The night bus
February 19, 2008
p. Riding with Steer Clear feels like traveling with some of Chaucer’s Canterbury pilgrims. Only, instead of a knight, a miller and a nun, I find a Stairwell, a lab partner and a freestyling band.
p. Steer Clear, which provides transportation for students every Friday and Saturday night from 9:30 p.m. to 2:30 a.m., started its spring service Feb. 8. Though most students view it as a service solely for the inebriated, it is for anyone who needs a ride to or from campus.
p. Of course, many of the passengers are under the influence of alcohol, which makes for an interesting ride. The Steer Clear vehicle is equipped with plastic buckets, which can be used and then mandatorily bought for $1. When students aren’t so lucky as to make it into the colorful animal bucket, they have to pay a $30 fine.
p. “If they tell us, we’ll pull over and let them get back to nature,” Schoettler said.
p. Steer Clear staffs its van with a driver and a coordinator who are paid $8/hour. This is the first semester the program hasn’t been run by volunteers.
p. “We’re more reliable now that there’s a paid staff,” Schoettler said.
p. Will Sealy ’09, Student Assembly undersecretary of health and safety for substance abuse, became Steer Clear’s director this semester because Greek Life could no longer support the program due to liability issues. With funding from the SA and new employees, the program plans to be more stable than in previous years.
p. To get a better idea of the service, I went along for a ride.
11:30 p.m. — My night began with a pick-up of two sober girls from the Green Leafe who needed a ride to Millington Hall.
p. “I have a biology lab I need to work on,” one girl said laughing.
“We’re not just a drunk bus,” driver Alison Schoettler ’11 said.
p. “We’re here to help anyone who needs a safe ride.”
Soon after, Steer Clear’s cell phone (which rings with a jazzy rendition of The Beatles’ “Love Me Do”) received a call for a pick-up at the King and Queen Apartments on Scotland Street. There, the van picked up two rather happy travelers on their way to the Midlands Apartments.
p. “You guys are awesome,” one student said. “I’m so glad Steer Clear’s back because it’s really hard to get from on campus to off campus, and I’m glad I don’t have to pass out on someone’s floor.” Nearly every rider expressed his gratitude for Steer Clear’s return.
p. **12:23 a.m. —** Coordinating where to go next was tricky with the large number of callers.
p. “Our goal is especially to get the people who are farthest away and get them to where they need to go, because they’re the most likely to drive,” staff member Erica Smith ’09 said.
Steer Clear went to Governor’s Square, where it picked up three passengers on their way to the Units and the Ludwell Apartments. Before getting back to campus, the van picked up 10 more people from a party on Lafayette Street. Though the service doesn’t seem have clear boundaries, it travels as far as Steeple Chase and the Midlands.
p. With a much noisier crowd, driver Sarah Will ’10 had to yell over the group to ask where they were going. “We’re going to ravage the Delis!” one yelled. The group was loud but still polite while disembarking the van at the University Center, with many expressing their thanks.
p. **1:07 —** Driving to Ludwell, we picked up a student who was holding a red Solo cup in his hand.
p. “No drinks in the van,” Will yelled.
p. As we passed two girls, Smith yelled out of her window, “Hey, do you want a ride? We’re Steer Clear.” Exchanging glances and shrugs, the girls ran across Rolfe Road and hopped in the van. Throughout the night, Steer Clear picked up student pedestrians, always trying to fill every seat.
p. **1:14 —** Soon we were at the Bryan Complex, picking up a group of seven that proved to be the night’s highlight. Someone decided that he wanted to start singing. Then comments started: “I want to sing a song.” “Let’s all sing.” “Let’s sing ‘The Boxer’ by Simon and Garfunkel.” I was particularly moved by the group’s hearty “Row, Row, Row Your Boat.”
p. One student, whose frequent bladder complaints started to annoy his friends, yelled out, “Hey, my tuition is paying for this ride, so I should be able to make an ass of myself.”
The drivers exchanged a knowing smile, one of the many that would follow as the night went on.
p. **1:41 —** During a flow of calmer students, we stopped at the Hospitality House to pick up a married couple in formal attire. The wife, a student at the school of education, was especially grateful.
p. “It’s so sweet for them to spend their night doing this. Especially when cabs are so expensive.”
p. She and her husband, also a student, got off the van at Pocahontas Trail and walked home, so as to not inconvenience the other passengers by forcing the van to go out of its way.
p. The other passengers, who had waited almost half an hour for the van to get back to Governor’s Square, began to sound like children on a road trip — “Are we there yet?” “I have to pee.” The drivers reassured them home was close.
p. **2:08 —** Back at the apartment complex, we ran into the beatboxers again. One boarded stating, “I do too have a badonkadonk.” Clearly the group’s energy was still on the rise. Soon the improvisation and beats started up again, flavored with cursing and crude humor.
p. I decided to call it a night, so I asked Steer Clear for my own ride home. Though I may have been off to bed, Steer Clear still had 20 minutes of service, and sure enough, the happy notes of “Love Me Do” played on.