Adventures on the 4 Train

A Howard Student’s Life on the Street

His meals came from making deals at the corner Bodega for chips and a soda. At night he rode uptown and downtown on the 4 train, passing by his Tremont Avenue neighborhood in the Bronx.

For two weeks he lived this way. Refusing to go home to a household that demanded too much of him. After all, he wasn’t super kid.

He was only 13.

“I was supposed to be the greatest man alive-kid. I’m supposed to be smart. I’m supposed to be super intelligent. I’m supposed to be a genius kid. I’m not really that genius kid,” said Courtney Edwards Jr. “Everybody wants you to be like this super kid, you’re not really that super kid, you’re just like a regular kid.

On a cold October day in 1996, Edwards dared to do what other kids only boast of doing: he ran away from home.

“Two weeks I lived on the street. Just hustling, you know,” said Edwards now a college senior majoring in print journalism major at Howard University. “That’s what all vagrant, homeless people do-that’s what I did,” said Edwards.

Growing up in New York City, Edwards was the first male grandchild of Lucille Pollard and James Williams. Private school educated, he was his mother’s pride and joy; his grandfather’s heart and hope. A hope that sometimes, according to Edwards, was stifling.

“Everything that everybody in my family didn’t achieve in life, I was supposed to achieve somehow. I was supposed to right their wrongs somehow,” said Edwards. “Maybe I don’t want that kind of pressure on me. Maybe that’s why I’m out here.”

It didn’t take much for Edwards to decide when he was going to leave. One morning while being taken to school by his mother, he left. Just simply, ran away. His mother had been in the habit of dropping him off at school every morning since elementary school, and every morning she was late. On this fall morning, the pressure of being late yet again had become too great.

“I ran away during the time when we were taking our co-op tests, which determined what high school you went to. Maybe that was it. Maybe it was a little pressure,” said Edwards.

Edwards spent his first day as a runaway at a local library surfing the internet and hanging out. By night fall, he had made his way back to his mother’s house in the Tremont section of the Bronx but could not bring himself to go inside. He slept, instead, in the park across the street from his apartment complex.

Edwards quickly became accustom to the vagabond life. He spent his days aimlessly roaming the City; traveling from borough to borough, hanging out and making deals for food. He had no intention of going home.

“After a couple of days of that you realize that you could actually facilitate this, you’re like, ‘man, I’m not going home. I can do this forever,'” said Edwards.

But for the 13-year-old, the thrill of living your own life also came with the fear of living on the streets of New York. Most nights Edwards took refuge from the cold by sleeping on the 4 train, riding up and down the subway line from 233rd Street in the Bronx to Flatbush Ave. in Brooklyn, and back again.

“The [train was the] place where I curled up in the corner and went to sleep,” said Edwards. “I was scared everyday. You don’t know what could happen to you. You could get mugged out there; someone could stab you; you could get shanked. Anything can happen to you on the train. You just gotta be vigilant, and be smart about where you’re going.”

So this had become his life: dodging truant officers by day and police officers by night: “I remember school days, you know, running from the cops” said Edward. “I didn’t go to school at all. I was out of school, out of people’s lives.”

Hustling fountain sodas from McDonald’s and Burger King: “I survived off of orange soda. One time I got caught in a Burger King off of 181st Street, because they wouldn’t give cups because they had the soda machine, so I had to go to McDonald’s where they don’t have soda machines and get cups and bring it back down. Then I used to put tissue and stuff around it to hide the McDonald’s logo,” said Edwards. And jumping turnstiles and sleeping on the 4 train: “I rode the train all the way down to Brooklyn, came all the way back. I went to Queens one day, and some weird thing happened, like, I guess the train went out of service, so I ended up leaving the train station and walking down some weird street in Queens,” said Edwards.

Four days later Edwards’ whirlwind life as a runaway came to an abrupt end. He was caught by the police.

Unbeknownst to him, his mother and grandmother had filed a missing child report, and Edwards’ picture was plastered all over the Bronx on a missing child poster.

“I get caught because I’m looking at animals in Union Square Park. They have a little adoption thing set up, and I am such a sucker for animals; especially animals that don’t have a home,” said Edwards.

Forty-five minutes too long, said Edwards. He was at the park for 45 minutes too long.

“Five minutes less, I would have been probably gone another week or two,” Edwards added. “According to [the police] someone who saw the poster recognized me there and went downstairs and reported to the police that I was upstairs. So that’s how they ended up coming to get me.”

After a trip to the station and a double quarter pounder, the 13-year-old is introduced to the detective that was working his case. He explained to the officers how he survived on the street for two weeks. The detective, then, drives him back to his Grand Avenue home.

“I was relieved because I wouldn’t have went home under my own faculty,” said Edwards.

At home he is met with hugs and kisses.

“I get back home to hugs and kisses and all that great stuff,” said Edwards. “[I got in] no trouble actually. In fact, I get all these new clothes and new presents; then, I get a dog too-cocker spaniel that I named Sassy,” said Edwards.

Mission accomplished: super kid is finally just a kid. In his two weeks of rebellion, two weeks of life on the streets, he managed to relinquish the burden of expectation that his family had so unfairly placed on him.

Maybe he was super kid after all.

“That’s the jist of my life right there,” said Edwards.