A safe ride home: student manages late-night mayhem

Nick Lowrey


10 p.m.

She arrives at the Brookings Area Transit Authority depot just before 10 p.m. on a Saturday night. The sky is overcast, masking the moon and stars behind a layer of clouds glowing orange in the reflected light from the city. The wind picked up on the drive from her house to the terminal, blowing the light snowfall into a frenzy.

It’s cold as she throws open her door and runs to the keypad, but she types the code that opens the gate with a steady hand, despite the temperature. She drives through and parks next to a corrugated steel building. There are two BATA busses waiting outside with their engines running.

Kylie Schaeffer, a junior Spanish major, has been a Safe Ride monitor for about a year. She doesn’t look like someone who would boss people around; she looks like an average 20-year-old student — not intimidating, yet quietly confident.

Kylie begins the preparations for her shift, heading into the garage by the Brookings airport. There, she finds a bodily fluids clean-up kit to use for the night. She’s responsible for cleaning up after riders if they make a mess.

“It’s really not fun when people puke,” she says.

One night, she spent 45 minutes scrubbing vomit off a seat while the rider, who threw up, sat and watched. The seats are simple cloth and have a tendency to soak up whatever is spilled; it’s one of the reasons no food or drink is allowed on the bus.

“He felt so bad,” she said. “I had to keep telling him that it’s my job.”

She grabs the clipboard with the map and log sheet and throws it on the box full of cleaning supplies. She walks back out the door into the howling wind with the box and clipboard in one hand, using the other to pull the bus door open. She stores the box in the overhead compartment and sits down with the clipboard.

Randy Kleinsasser, the bus driver, hops in through his door and sits down, throwing the bus into gear and pulling through the gate, starting out on the first of three routes they’ll run before their break at midnight.


10:10 p.m.

The busses run two routes, Yellow and Blue. The Yellow Route stays to the north side of town near campus, while the Blue Route, the longer route, goes south as far as Sawgrass Drive. Her first route of the night is Yellow. It starts slow; Prairie Lanes is the first stop. The snow is still falling lightly, but the wind has died down.

“No one usually gets on here,” Kylie said. “We won’t stay long.”

And they don’t. Randy shoves the bus back into gear and heads toward the next stop near Meadows North and South halls.

“Thursdays are the worst,” Kylie says.

There’s only one bus on Thursdays, and the Safe Ride phone stays with the

monitor. Instead of a route on Thursdays, the bus accommodates to the phone within the confines of established Safe Ride stops.

“I hate having the phone, the ringtone is really annoying,” Kylie said.

No one gets on the bus at Meadows North and South either, so the bus trundles on down the road toward Waneta Hall. The residential streets near campus are empty. The streetlights cast their orange-white light on the thin layer of snow collecting on the streets, causing an eerie glow to illuminate the city.


10:15 p.m.

The night’s first rider gets on at a stop south of Sixth Street. He wants to go to a house near Brookings High School. Kylie has to explain the bus can’t go off the route, but there’s a stop at Country Crossing Apartments, fairly close to where he wants to go.

He takes a seat near the front and Kylie takes the backpack he’s wearing, holding it until he gets off.

He talks about the weather and other mundane topics, and for 10 minutes there’s an awkward silence as everyone listens to the engine noise and radio. At Country Crossing, he hustles off the bus and lights a smoke within a few steps of the door.

The bus is slightly ahead of schedule, so it waits for a few minutes to let the clock catch up. It’s not long before five more riders hop on, ready for the trip downtown. Country Crossing is Yellow Route’s last stop before heading to the 72-hour parking lot downtown.

This group of riders has already been drinking and the bus is filled with the smell of alcohol. They’re as loud and obnoxious as only the drunk can be to the sober, and Kylie takes it in stride. This isn’t her first rodeo.


10:27 p.m.

The bus arrives at the 72-hour parking lot and riders pile off into the night with a quiet “Thank you.” The bus takes off again, this time starting on Safe Ride’s Blue Route. It travels in a circle as far north as the Campus View Apartments, or The Blues, and as far south as Sawgrass Drive.

Kylie asks Randy to change the radio station from dance music to a country station. A Toby Keith song comes on as the bus rumbles down Sixth Street.

On Hobo Day last October, Safe Ride counted more than 1,600 people riding the busses.

“It gets crazy,” Kylie says. “One night the bus was really crowded and this guy started pole dancing.”

Kylie goes on to explain the pole the guy was using happened to be supporting the divider between her seat and the steps leading to the door. Eventually the driver hit the brakes and threw the guy offbalance, and then Kylie forced the guy to sit back down.


11:34 p.m.

The bus again stops at Waneta Hall, and almost immediately a woman comes running out of the darkness shouting for the bus to stay.

“It’s so funny when people run to the bus,” Kylie says. “It’s not like we’re going to leave them behind. One time this girl was running to the bus and she biffed it so hard on the ice that she slid under the bus.”

That doesn’t happen this time. The rider jumps through the door, up the stairs and breathlessly announces there are more people coming and the bus shouldn’t leave yet. The rest of her party shows up before long, and it’s a mix of men and women enjoying themselves after Capers.

The new riders shout their destination to the world, “Main Street Pub.” It’s a boisterous crowd alternately shouting “Capers,” and a drawn-out “Party,” as the bus rolls along to the next stop.

Kylie just smiles and shakes her head at their antics.


11:44 p.m.

Two more women rush through the door and up the stairs from the married student housing. They’re greeted with a resounding “Woo,” from the already crowded bus. It’s loud in the bus now, with everyone shouting back and forth.

At Fifth Street and 11th Avenue, two more men pile into the bus to catch a ride downtown. They’re greeted with the same enthusiasm as the last two and another raucous “Woo,” breaks through the disharmony of drunken conversation.

One of the riders changes the radio station and Snoop Dogg blares through the bus, adding to the already loud atmosphere.

Kylie has to stand and tell the man to sit back down, which she does with an unexpectedly forceful smile. He goes back to his seat while Kylie rolls her eyes at his back and sits down herself.



The bus pulls up to 72-hour parking for the third time, emptying its inebriated cargo downtown. They hurry off into the night rambunctiously. Four other riders take their place inside the bus and ask to go to Countryside Estates. They’re quiet.

Kylie rests her feet on the partition in front of her. She yawns slightly, almost bored by the behavior of the crowd that has just left the bus. She’s seen it all before and worse.

“The bus was really crowded one time and somehow someone pulled the emergency levers on one of the windows and the whole window fell out,” she says.

That night she had to go back along the route to look for what was left of the window.

The bus arrives and the four riders, three men and a woman, get off saying, “Thank you,” politely and grateful.

“You meet a lot of nice people,” Kylie says, “but there’s usually one or two that are just mean.”


12:11 a.m.

Kylie and Randy meet the other bus crew at the Shell gas station for their 30-minute break. After their break, the crews will switch from circular routes and start taking people home. They generally stick to the assigned stops but try to keep one bus at the 72-hour lot at all times.

“It’s so people don’t have to stand around in the cold for too long,” Kylie says.

She takes the phone after break, it’s her turn to take the calls and explain to people where they can get on the bus.

Safe Ride is funded by a state grant, which pays the monitors and drivers. Monitors like Kylie log the number of riders and the miles the busses drive. The logs are then sent to the state to ensure continued funding for the program.


12:40 a.m.

Break has ended and the bus is headed west on Sixth Street toward downtown. The phone rings and Kylie quickly answers, anxious to silence the ringtone.

“There’s a bus downtown right now,” she says. “You’re welcome.” And she hangs up.

It’s something she’ll be doing frequently over the next few hours.


12:42 a.m.

A couple gets on the bus at the 72-hour parking lot. One of them, Liam, is a regular, and like Kylie, is a graduate of Watertown High School. He’s with his girlfriend. He and Kylie chat about Watertown and SDSU for a while as they wait for the other bus to finish its run.

Another couple arrives at the bus and they have a pizza with them. Kylie asks their destination, it’s The Blues. Then she tells them they can’t get on unless she holds onto the pizza, which the couple isn’t happy about.

“No food or beverages — that’s the hardest thing. People get mad,” Kylie says.

It’s just another issue she’ll struggle with through the rest of the night.


1:09 a.m.

The bus pulls up to 72-hour parking yet again, as the other bus pulls away on its next run. Another couple gets on; they’re headed to Village Square. The phone rings twice inside of a minute – Kylie cringes slightly each time.


1:19 a.m.

Randy spots the other bus in his mirrors, slams the bus into gear and is off to Village Square to drop off the only couple on board. They’re tired and quiet, almost falling asleep in each other’s arms.

The phone rings again and Kylie shakes her head answering with a sardonic smile.

“There’s a bus downtown right now,” she says, closing the old, battered flip phone.


1:35 a.m.

The bus is waiting for another load at 72-hour parking. It’s still fairly quiet – the radio matches the rumble of the engine. It’s late, but there are still cars on the road.

Eight people come running down the street, it’s a mix of men and women. They’re drunk, but not rowdy. Kylie logs them in and asks for their destination.

Kylie keeps a sharp eye on her passengers as the bus trundles off yet again.

“You have to have an eye for pukers, so you can get them the trash can in time,” she says. “The guys are the hard ones – girls will say they have to puke, guys don’t.”

No one throws up this time.

“Usually, once someone pukes it’s like a chain reaction,” Kylie says.

As the bus pulls up to Sawgrass, Jay, the other bus driver of the night, calls to tell Randy his bus is bursting at the seams and he’s leaving downtown.

It’s then the phone blows up. It rings in 30-second intervals the entire way back to 72-hour parking.


2:02 a.m.

There’s an ambulance on Main Street.

The bus is back at 72-hour parking. It’s the busiest, most frustrating time of night, and there’s 30 people waiting in the cold, obviously drunk. They try to push forward out of the cold and into the bus. Many aren’t wearing jackets. Kylie shoots to her feet, stopping them in their tracks. She logs them in and asks where they’re headed.

Four of them have slices of pizza, she has to force them back outside until they’ve finished eating. They comply without a fight. A rather rotund man with pizza tries to get on amid the crowd and Kylie is forced to shove her pen against his chest.

“Hey, you can’t get on with that,” she says.

He starts to object, she pushes harder with the pen and he shoves the pizza in his mouth, solving the problem.

A guy with a pizza box slips by in the confusion and makes it to the back where he sits down. All told, more than 30 people pack into the small bus. It’s chaos.

They’re all drunk, most of them very drunk. There’s a couple making out in the back.

“See what I mean by too much P.D.A.,” Kylie says pointing to the back of the bus. “That’s not even the worst I’ve seen.”

It’s loud inside the bus. There’s barely room to stand and the temperature is rising in the cramped space. The windows are fogging over. Kylie quickly works out a makeshift route designed to get most people off first.

“That makes it so much easier,” she says.


2:15 a.m.

Two stops into the last run of the night and only six or seven riders are off. The bus pulls into Village Square and stops. Kylie shouts the destination through the noise, and half the riders pile out of the bus, one or two being supported by their friends.

“The hardest part of being a monitor is dealing with drunk people,” Kylie says. “We have to make sure they get home. Sometimes I have to half-carry them to their doors.”


2:25 a.m.

The bus rolls off yet again and heads toward The Blues. Three people get off, able to move on their own.

The bus then heads south down 22nd Avenue for the Southland Lane stop. It’s mostly empty now, the noise has faded and the radio is audible again. Somehow, in the midst of confusion, the station changed from country to pop, and “I’m like a bird” by Nelly Furtado comes on. A few of the women left on board start to sing along.

“(Slow songs) make me sleepy,” says Kylie.

The streets are empty now, the stoplights are flashing yellow and the windows are defogging themselves. The bus pulls to a stop along Southland and the bus empties of the night’s last few passengers. They stumble off the bus and the door shuts behind them.


2:30 a.m.

“Party Rock Anthem” by LMFAO comes over the radio as the bus rumbles off on its way back to the BATA depot.

Kylie does one last look over the bus, there’s no puke, trash or beer cans. She takes the paperwork and cleaning supplies back to where they belong. She says goodbye to Randy and Jay and steps out the door into the cold night air.

It’s been an easy night.