Three hours, twice a day
A summer engineering internship in Mountain View, California, sounded like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity — like a movie trailer with an aerial shot of me in a bright red convertible, packed to capacity, flying across the Golden Gate Bridge.
The job was just what I was interested in — automation, innovation and sustainability. It seemed too good to be true, but it was all real — except for the convertible.
I drive a 2004 Ford Taurus.
After a search of everything from communal bunk-houses to Stanford subleases to a bedroom above a bodega, all north of $1,300 a month, I found a place to rent in Santa Cruz, California. The tenant of a friend of my next-door neighbor was moving out two days after I was to arrive. I’d be living in a vacation town on the Pacific Ocean — just 39 miles from the office.
I arranged for my Taurus to be shipped. But six hours before my flight, it failed to start.
It would take weeks to have it fixed and shipped; I had to be at the office two days later. I was only 20, so renting a car was out of the question. I contacted anyone I could think of — including some UD alumni at the company and in the Bay Area Alumni Community: “Anyone have a spare car to rent for three months to a UD student?”
The alumni community responded. No one had an extra car, but one couple offered me a room in their house. I regretfully declined because of the exception my housemate made to take me on as a short-term renter.
A 2016 graduate told me about the area’s elaborate transit system and was confident that I could make it work.
Santa Cruz is 39 miles from Mountain View. That’s approximately the distance from UD to Kings Island (in Mason, Ohio). In Silicon Valley, however, going 39 miles feels more like driving to Toledo or, some days, Detroit.
So, I turned to Google Maps and learned the commute was possible via public transit in an hour and 20 minutes if I took the 5:25 a.m. Santa Cruz Metro Highway 17 Express bus to the San Jose Caltrain station, hopped on the bullet to Mountain View and then boarded the MVGo shuttle.
The reality was as different as the convertible and the Taurus. My commute was a confusing, bumpy, crowded three hours. I told my mom on the phone, “Three hours — twice a day, five days a week, every week for three months. I guess I’ll just get into some new podcasts or read or something. Maybe it’ll be fun.”
“Fun” wasn’t the right word, but it was manageable — for a couple of weeks. Then the bus broke down on Highway 17 ... for the first time. I weighed my options, which is to say, I weighed my option.
I learned to accept — and expect — occasional train delays, and how to, on occasion, tactfully walk into a morning meeting 15 minutes late.
About a month following the first bus breakdown, my housemate asked me to drive him to the airport. I’d get to use the car for the day.
It was as if the universe wanted to give me a taste of what could’ve been — except in a BMW instead of a Taurus. I could leave work whenever I wanted. I could take the scenic route home. I could even scream-sing Beyoncé for my entire commute.
The possibilities were endless.
Then I got the full California highway experience — avoiding motorcyclists legally weaving among the stopped cars, watching my ETA advance on Google Maps like the national debt calculator, and mindlessly flipping through the tracks of my housemate’s Red Hot Chili Peppers album.
All I could think about was curling up with a good book on the Highway 17 Express.
Despite the traffic (and the approximately 192 hours I’ve spent in transit so far), I’ve had a great summer.
As I wrote this piece on a cloudy Saturday morning in July, I sat on my front porch with a large coffee and the friendliest cat on the planet, waiting for the morning haze to clear up so I could walk to the beach.
I would come back here in a heartbeat.
Schlangen, a mechanical engineering major, held a 2019 summer internship at Kitty Hawk Corp. (kittyhawk.aero). Dabbling in things such as singing, cooking and photography, he is working at starting a website for his personal creative projects.