Snippets from Virginia

I spent the week in Virginia with my family. I’m writing this as I fly back, which has become something of an informal tradition for my trips lately. I think it helps me clear my head.

The flight out there was originally scheduled to leave out of Seattle at 11pm on a Thursday. I like taking redeyes out east: I’ve grown suprisingly capable of sleeping on planes 1 and I get to more or less wake up in Richmond, groggy but responsive.

But, as these things tend to happen, it was delayed from 11pm to midnight due to a customer complaint that something may be broken; and then from midnight to 12.30 to get signoff from the mechanic that nothing was broken; and then from 12.30 to 1am because of a gate change; and then from 1am til 3am because the flight attendants had surpassed their maximum hours of consecutive work, and thus the on-call flight attendants had to come in.

These situations are the worst. I hate them because there’s nothing in my power to change the circumstance, and then I hate myself for getting so aggravated about something which I can’t do anything about. So, as these things tend to happen, I make myself an airplane bottle scotch and soda (they were kind enough to provide us with booze and McDonald’s) and start working on my laptop, on a table with a couple other impatient travelers.

They talk about their journeys and their destinations: I catch a couple snippets, make a couple remarks, the usual. One of them looks at me and nods.

You seem so calm about this entire thing.

I don’t feel calm at all; I feel conquered by an impotent rage. But I’m happy that they said that; I took a guilty pleasure in my ability to project a calm.

(I end up getting into Richmond at 5pm. I was originally scheduled to get in at 10am.)

I worked my Seattle schedule Monday through Wednesday.

It was shockingly productive. I mean, I’m always more productive when I work out of the office. That’s not to say that I dislike the office, or that I’m unproductive there; but my most satisfying bouts of work come from hours of uninterrupted productivity. There’s an essay floating around the internet arguing that the strongest proof of programming as an art form is the sense of flow one can achieve when they’re doing it, and I can enter that state so much easier when I can control my surroundings.

I don’t think I’d call it artistry, but it feels good. It feels like an accomplishment.

Anyway, I was able to hit that rhythm constantly throughout the week. Not having to worry about food or cleaning or social stuff or anything let my mind focus on development, which was great but left me exhausted every evening. I’d try to write or work on a side project but I felt so depleted — not to mention physically pained, as a kitchen desk is not quite as ergonomic as my Seattle setup.

(Another part that was weird about working in Virginia — no commute is definitely more convenient, but by the end I missed walking from Cap Hill to the office. It was a solid four miles each day, plus two chances to clear my head.)

On Wednesday I went out drinking with S. We had been friends for so many years but never actually drank out together; we didn’t drink in high school, went to different colleges, and the timing never really worked after graduation until this week.

We went to Ardent and eavesdropped on the couple next to us — one of them was a little too drunk and stressing about the other’s in-laws. We went bar hopping in The Fan. I ordered a PBR tallboy, then a scotch and soda, then another PBR tallboy, and from there the night grew hazy. I ran into a couple college friends, and made a couple friends.

It was a great night. I forgot that Richmond was not just a rest stop, a place to be nostalgic and to get a home-cooked meal. A place’s capacity to surprise and excite you, I think, is more a function of willingness than of time.

I woke Thanksgiving morning with a small headache and the sad reminder that unlike Seattle, not everything in Richmond is in walking distance. I took an Uber back to my house — $20 2.

I am sitting here, on this crowded commuter flight, thinking about the past week but mostly about Thanksgiving dinner. We have a tradition in our family to go around saying what we’re thankful for, in ascending order; I, the youngest, said that I was thankful for the fact that we were all able to gather here — here, a home, a blanket, a lantern — year in and year out.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how we remember the places we’ve been after we’ve left them.

Ireland will be a temple to the dream of quiet pastoral bliss;

Williamsburg will always be those junior year days where the world seemed so vast and yet so tiny;

Richmond is the place I had so many firsts, but it is also the place I can always come home to, and be met with comfort and love and a carafe of coffee, and your dad asking you are you doing something different with your hair? and your mom telling you well don’t you look great! and you could crash into that same couch you crashed into in 8th grade, grinning and vibrant and utterly safe.

I am thankful for so much. I am thankful for everything.


  1. Hot tip: the food tray makes for a good surface upon which to collapse [return]
  2. My first Uber of the month. I’ve been trying to cut back. [return]
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Justin Duke is a writer and developer in Seattle.
He likes good, practical things.
(And writing in the third person, I guess.)


@justinmduke
me@jmduke.com