***This was submitted through ENG 602 Topics in Writing: Community-Based Writing with Dr. Duffy***
A year ago, I did not know that Hays, Kansas, existed, and perhaps no one in Hays, Kansas, knew that I existed. But now all that has changed. I now know quite a few people here, and they know about me because for the past two months a Stadium Place dorm room at FHSU has been my home away from home.
Every day from my window, I get to see much of what happens in my new neck of the woods on the southwestern perimeter of the city. Except for a few vehicles that go by every now and then, and on occasion a few people who stroll along Lewis Drive or some athletes who head for the field adjoining the stadium, the place is quite deserted. Good for me, though. I am studying and so I relish not having any distractions.
I came here as a student admitted to the Summer MA in English program that the university offers. FHSU and UC Irvine are the only two institutions in the nation that offer similar innovative summer programs, but I chose the one at FHSU because it seemed to be a better fit for who I am and what I wanted from a master’s program.
At the 2013 legislative session, the state of Florida—my home state—enacted new legislation that effectively disbanded developmental education (deved) programs in state colleges and those of us at my institution with English education degrees who worked in the “deved” program suddenly discovered that soon we would have no one to teach and were not qualified to teach transfer English courses. We, therefore, had to be re-credentialed post haste if we wanted to eventually transfer into one of our institution’s several English departments and keep our jobs.
A number of us, including me, needed as many as 18 graduate credit hours in English to be able to teach college level. Never mind that for years we all did so and even some of our colleagues who work in English also have English education degrees. To accommodate us, my institution—to its credit—worked in concert with two local universities during the past ten months to offer relevant classes to assist those who chose to get the number of credits they needed to be ready to teach English. I opted to forgo that option and instead sought and gained admission to the FHSU Summer MA in English degree program and that is the reason I am here.
Getting here from Fort Lauderdale was a major challenge. When I was ready to book my flight, I discovered that the Hays Municipal Airport had been closed and my best options were to fly to Kansas City, Wichita, or Denver. Regardless of my choice, I would either have to rent a car or take a Greyhound bus to get to Hays. Renting a car one way I figured would be an expensive proposition, so I reluctantly and apprehensively chose riding on the bus.
When I left my house for the Fort Lauderdale airport at 3:30 a.m. on June 1, I ran into a police roadblock. For some reason, the highway was closed and the usual 20-minute drive turned into 45 minutes. Luckily, I had given myself enough time for such a contingency and so I arrived at the airport in time for my 6:10 a.m. flight to Houston. I arrived in Houston on time but only to discover that the flight to Kansas City was delayed an hour. Now, instead of having two hours to get from Kansas City airport to the bus station—which was several miles away—I would have just about one.
When we finally took off from Houston, the other passengers and I breathed a sigh of relief but not for long. With what seems to be an amateur at the controls, the plane struggled to keep steady especially as we made our long descent into Kansas City airport. After we were finally safely on the ground, we had to wait for almost half an hour for the luggage to arrive at the carousel. When I spotted mine, I noticed that it was in a bin, opened, and much of its contents strewn around and even spilling onto the carousel. I had to do acrobatics to collect what I could and then tried to fit everything back in the suitcase. Now, I had less than half an hour to get a cab and rush to the bus station. But cabs are not waiting outside the airport. You have to call one on the phone and wait. I was anxious.
Greyhound bus stations are seedy places with many a tough character. I last rode on a Greyhound bus in 1996, and I really wasn’t nostalgic about that ride. So for this one, I faked looking pleasant and friendly to hide my discomfort and to make sure that I didn’t earn anyone’s ire when I arrived at the station. Of course, the bus was delayed for about half an hour and as usual there was no explanation and no one complained. A driver doesn’t have to take you on the bus if it appears that you are going to cause trouble on the bus. Finally, all the checks were made and the luggage stowed away. The passengers all climbed onboard and we were on our way. Soon the driver announced over the intercom who she was and what she’d do if anyone dared to cause a problem. We listened and no one reacted as the bus rolled on to I-70 and headed west.
The ride was mostly pleasant except for the uncomfortable seat and some irritating passengers who could have been in their living rooms at home. They were back and forth with each other and on the phone, speaking a version of English that was hard on the ears and mostly unintelligible to me. An old lady and a young girl in front of me soon struck up a conversation in Spanish. And so on and on it went through Topeka, Junction City, Salina, and Russell, when suddenly it became dark with ominous clouds all around, lightning streaking across the sky, and peels of thunder seemingly coming from everywhere. The wind was strong, and it was almost impossible to see outside the window because of the rain. We were all scared and wondered aloud if a tornado was imminent. But the driver kept on going, albeit slowly.
Eventually, we made it through the peril and emerged in Hays on the other side of the darkness. It was still drizzling when we pulled up at the Golden Ox Truck Stop at 3610 Vine Street. I alighted in the drizzle, collected my belongings, and trekked across to a nearby gas station for shelter and information. You see, while I was on the bus, I had called the after-hours number that FHSU Residential Life had given me. I wanted to tell the person who answered that I was on my way but was delayed. (I was running about an hour late.) I had given an estimate of the time that I would arrive—about 7:30 p.m.—and that I would then take a cab to get to the campus. That was when she told me that the city did not have a cab service and that I should just ask around to see if someone would offer to take me to the campus. I was aghast. I had never heard of a city in the U.S. without a taxicab service.
At the gas station, I noticed that the people coming to buy gas and other items greeted me warmly. The shop attendant was also very pleasant. I told him about my predicament, and he offered to call a few numbers. None worked. Apparently, the storm that had just passed and was heading east had knocked out the power and some people’s telephone systems were out. Luckily, I had two telephone numbers for local transportation systems that I had found online in preparation for my trip. I called one and it was not in service. The other, for Access Transportation, was in service. The person who answered asked where I was and then said someone would be there in 5 minutes. I was relieved. I waited 15. But he did come. When he said that the ride would cost $1.50, I was in disbelief. A vehicle for hire doesn’t take you around for that price in Florida.
It was now after 8:00 p.m. (9:00 p.m. eastern). I had been on the road for over 18 hours. But my day was not done. I waited for about half an hour before the assistant from Res Life showed up to let me into the apartment. Luckily, I was sharing with someone, who was there when I arrived. He offered to take me shopping at Wal-Mart. A diabetic, I had missed both meals and medication because of the trip. Limited to only 50 pounds, there was no room in my luggage for much, including food. I do not recall what my major meal of the day was, but I ate it close to 10:00 p.m. Classes began at 8:30 a.m. the next morning. I was ready, and I have been ever since. I return to Florida on July 25, 2014, via Denver. A fellow student, hearing of my plight, has offered to take me to the airport in that city as she makes her way home. I have been away for 8 weeks. I will be back in Hays a year from now to complete my degree.