A student’s guide to commuting

Dundalk native Emer McGinnity shares her advice on getting the most out of the daily trek to college.

InDepthAs a veteran commuter from the cultural cornucopia of Dundalk, I know all of the bus drivers of the service by name, taste in radio station, and small talk topic of choice. I therefore feel qualified to advise you on how to avoid the many pitfalls involved in commuting. Whether you make the daily “trek” from “the country”, that is any barren wasteland which lies beyond the bright lights of Dublin as city kids would have it, or you board the moving hospital waiting room that is the Dart, you probably face a myriad of irritating daily inconveniences. When these obstacles accumulate, they may threaten to reduce you to a sodden and weeping heap, the bags containing your life around you and an umbrella that has turned itself inside out one too many times clutched in your hand. You are a special kind of student who pays the ultimate price for remaining in the enclave of magically refilling fridges and clean bathrooms, known locally as home. This accelerates the need for organisation skills that you should not be forced to develop until you are a real adult that knows how to fill out tax forms and owns their own hoover. I wish to impart my hard-earned wisdom to you, my bleary eyed bus buddies and train chums.

Going low tech

You may feel like a dusty relic worthy of a spot on Reeling in the Years if you don’t have a smartphone, but there are many benefits to having a phone that has proper buttons and a version of Snake. Smartphones are like babies: they need to be recharged multiple times a day, they’re constantly making jarring noises, and will unpredictably shut down or go berserk at the most inopportune times. You have enough to deal with without doing laps of the library looking for a spare socket. Same goes for laptops, they are not worth the weight. Have some retro fun and take notes with vintage items like a pen and paper. For the first few days your handwriting will look like a drunk person did it with their foot, but soon you’ll return to your peak penmanship.

Resignation to life as a hunchback

After one year of commuting, my older sister could not stand up straight without grimacing. Now, this is partly because she doesn’t believe in pain killers and mistrusts all health professionals, including physiotherapists, like bush hippy that she is, but carrying everything she needed for a day’s work and play on her back like a snail didn’t help either. This is my third year as a commuter, and standing up from my chair now releases a snap, crackle, or a pop like from the spongey depths of my rice krispie-like bones.

Embracing grunge

If, like me, you like to think of a single phrase for each day’s outfit, with pirate break dancer or parachutist from the 80s entering your daily vocabulary, grunge will be your new definition. I more often than not have yesterday’s eyeliner crusted to my face. There will be the remnants of a club stamp on my hand, the ink bled into the criss cross thicket of my skin, because the soap in the arts block is ineffectual and smells like Turkish delight. Dreadlocks borne of excessive dry shampoo use are bang on trend and infinitely more bohemian than ones that you pay for.

Tin foiling your life

Assuming you are commuting because of financial reasons, you probably bring a packed lunch to college. Although bringing a lunch box of nutritious and moist pasta salad seems like a good idea to keep you going, it is a path with many pitfalls, all of which occur after the cold slime makes its way down your gullet. Lunchboxes fill a considerable space in your bag that could instead be used for Babybels, loom bands, bubbles and other items a college student needs. The longer you go without washing your various smeared containers, the more likely it is that there will micro-organisms there.  There are few things bleaker than a lunchbox that used to house mushroom pasta supporting the life of an altogether less appetising fungus.

Avoiding the temptation to whine

Few things are as satisfying as the sympathy you get when people find out you get up at 5:30am. The awestruck faces, the assertions that “I seriously could not do that” and the compliments about how perky and “put together” you always are.  However, commenting on how beautiful the sun rise was this morning is far more productive than complaining that your hair is falling out from exhaustion. Seeming serene and grateful for life will get you so many more head pats and tummy rubs than being a slumping bore.  Every nice thing that people say to me will be followed up and reinforced with “AND you get up at 5:30am!” to which I demurely nod and shrug in humble admission of my own greatness. Also, picking a wake up time based on the shock and awe factor is nothing to be ashamed of. I lay in bed pivoting in my warm cotton membrane until 5:40am this morning, but I would never say I get up at 5:40am. 5:40am is a reasonable time that organised people like mothers who exercise get up at, something to admire but it does not entice people to literally pat you on the back or say “No seriously, I’ll get your coffee.”

Getting a locker

If newspaper regulations allowed it, I would put this one in bold and italics and underline it and make it a size thirty, and I would maybe actually go so far as to put it in Comic Sans, the glue-sniffing children’s TV presenter of fonts. Really though, I know that the temptation is strong to ease yourself back into the year and not start off on an early morning to queue for a locker, but you will sorely regret this in the least figurative way possible. The contents of my locker currently are; several bottles of wine, spare underwear and tights, my text books, magazines, non-perishable snacks, and five board games. Not only has my social life improve immeasurably this year (see above list), but my stress levels and stabbing back pain have accordingly levelled off. The Hamilton is prime real estate because it’s open twenty four hours a day and because I have yet had to wait for someone else to finish bumbling at their lockers to access mine. Be warned though, there are always sports bags and related paraphernalia on and around my locker, because science students, unlike arts block kids, are healthy and have long-term life plans that do not involve choking to death on a menthol filter at a gluten free spoken word event at the ripe old age of twenty seven.

Embracing your non-committal side

Live like the various dimensions of himself that Matthew McConaughey played in all of his films before everyone started taking him seriously, and commit to nothing, including extra-curricular responsibilities. Your CV may be sparse compared to those of your peers, but it is better than taking on too much and getting so stressed that you eat all of the Oreos on campus, vending machines included (a cathartic and bloated moment in my personal development.) Get used to being a flakey friend that does not confirm (or cancel) social arrangements until that morning when you text the person at 5:50am. The fact that you sent the message at 5:50am usually makes people more understanding of your chronic rain checking. Do not commit to wearing new items of clothing during the week, as you may inadvertently sentence yourself to a night out wearing shoes that make your feet look like messily dissected fish.

Above all though, try to make the most out of your situation. Had I moved out when I came to college, I would have missed out on a lot. My love life would have developed at a much slower rate without the use of the undeniably pragmatic request to “stay in yours tonight because I have a class at 9am tomorrow”. I would not have a bookshelf heaving with diaries that I have filled in my hours spent barrelling up and down the motorway. My indispensable skills of falling asleep in cramped conditions and of packing for a weekend with 10 minutes to spare and one bag would be nonexistent. So, grubby, yawning friends, remember to use your time spent travelling through the speeding grey vortex wisely. That may mean staring out of the window pretending to be in a Damien Rice music video, or drawing your fellow passengers without getting caught staring while you try to capture the lines of their slack mouth, and the way that ooze of saliva catches the stiff tentative light of the dawn.

Correction: An earlier version of this article had incorrectly attributed it to Conor O’Donovan.

Photo: gpn.travel