Boarding the T at Harvard and Commonwealth Avenue, I am often tempted to turn around and wave goodbye to my Mom. It’s not that I ever caught the school bus this way ‘- I walked or was driven after my parents made me their version of the American breakfast, whole wheat waffles and soy sausages. But the inbound B Line looks like its heading to Commonwealth Junior High. There are bookbags and bagged lunches. It’s the most obvious statistic in Boston, what they say on the tours is true: One-third of Boston residents are students, none more special than another ‘- except, of course, the Harvard students. To be a student in Boston is not always such a treat and I have bought over 30 tickets for planes, trains and even ferries over my four years to get away.
This weekend took me to the big, if slightly overtaxed, heart of the Midwest. Cleveland looks like an anatomical case study from Science Tuesdays of The New York Times. Several arteries are diseased, sluggish but pumping. I got all its affection. All weekend I was greeted with smiles and ‘sweethearts,’ and not just from family. I was visiting, among other important people, my sister who for good reasons of her own has returned to the aging steel town where our father grew up.? The trip was great, but by the time I saw Logan Airport on the Southwest screen, I was ready to be back in Boston.
Every time I come back to Boston University I get to remind myself I have in some sense made it. I do not have to return to the sticky lunch room of third grade or the shocking quiet of my suburban street. I get to take the screeching, stinking T?to my screeching, stinking Allston neighborhood, eat dessert for dinner, read into the early morning and wake up still a college student. I am disproportionately delighted by this stage, I’ll admit. College happens to be a lot of things I like all wrapped up into one: plenty of excuses to drink coffee, stay up late and drop ‘-ologies’ like cigarette butts.?
This trip to visit my sister reminded me of the first time I left Boston to see her. It was freshman year and home base was then the Hyatt Regency, which, regardless of whatever they tell you, is no place to be a college student.’ Imagine living in cardiologist’s convention, ugly carpet and name tags included.? That trip I traveled by Greyhound ‘- its own adventure ‘- and got the first taste of college travel. During the hours of delay before the bus arrived I sat down of the floor of South Station with my book and no one blinked. There I was, a fully grown person dressed in appropriate clothing for the era and climate, willingly settling myself on the Petri dish that is the linoleum of any public space, and no one told me not to. I was a Student! Transitory, nominally academic, nomadic, apparently homeless, completely acceptable and totally indulged.? I fell asleep on the bus listening to my music ‘- exhausted Student. I stood around the station waiting for my sister ‘- disorganized Student. On the way back I flipped through and highlighted my reading ‘- committed but hungover Student.
I hope you all appreciate the patience and respect we all garner in this role. We’re treated like members of the armed service without any of the political implications. As long as we can stretch it we get license to sleep where we may, appear in semi-derelict dress, wander unwashed and a little distracted. I would like to think I’ve perfected these poses and added some over the years. This weekend I fell asleep on my big book for half the flight. My fellow passengers played along beautifully, ignoring my awkward position and the hostility of my hood. ‘Didn’t get much reading done . . . Trying to learn through osmosis?’? They helped me grab my bag from the overhead container where, just incidentally, objects never seem to shift AN INCH. I slept through my chance to order a drink and wrangled one anyway. In the airport I asked, frankly, unnecessary and obvious questions, forgot to put my liquids in zip-lock bags and was smiled at all the same. Neighbors who were holding Dan Brown suddenly began telling me about Herman Melville, asked me about my major and wished me luck. It must be the backpack.?
So perhaps it is not returning to Boston University at all but rather leaving it. Having a university I.D. gets me not only free entrance to the Museum of Fine Arts but tolerance in California, Chennai and Chicago, Mid-Way. This year when I travel I tell those boarding the plane with me that I am a senior. ‘Thinking about graduate school?’ they ask kindly, watching me juggle a packet of papers with the lyrical title ‘Madness and Modernism.’?Of course.