Lessons from a stranded bus and late night microscope work

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Back in November, the week of Thanksgiving break (actually, the night before Thanksgiving day), I found myself stranded at 12:35am with fifty other people and steady rain in a parking lot in downtown Los Angeles. Usually, I fly back to the Bay Area from my school in San Diego– if I book my tickets sufficiently in advance, the costs are worth the visit back home; however, this time, I didn’t book my flight tickets early enough. Seat availability plummeted, prices skyrocketed, and I decided that taking the budget-friendly bus would be a good alternative.

I didn’t sleep more than an hour that night. We ended up left in that parking lot for reasons I’m to this day unsure of– the bus driver had stopped, told us all to vacate the bus because we were supposed to transfer, and promptly drove off as soon as the last person had removed their bag from the under-bus storage. Needless to say, there was no transfer.

We were in that parking lot for about an hour and a half until the company sent a replacement bus to pick us up. I tried to doze off again on this bus, but the frigid air blowing through the vents kept my mind active even though my body was craving rest. We made it to San Francisco by seven thirty in the morning, and I reached my home by eight.

Three months later– every minute of time is becoming increasingly precious, and I find that I am compelled to rise earlier and crash later into the night because I want to extend the days as much as possible. I think about the bus ride, how badly I wanted to sleep, how over it I was as we stood in that parking lot, and then I think about how it’s not the same case when it comes to my frozen muscles in the early mornings before chem class or the heaviness under my eyes as I spend nights beside a microscope.

Last year, I went to the beach at least three times a quarter– after all, it’s merely a ten minute stroll from the edge of campus to reach the cliffs that overlook the sea in all its glory, the expansive plateau bristling with bush sunflowers and bathed in light and saline air. I miss the extensive free hours of last year– I had never realized how long three hours really is– and I miss the Pacific, even though she waits for me right past my doorstep. Nevertheless, I watch the sun turn the sky purple through the oval windows in my lab building, and I smile into the microscope as I peruse the unseen world.

The lab brims with unknown, especially for my fresh-to-research mind. Sometimes I realize I underestimated the willpower it can take to survive through a sample, especially when the work is accompanied by ten hours awake and a preceding sleepless night. I think it’s not that I don’t sleep at school, I’ve just started to find that my sleep is no longer restful because I close my eyes dreaming of all that is waiting for me in my awakened state.

I’ve found that sunsets from the lab are equally beautiful in a different way than those I race to the cliffs to catch– the comfort of another eleven hours of growth gone by and the re-imagined joys of stress as I wonder if the sky-chase will pay off both remind me, despite the coffee stains, eye rings, sore hands, what an incredible feeling it is to be alive.


This has been a Sunday night free write brought to you by 2013 Toro y Moi.

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