to look forward to. On Tim’s last trip, in January, Len turned him on to a new restaurant/bar, and rumor has it that three of us must go there one night. I’m going to love it. I’m picking up my very first commissioned piece of art on this trip, by Louise, who works in—among other things—piano parts. On Saturday night, I’m going to my first-ever roller derby, starring Heidi. I’m utterly psyched and need to start reviewing the rules.
Maybe I can get Wendy to teach me to shoot this trip. I should send her an e-mail.
Portland’s become a home-away-from-home. It’s highly artificial on some levels, of course. I mean, if we moved there, our lives would be nothing like the charmed downtown existence we lead as Tim lives on expense account and I spend my allowance on food and drink. We would be caught up in real life, life with chores always looking us in the face, life with major bills to pay, life with little time for friends because everyone’s just too busy. In Portland, we live in a hotel-room bubble. We have time for each other and other people. How does one make that happen at home?
Don’t get me wrong. I love where I live, and it helps to spend the daily grind near mountains, streams, and little traffic. There are reasons I left the city. But there’s a part of me that will always be urban, and it needs to be fed. That Tim’s job takes him to this seaport gives me that.
There are eiders in the bay. I don’t see many eiders in landlocked Vermont. And Portland mockingbirds speak seagull. I love that.
Time to Pack.