This morning, having seen some horrible traffic on my smartphone app, I decided to take the back way to work, as opposed to the freeways I usually drive in the morning. Just before the radio station I was listening to gave me the traffic news to supplement the information I had from my phone, the song “You Can Call Me Al” by Paul Simon played. This is an unusual song, in that it appears to be a happy song, but its lyrics describe a man in the midst of a midlife crisis reflecting on physical appearance, the absence of a wife and kids, the lack of a role model or people who would care about his life, and the damaging effects of hints and allegations, among other complaints. Despite the fact that the song itself barely hit the top 30 of the Billboard Hot 100 charts, the song has long been a popular one in several genres and is a pop catalog hit far out of proportion to its modest initial chart success. I find it intriguing that musicians frequently sing about the hard life, although from the outside their lives often look blessed. In reading about the lives of musicians, though, it appears that there is a lot of effort, a lot of hassle, and a lot of loneliness, along with difficulty of having one’s art subjected to the withering criticism of often unsympathetic music critics.
The song put me in a reflective mood as I traveled along an unfamiliar route, or rather, an unfamiliar way along a familiar route, as I normally take this particular way home from work but have never taken it to work before. While I figured today would be a good morning for adventure, with the slight rain and moderately stiff winds, I was struck by how dark of a route it was during the morning. I was also struck by the fact that the same residential neighborhoods near work that are nearly barren in the evening when I drive were crowded with parents walking their children to the neighborhood bus stops, with children walking alone or in small groups, and in the buses there to pick them up. As it happened, it took me just about half an hour to drive to work that way, even if the way was dark and despite the large number of people and the slight slowdown for school zones. It was, however, a vastly more pleasant drive than dodging accidents on the freeway, and so it will definitely be the second choice road to work in the future. On the way back, I managed to take the same route in reverse as I stopped by my local library to drop off three books that I have read  and pick up three more to read and review.
The path itself led me to ponder something about the routes I choose in life. By nature I prefer progress and flow, which means I choose my routes to where other people happen not to be. When I have to share the road with many other drivers, I tend to find it a frustrating experience because the travel is often slow and the lack of communication with other drivers makes it hard to understand if they are really doing their best to drive as quickly as it is possible to safely go. That said, there are tradeoffs to driving on lonely roads where the suburbs of Portland meet farm and vineyard country that looks straight out of Yamhill County, with very little transition between the two. Among the tradeoffs are the fact that rural roads are not well-lit, nor do they have bike lanes or sidewalks, nor a lot of protected left-hand turn lanes. They are usually faster, at least for me, than taking either the highways or the larger surface streets, but they are a lot more spartan, and the farms one drives by are not much different from the rural country of Central Florida (apart from the topography) or Western Pennsylvania that I know from my haunted childhood. I suppose the Portland area has enough spaces that haunt me, as if my life did not have enough haunting already.
In that light, I suppose it is particularly ironic that today was the day that quite a few of my coworkers celebrated by dressing up in often ridiculous costumes, ranging from zombies to a cross-dressing Katy Perry and her two sharks from the last Super Bowl halftime show to someone who dressed like an unspecified Greek goddess. Being a person who seldom dresses up, I was a bit surprised that my coworkers assumed that I would dress up on a day like today that I would rather not even acknowledge at all, unless someone is giving me some Reese’s cups when I knock on their door. Also of interest was the fact that today our company had a couple of all hands’ meetings, where I ended up with a couple of certificates celebrating the way I dominated the last two Open Enrollment Periods, a tasty cookie, a letter written by our company’s president, and a $5 gift certificate to Starbucks that is now the second gift certificate to that place I have to find a way to use to get myself some tasty croissants and iced tea. If one is going to brave dark streets and people dressed up in creepy costumes while listening to depressing music, the least one can do is enjoy some fine iced tea.
 See, for example: