The making of a road warrior
Reminiscing on why the four-year commute was worth it
By Walter Bowne ’92
ne day in American literature class, Professor [Charles] Donohue joked that Delsea Drive was the most hideous road in America. Perhaps to contrast beauty and horror, he had jumped from Emily Dickinson to Delsea. That hurt. I raised my hand and suggested that Route 130 was the genuine “heart of darkness.”
The class laughed and agreed. But that didn’t ease my pain.
Because I spent more time commuting from Voorhees on Delsea than downtime on campus, I didn’t need to be reminded that life as a commuter was unattractive. Yeah, I was one of them: the one-third that called a parking lot their college home.
I was reminded of this gnawing twinge when my sister, Noelle, blurted out during Christmas one year that “You don’t have a true college experience unless you live there.”
Gee, thanks, sis. Then I wondered; was she right?
It wasn’t rough because of the gas money or the traffic. It was the unsettling feeling that I was somehow missing a rite of passage. After all, there was no “Animal House,” no shared stall showers, no dorm room door closed with a “Do Not Disturb” swinging from the knob, no pounding bass from the floor above.
Even now, I still drive to Glassboro. This time it’s to get to dance class—my daughters’ dance class. But now, thankfully, I’m only three miles from campus. At the light on 322, I notice the students heading to the parking lots or to the dorms.
That’s when Madeline asked, “What was college like, Dad?”
“The hike from Parking Lot C to Bunce was brutal, especially in wind and rain.”
“Did you eat in the Student Center?”
“I always preferred the Taco Bell in Deptford.”
“Did you belong to a fraternity?”
“Yeah, Alpha Alpha Alpha.”
“What?” Nancy asked.
“That’s Greek for AAA. They helped when I was broken down on Route 55.”
I remember envying those who pledged fraternities. I picked up a few fliers and wrote down rush times. But the only rushing I did was to my job at the Holiday Inn in Runnemede, a surrogate fraternity with many more rooms and a working-class party atmosphere.
Perhaps I could have formed a commuter fraternity where we would hang and drink Jolt Cola to stay awake for the drive home to Voorhees, Marlton or Rio Grande. But, of course, I didn’t because I didn’t have the time.
But despite everything, I’ve concluded that my sister was wrong. You can have a real college experience even if you don’t live there. Because I commuted, I wasn’t isolated in a cocoon of false reality and false expectations. I learned to enjoy every moment with a passion for lifelong learning. I experienced more by living more. Perhaps my classroom was too large to be contained on one campus.
With the money I saved by commuting, I was able to travel overseas with Professor Edward Wolfe and discovered my calling as a writer and as a teacher. I was also able to finance a study abroad program in England, and I had money for graduate school. I’d take road trips to Boston, New Hampshire, Colorado, California and Canada. Maybe I liked the road a little too much.
Even if much of it was on Delsea Drive.
Walter Bowne is an English and journalism teacher at Eastern High School in Voorhees. He has a master’s degree in English from Arcadia University. He lives in Mullica Hill and travels across the United States in his Mazda minivan with his wife, Mary Jane, and two daughters, Madeline and Nancy.