Thursday, June 28, 2012

Discovering 4 a.m. on El Camino Real


By Dashiell Young-Saver
I don’t think 4 a.m. exists.
For me, seeing is believing, and I’ve never stayed up long enough to see 4 a.m. on a clock.
I did some research at UC Berkeley’s science department on the subject last winter. I walked into a lab and asked a professor, “Does 4 a.m. exist?”
He gave me a typical “gray area” professorial answer: “How did you get in here? Get out of my lab before I call campus security!”
I wasn’t convinced. So I asked a few Berkeley students, who talked about going to late-night parties, what 4 a.m. was like. They said, “ Dude, bro, homedog, it’s just a rager.”
I still have a team of code-breakers working on deciphering that answer—they, too, are from Berkeley. The code-breakers have become so obsessed with the dialogue they haven’t slept in weeks.
I would ask them what 4 a.m. is like, but I don’t want to disturb their work.
I can’t even picture 4 a.m. The time is too late to be part of the evening and too early to be part of the morning. In my mind, it would be more like a transition between times rather than a time unto itself—a phase between night and day, sleep and wakefulness, dreams and reality.
But a few weeks ago, I found myself on a bus on the way home from Disneyland the night of graduation. The bus had departed at 3 a.m., and I was doing my best to stay awake for the next hour during the drive home.

For those who don’t know, high school students from across Southern California swap graduation caps for Mickey Mouse ears as they flock to Disneyland the night of their graduation. As a result, they often swap graduation pep talks and advice for Pepto-Bismol and Advil the morning after.
My personal experience at the park was one of ambiguity. I couldn’t decide whether I was experiencing nostalgia or nausea.
Was my stomach upset due to the sentimentality of experiencing my Disney childhood memories for the last time as a socially defi ned “child”? Or was it because I’d spun around too long in the teacups after my 522nd helping of cotton candy?
By the time the graduates returned to the buses, we were all as tired as the juniors who had finals that week.
About halfway through the bus ride home, I found myself nodding off, but I was too determined to see 4 a.m. to fall asleep.
I turned around in my seat. Members of the Class of 2012, who only a few hours beforehand had marched together on the football field through an overly formal and dignified graduation ceremony, now curled up together in the fetal position, drooling and snoring heavily in sleep.
I chuckled and looked at my phone—3:55 a.m. I was close.
I looked back again at my classmates. As the bus swerved around, their necks swayed, creating a synchronized sleeping team that could take home Olympic Gold.
Now this was my class. This was the graduating Class of 2012. They weren’t the bunch of high school students that paraded awkwardly in robes like emperor penguins that afternoon. They weren’t the bunch of hooligans that ran around Disneyland like bulls in a red flag shop that night.
They were the students on the bus who, at that moment, enjoyed the satisfaction of sleeping off 12 years of hard work.
They had just come from the “land of dreams” and, as they were about to step off the bus into a foreign, uncomfortable and strange world, they were dreaming of the road ahead in deep sleep.
Yes, I know. Dreams aren’t real. They are probably made in our heads by random connections among science-y thingies that, as a recent high school graduate, I should be able to remember (maybe I should have done some research on that at Berkeley as well).
But as I sank back into my bus seat, I thought about my own dreams that aren’t realities, such as publishing columns about moments like these in newspapers . . . wait . . . but isn’t that . . .?
I checked my phone: 4 a.m.—the transition time. I made it. Night became day, the unreal became real, and we became graduates.
With a tired and childish grin, I joined the Class of 2012 in sweet sleep, dreaming.
Dashiell Young-Saver recently graduated as a valedictorian from Westlake High School. He will attend Harvard University in the fall. His column, “A Dash of Youth,” will appear biweekly this summer in the Acorn.


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