As the product of a stable, two-parent home, there are many things I probably take for granted.
For the most part, I've always been able to depend on having a warm place to sleep, food to eat, and family to depend on, in times of need. One thing that I've never taken for granted, however, is having transportation to get from place to place.
For most of my childhood, my family was a no-car family. Eventually, when I was in middle school, we became a one-car family.
As a research scientist, my father always worked full time and then some, so the car was almost always in his possession. That meant that my mother, my five siblings, and myself, always depended on the bus to get us where we needed to go.
In middle school, Raleigh, N.C.'s Capital Area Transit bus system took me to my intramural sports practices, the mall, and back and forth from my first job as a McDonald's cashier. In high school, Virginia Beach's Hampton Roads Transit system took me back and forth from my private violin lessons, which prepared me for college auditions, which earned me a music scholarship to Emory University.
It wasn't until the summer after my sophomore year at college, however, that I gained a true appreciation for public transportation. During that summer, my livelihood was entirely dependent on the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) system.
By my sophomore year, I was growing as a musician and had successfully applied to the school's journalism department. In the summer, following a successful audition, I was presented with the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to study the violin in Vienna, Austria, for a semester in the fall.
Vienna is the cultural epicenter of the classical music world, so as a serious student, it was an opportunity I couldn't turn down. However, there were a lot of challenges.
My parents had the money to pay for my tuition in the fall, but if I was going to get to Austria and back, I was going to have to generate the money myself. To complicate matters more, my first summer journalism internship at the Atlanta Daily World -- which I needed to complete my journalism major -- was unpaid.
I would need multiple jobs in order to raise the money I needed for a transatlantic flight by the end of the summer. I determined that since I didn't have a car, my chances of finding work would be better in a major, metropolitan city with public transportation. Instead of going home to Virginia, I decided to stay in Atlanta and tough it out for the summer.
Within the first two weeks of summer, I had established jobs working two days a week installing software for Emory University's Information Technology department, five nights a week as a stock manager at a shoe store at Lenox Square Mall, and on weekends, playing the violin for weddings at the DeKalb County courthouse -- all around a three-day-a-week internship, which was unpaid.
Altogether, I worked 70 hours a week to make ends meet and earned the money to fulfill my dream. The monthly MARTA card, which I lobbied for at my internship, was a blessing because it enabled me to get to my work places and do all the things I did on the side to earn money, despite not having a vehicle to get me there.
For the entire summer, I woke up at 5 a.m., to catch the first bus that would take me to the MARTA rail, and often came home on the last bus at night. However, I reached my goal and was able to buy my plane ticket to Vienna, and the accomplishment was extra sweet because I had defied the odds that were against me.
My ambition made my goals clear, but in the end, it was the bus that made it possible for me to dream big.
Joel Hall covers government and politics for the Clayton News Daily. He can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.