Commuting from Portland to Boston

by Beacon Staff • November 17, 2011

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En Route

This is the second installment in a series examing life for commuters.

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For senior George Murray, it takes six episodes, or 120 minutes, of emRocko’s Modern Life/em to get to class in the mornings. The visual and media arts major commutes to Emerson by bus from Portland, ME twice a week.

When he did not receive housing this year, Murray had a decision to make — either find an apartment he could hardly afford and constantly work to pay the rent, or move back home to Portland, ME and become a commuter.

“I had to decide, well, do I want to pay $800 a month for a tiny box in Chinatown or whatever it is to commute four hours a day and have 18-hour days?” Murray said.

When he packed his things and left his dorm for the summer, it wasn’t just for vacation. Murray spent the first month and a half in New Jersey working on the set of the student film emApril Grace/em before returning home to Portland mid-June. He spent the remainder of his break getting reacquainted with living at home and preparing for an arduous commute come fall.

Now, instead of having only two to six hours of classes a day like most students, he has eight. His Tuesdays and Thursdays consist of two one hour and forty five minute classes and one blocked 6 p.m. to 9:45 p.m. class each day. He spends a total of 10 hours on campus on Tuesdays and Thursdays, plus two bus rides that vary from two to three hours a piece depending on traffic.

His day starts at 7 a.m. when he gets up and gets ready for his mother to drive him to the Concord Coach bus station 10 minutes from his house across the bay in South Portland. He boards his bus at 8:30 a.m. and usually arrives in Boston at South Station around 10:30 a.m. after the 108 mile ride down Interstate 95. When he is finished with class, he takes the 10:15 p.m. bus from South Station and usually arrives back in Portland around 12:10 a.m. where his mom is waiting to pick him up.

“I’m graduating in December,” said Murray. “That’s the main reason I’m doing this. I couldn’t keep it up the whole year.”

As for the actual commute, he said he doesn’t dread it. He uses it as time to catch up on work, reading, or much needed rest. Because he commutes early and late in the day, the buses aren’t crowded — he gets two seats to himself without fail most mornings and nights, he said. Plus, there’s always a movie playing on the small TVs located in front of every few passenger seats throughout the bus.

“I’ve seen emThe Blindside/em about 1,000 times on silent. That and the movie about the girl who lost her arm,” he said.

A two hour commute between Boston and Portland two days a week may not sound appealing, but even if he had been offered on-campus housing, Murray said he probably would have still chosen to go back living at home.

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“My mom loves it,” he said. “I figured if I moved back to Portland she would put me up.”

Financially, Murray’s commute adds up to be more cost effective than paying for room and board in one of Emerson’s dormitories. He purchases two round-trip bus tickets twice a week for $36 each, which adds up to $288 each month. The cost of a single room on campus is about $1,700 per month, giving Murray a savings of almost $1,500. Think of the emRocko’s Modern Life/em DVDs that money could buy.

While Murray is content with his nomadic lifestyle, he said he feels that this kind of traveling can potentially cut into the college experience if done for four years. Commuting also takes a good bit of personal responsibility on his part.

“I have to remember to take everything I need for that day,” Murray said. “I can’t just go back to the dorm or apartment or whatever and pick something up between classes because home is two hours away. I always have to carry about 20,000 pounds of stuff with me wherever I go.”

While he treasures his memories of living in the Little Building for three years, giving up a semester of living in Boston to save some money was worth it to him.

“I had my experiences. Right now, I’m just sprinting toward the finish line at this point,” he said.

While he is saving money by not living on campus, eight hours of class a day on top of four to five hours total on a bus can be exhausting and limits his Emerson social life, he said. He sometimes finds himself crashing with friends in Boston to avoid the long bus rides, or in the worst case scenario, missing the last bus and having to find other ways home.

This is a rare occasion, but he said it sometimes happens by accident when he loses track of time with his friends, and sometimes he does it on purpose when he just doesn’t feel like doing the two hour commute back to Portland. But when it’s by accident, he sometimes has to get back, which can be a problem.

“I once rented a car because I got stranded in Boston at like 2 a.m. It was an adventure.”

emAdamski can be reached at valerie_adamski@emerson.edu./em