Sleepless at South Station

Sleepless night at South Station

The bus terminal at South Station. Photo by Chau Mai

The Greyhound bus from New York arrives at 2:07 a.m., nearly 30 minutes earlier than scheduled.

Shouldering her big backpack and carrying a heavy laptop bag on her left hand, she wanders around the second floor of South Station, struggling with what to do at that early hour when there is no commute train across Boston.

She walks to a black, metal bench facing the closed escalators, sits down and thinks about two scenarios.

Photo by Chau Mai

– Is it safe to take a cab home?

With this option, she can have at least 5 hours of sleep to refresh herself before a class at 10 a.m. She can sleep comfortably on her bed.

But her feelings tell her that the option will not work well because everything can happen on the nearly-20-mile trip. Then what her subject said to her comes to her mind: “You’re a journalist, you should be brave.”

– How about staying here awaiting the first train at 5:45 a.m.?

It’s safer but that means she keeps awaking. No one knows she needs sleep to death after two weeks of sleeping just 3-4 hours per night. Right, it’s safer because at least she’s not alone at the largest railroad station and intercity bus terminal in Boston.

All food shops but McDonald’s are closed. All ticket counters but Greyhound one are closed. But there are dozens of people on benches, sitting sleeping, lying sleeping, sitting watching movies on laptops, sitting playing on the iPhones or just sitting idle. She assumes that she and some of them are in the same boat – preferring not to go home at this time.

Photo by Chau Mai

Photo by Chau Mai

Photo by Chau Mai

It’s 3 a.m. The station still is not quiet. A staff keeps vacuum-cleaning the floor since she hops out of the bus. She hears the noise of vacuum cleaners closer. Stop typing, she looks around seeing all people in front of McDonald’s stand up and walk away at the same time. A man in white shirt and blue, and washed-out jeans moves all the benches against the arched railings and cleans the floor there.

Not sitting on the bench with no power outlet attached, for her, is a right decision. She is standing writing in front of D’Angelo adjacent to McDonald’s. She chooses to stand because there is a power outlet, there is a table next to it and some steps away is McDonald’s.

She wants to while away the long waiting time. There are five tables standing against the wall in a row, and no one but she makes it useful and less lonely.

Photo by Chau Mai

“Excuse me, can you move a bit?” – a cleaner asks her.

She stops typing and intends to move her stuff to the nearest bench.

“No, you can leave your stuff here, I just move the table, thank you.”

Now she is standing with her back against the arched iron railings and her face looking at McDonald’s where she comes to ask at the beginning if wi-fi is available after she checks there is no free wi-fi at the station.

This table is where she stands to write this entry. Photo by Chau Mai

“No, we don’t have wi-fi here,” a chubby woman in red shirt replies.

Two tables, the furthermost one and the one next to her, now are occupied by two men, standing and having their McDonald’s buys.

She feels she can eat a horse. Nothing in her stomach since a late lunch at Eden Center, the reportedly biggest Vietnamese shopping center in Washington D.C. When she ambled around that mall which, her subject said, witnessed a fatal shooting about six months ago, she felt no American life there. Almost everything is in Vietnamese, related to Vietnamese, made by Vietnamese.

Street signs in Vietnamese, music in Vietnamese, chatters in Vietnamese. The first time in the United States she saw street signs in Vietnamese. Though being quite full, she could not help buying some Vietnamese favorite snacks.

“$4.46,” – said the cashier in Song Que shop crowed with Vietnamese and American customers in lines.

Yes, at least one American thing there – people trade in American dollars.

Now she pulls from her bag an apple which she bought in a farmers’ market near Dupont Circle in Washington D.C yesterday’s morning. Giving it a bite, she keeps typing. If the two guys don’t eat their McDonald’s buys, she might not bother filling her stomach. She tends to ignore everything when she writes.

It’s over 3:30 now. Her iPhone is connected to the laptop to charge itself. In the no-wi-fi place, it’s the only tool she can connect to the world.

She got on the bus in New York at 10:00 p.m. at Port Authority which stands across from the grand high-rise whose facade features a big logo of The New York Times. After taking a seat on a nearly full bus, she has a hunch that she lost something but she could not figure out the missing item until she remembered that she needed to charge her Samsung phone. It was neither in her backpack nor her laptop bag and her pockets.

She lost her phone again. The fourth time since she used the first one, a Sumsung clamshell, in 2002 and said goodbye to it just a few months later. Her current iPhone is not the first iPhone but the second. She can stay loyal to everything but her phone.

In the first trip to Washington D.C for her story, her Samsung phone frustrated her. It was totally dead though she charged it fully before departure. Lucky her, she brings the iPhone which uses her Vietnamese phone number bearing her birthday. Her cousin in Vietnam whose shares the same birthday with her was jealous about her special phone number.

She has used the Sumsung just six months, after she decided to divorce with AT&T. After six months, the battery lost the ability to retain power. The fully charged phone ran out of battery after a few calls and texts. She intended to bring it to T-Mobile, and complain about its bad battery following the upcoming class in the morning.

On the bus, she tried to remember where to leave the phone but she failed. All she could do was to send a message to the subject and asked about a possibility. Then she crossed her fingers.

It was not the first time she’s unable to remember where she puts her stuff. On Wednesday, she felt so ashamed when she and her group presented in front of the class. She was talking and suddenly stood still. She struggled to remember the next idea.

“Take your time,” – the professor encouraged her. She tried hard but still failed. It was her fault of not jotting down the idea as the professor suggested.

That night, she returned home and watched the Korean movie “A time to remember” again. She hopes she would never be in the same boat as the main character – losing all memories even those with her beloved husband.

She likes blogging. Now there’s another good reason to frequently do it. She has been enjoying her journey in America and finds that the more she has experienced, the more interesting her life has become.

It’s 4:07 a.m. What she wishes is to have wi-fi access to publish her latest entry.

The early bus will depart at 5. Photo by Chau Mai

She intends to stop writing but she decides to keep doing it because of a noisy chatter from a man at McDonald’s. He destroys the tranquil atmosphere after the cleaners stop working. He talks to the McDonald’s woman out loud and non-stop as if he never got a chance to speak. The woman is cleaning the counter, listening and nodding her head without responding a word.

“Thanks guy” – he says and walks by her table and down to the stairway.

The commute rail station. Photo by Chau Mai

The station becomes peaceful again.

She unplugs her laptop and disconnects the iPhone from it. They are all fully charged.

It is 4:18 a.m as shown at the left bottom corner on the computer’s screen.

Several people stay overnight, waiting for the MBTA train. Photo by Chau Mai

Just one hour left. She hopes she will not miss her feature writing class in the morning. On the bus, she replied to several emails from her professor, and said she is on her way back from Washington D.C and asked him for an excuse in case she can’t come to his class.

More than one week ago, when she suggested profile her Vietnamese American subject in Connecticut, he said he liked her pitch but asked where to publish it.

“I thought of the (Christian Science) Monitor, Professor.”

“I like that idea, Chau.”

The first train comes at 5:38 but it’s not her train. Photo by Chau Mai

The 1,500-word profile, due on November 7, has brought her to new places in the Northeastern region: Hartford, Connecticut, and Washington D.C.

Her next destination shall be New York University early November.

(South Station, October/22/2012)

3 thoughts on “Sleepless at South Station

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