The Morning Commute

Reflections on Regis High School

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Above: Regis High School’s Emblem.


“How do you know that someone went to Regis?”

“Easy, they’ll tell you.”

Close friends of mine know that I take a great deal of pride in where I attended high school. My alma mater, Regis High School, couples an arduous, world-class academic experience with an education of all that New York City has to offer. I fondly remember the halcyon days of high school and remain grateful for Regis’ positive impact on my life.

Founded in 1914 by an anonymous benefactress and supported by the generosity of her family, its alumni, and friends, Regis offers a tuition-free Jesuit education to Roman Catholic young men who demonstrate superior intellectual and leadership potential. Dedicated to rearing “Men for Others,” Regis gives special consideration to those who cannot otherwise afford a Catholic education. Permanently inscribed on her walls is the Latin: Deo et Patriae Pietas Christiana Erexit (Built by Christian Piety for God and Country). For those interested in her rich history, Father Anthony Andreassi’s Teach me to be Generous: The First Century of Regis High School in New York City brings the past of this unique educational experiment to life.

My high school experience was unique. Not every high schooler has the ability to run around the Central Park Reservoir for Phys Ed class, amble down to the Met to view an exhibit for an Art History paper, or take a combination of trains, subways, and automobiles to and from school.

You see, a shared crucible of the Regis experience is the commute. As Regis attracts young men from all over the New York Metropolitan Area, Regians (as students are known) commute from far and wide to reach the hallowed halls of 84th Street. Students’ commutes vary as much as the geographies and dwellings from which they hail. Some saunter a few steps down Park Avenue, others complete a long, meandering, multimodal journey across trains, ferries, subways, and buses. Ironically, the longest that I have ever commuted for work or school was this 1.5 hour schlep during my teenage years.

I mention all of this as background because Regis is having a bit of a moment. Two of her alumni have appeared in the news a great deal over the past few weeks. One a grandfatherly physician, the other a jocular comedian.

Whether throwing out the first pitch at a Major League Baseball stadium:

Above: Regians are known more for their intellectual ability than their athletic prowess.

Or appearing on The Tonight Show starring Jimmy Fallon:

Above: For more information about the REACH Program, click here.

Dr. Anthony Fauci and the self-described “Very Punchable Face” of Colin Jost have made waves in the fields of healthcare and humor, respectively. They are two “Men for Others” dedicated to doing right by themselves and their communities. Both credit Regis with inspiring them to strive for the magis, a Jesuit concept describing the restless desire for greater things.

Jost’s inventive recollection of his Regis commute inspired me to recreate my own. Without further ado, my Morning Commute:


The Morning Commute

Above: My daily, morning trek to school. From lush suburbia to urban jungle.


Sometime in the dead of winter, 2009

“...And now for CBS Traffic and Weather Together, here's Tom Kaminski in McDonald's 880 Traffic Chopper. ‘Yeah, Brit, it’s cold and harsh out here. Let's start off with the major, and I mean MAJOR, delays on the Triborough...’”

My eyes reluctantly open due to the incessant blaring of the old, black clock radio. The tinny voices of the hackneyed newspeople awake me from my peace, my slumber. I grudgingly arise from my creaking mattress. Sitting up on the bed, effectively brain-dead, I make sure everything's working just fine as I smack the radio’s red button. This silences my friends Tom Kaminski and Brit whomever at CBS 880.

I enter the darkness of the bathroom. Flipping the three light switches, fwop, fwop, fwop, I undress and gaze in the mirror at a cadaverous image: the Regian.

I step into the shower, thanking God that it's warm, faux tile, and not icy marble underfoot. Grasping the faucet, I crank it 45° to the right, and, fwooosh, the water stabs my body. Torture for just a second, bliss for a few fleeting minutes. At the water’s request, I wake up. All synapses start to fire, and I am alive. Once revived by the torrent of water, a saturated body steps out of the shower, vigorously grabs a towel, and fights for cover before the cold can pierce the flesh. At the end of my waltz with the towel, I look up and again gaze into the mirror at eyes burning with exhaustion, yet ready to take on another day: the Regian.

Creeping down the unlit, seemingly mountainous staircase, I finally reach the cold, hard floor below. I pass into the kitchen and—beeeeeeeeeeeeeep—another one of my inanimate friends sounds off, the alarm system. Punching in the four-digit code to "disarm" with jumpy fingers, I sit down for a moment before I scurry out the door into the gelid tundra.

Glancing at the colorful pages and headlines of the New York Post, I wait a few minutes and out comes the stale, crusty, just-plain-ugly toast that will allow the machine to work until 12:10. I proceed to shovel a bite or two into me; the dry, coarse bread painfully chafing against my esophagus en route to the stomach. Then, like a mover, I lug all my scholastic tonnage into the open, waiting backpack. Darting upstairs, I give my pearly whites an insufficient brushing, and scamper downstairs to the waiting car. Two minutes until lift off and we have not even left the house.

As we pull away and approach the bustling intersection, we bicker about the road not taken:

"Take a right."

"Nope, I see the green light."

We stop at the supposedly "green" light.

One minute until lift off.

The “green” light turns “red” (wait, what?) and the car fishtails around the curve into the coffin-like darkness of the underpass. Again, we whip the jalopy around another corner, and I see the flash of the tinny, metallic “Merillon Avenue” sign.

Thirty seconds to lift off.

I utter a quick “Thank you, love you,” jump out to the station’s parking lot, and nudge the door shut with my bulging bookbag.

Ten.

I dart up the salty, bleached stairs.

Nine.

I get my bearings atop the platform.

Eight.

Utter the requisite ten-thousand “Good Mornings.”

Seven.

Cough a bit as I sharply inhale frigid air more solid than gaseous.

Six.

Initiate the dash that will get me to the usual spot: back of the first car, front of the second.

Five.

I fly down the salt-encrusted concrete of my narrow runway.

Four.

I hold my breath as I pass through the smokers’ rank cloud.

Three.

I pass the nurse in the gaudy, lime-green scrubs.

Two.

The weeeooooooooooo of the approaching train reaches my cold-needled, stiff ears.

One.

I arrive and greet the other Regians.

“This is the train to Penn Station. All aboard.”

Before the door slides open, I glimpse the frenzied expression of a red-faced maniac who just sprinted down the platform with thirty pounds of books on his back: the Regian.

I enter the iron beast.

Lift Off.

We make our way to our “six-seater.” Legs rubbery, I slide onto the uncomfortable, plastic leather—my welcome respite for the next hour. In our cramped quarters, we fight tooth and nail for space. Backpacks flying and legs bumping, the heart starts racing. As the dust settles, when all is said and done, we still remain miserably confined—sardines in a too-small tin—our legs jumbled and pretzeled as though playing Twister on the train. I fight to extract a history textbook from my bulging, non-cooperative backpack, and I check the homework. Opening the book to the page with the same three-digit code, I start to absorb the minuscule text. But, in due time, sleep conquers all and the bliss from which I was called this morning retakes me. I am gone: the Regian.

In an infinitesimally short time, there is the all too frequent "Tickets, please." The stocky, overweight conductor (shirt and buttons straining against his heavy paunch) makes his way down the narrow aisle, much like a mouse in a snake's throat. Flashing my ticket, I return it to its designated pocket in my wallet. Again, the forces of sleep conquer the stress of the history quiz. I am off with my dreams: the Regian.

In time, I arrive at the massive hub: Penn Station. Chock-full of obnoxious neon signs and somnambulant commuters, her beautiful vessels seem clogged. I wonder how she survives. Struggling through her clotted arteries, I jockey for open lanes amidst the throng of automatons. Incessantly apologizing as my bag hits hapless travelers, I forge ahead to the stairs that will take me to my beloved C Train. Dashing up the black stairs, like a racehorse I enter my metallic gate, waiting for it to open. However, after a few swipes of my yellow card, I see the accursed “Insufficient Fare” pop up on the tiny screen.


Above: Cruelty on a small digital display screen.


Backing out of my stall in rhythmic measure with the groans of those behind me, I sprint to the Metrocard machine. Frigid fingers flying across the screen, the machine finally regurgitates the sturdy piece of plastic that will grant me access to my city. Rushing back to my stall, adrenaline pumping, ready for the race, I see my beloved begin to pull into her station. I grapple to gain a place in the queue. Admitted with a smile, I gain access to my stall and am allowed entry to the race. Adrenaline pumping, I pursue the contraption that will funnel me uptown. Running around the picks people seem to set for me, I weave toward the edge of the platform, toward doors now closing in my face. I stare into the dirty glass and see my reflection; a face writhing with fury, one dazed and confused at the unfeeling injustice of it all: the Regian.

I wait amidst the motley crew of commuters: the bankers, the construction workers, and the struggling actors. With clamorous screeching, two honks, and yellowed lights, the E Train, the bane of my existence, announces her arrival. The E is that train that gets your hopes up as it approaches in the shadow of the tunnel, then promptly dashes them as it laughingly reveals its identity.

Two bankers jubilantly pump their fists.

I feel like hurling my history textbook at them.

They board their train, bound for nice desks and nicer computers. As I wait for eternity, I ease the load off my back and onto the wet, dirt-ridden floor. Time moves like molasses, mocking me, eating voraciously at my little patience.

Another E Train.

Another two jerks gloating over their victory.

Finally, after the arduous wait, the C Train comes to transport me out of the station. I step across the gap, across the disease and rodents that lie below and enter the stale-smelling paradise of the train. Propping myself against the door, I blatantly ignore the stick figure with the spherical head imploring me not to do so.


Above: Sorry, MTA stick figure


Hands in pockets, chin pressed down firmly on my bare neck, I wait until 86th Street greets me with her gleaming blue-and-white-tiled hello. I look at the menacing silver handle dangerously close to my bundled head, and see a small face with a guarded expression of relief at having made it this far: the Regian.

Balancing against the ceaseless stopping and starting of the train and listening to the incomprehensible excuses blabbered over the PA system, I await my turn to be expelled from the beast. The doors, her mouths, open and close ten times until it is my turn. The eleventh time, I dash out the open door, fleeing her gaping mouth, and see literal light at the end of the tunnel. Jockeying for position at the exit gates, I finish the race. Trekking up the black stairs to the open air, having escaped the bowels of the city, I see the wheeled accordion which will play its way across the park. Sucking in the icy, stimulating air, I manage to leap onto the instrument, insert my card, and stand behind the white safety line. I see in the hazy window a boy exhausted, yet overjoyed at his luck: the Regian.


Above: The wheeled accordion, itself.


Hypocritically, I am now playing that part which I despise: the obnoxious wreck attempting to make his way through an overcrowded bus to a non-existent spot at its back. Clothed in a puffy down jacket and shouldering my massive backpack, I encounter nasty stares galore. I stoically meet them, until, that is, I fall on an elderly woman in the center of the bouncing instrument. Apologizing profusely, I finally exit the minefield of stares and curses and reach the back door. After a brief, bumpy ride, the instrument toots its horn and expels me from its bellows and reeds. I have arrived.

Stepping into the dirty, city slush, my feet are soon saturated. Braving the elements, I trek the three blocks necessary. Dodging both dog-walkers and drama teachers, I cross the street and enter the school’s tunnel. Through blood, sweat, and tears, I have survived the arduous journey. I set foot in the quad, pass under the trees, and reach the green door. In the glass window, I see myriad faces just like mine.

Tired, yet ready.

Glum, yet thrilled.

Regular, yet select.

Regians, one and all.

Above: Students milling about Regis’ quadrangle.


The Best of the Rest

Per my friend Socrates (through his student, Plato), “I know that I know nothing.” As such, I read, listen, converse, browse, and explore without end. The Best of the Rest contains a short smattering of tidbits that made me think or smile over the past few days:

👟 Nike’s Original Business Principles

Shoe Dog is one of the better business memoirs out there. Heavy on insight and light on platitude, the work chronicles the highs and lows of Nike’s founding. It does a tremendous job documenting how Nike became the juggernaut that it is today. The below business principles capture the tenacity and grit of the original Nike team. These were individuals ready to spill blood, sweat, and tears to turn a fragile idea into a storied institution.

📚 Kurt Vonnegut Diagrams the Shape of All Stories in a Master’s Thesis Rejected by U. Chicago

Vonnegut’s master’s thesis in anthropology for the University of Chicago, “was rejected because it was so simple and looked like too much fun.” The elegant simplicity and playfulness of Vonnegut’s idea is exactly its enduring appeal. The idea is so simple, in fact, that Vonnegut sums the whole thing up in one elegant sentence: “The fundamental idea is that stories have shapes which can be drawn on graph paper, and that the shape of a given society’s stories is at least as interesting as the shape of its pots or spearheads.”

🏒 Seattle’s new NHL Team has emerged from the abyss: Release the Kraken!

I believe there are two tremendous naming opportunities here:

  • The Mascot: Karen the Kraken |“She’s lean, she’s mean, she does Pilates, and you can bet your tentacles she’ll ask to speak with your manager!”

  • The Arena: The KrakDen | “Come on down to the KrakDen to cheer on the Kraken with your fellow KrakHeads!”


Per my about pageWhite Noise is a work of experimentation. I view it as a sort of thinking aloud, a stress testing of my nascent ideas. Through it, I hope to sharpen my opinions against the whetstone of other people’s feedback, commentary, and input.

If you want to discuss any of the ideas or musings mentioned above or have any books, papers, or links that you think would be interesting to share on a future edition of White Noise, please reach out to me by replying to this email.

With sincere gratitude,

Tom