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Caltrain Life: Volume 1 of Outside Bell

By Andrew Song ’18

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To state that Bellarmine attracts high schoolers throughout Santa Clara County would be quite the understatement. In fact, over an eighth of Bellarmine’s population travels via train from cities ranging from Sunnyvale all the way to Hillsborough to arrive for the school day. Although these long-distance commuters integrate themselves into the San Jose community and tirelessly contribute to the school identity, their stories about Caltrain life and their Bellarmine experience are unlike any others.

You leave your mom’s car a second before the clock hits 7:25. You say a quick goodbye to your anxious mother while managing to stuff a few bites of bagel into your face. After hustling to the platform, you realize that you have to head towards the southbound side instead of remaining on the northbound side. You remember Bellarmine is in San Jose and not in San Francisco. You politely edge past a few nonchalant cyclists and other pedestrians down in the tunnel under the station and finally emerge on the southbound side to see in relief, Caltrain 210’s arrival. It’s your first day of high school and thankfully, you didn’t miss the train.

For some people, the experience of commuting through the Caltrain system has become tedious and for others, like this year’s freshmen, it remains an exhilarating episode of their high school career. Seasoned veterans like Anthony Rethans ’18 amplify what many upperclassmen feel about their relationship with the Caltrain: it’s love/hate. “I get off at Palo Alto, go get some coffee, and drive to school some days,” said Anthony, who has taken the Caltrain since freshman year from San Mateo.

He expressed that he recently began a new routine for him to take the train to Palo Alto with Trey Ross ’18 because for him, it was a new way to cope with his monotonous commuting life on the Caltrain. For Anthony, taking the train was, however, not always pleasant. “Caltrain is the worst,” he said. “The only reason why I’m on it is because I live 40 miles away.”

Students like Rethans who are dissatisfied with Caltrain’s recent performance as a transportation corporation certainly have valid points to back their opinions. The company charges on average – depending on your zone – two dollars and twenty-five cents per trip to College Park and has marked up the price in the past three years. When calculated, the average student would spend around a hundred dollars roundtrip per month, assuming a full school month without any holidays – a hefty sum for many students. In a December 2016 survey, Bellarmine students also expressed that the Southbound Train 210 delivered them late to classes more than five times in one calendar month. Additionally, students like Oliver Utz ‘18 of Portola Valley voiced concerns about how onboard Caltrain officials would seem to pick out Bellarmine students in the morning. “Caltrain officials usually single out Bellarmine students to find if they have a Clipper card or not when all we just want is to get home,” Oliver said. Moreover, Trey Ross ’18 told The Bell that taking the train “definitely makes it going to Bellarmine to extracurriculars and outside school events like football or basketball games a lot harder.”

Despite Caltrain’s limitations, all commuters feel that without the company’s transit system, their Bellarmine experience would have been incomplete or perhaps even non-existent. Train officials who offer friendly advice and genuinely care for tired teenagers in the morning are deeply appreciated by Oliver and his friends. One man who is distinctly loved by Bells on the train is monikered by students, “Caltrain Nathan.” Underclassmen like Chris Boenninghausen ‘19 of Los Altos emphasized that “Caltrain Nathan would care about the students” while Oliver Utz repeatedly stated, “We’ve grown very close to Caltrain Nathan. He’s a pretty chill guy.”

Ultimately, students in the first compartment of Caltrain 210 all agreed that Caltrain completed the Bellarmine formula. In fact, their long commutes every morning has made many proud of where they reside. Oliver affirmed that he loves Portola Valley and that he’s happy he could still attend Bellarmine despite being closer to San Francisco. “I love my area because it’s in a nice open preserve. Personally, I don’t like the city. I like more the open space,” the junior revealed. Trey and some freshman said they wouldn’t trade their houses for homes located near San Jose’s Mineta Airport. For Trey, commuting also means an opportunity for him to finish some last minute homework assignments. “I don’t even mind the train. I think it’s a pretty good space if I need to do homework. It’s flexible enough to fit my schedule,” he said. Even Anthony admits that the train can actually be pretty decent sometimes— he gets to meet friends like Jonny Hale ‘18 who live in Los Altos and spends mornings chatting about recent funny endeavors. “I wished there was a school that was close to me that had like the things that I liked in Bellarmine,” he said. “I like where I live and the school that I happen to go is just far away.”

You emphatically jump off the steps of the train and land on College Park station’s unfamiliar ground. You hear the bustle of other excited freshmen and yawns of seniors who are picking at their dismal ties strangling their necks because it’s a dress-up day. You look behind as the last student departs and look at the glistening metal skin of the train. You thank it because it has allowed you to become a part of Bellarmine.

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