Midnight riders

Maren Dougherty

It’s 12:06 a.m. and the Purple Route shuttle is turning the corner of Sherman Avenue and Foster Street on a chilly Thursday night. Two women, one blonde and one brunette, sit in a row toward the front of the bus.

“. . . U- V- W- X- Y- Z,” they scream in unison.

“We know it!” says the brunette with a beaming smile. But by that point, the blonde’s attention already is on other sights.

“Hey, it’s the Gap, biatch,” she says repeatedly as the bus passes the store.

The man sitting across the aisle from the women shakes his head. The women continue to giggle and shout until disembarking the bus at Prairie Moon, 1502 Sherman Ave., where a line of nearly 20 people is already forming outside.

It’s now 12:12 a.m. with six students on the bus. The town outside the windows looks cold, quiet and lonely. Weary-eyed workers stock shelves at the Art Store, 1755 Maple Ave., and scrub the doors at the 1800 Sherman Ave. office building. As students stare outside, the whirr of the bus heater is the only sound.

Charlie Curry, 59, gently turns the wheel as the bus rounds corners, pausing dutifully at each marked stop. Curry has been a Northwestern bus driver for three years and a truck driver for 29. He finishes work at 2:45 a.m. or later, depending on how long it takes to clean the bus. He likes his job, calling NU students “nice” and “highly intelligent,” although they sometimes get rowdy on weekend nights.

“One guy got on the bus, and he just wanted to dance,” Curry says. “I said, ‘No-no, no dancing on the bus!'”

When students mix a few vodka shots with a ride on a moving vehicle, there can be other, smellier effects. Curry says vomiting isn’t rare.

“Oh yeah,” he says. “Plenty of that.”

But sometimes the bus is empty. Although Curry says this is a busy Thursday night, it’s now 12:58 a.m. and the bus has been empty for nearly 10 minutes. Up ahead, a man waits outside the library.

Communication senior Evan Hung climbs the bus stairs. Hung just left the late-night section of the library, where he was writing a speech about Henry VIII. “I actually finished a while ago,” he says. “I was just there to keep a friend company.”

At 1:04 a.m., Hung disembarks and Curry continues the quiet journey through campus. Curry calls the Purple Express driver — a female whose voice scratches through the intercom — for an energy boost.

“You got any chips?” Curry asks the driver.

“I got cookies but I ate ’em,” she says.

He pauses. “What you got now?”

“Milk Duds.”

“How many?”

“Whole box full!”

Curry ends the conversation. Even a whole box full of Milk Duds must not seem too appealing. A horde of eight students, three guys and five women, boards the shuttle outside the 1800 Club. They all talk at once, none listen.

“The best move you can make is a

headbutt.”

“We need boyfriends!”

“Omigod let’s call him. I love calling people when I’m drunk!”

One woman in stiletto boots keeps emitting high-pitched squeals every few seconds. The two guys continue to talk about different moves they would make if they were in a fight –“My next move is a chokehold!” — while one woman taps her friends on their shoulders.

“Guess what? I like to call this the later gator bus,” she says. “Isn’t it a cute kind of name for it?” The woman sitting on her left nods in enthusiastic agreement.

Then, they suddenly realize they’re turning the corner at Foster Street. They scream, Curry rides to an easy stop, and the loud, inebriated horde gets off the bus.

Hearing drunken voices with sober ears is not always an optimal situation, but Curry takes it in stride. He adjusts his hat, peers down the road and passes the Fraternity

Quad again.

It’s 2:06 a.m. and Curry continues his journey — a journey both solitary and crowded, marked by alcohol-fueled squeals and the soft wafts of snow that fall delicately on the windshield.

Reach Maren Dougherty at [email protected].