Next stop: Back to campus this fall

A personal essay about my grueling commute and learning from home


Commute_TAP Cards Photo Credit Erick Cabrera

Erick Cabrera, Community News Reporter

That annoying ringing. I often asked myself, “Why?” when I heard it. I would stare at the pitch dark ceiling for a few minutes then look to my left. 

The time: 4:25 a.m.

I’d turn off the alarm, get up from bed and head into the kitchen to see my mom head off to work her job at a warehouse.

“Es tan temprano, pero cuídate hijo. Te quiero,” she recalled saying on many mornings. “It’s too early, but take care, son.”

“A ti tambien,” was often my response. “You, too.”

I would quickly get ready for school: take a shower, have a small breakfast, give my dog his seizure medicine, pack a lunch and other snacks to last throughout the day.

I usually found myself rushing out the door of my South Los Angeles home around 5:15 a.m. to catch the first train of my daily commute to Santa Monica College — which took an astounding two-plus hours each way.

That was my typical day for three years, before I had a car to be able to commute,  as I attended community college.

“Why did I choose to go to Santa Monica College? Why, just why?” I would often ask myself.

I knew it was too far for anyone in my family to give me a ride. I knew both my parents have blue-collar jobs, my mom working at a warehouse by day and my dad working the night shift at a different warehouse.

My older sister, who worked while attending East Los Angeles College, worried about me.

“I don’t think it was smart of you to go to Santa Monica,” my sister recalled saying on more than one occasion. “We could have gone together to school.”

Even though I had my driver’s license, I couldn’t afford a car.

The commute was grueling and sometimes unreliable.

Walking to the station, I often checked my phone for updates on what time the train would arrive. There were days that I would have caught my train had I left the house a few minutes earlier or had I not missed the light to cross the street.

Missing the train made my arrival time an hour later, which means I would miss my first class.

If the timing was right, I’d get on but I might have to squeeze myself in, like a puzzle piece. 

One of the highlights of the commute was arriving at the LAX stop around 6:20 a.m.: I would see the sun rise while making my way to the bus station below — a moment of peace before the rest of my hectic commute.

Two more buses to go. An hour of sitting through traffic. The mad dash to class.

“It will all be worth it. Just get through the morning,” I’d reassure myself.

And it usually was. After a full day of classes, it was time to do the commute all over again, this time back home and late at night.

I recently got a car and transferred to Cal State LA, so my commute would have been less than 30 minutes. Instead, it dwindled to zero because of the pandemic.

Learning from home in your sweats isn’t half bad when your commute once took up one-fourth of your waking hours.

Still, now that I’m vaccinated the choice is clear to me: I plan to take classes that meet in person this fall. The commute, even a bad one, is worth the support and solidarity of good friends and a community.