The Life of a Commute

by Jourdan Espeut

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When I bound out of my house to begin my 75 minute commute every morning, the neighborhood is dreary and empty. I find comfort on my tree-shaded block of well-kept row houses. Since birth, I have lived in the house Mom has called home since she arrived in Brooklyn from Panama 45 years ago.

I try to picture Mom’s stories of the good old days in East New York, as I leave my block and pass the massive housing projects in front of the bus stop. I never bother looking at the schedule. The bus comes as it pleases so I leave extra early. I crave iced coffee, but can’t find a good cup until later.

It is a speedy ride to New Lots Avenue where I catch the 3 train.

“Hey girl, whatcha readin’?” says today’s suitor, as I bury my nose in The Invisible Man.  

Like, do you even care what I’m reading? “Not interested,” I respond.

I should actually thank those guys that hound me every morning. They give me great practice in maintaining composure in challenging environments. Take the basketball games when I am greeted by snarky comments from rival cheerleaders: “Your uniforms suck.”

I ignore them just as I dismiss those baffled by my cheerleading. My friends at the Writing Center, where I was selected to serve as a tutor, argue that cheerleading is “superficial.”  I disagree and keep cheering.

A screeching halt brings me back to reality.  After a handful of stops on the 3 train, I’m onto the 4 train at Utica Avenue. The doors open with a loud bing. I’m instantly shoved in all directions. Finding a seat is like animal feeding time. Standing or sitting, I read or daydream.

I remember when Mom used to ride with me to The Little Red Schoolhouse, as my train stops in Lower Manhattan. I was one of three African American students in my grade. In those innocent days, I never felt different. I left Little Red for public middle school, where most of my classmates were black and Latino.  Many of them hated me. There was the girl who wrote “Oreo” in sharpie on my locker. I drove myself to get strong scores so I could attend a high school with students that would not equate good grades with whiteness. My hard work paid off with admission to my first choice: Eleanor Roosevelt (ELRO).

My commute now extends to the Upper East Side of Manhattan. Knowing it is almost over once I reach 42nd street, I dart across the platform and squeeze myself into any space that’s left on the 6 train.

I was excited about high school.  Finally, people who won’t judge me for loving academics. Yet I went from being “too white”  in middle school to, ironically, “too black”  for many at ELRO. I endured every stereotypical black joke in the book: “If you had a superpower it’d be flying through the air with a noose around your neck.”

However, I stopped listening, dismissing those comments as if they came from a morning suitor. I made a diverse set of friends and jumped into writing, student government and, yes, cheerleading.

My daydream ends.  I finally get out at 77th street and it’s a breath of fresh air.  Trendy boutiques and Starbucks stand on every corner. I happily order my regular iced coffee and talk to the staff. Suddenly, I’m not traveling alone; I’m flanked by friends on each arm, and I feel confident.

Both ends of my commute produce my sense of security.  When I arrive on my block after the ride home, I see Miss Peggy, a neighbor I have known forever who loves to share books with me. Her greetings are always a reminder that where I come from is not at all negative; it has helped shape me into the resilient, driven individual I am today.

Jourdan Espeut, a graduate of Eleanor Roosevelt High School, is a freshman at The New School.

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