I’m a bit more than four months into My Next Phase (Whatever That Is), after taking the leap of faith and leaving the newspaper dayjob. So I am still attempting to cobble together a career/work scenario (or at least non-starvation living) out of various side-hustle fragments. And how’s that going, you ask? Mixed! Some freelance assignments have come my way, and I am grateful for all of them. It’s still not clear, however, if I’ll ever attain a sustainable financial equilibrium doing just contract work. On the other hand, I had an actual job interview for a part-time gig this week — more on that soon, I hope. We’ll see.
Meantime, I’m still adjusting, day-to-day. One major change in my new daily routine is that…I don’t really have one. I no longer have an office workplace to go to, which I miss a lot more than I thought I would. It’s a situation with pluses and minuses, of course. The commute from bedroom to kitchen table is lots faster than driving downtown. And yet it’s also just a little too easy to turn into the sort of hermit who never leaves the house, so I do try to get out at least once a day.
To that end, over the past few months I’ve been seeking public places where I can work. And here’s where I tend to wind up:
(1) Coffeehouses — Coffee joint as de facto office has become kind of a cliche for those hoofing it in The Gig Economy (TGE), and yet I must admit: There’s something about the smell of coffee brewing that makes me feel like I should be writing. It’s a Pavlovian response similar to the smell of popcorn giving you a sudden urge to go watch a movie.
Coffee joints are everywhere, of course, but you don’t want just any old Starbucks. A totally deserted coffeehouse can feel dead, while a too-crowded one can be an even bigger drag. If you find a java joint with the proper-vibe combination of good coffee, just-right critical-mass crowd and good ambient music (something along these lines, say), treasure it. Brew in Seaboard Station has become my main go-to.
(2) Libraries — The public library remains one of the few truly egalitarian communal gathering spots because, as long as you behave, you can hang around pretty much as long as you want without spending any money (a big plus for those of us on the semi-employed budget). The bad part is, that often makes for an environment that might not be terribly conducive to thinking, reading and writing. I’ve been in some libraries that felt more like daycare centers, which feels churlish to complain about. It’s great to get kids interested in books at an early age, of course, but concentration can be difficult when the young folks are bouncing off the walls.
I’ve sampled a number of libraries around Raleigh, and Cameron Village Regional Library usually has enough other patrons around to give you a feeling of things going on without so many that you can’t find an open chair. It’s also big enough that you can just about always find a quiet corner. I usually wind up there a couple of times a week.
(3) Shopping malls — Malls get a bad rap for being soul-sapping theme-park monuments to mindless consumerism, temples of banality and environmental catastrophes. In a world where you can get anything delivered to your door via Amazon, they don’t even really make economic sense anymore. Raleigh’s Triangle Town Center is in foreclosure, a fate that Crabtree Valley Mall is looking to avoid by adding a skyscraper hotel where Sears used to be. It’s pretty much the same story everywhere. There’s a book about the unmalling of America in the works, “The Decline of Mall Civilization” by Chapel Hill multi-media artist Michael Galinsky, and it’s a fascinating archaeological collection of 1980s-vintage photos of malls from the era when they were the only game in town.
And yet for all that, malls still strike a chord for those of us who grew up in them, and they’re actually not bad places to hang out. They’re climate-controlled with acres of walking space, plus food and drink available in food courts (free samples!). There’s usually decent WIFI, and most of them even have comfortable furniture set up on the concourses, in the style of living rooms.
I have spent hours camped out with my laptop on various couches in Triangle Town and Crabtree the past few months, working on this or that piece of writing. If anyone walking by finds it weird to see me working with papers and folders spread out, well, they’ve been too polite to say anything.
So yeah, I’d actually recommend the mall as satellite change-of-scenery workspace. Just find an easy chair within smelling distance of a Starbucks, and you’re good to go.