Noe Valley Voice September 2002

Let Bylines be Bylines:
Part-Time is Plenty

By Erin O'Briant

I just went part-time, and I'm never going back. Thirty hours a week, I've discovered, is enough for me.

After a few years as a fulltime journalist and several nightmarish months as a receptionist in the East Bay (welcome to the Recession), I needed a break. I wanted to read more and stress less. I wanted to see daylight on a weekday. I wanted more than six hours of sleep a night.

I knew there had to be a way to work less. I got rid of my car, bought a bicycle, stocked up on Ramen noodles, and found a part-time job a short bike ride from my home. (Though I'm a former Noe Valley resident, I'm currently living in Bernal Heights -- or as I like to call it, Outer Noe Valley.)

Now I'm working a few hours a day, writing my choice of stories, editing some copy here and there, and feeling more relaxed than I've felt since puberty. I no longer cringe at the sight of my alarm clock. I read, on average, a book or two a week. I do have to monitor my bank balance pretty closely, but it's a small price to pay for my sanity.

Plenty of folks in Noe Valley are doing the same. They work anywhere from 8 to 30 hours per week for a variety of reasons. As I strolled the neighborhood searching for fellow part-timers, I met students, retirees, homemakers, writers -- and one fellow who says he's just plain lazy.

Maybe he is, and some would surely say I am, too. But I have a different take on it: I think the 40 or 50 hours most full-time jobs demand is just too much. Add travel time and mandatory unpaid lunch break (or working lunch) on top of that, and the average on-site job can consume 11 hours a day or more. No wonder people are worn out by Friday afternoon.

"I haven't found any disadvantages [to working part-time] yet," says Davi Marra, a City College student and former programmer who works a few hours a week at both Cover to Cover Booksellers and Workwear, a Noe Valley clothing store. Marra says he particularly likes working for local, independent stores.

"I've worked for other retail places, like Borders, and it was a big, hectic company," he adds. "It's really nice and peaceful in Noe Valley."

Marra used to live in the neighborhood, too, but now resides in the Richmond District.

Meanwhile, another bookstore employee enjoys job sharing so she can spend time with her grandchildren in Michigan. Suzanne Schneider Ross has been working at Phoenix Books and Records for three years and job sharing with a co-worker for the past nine months. They trade off working 24 to 30 hours a week in two-month stretches.

"I'm fortunate to have a boss who does something like this," says Ross. "I get to have a job I love and visit family I love. It's the best of both worlds."

Though she lives in North Beach, she enjoys working in Noe Valley. "We have a very nice clientele from Noe Valley and other areas," Ross explains.

Designers' Club sales associate Gale Trent says working part-time -- around 24 hours a week -- gives her "time to breathe." She has a great boss and knows her regular customers, so the 24th Street clothing store is a pleasant environment for her. Of course, finances are one major reason people work full-time, and Trent admits it would be hard to make ends meet working so few hours without her husband's support.

Lack of a partner's paycheck doesn't stop Aveda's Ryan George from keeping a part-time schedule. "I'm constantly struggling [financially]," says the 26-year-old. "I'm always selling my things on eBay to make ends meet, but I like my free time." He's been working at Aveda for a couple of years, and recently transferred to Noe Valley from an Aveda store in the East Bay. He loves the new location. "Everybody is so friendly, especially compared to Los Angeles," notes the former Southern California resident.

Noe Valley is a great place to work, agrees Elaine Climpson, a retired attorney who loves her part-time job at Terra Mia ceramics studio on Castro Street. She helps kids and adults glaze all sorts of pottery, and has learned quite a bit about the art of ceramics herself. "If I had my druthers, I'd never leave," says Climpson, who lives in Noe Valley on Chattanooga Street.

She has lots of flexibility, and can travel for a few weeks at a time or pick up extra shifts if she wants to work more. Compared to her full-time career as an attorney, says Climpson, it's "like night and day.... [Terra Mia] is just such a fun place."

I agree -- the difference between working full- and part-time is dramatic. My paychecks were once much larger than they are now. Two years ago I lived alone; today I share a flat with two roommates. Until recently, my wheels were powered by an internal-combustion engine, rather than my own two legs. I used to buy clothes that weren't on the sale rack. I had a cell phone.

I wouldn't trade any of it for the hours I now spend roaming Dolores Park or composing haiku. Someday I may have to return to the full-time grind, but for now, part-time is plenty.

In addition to being a frequent contributor to the Voice, Erin O'Briant is a local
spoken word performer. You can catch her act at ForWord Girls on Sept. 28

Let Bylines Be Bylines

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