[...]Or perhaps if I could just say "if you want that, go ahead and do that in the admin then". As it stands, I feel like drupal is costing me more time than it is saving me, and thus the learning curve doesn't seem worth it.
Bingo. I wouldn't suggest that Drupal is poorly written or that the documentation is bad. The fundamental problem with it is it creates more work than it saves. If your needs are specific, it's too rigid and if your needs are generic, it's too complicated to be worth it. I suffered from the former problem as every little thing I wanted to do required tapping into the core, meaning I had to redo whatever I did upon an upgrade. If you think Drupal might be a good solution for you, then you ought to try Django or writing something from scratch using Ruby on Rails or the Zend framework.
For every complex problem, there is a solution that is simple, neat, and wrong. -- H. L. Mencken