Alex in Transit(ion)

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tuesdays watching Maury

The National’s new album is sublime. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get out to their show the other day. I’ve been dying to see them live for years but I don’t start my job until the 17th so money’s a little tight. I am really pumped. Last night, a friend and I went out to the bar and he said “you realize you came here six months ago and now you rule this place, right?” It’s weird to look back because so much has happened so fast but I guess that’s just the person I am. If I set a goal, I am relentless until I achieve it. That’s not to say that I get everything I want but even when the result isn’t what I desire, I think you just have to keep on swimming.

The motivation behind that is that I only get one shot in this life. Getting the car stolen four days before the election was over taught me that. I could be upset and give up or I could be upset and keep working because we needed to win. I chose the latter. Also, if there’s anything I can say about the city of Newark, it’s that it does a good job at keeping you sober and grounded. Even though summer classes are INTENSE, I’m happy that the regular semester is over because I’m volunteering at Bike Rescue and I’m going to look to see if I can set up a city wide clean up with Rutgers. There is so much trash around the main drags of Newark and now with Mayor Cory Booker about to make his exit, I believe that it is imperative to hold this city up. Newark’s taught me a lot and there are times where I dream about moving out to somewhere like Jersey City or Hoboken where the crime’s a lot lower- I think that’s Newark’s problem- that people leave it. To me, Newark is the Charlie Brown Christmas tree. If people sat around for a while and took the time to take care of it, it would be nice. One of Mayor Booker’s major criticisms is that he’s not in Newark and always somewhere else, and it’s a valid concern. I understand his point about why he was away, so he could promote our city, and he did. But when he’s gone, what is going to happen? The celebrity is gone and it’s unlikely that the media will flock to the new mayor like they did to Booker. I just can’t wait for school to start again so I can see if I can get some students together to form a community group. We’ve made so much progress. I can’t stand to see it go away.

The same friend also said to me, “when you talk about Albany, your eyes light up. Will you move back?” That’s actually another post…which is taking a while to write because there’s so much emotion behind it since Albany is so much of me but I said that I can’t. Albany’s got some great people taking care of it. I can’t say the same for Newark, which is why I need to stay.

But yeah! School! How’s that going? For the first time in my academic career, I finished the semester with a 4.0. Still can’t believe that. I’m really glad that I took a couple years off between undergrad and graduate because my work experience provides such a rich foundation for my studies. Now that I have the 4.0, I don’t want to give it up. Summer classes are intense though- I understand that I need to take the accelerated classes  because I’m aiming to graduate by next May but I definitely feel that I would enjoy the subject matter more if it wasn’t getting dumped in my brain. It’s so funny because in undergrad, all I wanted to do is stay in school, and while I love academia, I want to use my master’s in the professional world. I am thinking about getting a second master’s in either transportation engineering or urban planning. I thought I wanted a Ph.D but I think a second master’s in either of those fields will get me to where I’d like to be. Time will tell.

I also ended up finally making the transition from campaigns to transportation planning. Through luck and my knowledge about the field, I got the internship and I still find that so crazy. The truth is, I haven’t felt this happy or fulfilled in such a long time. For years, my personal life was sacrificed to advance the cause and my career. To be in a position where I can go to work, truly passionate about what I’m doing AND able to be myself…listening to music, going to Yankee games, actually seeing my family and friends, going to concerts, participating in community service, reading books, it feels unreal… and that’s what makes me, me. I’ve gone so far  away from it and I’m so glad that no longer is my phone ringing off the hook at any hour of the day and that no one is hounding me down. Liberating cannot even begin to describe it. I still get to participate in campaigns yet this time, I volunteer and I’m able to call my shots about when I’m in the office, make my phone calls, knock my doors, and when I’m out, I’m out. I do not regret the last couple of years at all. They built my character and taught me so much but it’s time to go because my heart’s no longer in it to be full time. The keys belong to someone else with the fire in their belly.

Until next time, America.

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a wonderful surprise: to the new york philharmonic we go!

It was set be a night of sweatpants, studying, and SVU but I’m glad it wasn’t. My friend D from Albany surprised me with tickets to see the New York Philharmonic last night. One of the reasons why I chose Rutgers-Newark was because of how close I am to the city and it’s really comforting to return to someplace that is familiar while I’m getting my bearings around Newark. 

And boy, did I get my bearings, except not in Newark, but with NJ Transit and PATH. For those not familiar with the two train routes, if you’re coming from Jersey and you want to get to Penn Station, other than a stop in Secaucus, NJ Transit will bring you right to it. With PATH, from Newark, you’ve got to go to Journal Square, then transfer to the Penn Station bound train that makes 6 or 7 stops in between. 

After I purchased my NJ Transit ticket (only 5 bucks), I sat down and found myself in a flurry of confused and anxious passengers. We knew the train was going to be delayed but someone checked their Twitter feed and found out that the train would be delayed by 60 minutes. It was 7:20 and the show starts at 8. We all made the collective decision to switch over to the PATH.

Once I got to Penn Station to switch over to the 1 train towards Lincoln Center, I see a girl who looked very familiar, Don’t you hate and love those moments? You hate them, because you legit look like a creeper, scoping this person out to see if that is someone that you know, but it’s so awesome once you two recognize each other! I thought that this girl looked exactly like my friend E from my youth leadership group, HOBY, but she was carrying this book bag that said “Selina.” As I was about to call E, after eye stalking her for 5 minutes, she says, “Lexie?” It was so cool because it was completely random, since she goes to Cornell and was the last person that I’d expect to see on the 1 train during my first week living in the NYC Metro area! Ahhh, it was so good to reunite, and as I type this, I realize that the whole night was full of 518 reunions!

For those unfamiliar with “518,” it’s the Albany-Capital Region’s area code. It really is the only place I’ve lived in that takes so much pride in their area code that people don’t even call it “Albany” half the time, they call it the “518.”

When I finally got to Lincoln Center, it was 9PM. Although I missed a hour of the show, it was perfect because I arrived during the start of intermission. As I was waiting for D, I was getting high fives from the ushers who saw my pin from my last job assignment (it feels so good to be back in New York). Then D walked in and another reunion commenced! I haven’t seen him in two years and it was very appropriate to see the show with him because he is a music teacher upstate and was filling me in on what I missed and what was yet to come. 

It was my first time seeing a professional classical show and now that I found out that the New York Philharmonic has special tickets priced at $13.50 for students, it surely won’t be my last. The concentration that the musicians have is incredible and we both appreciated how intense the maestro was. It was funny though, because it’s winter and we’re in the middle of the flupocalypse, everyone held their coughs in until the break between movements and you didn’t know whether Lincoln Center was an infirmary or a concert hall! You’ve got to love the performing arts rules of respect. 

Afterwards, D and I gallivanted all over Manhattan, got some yummy pizza and took in the sights. This week has been full of new experiences and it was so nice to come back “home,” if only for a little while. Thankfully, there wasn’t a delay with NJ Transit coming back and I really appreciate Rutgers for thinking things through. As much as I love the convenience of the light rail, it’s a little sketchy taking it at night, and I was happy to go back home on the University’s Midnight Express shuttle that takes you from Newark Penn to your dorm fo’free! I’m sure that I’m a little sick from waiting such a long time for it in the cold, but it’s better safe than sorry. 

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first week of school! thoughts about school and the city of Newark

Hey everyone! I’ve been a little MIA over these past couple of days, but I am SO happy to say that I’m typing to you from my dorm room because from Sunday to Wednesday morning, I was banished to the lounge. I found out wireless was very spotty in our dorms and the only way to receive a reliable internet signal is through an ethernet cord. Yeah, you read that right. I was surprised too because I haven’t connected like this on a college campus since 2005. I’m here for two years and mark my words, that will change once I find out how to join student government.

For some reason, I wasn’t able to connect through the ethernet cord so I had to wait until Tech Services came to my room and worked their magic. Along with that, my cable wasn’t hooked up so basically, stepping into my room was the ultimate study environment because the only thing to do was read!

Living on-campus has its pros and cons. The pros are that I’m only a 5 minute walk from my classes, my room is huge, my roommates are awesome, and I get to meet a lot of people. It’s crazy expensive though, especially since I’m paying my way this semester, it’s hard for me to justify $850 a month when I could get something a lot cheaper. Hopefully I’ll be able to find some chill people to lease an apartment with. We shall see!

On Tuesday night, there was an attempted robbery near my dorm. There are some changes I’ve made regarding my lifestyle. I don’t know if things will be like this forever or how I’ll adapt when I get used to campus more but let’s just say this, it’s not like Oneonta where I could walk from the Library at 2AM, alone, with my headphones blasting without a care in the world. I had to go to Downtown Newark to cash a check at the bank. Honestly, it wasn’t that bad.  I can’t wait until I get more used to the flow of things, because I really want to work to improve this city and help erase the stigma that comes with it. I was reading our school paper and I was so sad to see that there weren’t any articles about spots to see downtown.  I’m talking with my professors, who know the city better than I do, and I asked them about cool places to write about that students would be interested in. I know this quote has been used over the years ad nauseum, but rings true for each of us, no matter which community we reside in: Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country. Newark is my responsibility for the next two years because like my parents taught me, when you go over to somebody’s house, you make sure you left it better than when you came.  I feel a strong solidarity with my fellow students at Rutgers-Camden because something tells me they go through the same thing we do.

As for my classes, it feels really good to be in a classroom again. So far, it’s the first week and the workload is pretty light. Granted, my job assignments put me in a different mindset that wasn’t with me when I was in undergrad. In my former career’s world, when you were assigned something, you move heaven and earth to make it happen now. I’m not saying this to boast, but I’m already ahead on my readings and assignments for next week. Will I keep this pace throughout the semester? We’ll see but I thank all of my former bosses for whipping me into shape. I am looking forward to more of a challenge though. I’m going to submit job applications today, not only because I’m paying my way through school (so scary but it teaches you how to appreciate your education), but because I need something to do during my days.  All of my colleagues are really nice and next week, my group is giving a 15 minute presentation about the public’s view on traffic regulation and highway safety and whether or not we need more regulations. I am going to arguing against more regulations, which is the opposite of how I really feel, but it’s always cool to see other sides of the story.


brave new world: budgeting for graduate school

Ladies and gentleman, I present my budget for graduate school.

Student Loans  I’m going to be enjoying my academic deferments. Even though as I defer, I’m adding up more debt! Yeee ha!

howard dean

Car Insurance Approximately $254 a month. Yikes. It’s not because I’m a bad driver; my last ticket was in 2010 and my last car accident was in 2004. It’s because I’m buying a new car and I’m moving to Newark. Even though I hate talking bad about my new city, it is the 20th most dangerous city in the US and as a result, the insurance rates are sky high. Truth be told, I’m not planning on driving a lot because of the ample amount of public transit around me. The only reason why I want a car is so I can see my family during the breaks and they live in an area where public transportation is non existent. If I didn’t take a car with me, the only way for me to get home would be to take the train to the station, which is a hour away from my family, and make arrangements with them to pick me up. Given the nature of their lives, especially with my little brothers who are between 4 and 8 years old, it isn’t feasible. Also, if I decide to go back into my former career, I will need a car. It’s going to suck paying so much for something I will barely use but the money is here for me to replace my vehicle and it is an investment.

To cut down on the insurance, I’m going to sign up for a defensive driving course and Progressive has this really neat program called Snapshot. It’s kind of like inviting Big Brother into my vehicle but beggars can’t be choosers when it comes to this insurance premium. It counts whether or not I make hard brakes, how many miles I drive each day, and how often I drive from midnight to 4AM. I’m a little concerned about the hard braking part because I will be living in the NYC Metro area but since I’m barely going to drive, this seems like an awesome way to save money.

Maybe we can bring it down to $200? Here’s hoping!

Renter’s Insurance $40 a month…although I may not go with it. The main reason for pursuing renter’s insurance is to protect my bicycle against theft. It is a top of the line hybrid and after my car was stolen, I don’t want to take any risks and not be covered. I know that if my bike is stolen, especially with my current financial situation, it’s going to take years for me to buy a bicycle of that caliber.

But I was only thinking about what happens if my bike is stolen. I didn’t consider the possibility of what could happen if I was the victim of a traffic accident, which is a very real fear. Two of my friends were involved in accidents where they were hit by cars. One of my favorite bloggers, Dottie of Let’s Go Ride a Bike, was a victim of a hit and run. You never know what can happen. So what I need to do, probably tomorrow, is call Progressive and see if they would cover the damage of my bicycle if I, God forbid, was in a traffic accident. If not, I’m going to look into getting bicycle insurance. We shall see…

Rent About $850. Not going to lie, I’m starting to get nervous seeing all these figures add up. It’s alright. Show’s gotta go on.

With that said, I will be living in the graduate student apartments on campus. I don’t know if I will be living in them for the duration of my program or if I will live off campus but I know that for this semester, I’m only paying $850 in rent, which is about the going rate for the Newark market for a 1 bedroom. The $850 is pretty reasonable considering utilities, cable, and internet are included. My friend who went to grad school at Rutgers lived in the grad apartments and said that they’re worth it.

Groceries $160 a month, assuming I spend $40 a week on groceries. I’m going back to being a pescatarian again so that will make grocery shopping cheaper than if I was eating meat.

Fun? NJ Transit Fare? For right now, I’m giving myself a fun budget of $100.

Grand Total $1,404 a month for bills.

Good tim-uh…oh boy. Well. This is going to be a learning experience.

This can be done! Nobody puts baby in a corner and I’m going to figure out a way to do this. What is going to be nice (for a month) is that I’ll apply my tax refund to whatever bills I need to pay. I’m applying to jobs right now, I’ll see if there’s anything available on campus, I’ll waitress- I will do whatever it takes to make this work. I even made sure all of my classes are at night so I can get a job during the day.

The good thing about this is that it’s only going to be like this for this semester. Next semester, I will be eligible for TA positions and scholarships which I will be able to put towards my housing bill and I won’t need to worry about this. And glory be, next year I will be considered a New Jersey resident and will receive in-state tuition so this situation is only temporary. I could have taken out a $5k loan to help out with the housing but I thought it was silly to pay interest on a 5k loan, especially since I still have undergrad loans to pay when I get out of grad school.

It’s going to be alright.