Planes, Trains and Automobiles: the life of a traveling law school professor

campus millstreamI admit it:  I loved law school.  Yes, I am one of those people who relished the Socratic method, the demanding professors and the seemingly-endless reading.  I knew from my first law school class that I had found my passion.

That was thirty-four years ago, at Willamette University College of Law in Salem, Oregon.  Now, after two bar exams and a move to Reno, I am back at Willamette as an adjunct professor.  Being addressed as “professor” produces a reflexive look around for a real professor who must be the intended recipient.  Despite such uncertainties, once again I’ve found a passion in law school.  And once again, it is at the school I grew to love as a student in the early 1980s.

I am an unlikely teacher.  I am a country lawyer, not an academic. I never want to become an academic; I am practitioner.  I had no formal training to teach.  And I have a substantial commute to fit in to my full-time practice to make it to class every week.

About 30 miles south of the perimeter of Portland’s growing borders, Salem sits at the northern tip of the rural portion of Oregon’s Willamette Valley.  Salem is a quiet town, one might even fairly say a sleepy town, so very unlike its eclectic and burgeoning neighbor to the north.  Portland wears its self-given moniker of “weird” like a badge of honor, but the city is beguiling, and unsurprisingly, some Willamette law professors just can’t swap life in the big city for Salem.  But that does not stop them from complaining about the commute.

When I hear this, I think of Mick Dundee’s famous line, “you call that a knife?” and I metaphorically whip out my own knife: a commute of planes, trains and automobiles.  A mere 60- minute freeway drive is nothing on me.

There is no direct commercial flight from Reno to Salem; there are barely two commercial flights a day to Portland.  This means that each weekly trip starts and ends by air and, lest that sound too cushy, these planes are not jets.  So, I get to deal with TSA, late flights, mechanical problems and – the worst of all – flights that are diverted from Reno to San Jose or somewhere equally inconvenient due to weather, just like every other traveler.  The bonus round is that the only direct flight to Portland also means getting in a fuselage that not even one as vertically challenged as I can stand up fully in.  Suffice it to say the seats were made to fit munchkins.  I witnessed an adorable five-year old board one of these flights recently with a look of pure wonderment and awe, like this was Disneyland.  The bloom was off that rose decades ago for me.  Sorry, sport, no cute mice on this flight.

Then, there’s the train.  I don’t know if it is famous or not, but Portland’s commuter trains are efficient and cheap and probably the only bargain on the trip (except for the hospitality of my family in their charming Westmoreland neighborhood where I flop on Sunday nights).  Oh, and there’s a bus ride in there, too.  Nothing remarkable about the Dog other than the bad smells.

Then, there’s the automobile, to drive from southeast Portland to the university at 6:30 on Monday mornings to make it to my 8 a.m. class.  If the traffic isn’t too bad, that is about an hour drive (the same drive about which my colleagues complain).

After class, I get to do the entire trip in reverse.  All in, all done: 6-7 hours, one way, if I’m lucky.  Portland commuters, step aside.

Now, that’s what I call a knife.