The following is a precise itinerary on how to travel from Princeton, New Jersey to Buffalo, New York.
Follow these steps exactly for a smooth and safe trip home.
2:22 am: Begin by returning home from a post-midterms party. Consider sleeping; forgo it. Missing one night of sleep won’t kill you, and adventure seems a necessary panacea. Steel yourself.
3:45 am: Finish reading Sally Rooney’s Normal People. Learn that the first bus departs from Palmer Square at 5:08 am.
5:05 am: Supported with food, showered, and dressed in a suit and tie, arrive at the bus stop at Palmer Square. Leave campus through Fitzrandolph Gate for good measure and good drama. Sip a Wawa coffee and shudder.
5:17 am: Realize and reconcile with the country bumpkin that lives within you, that the only cash you have to break a $2.75 bus fare with is a $20 note, and panic, because what else is there to do. Ask the man next to you if he can break a twenty. Accept the three dollars he gives you, and remember with joy amid your cold fatigue that human beings tend toward compassion. Recall that the $20 bill you do have was an unnecessary but loving gift from a friend. Sit more comfortably in your bus seat.
5:48 am: Find that the nice man who gave you three dollars is traveling the same way as you. Form a parasocial relationship with him. Lose track of where he is within five minutes.
6:36 am: Read a Philip Roth novel until you start to doze off. Try to sleep on the train, and consider the fact that a Northeast Corridor train at 6:36 am is one of the all-time-worst places to sleep. Sleep anyway. Rouse gently when the calm voice announces each stop: “Metuchen.” “Rahway.” “Secaucus.” Think as deeply as you can — which, to be fair, isn’t very deep — about the sonic richness of these names. Go back to sleep.
7:45 am: Arrive promptly at Penn Station and get on the A Train to find the quickest way to Harlem.
8:10 am: Come to the steps set into the rock face in Morningside Park, and be reminded that “Manhattan” probably derives from the Lenape word for “island of many hills.” There were many hills here once, and now there are only a few, including this one. Climb it. Consider how humans change the world and are changed by it.
8:23 am: Traipse about Columbia University, and feel a peculiar emotion that straddles regret and wonder.
8:36 am: Rest at the Starbucks across the street to recharge yourself and your phone. Buy a sparkling water and a pack of blueberries to earn your keep. The cashier will seem to communicate a sweet care to you: don’t miss it.
9:32 am: Call your mother and explain why you haven’t slept and are in New York.
10:13 am: Call a dear friend and explain yourself more fully.
11:34 am: Head off to the airport — the first leg is LaGuardia to Logan, in Boston. Adventure is out there somewhere.
11:36 am: Feel a similar sense of panic to earlier — TSA-based panic. Recall the Wawa hoagie in your bag — is that allowed on a plane? Will it be small enough to fit under the seat? Will you make a fool out of yourself in the line?
12:45 pm: Remember, though, that you are an extrovert and ask the TSA officer how his day is. His shocked smile will alleviate your stress.
1:21 pm: Overhear a woman say “I girlbossed my way to LaGuardia,” and honestly ponder which verb got you to LaGuardia.
2:05 pm: Repeat the instructions from 6:36 am on the airplane.
3:39 pm: On the ground in Boston, count how many modes of transportation you will take — thirteen: four buses, six trains, two planes, and one car. Revel in infrastructure.
4:01 pm: Take the T to Cambridge and wander the third Ivy League campus of the day. After a couple dozen waking hours, question what you’re doing out here, so far from home, at such a distance from reality. Sit down on the stoop of the Widener Library and read some Mary Oliver. Suddenly, find a better idea of what you’re doing out here: “To pay attention, this is our endless and proper work,” she wrote. Give that $20 bill to a panhandler. Walk on.
5:30 pm: When in Cambridge, do as the Crimson do, and follow some students into Felipe’s Taqueria, where half the school seems to be congregated. It is mediocre, because everything in Cambridge is mediocre. Recall your Harvard denial letter.
6:15 pm: Return to Boston Logan and take the airport shuttle. There, you will repeatedly hear the voice of a friend, look to find them, and then recall that you are alone in this airport shuttle.
6:27 pm: Make conversation in line for security. Here, you will have been awake for thirty-three hours and will thus find your speed of speech akin to that of molasses. The family from Toronto behind you will find that quality to bely not extreme fatigue, but instead conscientious thoughtfulness. Consider that if you stayed up for multiple days more often, you might often appear as though your mind moves faster than your mouth. Consider, also, that your brain is no longer able to make healthy decisions at this hour.
7:15 pm: Seated at the gate, try to find an outlet to charge your phone, which will not reach above 30 percent battery all day. While you do so, you will encounter a friend from high school with whom you fell out poorly. Converse with her for ninety minutes. Begin most sentences with, “Do you still…”.
9:01 pm: Board the plane. When the man next to you asks what book you are reading, answer — “Tender is the Night,” and this night is becoming rather tender indeed — and converse with him, too, on school and the classics and (somehow) literary theory, for most of the flight. Recall with blistered clarity (despite your state) Oliver Wendell Holmes’s missive, “Life is an end in itself, and the only question as to whether it is worth living is whether you have enough of it.”
10:49 pm: Arrive in Buffalo, and ride home with your parents. Go home and rest, at last.
Gabriel Robare is a Senior Writer for The Prospect, co-Head Editor of the Puzzles section, and a Contributing News Writer at the ‘Prince,’ who often covers literature and the self. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, and on Instagram and Twitter at @gabrielrobare.
Self essays at The Prospect give our writers and guest contributors the opportunity to share their perspectives. This essay reflects the views and lived experiences of the author. If you would like to submit a Self essay, contact us at email@example.com.