A road trip to nowhere: My 5-hour journey on the Circ
Bear’s Den may be thought of as the bona fide late-night hotspot for Washington University underclassmen after a night out, but given that drunk people can hardly walk and Uber is expensive, the Circulator seems like the natural next best place to find some inebriated freshmen on a weekend night. The Circ drivers probably go home with some crazy stories after the midnight shift, right? RIGHT?
So, all in the name of journalism, I decided to spend five long hours on the Circulator from 9 p.m. Saturday to 2 a.m. Sunday, traveling in 15 loops around the Washington University campus in more time than it would have taken to get to Chicago.
But before I dive into my experience, let’s first have a look at what I brought with me on my road trip to nowhere:
My cell phone
(If I was going to be on a bus ride for five hours, I would need to text. Talking on the phone or listening to music were against my rules, as was surfing the Internet or playing games, but texting was a necessity.)
(For some reason a single kosher white chocolate bar was the only food I brought—this becomes a plot point later on.)
(I didn’t end up using it, but I had it stowed away in my tote bag.)
A pack of tissues
(It’s allergy season!)
A notebook and pen
(Obviously, I couldn’t write this story without taking notes. What kind of journalist do you think I am?)
And now it’s time to delve into my travel journal,replete with my inner workings as I underwent my (at times seemingly never-ending) journey.
It’s here—I didn’t even check the WUSTL app and the Circ is pulling in at the same time as I’m walking to the stop. Maybe this will be fun? Either way, at least (for now) I have a buddy, as my friend Victor has agreed to join me for one cycle before he heads back into civilization. We get on at the stop outside Dardick House, and at the next stop—the Clocktower—a few people get on. They’re all dressed up for a formal (I assume), so I feel a little awkward in my Superga sneakers and T-shirt, but it’s OK. The crowd of nicely dressed people will be off in a few minutes.
I tell the driver what I am doing, and he tells me someone else has done this before. I am confused, but whatever—at least he’s not going to try to kick me off. He gets off for a few minutes in the Village without uttering a word. I stay on and tell a fellow rider what I am doing. He is confused.
The first cycle is down, and Victor has left me alone again. But there’s another round of people headed to formal. This time they pack in, and I have to relinquish the seat next to me (ugh). The Circ now smells like a mixture of Smirnoff and Marc Jacobs’ Daisy perfume. But hey—could be worse. We get to Brookings Hall and they all get off, allowing me to once again enjoy peace and quiet.
The driver and I are by ourselves. He didn’t seem too interested in chatting before, but now he comments on how there is a full moon. I can’t really see it from my seat, but I just go along with it, since I’m going to be on the bus with him for about another four and a half hours. He also asks me what my major is, and I tell him I still don’t know what I’m doing with my life. He says I still have time to figure it out. We’ve only done two laps of campus and I’m already starting to feel a little queasy from all the speed bumps. This might be harder than I’d thought.
Another group gets off at Brookings, and the driver asks me how I’m enjoying the ride. We chat a bit, and he tells me he does the midnight shift every Saturday. His voice seems kind of familiar to me, and I soon realize it reminds me of actor Kenan Thompson on “Saturday Night Live.” Interesting. Our conversation dies as we pull back into the South 40, and a couple more students head on the bus. The driver turns off the bus (and the lights), announcing he will return after he picks up a snack at Bear’s Den. I sit in the dark, empty Circ at the Clocktower and my carsickness completely alleviates as I wait for the driver to return. A few minutes later, he gets back into the driver’s seat with a scone and a cup of coffee, and we begin again.
I get a text from my mom telling me the Chicago Blackhawks won 6-3 against the St. Louis Blues after being down 3-1 in the game—good news for my family, who are all huge Hawks fans. She remembers that I’m on the bus and asks why I can’t just abandon my mission (it’s for journalism, Mom). After students unload in the Village, the driver and I get to talking again. He tells me that he has to count the number of students who get on the bus at each stop, although he isn’t quite sure why. He again mentions the full moon, launching into a story about how he saw an owl that had “a bad attitude”—a “chip on his shoulder.” I tell him that I’m not sure I’ve ever seen an owl outside of the zoo, and he says he hadn’t seen one himself until he saw this one.
The driver asks where I’m from, and I tell him the suburbs outside New York. He asks me if I’ve ever been to the Statue of Liberty (once I passed right by it, on a fourth grade trip to Ellis Island, but I’ve never actually been up), and we talk about the statue for a while.
Yet another lap done and gone, and I’ve gotten used to it. I’m starting to regret not having brought any water on the Circ because I’m really thirsty. But I decide to ignore it. I keep sneezing, though—allergies. The driver asks me if I’m OK, and somehow our discussion leads to zits (I swear he was the one who brought that up). Weird conversation topic, but I’m grateful to have someone to talk to as I sit inside the bus.
Someone is talking about the Blackhawks and how clutch they are. This guy sounds like a less-informed version of my brother Ian. I decide to text Ian, who quickly responds that he is sure the Hawks will win in game seven. I am not so sure, but I tell him about my bus trip and he asks where I am going. In circles around campus, I respond. He stops replying.
I am starting to get tired and lonely and bored. The Circ has been pretty empty for the past half hour. And I’ve been thirsty for about two hours at this point. What was I thinking when I didn’t bring water—or even better: coffee. I could use a hot drink at this point. But I’m halfway through! So, I’ll be an optimist and pretend that this journey is almost over, even though that’s really far from the case—I still have as much time left as I’ve completed.
After an uneventful half an hour, a ton of people returning from formals head on the Circ—including my friend Becca. My first visitor left around 9:20, so I am grateful for her unexpected arrival. She tells me she’ll sit with me for one loop and then get off by the Overpass. I’ve managed to stay pretty anonymous to other Circ riders for the past few hours, but the guy behind me notices my tallies of people getting on and off the Circ. He counts off the heads for me (which is sort of helpful, to be honest) until he gets off at the Clocktower.
As we head back by Mallinckrodt, Becca notices a man in all white clothing with a long white beard holding two clear plastic bags. I tell her that he’s been there for a while. She tells me I might want to mention him for my article—who is this man in all white and why is he here? The world may never know. Soon after, Becca gets to her stop and hits the road. The driver tells me he’s arrived early at the Village and has to wait around for a few minutes. I don’t mind—I’m still slightly nauseous from riding in all those circles.
We’re back at Mallinckrodt—and the man in all white is gone? Where did he go? I contemplate for a bit and then pull out my white chocolate. I haven’t had anything to eat or drink since like 7:30 p.m., and though I’d prefer a bottle of water, I’ll have to make do with this chocolate bar.
So many more people back from formals come on the Circ. Some of them took the Circ when they were leaving, and I realize that they’ve gone through their whole night’s plans while I’ve been sitting on this bus—what am I doing with my life? The guy sitting across from me keeps looking back and forth at me, and I wonder if he’s going to ask me about my notebook tallies. Nope—he asks me what I’m eating. Suddenly I become very aware that white chocolate was a very odd food choice —oh well. I keep nibbling away.
The driver gets off the Circ to “go stretch.” I sit and wait for a while. When he returns we start talking about the John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. assassinations. He tells me that there’s no way Kennedy could have died without the government being involved. I can’t help thinking of my dad’s own fascination with JFK conspiracy theories. More students hop on the Circ, and our conversation fades away once again.
Wow. This is what I’ve been waiting for—the most interesting thing that’s happened all night. A seemingly inebriated girl tries to bring a large branch on the Circ. I am confused, but the driver seems unfazed. I guess this sort of thing happens often enough? He tells her that she cannot bring the branch on—it won’t fit, and it takes up seats—and she decides to walk home with the branch instead. Her friends elect to walk with her. I stay on the bus, still perplexed by what just happened.
Passengers depart and the driver tells me there was no way he was letting the girl bring a branch on the Circ—he comments that she must have been drinking “whiskey or something strong” in order to think that was a good idea. We head back around to the South 40—my time is winding down; we only have two trips left—and my friend Sam comes to visit me. The guy who counted my tally marks is back too, and he announces that three people are getting on the Circ. This is exciting—I’ve been alone with my thoughts for what feels like an eternity. Sam tries to use his computer, but Wi-Fi isn’t working on the bus, so he decides to shut his laptop, and he agrees to stay on until we get kicked off at 2 a.m. As we cycle around Sam comments on how bumpy the ride is. The Circ isn’t the smoothest ride, but at this point, I’m only noticing the speed bumps—I brace myself for each one, but I know their locations by heart, which Sam (as a non-pro) finds comical.
I glance down at my phone and realize we really are almost done. The driver says, “I’m out of commission” as we hit the Clocktower for the 15th time. I rejoice—my mission is done. I say goodbye and get off the bus to head home, desperate for some water and a better snack.
Next time I go on a five-hour bus ride to nowhere, I’ll have to bring a full meal and something to drink. But all things considered, this Circ business really wasn’t that bad. That said, I think I’ll be using other methods of transportation for the rest of the semester—those speed bumps will be haunting my dreams for a while.