A thick haze is drifting towards me from across the street. The lights are blocked out by the smoke. A car is zooming down the road backwards, and I’m cradling a bag of Swedish Fish close to my chest. Someone screams my name. The noxious cloud hides them, but I can make out a pack of humanoid shapes moving towards me.
Is this a war zone? A riot? The apocalypse? Nope, it’s the Street, late one Saturday night (or early Sunday morning, depending on who you ask), and I’m dead sober. The haze is the residue from a fire extinguisher a guy stumbling out of Cloister decided to release, the Swedish Fish are snacks for the drunken masses I was sure I’d encounter, and the shapes screaming my name are my friends on their way to Ivy. The car driving backwards? I still have no idea. Like a lot of things that night, it would go unexplained, and, honestly, it’s probably better that way.
As a Peer Health Adviser, I have to staff the UMatter bus once a semester with a SHARE Peer. Tonight, that was my friend Curtis. We’re supposed to make sure that everyone on the bus is safe, communicate drop-off locations to the driver, and, supposedly, McCosh really drunk people (which we, thankfully, didn’t have to do). I was pretty apprehensive heading into the evening, but it turns out that being completely, utterly, sadly sober on the Street has its perks. The people watching potential is enormous, especially for two anthropology majors. Curtis and I imagine that we’re encountering an unknown culture for the first time and trying to observe it from a detached perspective. I notice these weird things that I would normally laugh about and immediately forget. Right after the fire extinguisher event, I witness someone hurdle the wall in front of Cannon. Yes, that five-foot stone wall that runs along the sidewalk. Conversations and arguments about things like who left their hairbrush on the wrong side of the room and who ate whose granola bars become studies in group dynamics. Because your faculties are somewhat compromised while out, you don’t realize just how strange and hilarious drunk behavior is until you step back and just watch.
As soon as our first passengers board, I decide that Curtis is the guy to go to if shit gets real. He chats people up, finds out where they’re going, and passes it on to the driver. A girl, wearing only a tank top and jeans despite the cold, gets on, and he immediately takes charge.
“Where are you headed?”
“Forbes,” she replies, shivering.
Curtis tells the driver our next stop and speaks to the girl again, “Are you alright?”
“Someone stole my jacket from Cannon.” She looks distraught, but mostly cold. “Thank god for this bus. So warm.”
I’m pretty useless; I just sit there, offering the candy we brought. It’s a feel-good task, though. If you ever feel bad about yourself, I’d recommend giving out free food to drunk people. In that two-hour stretch on the bus, people told me they loved me more times than I can count.
Our first loop is relatively uneventful. One guy yells, “We have to get to Nassau! The driver’s going the wrong way!” He tries to whisper this last point to his friends but ends up yelling again. As he leaves the bus, he clasps my hand and says to me, completely seriously, “See you at the boathouse!” I stopped rowing last year and haven’t stepped foot in the boathouse in months.
The second tour of campus is more exciting. There are no empty seats to be found, and the crowd is talkative, rowdy, even. As soon as we pull away from the Prospect stop, we notice a plume of smoke coming from the back. But the bus isn’t breaking down; someone is smoking. Curtis and I consult in whispers.
“You tell him.”
“No, no, you do it!”
Curtis steps up to the plate and turns to the kid, happily puffing away.
“Um… you can’t Juul on the UMatter bus.”
The smoker tries to argue, but he eventually puts the Juul back into his pocket. The rest of this bus is remarkably coherent, an accomplishment for so late on the Street. We had a substantial conversation about what worked, and what didn’t, in the SHARE Peer and PHA programs, complained about school stress, and discussed the merits and failures of the bicker system. Bicker is coming up for Curtis and me, and we’re getting a little nervous about it. It’s heavy stuff for the middle of the night.
Ivy has closed. A crowd wanders down the path, deciding between retiring to bed, gorging themselves on drunk meal, or rallying for Terrace. A difficult choice. This ride is even more packed than the last—friends sit on each other’s laps and we have to leave a few people behind. The lucky group that makes it onto the bus is evenly split between drunk meal and their dorms, but when we arrive at Frist, almost everyone succumbs to the allure of fried food.
“Molly, they have chicken tenders, we have to go. And fries, Molly, fries!” A girl tries to rouse her friend, slumped in her seat. Only the promise of French fries gets Molly off the bus.
After that mass departure, we swing by Forbes and the bus is empty once again. The driver turns the lights off when it is just us on board, and it’s nice; as we drive across campus. Streetlights and the light flooding out of dorm rooms alternately brighten and darken the interior. It’s quiet, peaceful, even. We’re insulated from the noise and chaos of the groups of people walking home. We can see them ripping off posters and jumping around, but it’s impossible to hear what’s going on. This is a different kind of observation, one in which we have to create the context for the strange performative actions.
We loop around to Prospect once again, but everyone is already at their end-of-the-night destinations. We leave empty. But the night isn’t over, not yet. As the bus passes Tower, it is stopped by a man standing in the middle of the street. His arms are spread out above him and he’s staring into the sky as if deep in prayer. This standoff continues for a few minutes, until a flashy sports car rockets down the block and stops next to him. A pizza is shoved out the window, money pushed in, and the car speeds off again. This roadblock removed, the bus continues on its way.
Curtis and I are dropped off outside Wu at 2:30. Though my only activity for the night was sitting in a seat, I am somehow more exhausted than if I had been tearing up the dancefloor for hours. All I want to do is collapse into bed and sleep until dinner tomorrow, but even this proves impossible. As I walk up to my dorm, I dig through my pockets, searching for the familiar rectangle of my prox, but it’s nowhere to be found. A long walk down Elm to P-Safe is in store.