Mount Holyoke by Day

Commuting to College
1973 – 1975

My experience at Mount Holyoke College was not typical. I had left Wheaton College during the 1969 – 70 moratorium over the Vietnam War, soon got married, went to night school in the inner city of Springfield, Massachusetts.

A couple of years later, I decided I’d try a long shot. So I persuaded Dean Joan Ciruti, then Mount Holyoke College Dean of Admissions, who was also a professor of Spanish, to grant me an interview. She decided to take a chance on an unlikely candidate and I got accepted as a late sophomore. There were no “day students” at prestigious Seven Sisters Colleges then. 

I felt like an outsider and detached as I commuted from home, working at the Campus Post Office between classes to fulfill a tuition pledge while also maintaining full-time jobs in Springfield as a legal assistant, life insurance policy administrator, and bookkeeper at my Dad’s men’s clothing store. 

I’d study after classes when I could fit it in at my carrel in the Williston library. A home away from home. Since I didn’t live on Campus, I hardly knew any students well, except a couple in my classes. But. Since their lives revolved around the college’s residential houses we had little in common.

Eugenio Suárez-Galbán was head of the Spanish Dept. His Cervantes course was incredible. Also took psych & ed courses with John Osgood, a wonderful mentor and teacher.  I completed my B.A. degree and graduated at the outdoor Amphitheater in May of 1975.

Although my time at Mount Holyoke wasn’t the usual, it gave me a foundation to go on to teach Spanish at Longmeadow High School, and then my career took a sharp turn when I became an international banking executive after leaving marriage #1 and moving to New York. But that’s another whole story.

Bus Life

Western Massachusetts – Boston commute
1995 – 1999

Left career in San Francisco as Vice President & Relationship Manager at ABN AMRO, the global Dutch Bank in 1994. Moved back to Western Massachusetts with Dr. Husband and 5-year old son Ben. Got a call one day from former boss in Chicago who said, hey, want to head up our New England office?

What to do when you can’t drive on the highway yet you have a great career opportunity in Boston. And. You live 100 miles away in Florence in the Connecticut River Valley. And. There is no train. You take the bus. But. Have to find a way to get to that bus on the back roads.

What ensued. Sleepless nights listening to Coast to Coast on the radio, Art Bell and his overnight callers, until the 4:45am alarm went off. Shower and dress in the guest room in the dark, trying not to wake husband or son. Cheerios, and dash out the door to my red Jeep.

Although there was a little depot in Northampton near home, the buses didn’t run often into Springfield and definitely not on my schedule, so that didn’t work out for long. I had to find a back-roads driving route into Springfield to the Peter Pan Bus Terminal in the North End before 6:00am. And pay to park. Another challenge was finding a not-scary bridge to cross the Connecticut River. Which you had to do. I went into cold sweats driving over bridges, but I found a circuitous route to find a short bridge. That made the trip even longer. The Springfield Bus Terminal was quite the scene in itself. Always better to stand in the back where the buses were parked rather than inside where homeless people had set up housekeeping. Nope. This really was not working out.

So. Very relieved to discover that the 6:00am bus also picked up passengers at Exit 6 of the Massachusetts Turnpike in Chicopee between 6:15 – 6:30. At a Truck Stop/ Diner. A little closer to home. There was a scary bridge in Northampton, but at that hour no one else was on it. Then through the farmlands in Hadley and over the Amherst Notch to the Chicopee Truck Stop/ Diner.

There were unwritten rules about parking amongst the 18-wheelers. Tried to put the Jeep in the right spot, but never knew when I got back if there’d be a big-rig blocking my way. Had to confront the guy who ran the truck stop with its lockers and showers, asking if someone could please find the driver to move his semi. Oh my. He’d yell into the diner or shower room. An unhappy long-hauler would grouse as he scowled at me and moved out of my way. It was a whole thing. Sometimes in the winter, the Jeep would have been plowed into a snow bank. So. That was fun, too. Always a crap shoot in the afternoons and dark winter evenings. Rushed to drive over the Notch to shop at Atkins for dinner.

Anyway. Back to the mornings. After parking, there’d be 2 or 3 others in front of the Truck Stop/Diner waiting for the Peter Pan scheduled bus, also needing to get to work in Boston. One drove all the way from Pittsfield as an assistant to a Judge at the Court House in Government Center. When the bus arrived in Chicopee, it was usually pretty full with regular denizens from Springfield. Bad if they’d not had their fixes yet or at the beginning of the month when the checks came in, they’d be a bit too happy. I’d take a seat with the Pittsfield woman often, or if alone as close to the bus driver as possible for safety’s sake. A favorite driver was Fred, who loved to talk about his Harley and pow-wows with fellow hog-riders on the weekends. He kept me sane and laughing.

I could quietly talk on my flip to colleagues in other time zones. It was pretty tricky to be on the Monday conference call with other managers while on the bus. Flip phones had mute buttons, but it was not high tech. I’d try to get into the office by 8:30, but traffic would start backing up in Framingham, so it was never a sure thing. On a good day, the ride was 2 hours each way.

I wrote letters to Peter Pan with a few of us others begging them to put an executive coach on the Boston route for commuters, but it wasn’t a profitable enough venture.

To add to the daily delights, not every bus stopped at Exit 6 on the way back from Boston. So that limited options. Then there were random unannounced unscheduled stops. All of a sudden the bus would exit the Pike, through tolls, down some side streets to a parking lot to pick up one person at the Dunkin’ Donuts or Friendly’s, arriving back 20-30 minutes late. Never a reliable trip at any rate.

Then the worst horror happened. They decided to put “movies” on the buses for the entertainment of the unruly kids of touristy folks. But. There were no headphones, just little tv monitors above the seats with the blaring sound of some Disney flick. There was no way to escape it, read, sleep or talk on the phone. It was a holy nightmare, just adding another wrinkle in an already untenable very long ride. HELL.

Okay. I sometimes did have a Boston-based car service and Johnny the very sweet and very very big driver with the whole chauffeur uniform and hat would pick me up in a black stretch sedan at my house in Florence crawling up the driveway at the crack of dawn or meet me at the Exit 6 Truck Stop (the looks I got in that parking lot!) on days when I had to make client or other meetings without the vagaries of the Bus. We flew down the highway and made it into Boston in record time.

Then one summer, Keith, the son of Ben’s childcare and elementary school teacher worked for me as an intern while he was at Babson College. He lived nearby in Florence with his parents in the summer so he’d drive us in my Jeep to and from Boston. We waved at Fred, the Peter Pan bus driver, as we passed him many days on the Turnpike.

When things happened at the Bank in Boston, I got promoted. Yay. But now the commute was to New York. No way. Did it for a while. But that’s another story for another day.