All things being equal, it is almost always a better deal to accept in-town work rather than out-of-town work as a freelancer. The pay is usually better, the hours are usually shorter, and the artistic quality is usually higher.
The one big bummer with working "in-town", at least in Chicago, is dealing with urban parking. Although I have learned over the years when it’s advisable to hunt and when I should admit defeat and park in the $20 garage, it is still much more of a hassle than simply pulling into the ubiquitous parking lot of suburban gigs, pulling out my gear, and walking in the door.
Even the logistics of simply getting all the right musicians in the right place at the right time can be a considerable challenge, as evidenced by my tale about being locked outside the hall on a bitter winter night. This kind of thing happens all the time, and though I may have thought that getting locked out was the worst I was going to get during that week of work, I was dead wrong.
We had a second rehearsal, again in the city, later that evening for this plucky little opera company. Finishing a rehearsal at noon and having nothing until 7:00 p.m. always causes groans among musicians. We usually prefer to double up rehearsals and then get a good solid day off. Working early in the morning and then late at night may be fine for folks gigging within walking distance of their home, but for musicians commuting from far-flung suburbs, it’s a no-win situation. You end up either sitting in traffic for half of that break in an attempt to get a few minutes at home, or you find yourself drinking eight cups of coffee at the local diner or bookstore, shaking, sweating, and twitching from both caffeine and a lack of activity.
I ended up scheduling lessons for the entire break, making for a long but profitable day. That’s the way I like to operate–when I’m out of the house I’m on the clock and working, and when I’m home I’m on my own schedule and can set my own priorities.
The second rehearsal of the day was in a city neighborhood just north of downtown Chicago, the worst kind of area for parking, with extremely specific restrictions everywhere (15 minute parking, no parking after 6 p.m. except residents, etc.) but a dearth of garages or other legal places to leave your car. I arrived at the second rehearsal for the day quite early, knowing what I chore it would be to find parking in this neighborhood. I had to bring my bass, stool, stand, and stand light to this gig (plus my laptop), and I didn’t relish the prospect of trudging around in the bitter cold for seven or eight blocks hauling all of this gear.
I looked on a map, realizing that there was a university parking lot with free night parking about a mile away. Perfect! I headed for the lot, actually finding a spot on the street about a block closer to the gig. I pulled out my gear, got it all balanced as best as I could manage, and started the long walk south.
I immediately realized that the distance was…well, much greater than it looked on the map. Block after block went by, and I began to regret my parking decision…not that there was much that I could do at that point. As I neared the gig I found a whole bunch of open spots on the streets just a block away. Aaargh! They hadn’t been there when I passed that street earlier, and they would of course be snatched up if I tried to go get my car at that point.
I played the rehearsal, enjoying the music (this was a good group) but dreading the slog back north with my gear. I contemplated leaving my gear and getting my car, but I hate doing that–if I’m already walking to the car, why not just haul all the gear with me and save as trip? Maybe when I’m 60 years old I’ll change my mind, but I’m still young enough and full of enough pride to not resort to this.
Heading out the door, I glanced in the alley, noticing that all of the musicians had parked their cars up against the building, blocking the alley from other cars but making life a lot easier for their commute home. Irritated, I began to trudge back toward my car. So this is what honesty gets you….
As I walked back with all of my gear, several of the orchestra musicians rolled down their windows as they passed me.
"Why are you walking?"
"I like walking!"
They looked at me like I was a weirdo (not the first time I’ve gotten that look in my life!) and drove off.