It was a Wednesday night at around 9:15 p.m. when I started throwing my belongings into my black sack of a bag and threw my hair up into a ponytail after a long day of working my hardest to keep up with the people around me.
One of my coworkers looked at me with fatigue in his eyes and said, "Wow, I can't wait to go home," and of course, with agreeance, I couldn't relate more. He then asked me where my home was in a sense of small talk.
"Brick, New Jersey," I said. "Do you know where that is? It's right by Point Pleasant or Seaside Heights... you know, the shore."
He had a complete puzzled look on his face like he couldn't quite figure out not where I was from, but why I was here. With a tilt of his head, he asked me how long it would take me to get home.
"Well, if I can make this 10:05 p.m. train at Penn, I'll be home around 1 a.m.," I said.
And that's when everyone left on the floor looked at me in complete confusion. I could already read what was going through their minds: what is this 20-year-old girl doing traveling 3 hours at night by herself for an internship.
Let me explain it to you.
From the age of 13, I knew I wanted to be a journalist.
I wanted to do something bigger with my life than sit in an office crunching numbers and I never had the stomach for becoming anything in the medical industry. I wanted to become a voice for the voiceless ever since I started watching the news.
To make a long story short, last year I applied for an internship in New York City at CNN and although I knew it would be a hike and a half, I also knew that it was something I could never turn down.
I'll never forget the moment I read the email that said I was accepted. I think I cried for an hour before finally calling my incredibly supportive parents to tell them the news: I would be working for my absolute favorite broadcast news company.
When I came back from my school that summer, I prepared myself for what I knew would be an intensely long, but completely fulfilling summer. I bought a whole new wardrobe, perfect for NYC summer weather and sophisticated for the office. I purchased my NJ Transit train tickets in advance and had a few extra bucks to reload my MetroCard for the distance between Penn Station and Columbus Square. And most importantly? I bought the biggest bag of coffee I could find and a travel mug big enough for at least two cups and some cream. I was ready.
My days looked like this:
7:30 a.m.: My alarm would ring and I would start getting ready for my day, packing a breakfast, lunch, dinner, and of course, made my hefty cup of coffee.
8:30 a.m.: Catch the 8:30 train that never quite ran on schedule, always coming anytime between 8:25 to 8:45, so you can bet I was always there beforehand unless I would take the 9:25 and risk running late for work.
9:30 a.m.: Make my layover train in Long Branch, which would take me to Penn Station.
11:30 a.m.: Sometimes 12 p.m., I would arrive at Penn Station where I would either decide to walk from 35th to 59th (if it was closer to 11:30, not 12 because it's quite a stretch) or catch the Subway heading uptown.
12:45 p.m.: After either trek, I would finally make it to the Time Warner building that housed CNN and head up to my floor, getting my ID checked once and swiping it three times before finally making it to my desk.
1 p.m. to 8 p.m.: I worked on anything and everything they asked of me. It was honestly the best part of the job because I was able to interact and learn from so many different people. Because of this, I learned that my future job aspiration would not be reporting, but production.
8 p.m.: I would head down to set where I was the mug girl. You guessed it, those mugs sitting in front of the news hosts? They were set there by interns. For the show I was working for, that intern was me. For the rest of the hour, I would run scripts, get mic sets, and once again, do anything asked of me.
9 p.m.: Head back up to the office and start packing up.
10:05 p.m.: Catch the train heading back to "Shore Points."
12:05 a.m.: Take the layover to get to the train that would take me home.
1 a.m.: Get off the train and jump into my car that would take me home.
1:15 a.m.: Finally get home, take a shower, and get to sleep. Set my alarm for 7:30 a.m. and do it all over again.
I was getting roughly 6 hours of sleep a night unless, by some magical power, I would get to come home earlier the night prior and get 7 to 8 hours of sleep. It was taxing. Waking up started getting very difficult towards the end and I could feel myself getting colds more frequently, but I refused to give it up for anything.
I commuted roughly 25 hours each week, which consisted of me on a train either watching download TV shows on Netflix from my tablet ("Bloodline" was often my show of choice) or read books. I plowed through 14 novels that summer and filled such a mundane time with stories of adventure, love, and sometimes murder.
So what was I, this 20-year-old girl, traveling by herself at night for? Well, I was living my dream.
I would walk home to the sight of bright lights. I would skim past Times Square and would sometimes catch views of castmates side-dooring after their Broadway shows. I would be among the many other bustling New York workers: something I always longed for.
One of my favorite parts of the whole experience was the morning trains. The train cars would consist of a hundred middle-aged men, slumped in their seats reading the morning paper or resting their eyes with headphones in their ears. And me. This little, young adult lady who was thriving at the thought of making it among the big dogs.
The conductors began to know me and would always make sure I was in the safest, quietest car after a long day of work. A fight in car 3? Well, car 5 only has 3 people so I should go there. A baby crying in car 7? Well, car 1 only has a young couple sleeping at the very back. They looked out for me and I will never forget that camaraderie.
That summer was not conventional. I didn't lay on the beach all day and I barely saw any friends. I was constantly exhausted and there were times that I wanted nothing more than to sleep in on a rainy morning and spend the day watching movies from the comfort of my bed.
But I knew my dreams called not from the comfort of my sheets, but in the streets of the big city.
I commuted a total of 25 hours each week over the summer for an internship at CNN in Manhattan, and I want to do it all over again.