Thoughts by Richard Bleil
On the day that I’m writing this post, I returned to campus after an elongated holiday break. Because of Covid-19, the fall semester was significantly shortened. While normally we have a few weeks after Thanksgiving of classes, last semester they canceled pretty much all of the “smaller” breaks and decided that after Thanksgiving (two lectures and finals) would be fully remote. As such, we have been off (or working from home) for about a month and a half.
I’m happy to be back. It was really just too much.
As I drove my “new” (well…used, actually) hybrid onto campus from the opposite direction from where I used to, it occurred to me how different driving onto campus is. This college has seen many changes in me, and it’s a reminder of just how much has passed in the short time since I’ve been here.
A couple of years ago, I visited the city to set up a few things. I tracked down a mailbox for my hopeful new business, I found an accountant, and I met with a chemistry professor, here at this college, hoping to secure permission to use the campus spectrometer for a project I had procured for that business. It turns out my timing was excellent. I told him of my plan to relocate here and start my business, and of my academic background. As it turns out, his chemistry adjunct professor had resigned just a couple of weeks earlier, and he was looking for a way to replace her. It was lucky; teaching is my old familiar profession, and I was happy getting back into the classroom. Adjunct doesn’t have the stature of a regular professor, and pays far less, but on the flip side of the coin you can skip nearly all of the meetings and committee work expected of full-time faculty.
The first semester that I taught, Autumn semester of last year, I was driving a very overpriced car that I knew would be repossessed pretty much any day since I had lost the very prestigious job that allowed me to make payments. I was several months behind and I knew it was just a matter of time before it disappeared. I had moved in with a good friend of mine who was kind enough to give me shelter to help me get back on my feet (as several of my friends had done through the past few years). At that point, it was clear that my business was not going to succeed, but I still was officially “on the books”. I was trying to sell my services (which I’ve always found to be a difficult thing to do) to no avail.
That semester, the car was towed, and I had given up on my business. I rode to campus on the bus after my car was repossessed. My friend was still allowing me to stay with him (thank you), but every morning in the cold mornings I was standing at a bus stop listening to other riders complain about how the buses are often late or don’t show up. I had elected, since I was only employed part-time temporary that I should not use a ride share service, as the bus was far less expensive. I would ride-share if the bus didn’t show up. I had not ridden the bus since I was a child when my mother took me to swim lessons. It was an eye-opening experience.
Late in the spring semester the Coronavirus hit. Campus was shut down after spring break, and we received the stimulus check. I taught the remaining classes remotely using my phone data plan (so as not to use too much of my friend’s bandwidth which was already taxed). I used the stimulus money to purchase a truck, cash without a loan so I didn’t have to worry about payments or interest. It was old, run down, but it worked, and worked reliably.
This fall semester, the third semester that I taught, I drove myself to campus in my old truck, a truck I still have to this day for work duty (like hauling large loads). I was on my way back up, albeit very slowly. When my father died, it gave a significant boost to my recovery. The inheritance allowed me to do several things if I could only be wise enough with it not to blow it all frivolously.
With a few personal purchases, most of what I did with the inheritance I consider to be investments. I purchased a hybrid car, with far better mileage than my truck for long trips and commuting, and I purchased my own house. Both I purchased without loans, so again, no worries about interest or monthly payments. I can coast pretty far even without a job with what I will pay (let’s hope I don’t have to). So today, for the first time, I drove to campus in my hybrid vehicle. It was striking when I thought about where I was, to where I am today. It felt great, even without the overpriced sports car (which was not fun to drive since I knew it would disappear), and an incredible symbol of where I had been, and how far I have come.
I owe so much to those of you who stood by me through these years of decay, my great friends who stayed by my side, those who offered assistance either by providing living arrangements, gifts or monetary contributions. I owe you all far more than the cash value of anything you provided to me, and I want to thank you from the very bottom of my heart. It’s because of you that I am here on this stable plateau. Thank you.