The Port Authority in New York at 4.a.m. is a place no one wants to be. The floor is sticky, the air stale. Mobile metal dividers corral people toward the handful of gates that are open at this hour. In a few short hours the place will be crawling with streams of commuters and visitors.

On Sunday, Feb. 14, I found myself half awake waiting in line to board a 4 a.m. bus to Boston. The bus was full. There were holiday travelers and a few late-night revelers, and I had just gotten off the overnight shift at my job. Walking the half block across Sixth Avenue from my office left my face so numb, I could barely ask for directions to my gate. Outside, bitterly cold gusts of wind swept through the city. But I was determined to make it home to the Island for Valentine’s Day.

I took my seat in the first row of the bus next to a woman whose bottom took up her entire seat and half of mine. She was on her phone for the better part of the trip. Through white headphones, she spoke in muffled tones. Normally this would cause me to twitch, but instead it rocked me to sleep.

Several hours later I woke up, just as we passed the Boston University high-rise dorms on the Massachusetts Turnpike, and smiled.

South Station was a big part of my life when I lived on the Vineyard full-time, an artery to the rest of the world, as it is for so many others. I walked off the bus, still half asleep, drifting into another place and time when I worked at the Vineyard Gazette and would be headed off the Island for a weekend away. The familiarity of it all — passing through on my way to see friends in Cambridge or to New York — was both confusing and comforting.

Outside, it was going to be a two-pairs-of-pants kind of day. I headed into the ladies room to put on long underwear under my jeans, cursing the plight of winter. I balanced on one leg and the other, careful not to touch the floor. It’s all going to be worth it, I repeated to myself, mantra-like. You got this, my internal monologue coached on.

When I arrived at the gate for the bus to Woods Hole, Luis was there. Frequent fliers on this route know Luis, the bus driver who never makes any promises to make the last boat but always manages to ensure timely arrival. (Well, almost always.)

“It’s going be 32 tomorrow, I’m gonna go to the beach,” he told riders boarding the bus.

I made a beeline for the extra legroom seat, like I always do. My friend Elizabeth sat down in front of me, fresh off her own journey on a red-eye from the West Coast. She generously offered me her last facial wipe.

“Welcome aboard to Woods Hole,” Luis began as we pulled out of South Station. “Let me remind you the use of cell phones is only allowed in emergencies. If you have to make a call please make it as quick as possible. Texting, that’s okay you can text, all the way down to Woods Hole.”

I wondered if Luis had ever been beyond the ferry terminal building. We passed the row houses of the South End with smoke billowing out of chimneys. Everything felt so familiar, the warmth of the bus, the slightly antiseptic air.

Once on the boat, I let out a big exhale as I sank into the blue-cushioned booth at a table alongside Elizabeth.

“Thank you for steaming with the authority,” the familiar voice on the loudspeaker concluded after the usual safety announcements.

Out the window, I saw sea smoke. Or maybe it was a thick coat of salt on the glass, or my four hours of sleep.

“I like to go away,” Elizabeth said. “But I really like to come home.”

So do I.

Former Gazette reporter Remy Tumin works as a news assistant for the New York Times.