The Uncommon App: Milk Runs

Graphic by Isabella Xie

By Bhavik Nagda

Newton South High School Class of 2017

Prompt: Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.

milk run n. A routine, uneventful journey, especially by plane (Oxford Dictionary)

Every Saturday, I march to the Tedeschi’s convenience store down the street to perform my primary household chore: buying Hood 2% milk. From chai to paneer saag to savory kheer, my family’s Indian diet subsists on dairy.

Since fourth grade, I have served as the family’s milkman, albeit without the white jumpsuit and bowtie. Though the milk run was originally a dreaded nuisance, I have adopted the belief that the smallest, most menial tasks are often the most meaningful. The integral nature of milk to Indian cuisine makes me feel indispensable: if I don’t complete the milk runs, who will?

Yet, the milk runs evoke more than mere gratification; interacting with strangers at Tedeschi’s has unleashed my curiosity. I am engrossed by the kaleidoscope of convenience store shoppers—an aggressive motorcycle gang, a frantic pregnant mother, lottery hopefuls—each with a different story. Why do so many more women shop at the store than men? What differentiates hands reaching for coffee cups from hands reaching for beer bottles on Saturday mornings? A trip to Tedeschi’s is teeming with questions like these, making my journey routine, perhaps, but hardly uneventful.

In school and at home, I’m surrounded by the familiar student body or my doting parents. At Tedeschi’s, however, I am charting the unknown, immersed in a seemingly obscure environment. The unfamiliarity kindles my desire to explore. In my quest to expand my boundaries, real conversations have replaced the polite smiles I paired with faces as a young boy. Even the simplest of questions could result in the most engaging interactions.

Four years ago, I struck up a conversation with a lottery player. That Saturday morning was like any other: entering the store, I navigated the milk section, pulled down a carton of Hood, checked the expiry date, and hauled the milk to the counter. Maneuvering through the aisles, I recognized a familiar face standing below the lottery TV.  I remember thinking, ‘Why does he spend his money on lottery tickets?’ My math classes had taught me it was nearly impossible to win, so why play at all? It was a burning question so I asked it.

“I struggle Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday,” he replied with a smile. “Saturday’s my day to dream big.” After our conversation, the man was more than just a lottery player. He was Ernie Durheim, a custodian at a local school who loved three things: his wife, his son, and Johnny Cash albums. Placing a name to a face that day sparked my ambition to continue learning from the experiences of others, an ambition that hasn’t waned since.

As a young boy, Tedeschi’s was my portal to the real world, and moreover my playground for exploration. Sure, milk runs are a seemingly banal chore—walking half a mile, buying milk, and walking back. Yet, even in mundane tasks such as the milk run, I am questioning and probing my environment. That’s why the Oxford Dictionary’s definition fails.

My milk runs are only routine and uneventful if I want them to be. I make my milk runs—or any journey—as fascinating as possible.

Next year, as I head off to college, I’ll hand my Saturday chore back to my parents.  Perhaps I’ll buy them a 500-pound cow and end the tradition altogether. Engaged in the people around me, however, I’ll be at home in college. That four-year milk run, as I view it, will hardly be routine.