Monday, April 30, 2012

My First Day at NASA

Last Fall, I interned with NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.  Totally was a life-long dream of mine. However, my first day was much different than most first days....

I lived in Downtown Washington DC and had to commute to Greenbelt, Maryland for the extent of my internship.  I had thoroughly researched my route to and from work, and knew it was do-able with a single Metro ride and a single bus (I call this bus the NASA bus, because it stops at 2 NASA stops and 1 other stop.) As you should do, I gave myself plenty of time to get the base, and I planned my arrival for at least 1 hour prior (I know how unpredictable public transportation can be). I put on my professional looking work attire, and headed out of the building.

I hopped onto the Orange Line in Washington DC, taking the counter commute to New Carrollton, Maryland. (Locals call this stop "New Carl-ton". Newbies call this stop "New Carol-ton." I was already at a disadvantage, lol). This part was easy. I made sure I was heading in the right direction, no problem, especially for Nav (this was my Girl Scout name for "Navigator").

So I made it to "New Carl-ton." I had missed the 15X (aka "The NASA bus") and had to wait 40 minutes for the next one. Being the Nav Serena, I looked at the different bus routes. The local transportation district had even marked the extent of the NASA property. I said, "Hey! This bus (12) goes there! I'll just hop on it and get there earlier than expected!"  Did I also mention that I own a "Dumb Phone"?

I hopped onto bus 12. I'm followed the map provided on the bus (total newb here!), and we turned left on Greenbelt Rd, when my destination was on the right.  I ask the nice old lady next to me..."Do you know where the Kmart is?" I knew the front gate of GSFC was right across the street from Kmart. 

"Oh yeah!" (I knew older ladies like to go to Kmart...I know I do.) " Get off here, and take Bus 16 going in the opposite direction." I thanked her, and rushed off the bus.   

I looked across the street, and I saw Bus 16 pass. Great...So I start walking toward the base. What to do...What to do...I guess I'll walk and try to find a ride along the way. I start walking toward a bank, and I see a lady security guard leaving. "Do you know where the Space Center is?" 

She said, "Yeah, it's about down that way.  I would give you a ride, but I'm heading in the opposite direction." Okay. Let me chill and try to find some other honest looking person. I saw an older couple, and asked them for directions.

"Yeah, it's down that way!" He pointed in the same direction as the security guard.

"Do you think I could walk?" I tried hinting for a ride.

"Well, it's about a mile, but there are buses that run every 20 minutes or so."

"I could walk a mile in about 20 minutes." This couple was obviously not offering a ride, so I took off walking.

About 5 minutes later, I get a whistle. "Hey baby! You want a ride?" Nope, I'm just gunna clutch to my cell phone and pray to God that the emergency phone number in Greenbelt, Maryland is 9-1-1.  He took off. I obviously did not want to give him a "ride"...Goodness.

The clouds were warning me that it was about to rain. I didn't have a raincoat nor an umbrella. God was definitely with me that day. I got to the base in about 15 minutes.

I got a text from my mentor at NASA. "What is your ETA?"

"About 5 minutes," I texted back. I was set up for my badge before he even arrived to show me around. It was now 10 am.

Moral of the Story: 
If you are brand new to an area, do the following:
  • Find multiple ways to get somewhere, especially with public transportation.
  • Learn what the emergency phone numbers are BEFORE you get there. 
  • Be very careful when asking for directions/rides...notice I never actually "asked" for a ride. I just hinted that I was without transportation...and I WAS wearing professional clothing. Where else was I going? (I also should have called my mentor and asked for a ride.  Admitting you are wrong is much better than putting yourself into danger.)
  • Learn how to read people. For example: the older lady who knew where Kmart was, the older couple at the bank, the lady security guard, the train operator who showed me that locals call New Carollton, "New Carl-ton." You'll fit in much sooner.
  • Bring an umbrella. You never know when it's going to rain.


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