On a day like yesterday, when chilly winds cut to the bone, you might as well be working. But faced with a forced day off, tens of thousands of furloughed federal workers in Maryland found other ways of spending their time.
In one way the day was a gift -- the opportunity to do things there never seems time to do, such as rebuilding an old bicycle. But in another way, it was a tense journey through aimless hours wondering when this political stalemate will end.
"It's not like a planned vacation full of recreation and fun. That's relaxing," said Ron Carlson, 59, who lives in Ellicott City. "But being at home not knowing when you're going back to work is not the way you enjoy spending time away from the office."
Mr. Carlson is associate administrator for the Health Resources and Services Administration, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. He spent yesterday "organizing and planning personal affairs," he said -- "you know, the to-do list that everybody's got."
But mainly, he worried about the "enormous amount" of work facing him at his Rockville office.
"It's a case of, Yeah, you got the time off -- a few days, a week, a couple of weeks," Mr. Carlson said. "But you sit here knowing that as soon as you get back to work, you'll have to accelerate the pace and pick up where you left off the 13th or 14th of November."
Peter J. Oswald, 47, who audits the Medicare program for the General Accounting Office, welcomed the day off. He spent the morning at his home in Fulton in Howard County rebuilding an old bicycle -- a Christmas present for his nephew in Pennsylvania.
"I can always use an extra day at home," Mr. Oswald said. "There's always things on my list that I never seem to find time to do."
But he also worried about how long the furlough might last -- and whether at some point he might be deemed permanently "nonessential." That's the term applied to the furloughed workers.
"You knew you'd never make a million dollars working for the government," Mr. Oswald said. "But you knew you had job security -- at least you thought you did."
Linda Schnick was so unsettled by the mandatory time off yesterday that she applied for a temporary part-time job. A training coordinator for the United States Army Resource Laboratory at the Aberdeen Proving Ground, she talked to a friend at an employment agency, "and I told her I would take just about anything. I don't want to just sit around."
Her friend is on the lookout. "I guess you could say I'm on call," Ms. Schnick said.
Friends and co-workers Linda Masi, 32, and Kim Martin, 42, went house-hunting as a hedge against future furloughs. They live in separate apartments -- Ms. Masi in Laurel, Mr. Martin in Columbia but now, to save money, they're planning on sharing a townhouse in Columbia.
They work at the Langley Theater at the National Air and Space Museum. Mr. Martin is lead projectionist, and Ms. Masi is visitor services supervisor. They fear additional furloughs at the museum -- even after the current fiscal crisis is resolved.
"At least we're doing something constructive," Mr. Martin said, on his way out to look at more townhouses. "We're not at the track."
A mother and daughter who both work for the Social Security Administration in Woodlawn found themselves at home in Southwest Baltimore. Charlottie McKeldin, a records analysis clerk, caught up on her soap operas and spent time with her 24-year-old daughter, Ayanna Keyes.
"We're bonding," Mrs. McKeldin said, laughing. "She works in the day-care center, and with no employees at work there are no children to watch."
Computer specialist Joe Heher spent his first full furlough day at home in Reisterstown helping his wife at her part-time job -- cleaning flowers in preparation for sale at supermarkets. Having the day off was strange, he said.
"It's unusual," said Mr. Heher, who works for the Social Security Administration. "You sort of get in the routine of going off to work."