Megabus Mayhem by Ross C.

Wal-Mart parking lot

            Don’t get off the bus in New York, I remembered my dad telling me as I sat next to my best friend Luke as the Megabus sped away from the Walmart bus stop in State College, PA. I had no idea what I was going to do. Should I go up to the bus driver? Maybe I should just go back to sleep and then I’ll just deal with the situation when I wake up. I had some money, but I was not sure if it would be enough to get through a night in the Big Apple. As I was having my mini panic attack inside, Luke was panicking too and yelled, “Just freaking do something!” as he pushed me out into the bus aisle. Immediately I got up and started to make my way toward the front of the bus.

It was a few days before Halloween Weekend 2012 and I was going to visit my brother at Penn State for the first time to see the Penn State-Ohio State football game as well as enjoy all that PSU had to offer. I asked my brother if I could bring a friend; more specifically, Luke because he was my best friend and we were both considering Penn State as a future school for next year. My brother said sure and Luke and I decided we were going to go up Saturday morning and come home Sunday afternoon. We got our Megabus tickets on Thursday for 8:00 am Saturday, and my mom was going to drive both of us to the Megabus stop in the morning. The bus goes from Pittsburgh to New York and passes through the Penn State area, then loops around and passes back through Sunday afternoon.

It was Friday night and I was packing at home when both of my parents gave me the “Be Careful” talk. My mom starts off the conversation by saying, “Now Ross, we know you don’t want to hear this, but just be careful when you are up there. Your brother can be a real idiot and I would not put it past him if he just left you and Luke to fend for yourselves in State College because he couldn’t remember what stop to pick you guys up from, or what time to get up and get you guys”. I replied, “Okay mom, I’ll be careful,” when really I thought, Seriously?! I’m almost eighteen I would think I could handle myself by this point. My dad then chimes in: “Now I know you don’t have hardly any common sense and when you and Luke are together I try not to even think about what you fools are doing, but can you please promise me that whatever you do, do not end up in New York”. This time I actually said, “C’mon dad, you are talking to a kid who has like a 3.8 GPA, I think I can accomplish the task of getting off at the right bus stop”. “I’m just telling you” he responded. I was actually stunned that my parents thought that I was incapable of completing daily tasks. It turns out that they would be right about what they thought, but that’s beside the point. I finished packing and I went to bed eager to get up in the morning and head to Penn State.

At about 7:30 am, my mom and I picked up Luke and we were then dropped off at the bus stop about ten minutes before the bus arrived. I had with me my backpack which had a couple school books in it for the illusion to my mother that I was going to do homework, my phone charger, a change of clothes, and a shave kit. Luke had his backpack with similar items in it, and he also brought a sleeping bag because he did not know where he would be sleeping at my brother’s apartment. He had to put that in the cargo hold of the bus before we got on because it was too big to bring with him to his seat. My mom waved goodbye to both of us and yelled before we got on the bus, “Have fun! But be Safe!” We both laughed and yelled back, “Okay!” and we were on our way to The Pennsylvania State University all on our own. As soon as the bus ride got underway, we did what any sensible teenager would do that early in the morning: we slept. We basically slept the whole way until we arrived at the Walmart that is in State College. We got off and Pete, our African-American bus driver who I could tell was not particularly happy with his life choices that led him to be a Megabus driver, told us we were going to take a fifteen minute break, but he did not specifically say that this was the stop for Penn State. We left our stuff on the bus, got off, and stood around until Pete was ready for everyone to get back on. We got back on the bus and sat down. Now we knew we were close to where we had to be because it was 11:00 am and we knew it took about three hours one-way, but we did not think that a Walmart was the bus stop for State College. We thought we would be dropped off right in the middle of campus. The bus started up again and off we went again. About ten or fifteen minutes later, Pete gets on the loudspeaker. He says, “Alright everyone, next stop New York!” At that same moment, Luke and I look at each other and have the same expression: “Oh Shit”. I could not help but think about what my dad said the night before, “Do not get off the bus in New York”.

When Luke pushed me into the aisle, I had to make my way down from the upper portion of the bus to the lower front of the bus where Pete was. I think that he was a little bit surprised that someone had gone up to the front to say something to him because that was obviously not the norm. Stumbling over my words I managed to say, “Uh yeah, we need to get off the bus”.  He just looked at me and said, “Well if you have anything in the cargo hold, I can’t get it for you”. Without even thinking I shouted, “Okay that’s fine!” I motioned for Luke to come up to the front of the bus and Pete let us off about a mile and a half away from the Walmart stop. When Pete let us off, everyone on the bus was just laughing hysterically at our expense so that was nice. I called my brother to tell him what happened and of course, I woke him up so he could not have even picked us up because he was not even there. He laughed about the situation, and told me he would be there in a few minutes. While Luke and I were walking back to the Walmart, Luke said, “Hey wait, I forgot my sleeping bag!” I answered, “Yeah, um the bus driver said that he could not get anything from the cargo hold so it’s basically gone”. “That was my favorite sleeping bag, dude,” he said. I said that I would buy him another if he cared so much for it, which I could not believe. We made it back to the bus stop, where my brother greeted us with laughter, but we made it to State College. I really wished I had known that the bus stop was actually at a Walmart rather than right in front of Old Main like I had imagined.

We chilled at my brother’s apartment for a short time after which we went to the football game. It was my first Penn State football game, and it was awesome. PSU ended up losing, but it was still sweet. Then we chilled at the apartment and got the “real” tour of Penn State from my brother and his roommate. My brother also had his buddies from high school up for the weekend, so it was an all-star lineup of about eight people in a 350 square foot apartment. To sum up the Saturday after the bus ride, I couldn’t really say because I do not remember much past 8:00 pm.

Then came Sunday morning. I somehow managed to get up at 10:00 am because the bus was scheduled to arrive to pick us up at 11:15 am. We had to get on a bus in State College that would take us over to the Walmart where the Megabus was. Even with the grogginess, we were actually good on time on getting to the bus stop, but naturally, the bus did not show up until 11. I’m thinking to myself on the bus ride over to Walmart, It would only make this trip perfect if we had to sprint to the stop just to get on the bus. And my second thought was, “Please do not let it be Pete driving”. Well, we got off the stop and across the parking lot sits the bus with Pete just closing the doors getting ready to go. Luke and I leapt off the first bus into an all-out sprint to catch Pete and the Megabus. I heard over my shoulder from my brother, “See ya!” but we kept running. We flagged down the bus and got on with Pete chuckling a little to himself. Yeah, it’s real freakin’ funny buddy, I thought as we climbed onto the bus. Again, Luke and I both slept the whole way on the bus ride back to Pittsburgh. This time though, we actually recognized the bus stop in Pittsburgh and we able to get off at the appropriate time. My mom picked us back up and she asked how the weekend was and I just said to wait until I get at least three more hours of sleep. Later, I told her and my dad the whole debacle, and of course they laughed and gloated about how they were right. I could not say anything because they were right; I am not as smart as I thought I was. Luke and I almost managed to go to New York City. Unreal. I do not have the slightest idea about what we would have done if we ended up in New York. I wish I had actually listened to my parents about how to be careful and conscientious of my surroundings rather than waiting until the bus is already moving to New York before I ask to get off.

 

The syllabus that killed my self-esteem.

Unknown

photo by Alamy I found at the Guardian site
(I am citing my pilfering)

“Comparison is the thief of joy” (Theodore Roosevelt; by way of Gregg Rogers)

which reminds me of….

Thou shalt not covet” (God; by way of years of Catholicness)

I was working on my first syllabus. I’d heard it would not be fun. It was for a freshman rhetoric and composition course at the university where I’m in my second year of teaching. The kitchen table was full of crap. I had piles of stuff. Most of it was made of paper and had words on it: a pile of new textbooks, a folder, a spiral notebook, the battered syllabi from my first year, a pen, my laptop, and a half-cup of cold coffee. Sitting closest to me was the text book I planned to use this semester. God. I sat there hoping I’d picked the right one. If I didn’t, the world would probably stop spinning and sweet, innocent freshmen would be damaged so badly they’d never drink again.

The syllabus I used last semester was designed by my department. So it wouldn’t work now that I’d gone feral and picked my own book. I also have a new teaching schedule; last time it was MWF classes but now it’s T-Th.  So I sat at the ready with my spiral notebook and my spiraling thoughts.  And a pen. The spiral notebook wasn’t even mine, really.  It was a middle school leftover from one of my daughters.  The cover had monkeys with wings and halos.  Angel monkeys.

I was at the table with my monkeys and notes from the first few days of classes from last semester. I also had the new text book. I started to scribble into the notebook in an attempt to get the first week onto the books. After I’d been at it for a couple hours I felt like I was making progress. Well. Kinda.

I was having the brain melt down I had in grad school all the time; I was doing four things at once. This time I was thinking about which papers students should write.  I was thumbing through the text.  I was finding readings online.  And I was having thoughts.  Lots of thoughts. This thinking lead to reading the book. I started with the regular chapters. Then I moved to the essays in the back of the book. Then I was onto more essays that had nothing to do with anything I’ll be teaching:  Did you know guys with no hair on their chests are called “smoothies?” There’s loads of bangin’ stuff in this book!

During this brain melt down I was unloading the dishwasher and feeding the dog. Crapfest – my rescue goldfish needed a water change. Had I eaten? Where was my son? Oh, there he was. I’d fed him while I was cleaning a spaghetti sauce explosion out of the microwave.

That was the first day.  This continued for a few weeks.

During this syllabus debacle, I had some ideas about what tidbits I’d add to my own syllabus; things from last semester. Things like: don’t bring a computer to class and don’t text.  Basic stuff.  But I needed some help.  A mentor.  Mentors.  Professors and lecturers who have gone before me. The Grand Syllabists.  That secret group with the special handshake and the peculiar nod.  I’ve heard some of the men even have funny mustaches.  So do some of the women.

look-at-the-neighbors-babysitter

Love this drawing! (Found it at nooutcasts.or)

So I went to the departmental website looking for syllabi samples.  And there they were.  Free samples.  Just like toaster strudel in a dixie cup at Wal-Mart.  A flavor for any schedule you may be teaching.  I downloaded a few freebies.  The Grand Syllabists would save the day.

I clicked one open and it started out great.  I enjoyed reading the opening paragraphs.  Damn!  I should take this class. This sounded like a great teacher.  I kept on with my gander and got to the schedule of classes.  This was very important.  How did this teacher parse out classes per topic?  What types of papers were assigned?  Did they have nap time built in?

My gander was gandering along just fine through the first week.  It looked pretty standard. But –  there it was – in the second week of class. Foucault. FOUCAULT?  What?  What! Are you kidding me? Is this freshman English?  I used to hear his name bandied about in grad school.  It wasn’t my area so I ignored it.  But now, years later, he popped up again.  Jesus.  Mary.  And Joseph.  Seriously?  Fou- Who?  How could I use one of his writings if I had no idea who he was?

What it really meant is that I’m an idiot and I should not be teaching.  Obviously.  I know his name.  Foucault. I can pronounce it as I took French for four years.  But that’s it.  I’m 49 years old and I wouldn’t know Foucault from F-Troop. I had to go to Wikipedia to get some basic information.  It didn’t really help.  Why didn’t I ever take a philosophy class? Damn the Grand Syllabists!

After a few hours of feeling like a complete loser I made myself step away from the table.  I tried to think of the two quotes at the top of this blog.  And I remembered something I’d heard from a peer at a recent departmental meeting.  He said he teaches to his strengths.  So, I focused on last year, which was good.  Nobody died.  I tried to think about all the good papers I read last year.  Obviously I taught my students something.  Either that or they were Grand Rhetors when they arrived.  Maybe it was a bit of both.

I finally got my syllabus done about two days before classes began.  And I’m happy with it.  I did find another sample that helped.  I’d say it was more my style.  I even stole an idea for a reading.  It’s about the use of the word “retard.”  I like doing provocative things in class.  We analyze TV commercials and song lyrics. I also sing.  Their ears are dying.

*  I fully support the use of Foucault.  More power to you.  Can you come give me a tutorial?

My Thoughtless Thought (by Kane Sarver)

Four months ago I felt invincible to a certain degree. I wanted to accomplish many things and was extremely motivated. Motivated almost to the point where I found nothing could stop me. A certain tenacity and pride built up inside me as I pursued my aspirations. Like a fire, the feeling of invincibility grew until I decided—three months ago—that I actually was invincible. I was succeeding on my own terms. I spent every ounce of time I had from eight in the morning to ten at night going to meetings, classes, and doing school work; all the while still getting my physical fitness and food intake in. I was attending all my classes and had little trouble keeping up with the material. I was focused, dedicated, and motivated… Unfortunately I was also fooled.

Two months ago I had my thoughtless thought. I had gotten back to my room earlier than expected. I was exhausted, yet happy, sitting at my desk doing my math homework. I was happy because I was doing it, I was accomplishing something. I was building the knowledge that I sought and was building myself up as a person because hard work and knowledge are generally deemed the building blocks of life. At around ten that night I got a call from our mother. I could tell she was crying as she stated, “I don’t know how to tell you this.” I immediately thought to myself do not panic. I had prepared for this call for some time.

I knew my grandfather was going to die soon, as he has been in out of the hospital multiple times in the past two years; the entire time on dialysis. He had reoccurring battles with a deadly bacteria and suffered occasional memory loss. I kept thinking, you can handle this, Kane. Just try and comfort her and help her get through this. Our mother, crying over the phone—I hate it when mom cries, regardless of the reason—told me, “Your dad passed away earlier tonight.” I stuttered, unable to reap the words from my tongue with which to speak. “My father or your father,” I asked. My heart became uneasy in the following milliseconds as I knew that clarifying wouldn’t save me from what I was about to hear. I wasn’t so invincible anymore.

broken glass

My mom told me how dad had just died of a heart attack. I could only think to ask: is he going to be alright? I had no other thoughts in my head, I had no success, I was not tired, I couldn’t even think of what death meant. I could only think to ask if dad was going to be alright. Thoughtlessly that was my only thought.

To be completely honest with myself, I should have expected it. I remember when you and I were little dad would always tell us he would live until he was 120. It may have been stupid for me to believe, but I started to. On his last birthday I even joked that he was almost half-way dead because he was approaching sixty. The worst part is that I wasn’t truly joking. I believed it and I think you did too. Dad couldn’t die because he wasn’t 120. He couldn’t die because he beat up four bikers at a bar just to save his own bike. He couldn’t die because there was nobody tougher than him and nobody that I held myself closer to. I partly think I thought I was invincible because of him. Two days before he died, he told me how proud he was of me doing my internship and taking so many college courses, and how proud he was of you for having your life on track. He talked about how we were doing so well and that he loved us. He was the one that told me that I could do whatever I wanted; that we could do whatever we wanted. I was invincible because my dad was not going to die.

However I did get a call and it hit me that I am not invincible. Even worse was that time didn’t stop for him. I got back to school and had to drop a few classes to cut my schedule down to a normal size. I had just missed too much school and could not even begin to handle long work days again. I crestfallenly dropped my internship within a few weeks as I couldn’t keep up with it anymore. I couldn’t stand to go home. A trip home on the weekends to market (which I had been doing in the previous weeks for my internship) was no longer a success to me but something that plagued my mind. I began to wonder if all the schoolwork that I had been so focused on, the internship I took to put myself ahead, the military work I had been trying to achieve was not actually how I found myself to be successful. Within an hour of a single phone call on a cold Monday night, everything that I had defined as my success and everything that I thought I was doing right seemed so wrong. All of these things had kept me from being with dad or seeing him for periods of time. All of these things kept me away from our family for the last two months and have continuously held me back from feeling motivated. Everything I had set for myself as a success turned on me in an instant and became my warden.

I kept hoping to myself that things would get better. I kept hoping that I could feel like things would become meaningful again. I decided to make it my goal to just try and stick it out through the semester, solely on the thought that the next semester I could start with a  “clean slate”. My grades dropped rather harshly. I thought that was okay because eventually I would have that “clean slate.” My lack of internship was “tied” to this semester. I blamed everything on “this semester” because this semester was just unlucky and nobody would be able to pull through under my circumstances. I thought I needed to have a “clean slate.” It’s been two months and this thinking has only driven me into a worse spiral.

Now it is this month, and the other night I got a call from mom. She was crying again because we had a small fight before I left back for school. I asked, “why are you crying?” She replied saying, “I don’t know,” but I think she was crying because did not care about anything anymore. I was possibly going to get kicked out of ROTC. I wasn’t going to get good grades and I wasn’t going to be successful. I wanted to be motivated but I was not and I think it broke her heart because she knew. Something about hearing her crying again—this time for my sake—made me realize: there is no “clean slate.” If things are going to get better it’s not going to be because of something that begins or ends. I am not going to magically be motivated again and I will not find myself to be successful at anything unless I actually try. Even though I have lost most of what I thought made me successful, I now realize that success is still obtainable. It is just going to be in a different way than I imagined and with more effort than I thought. Everything I actually do now makes me successful, and that thought will keep me motivated.