What would you sacrifice to get to where you need to be?
When I was younger, the answer to this question usually meant setting multiple alarms and taking shorter naps. I showed up early to dance classes and tried to avoid being tardy at school. Now, I set at least five alarms every morning and reduce how much I sleep — I can’t help but smile at the similarities.
It’s funny how things really haven’t changed in the years that have passed.
Despite the parallels, there has been one major difference. Setting alarms now means figuring out how to travel the 28 miles between where I live and the lecture hall I need to be in. And if you’re trying to avoid traffic during rush hour, good luck.
Commuting to UC Berkeley comes with many gray areas, most of which look like freeway lanes and side streets. For some, being a commuter means simply hopping in a car or taking a train.
For many others, commuting isn’t even a primary concern, especially if you live only a few blocks from where your discussion takes place.
My method of travel usually involves my mother, father or brother taking me to campus. I would consistently drive myself, but I only just recently got my permit. Nearly four years of medical diagnoses had prohibited me from safely operating a vehicle.
I would take the train, but being immunocompromised and traveling by public transportation during the COVID-19 pandemic feel like a recipe for disaster.
I would live on campus, but I have convinced myself that commuting saves more money.
I could find a way to override all of these excuses, but the same creature of habit in me that sets multiple alarms to wake up also seems to think the journey to and from campus is a part of the college experience on its own.
There is undeniably an immense privilege in being able to find such opportunity in the commute.
For so many years, I witnessed my father commute to work in the worst traffic for hours each day. I heard of the times my mother would commute during her night shifts so she could take care of me and my brothers. I saw my older brother make the same journey to UC Berkeley that I do, only to come home late after studying and do it all over again the next day. Even my boyfriend has made trips to see me after working all day, lovingly concealing his fatigue.
In so many ways, I am relentlessly grateful that I can even show up to class and commute back home to the people who have paved the way for me to succeed. Attending my dream school — even if seemingly for only a few hours a day — reminds me how much campus and Berkeley have to offer.
One of the first things I take advantage of after commuting to campus is food. Sometimes I’ll go to Yali’s Café in Stanley Hall for a slice of pumpkin bread and a view of the Golden Gate Bridge; I’ll enjoy the view while sitting near the Campanile.
If I’m closer to Bancroft Way, I might invest in lattes and lazy Wi-Fi with my mother at Cafe Milano. You might even find me fundraising on Sproul Plaza with conchas I brought from a panadería in the city of Livermore — a delicacy that someone once jokingly called “imported.”
Studying in libraries also became much more romanticized by virtue of my commute. Whenever I read in Doe Library, I’m convinced that I actually attend Hogwarts. Morrison Library brings back memories of when I first read poetry from its shelves as a high school student who desperately wanted to attend UC Berkeley. My father might recommend going to his favorite spot — the Jean Gray Hargrove Music Library — when he comes to campus.
Walking down Telegraph Avenue used to look like my mother and my younger brother coming with me to The Melt for a grilled cheese sandwich. If my dad was with me, we would go to Top Dog for one too many frankfurters and hot links. For my older brother, it would be a trip to La Burrita or La Méditerranée.
I’ve come to realize by commuting that food has become almost more effective in getting me up in the morning than my multiple alarm clocks.
There are, of course, certain aspects that worry me when I’m driving to campus.
The persistent housing crisis faced by students, the shortage of resources for those like me with disabilities and the consistent presence of crime alerts remind me that heading away from campus does not mean leaving behind systemic shortcomings and dangers.
These problems show me there is so much more to be done, even if I do live miles away.
So what would you sacrifice to get to where you need to be?
I might have to forfeit more than a little extra sleep or some time spent in traffic, but the two things I refuse to give up are where I’m going and who’s coming along with me.