Through a Bus Window

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Note: The following is the true account of how I experienced graduate school starting back in 2011. I worked three jobs and battled homelessness. Many people will ask, “well why didn’t you move?” 

It’s not that simple. First, rents in Boston at the time were 5x what I was paying in Upstate New York. In Upstate New York, I lived in a 2-bedroom apartment with two cats. For 5x what I was paying in rural New York, in Boston I would have had: a single one-room the size of a closet in a house shared with 9 other people. I would not have been able to take my cats. I will not live without my cats. Not to mention, in order to afford the 5x rent, I would have had to take on a job that was paying me $2 less per hour. Even if you are not good at math, you should be able to figure out that living in Boston was not affordable. It is one of the top 3 most expensive cities to live in the United States. 

So, this is the story of my graduate school commute and what I did to receive an education.

Other people will ask, “well why go to school in Boston? Why not go to school in New York?” I had that idea too. The problem is that no schools in New York State accepted me for admission to graduate school. All of the schools that accepted me were in Boston.

It was my dream at the time to return to Boston. I left in 1997 and regretted that decision. Leaving Boston in the 90s was my only regret. I was trying to rectify it. So here is what one of my weeks looked like and how I came to live my life through a bus window.

Monday

It’s 8 pm on Monday night and I am driving home from work in the pouring rain. It will take roughly an hour to get home. I am exhausted, as I have been going all day. I will be so happy when I get home just before 9 pm to see the cats. They need to be fed and Kip needs his medication.

It’s 9 pm. The cats are fed and I have set up the automatic pet feeder to provide them with their next 2 meals. I take as much time as I can to play with them, love them, cuddle them. At 10 pm, it’s time to pick up my back pack and lunch box and head out the door.

At 10 pm, I start the hour long drive to the city of Binghamton, NY. In Binghamton, I arrive at a friend’s house. I park the car without going inside. The friend is someone who I went to undergrad school with at Binghamton University while finishing my bachelors degree. She has given me permission to park my car in her driveway so that I can avoid parking lot fees in Binghamton.

At 11 pm, I leave the car in my friend’s driveway. I put on my backpack, pick up my lunch box, and start walking 3 miles to the bus station. It’s late at night and I am walking through a not very nice part of the city. I am alert. I have to keep moving no matter what the weather is doing. I have to arrive at the bus station before midnight or I will miss my chariot.

At midnight Monday into Tuesday morning, I board a Greyhound bus. I had purchased my ticket more than 2 weeks in advance to get a discounted rate. It was only about $10. My graduate school financial aid was paying for my transportation. 

I decided to ride the bus instead of drive for two reasons. First, I did not want to kill my car with mileage. I was living paycheck to paycheck and did not have money to afford a new car. Second, I was exhausted. I had officially been awake for going on 24 hours. I needed a nap. The one hour drive to Binghamton was hard enough. I did not have it in me to safely drive any further.

At midnight, I board the very crowded Greyhound bus. I hoped for a window seat to rest my head. I tried to sleep as best I could sitting straight up on a crowded bus. I was so exhausted, I was out like a light. My lunch box was under my seat. My backpack was nesteled between my legs to deter theft. My backpack held my laptop and school materials.

Tuesday

It’s 5 am and the sun is rising. I’m awake. I was fortunate enough to get a window seat, so looking out I see the skyline of New York City. For the “city that never sleeps,” it sure looks groggy. Anyone who is out and about is up to no good. I’m being generous with my assessment.

Between 5 am and 6 am, the Greyhound rolls into Times Square. We arrive at the bus station. I have to fight through the crowds to try to go from one bus terminal to another. I have to be sure that no one is pick pocketing me or touching me inappropriately. 

I have my knife in my pocket. I had to use it once to stab a would-be rapist so that I could get away. It was the only time in my life I had ever caused bodily harm to another person, but I did not want to be raped. The unknown assailant had come up and pinned me against a wall in Times Square between terminals. No one in NYC cares what happens around them, so screams are meaningless. I used my knife and ran.

I digress. It is between 5 am and 6 am. I navigate NYC on foot to go between terminals. 

At 6 am, I am on another bus. At least, I hope I’m on another bus at 6 am. It is often late, and I have to take the “next” bus at 7 am. I am going on 5 hours of fitful sleep on a very full bus and almost asleep on my feet.

By 7 am, I am on a bus, even if it wasn’t the one I was supposed to be on. However, it’s going to the right place, so all is well. 

I attempt to sleep on this bus as well. It is full, and the sun is out full force. I am sitting up. I’m so exhausted, I sleep any way. I get about an hour of sleep.

Many people think that I should have been doing my school work on this bus. The problem is that any time I try to read in a moving vehicle, I get motion sickness and vomit. It only happens when I try to read in a vehicle. If I am simply riding, or engaging in almost any other activity that is not reading, I do not get motion sickness. I sleep on the bus as much as I can.

Sometime between 8:30 – 9 am, the bus arrives at South Station in Boston. The city is bustling with the morning commute. I leave the bus terminal and go on foot to the T station. This is the subway system in Boston. I plan to grab a train to campus so I have some time to study before my first class of the day.

I pull my Charlie Card out. The Charlie Card is what holds the fares for the T. I scan my Charlie Card and it says “denied.” I have 80 cents on my Charlie Card. It costs $1.10 to ride the T to campus. I am 30 cents short. I can’t put more money on my Charlie Card. My financial aid for graduate school has not arrived yet. My checking account only has 5 cents left in it. I have no cash.

It’s pouring rain and I walk outside to start the 3 mile walk to campus. I have an umbrella, but it does no good. This was the year it rained so hard in Boston that the baseball field at Fenway Park was flooded under 4 inches of water. I arrive to campus with my feet completely soaked, as well as both legs. The water traveled up my jeans and I was completely wet as if I had no umbrella at all. 

I arrive on campus just in time for my first class. I don’t have time to study. 

I sit in the very back of class hoping no one will notice my rain-soaked state. No one realizes what I just went through to get there. I remove my socks and shoes hoping no one will notice. I try putting them by the heater to dry them out. 

I go through my classes for the day. I eat the food in my lunchbox. My lunchbox has now provided me with breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I don’t have money for food. I didn’t even have money for the train. 

I have a reusable coffee mug in my bag, a spoon, and a packet of oatmeal. I go into a convenience store and use the hot water at the coffee station to make my oatmeal. I don’t buy anything. I don’t have any money. I leave as quickly as I can after having taken some hot water in my coffee mug for the oatmeal.

I am in classes all day long. All of my classes are scheduled into Tuesdays and Thursdays. I am a full time graduate student. I am taking 4 classes.

At 8 pm on Tuesday, my classes are done for the day. I head over to the library to work on my reading and class work.

I set an alarm for when I need to leave the library to head back to South Station. I’m lucky I do. I fall asleep in the library. The alarm awakens me. The librarian has a concerned look on her face over the obviously homeless person who looks rumpled after not having slept in a bed or had a real shower in over 24 hours. 

I quickly put all my school materials back in my bag and head towards the door. I have to make it to South Station before 10 pm. 

At 10 pm, South Station is locked for the night. You cannot enter South Station after 10 pm until it is unlocked in the morning. My bus did not leave until 1 am. However, the only way to catch that 1 am bus was to be inside South Station before 10 pm when it was locked.

I walk through the City of Boston from campus to South Station. It is late, but I feel safe. Walking alone at night in Boston is much safer than both NYC and Binghamton, NY. I still have my knife in my pocket. But I know I won’t have to use it here.

I arrive in South Station before 10 pm. Some nights I cut it close. I get in before they lock the doors and head to my terminal. I get in line. I sit in line for my bus for 3 hours. Sometimes I work on school, sometimes I sleep. I try not to sleep. There are pick pockets every where.

Wednesday

At 1 am Wednesday, I board a bus in South Station in Boston. The bus is heading for NYC. I blissfully fall sleep sitting up on a completely full bus.

I transfer busses in NYC to head back to Upstate New York. I am doing the entire trip in reverse. I arrive in Binghamton. I walk 3 miles to my car. I drive an hour home.

I walk in my house so happy to see the cats. I feed them, love them, play with them. I take a shower and repack bag. I have to go to work. But I will see my cats tonight.

I work from noon on Wednesday until 8pm on Wednesday.

At 8 pm on Wednesday, I go through the exact same process I went through on Monday night. I drive an hour home from work. I spend time with the cats. T repack my bag. I drive an hour to Binghamton. I park the car. I walk 3 miles to the bus station. 

At midnight on Wednesday, I am back on a bus again after having worked a full day. I am going back to Boston for my Thursday classes.

Thursday

It’s Thursday. Thursday looks just like my Tuesday. I arrive in Boston. I go to class. I travel back to work through the night.

It is now Thursday night and I have not slept in a bed all week. Every single night I have slept on a bus – Monday night, Tuesday night, Wednesday night, Thursday night.

I arrive back home late Friday morning.

Friday 

I am so happy to see the cats. I feed them, spend time with them, love them. I take a shower to wash off the grime and dirt of the city. It is my first shower in two days.

I have to go to work. I repack my bag and set up the automatic pet feeder for the cats yet again.

It’s Friday, and I work at one job from noon to 8 pm.

At 8 pm on Friday, I leave work. I can’t go home this time. I have to go to my next job.

My next job is an overnight. It starts at 10 pm. I have roughly 2 hours between jobs. I sit in a cafe downtown and work on my school work.

I start my second job doing an overnight shift at 10 pm. The good news is that if it is not busy, I am allowed to sleep. It is an on-call overnight job. As long as I wake up when the bells go off, I can sleep when things are quiet.

I work from 10 pm Friday night until 8 am Saturday morning.

Saturday

It is 8 am Saturday morning. I just finished my shift at my overnight job. I may have gotten one hour of sleep. I may have gotten 6 hours of sleep. It all depends on how busy the work was that night.

The next shift comes in at 8 am. I take the opportunity to take a shower at work. I can’t go home yet. I have to work to make money to pay my bills. I have another job to go to.

I work at my third job on Saturday from 9 am to 4 pm. When 4 pm on Saturday comes, I am exhausted, but also excited.

Once I get home on Saturday night, I will be able to be home for 24 hours. It is also the ONLY night of the entire week that I get to sleep in a bed. I get to be with the cats and I get to sleep in my own bed.

Saturday night I get home and I am so happy to see the cats. I can’t just relax, though. I’m in graduate school. I have a lot of school work to do. My Saturday nights were always spent writing 20 page papers for class. This was the time when I got all my school work done for the week.

On Saturday night, I get to sleep in my own bed.

Sunday

On Sunday morning, I wake up in my own bed with the cats. This is bliss. I still can’t relax. I have to keep going. 

It’s Sunday morning and I have to do my long run. I am training for another marathon. I use the three mile “walks” during the week commuting as training runs. Sundays are for long, slow distance. Each week miy mileage increases until I top out at 22 miles a few weeks before my marathon. 

I get up Sunday morning. It’s time to run 18 miles. I have a race for which I am training.

I get home from my run and have lunch. I do everything I am supposed to do to recover from my long run including icing my legs. The cats are so happy to see me and have me home.

Sunday afternoon, I spend the entire afternoon cooking and preparing food. I have to prep all of my meals for the week so that I have food to throw in the lunchbox when I come home to repack my bags. 

At 8:30 pm on Sunday night, I leave the house. I have to go to work at my over night job.

At 10 pm on Sunday night, I start my overnight shift. This is the job where I can try to sleep if it’s not busy. I work until 8 am on Monday.

Monday

I finish my overnight shift at 8 am on Monday. I shower at work. I have to go to my next job. 

Today is Monday. I have another job I have to work from 9 am to 4 pm.

I work.

It’s Monday. My third job ends at 4 pm. I still can’t go home. I have to work my second job.

I go to my second job Monday night from 5 pm to 8 pm.

Once I get off work at 8 pm, I get to go home.

But now, I have to start the communte to Boston for school.

Conclusion

This is where we started when I began writing this piece. We started with 8 pm on Monday night. 

I’ve seen the world through a bus windshield. This is the sacrifice I made to receive an education. I did not get accepted at any schools in New York. I could not afford to move to Boston. Yet, I wanted to learn. It was important to me to get an education and get a degree.

When I bought my house a few years ago, I decided to be a “responsible adult” and do some funeral planning. One of the things I planned is that I want a celebration of life party with a playlist of songs that I have curated. One of the songs on my list of 26.2 is “Old Blue Chair” by Kenny Chesney. I have literally lived every word of that song. I have seen the world through a bus windshield.

This year marks 10 years since I started the Boston commute to pursue my graduate degree. To this day, I’m not sure how I ever survived the experience. However, I must say I do not regret it for one moment. I am very proud to have a graduate degree.

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