I am not a prostitute
12:03 a.m.It’s Saturday, April 10. I dial the number so familiar to University of Chicago students: 2-2022. The man on the other end says he’ll pick me up at 57th and Ellis in about 20 minutes. I don’t give a destination; I don’t have one. My plan is to ride the Late Night Van Service, a.k.a. the drunk van all night and bring you the highlights.
12:20A taxi drives by, looking for the 800 block of 57th Street. I point him in the right direction.
12:34Second-year Rebecca and first-year Will walk by and ask why I’m outside. I realize I must look like a prostitute-bum hybrid of some sort, standing alone on the street corner wearing jeans and a hoodie, so I quickly explain myself. This leads to a discussion of the drunk van, its convenience, and its (severe lack of) promptness. “The drunk van is like Chinese food,” says Rebecca, “they always say it’ll be ready in 20 minutes.”
12:38Pondering Rebecca’s wisdom, I call again, this time getting an ETA of “about 10 minutes.”
12:50The van finally arrives. Inside is Marvin Davis, the driver, who is unfamiliar with the workings of the drunk van. He usually has a much quieter route as a driver for the GSB Van Service. My night begins.
Fiancees and bunnies
1:19We pull up to a frat party and pick up a couple and three guys heading to the Shoreland.
1:21Fourth-year Kathy has the hiccups, and her first-year fiancee, Jake, tells her to hold her breath. This endeavor is mostly unsuccessful.
1:29Outside the front window, we see two girls in bunny ears. “Hey!” says Jake, “those girls were hitting on me earlier!”
1:31We pick up the two girls, both of whom are wearing white-and-pink bunny-ear headbands and black shirts.
1:33Jake talks about what an interesting story I’m doing and recommends Taxicab Confessions on HBO. Kathy apologizes for Jake’s talkativeness.
1:35We drop off Kathy, Jake, and a few others at the Shoreland. As we pull out, a bit of shrub hits the van, but no curb. I’m quite impressed.
The drunk girl
1:55Outside Phi Delt, 10 people get on the van. Most notable of these passengers is a particularly drunk girl, sitting between two of her friends and crying all over both of them. “These pretentious assholes, they think they know everything!” the drunk girl wails. “They’re all rich fuckers! Nobody here cares about anyone. I don’t wanna be at this school. Oh my God, oh my God, I hate everything!”
1:59The crying drunk girl may need to throw up. “You can throw up on us, honey, and it doesn’t matter,” one of her friends assures her.
2:01The drunk girl feels “so gross.” Her friends assure her that they’ll be home soon and she can take a shower there.
2:02The drunk girl continues, “I hate everything!” Marvin sighs audibly. Between the wailing drunks and the constant phone callsfor the past 20 minutes, he’s been getting one literally every minuteI can see why the van drivers may not always seem happy.
2:03The drunk girl is pacified by her friends.
2:04We pick up more passengers. I look back and see a three-inch heel in the air. No wonder the drunk girl’s in such a bad mood: shoes that uncomfortable could make even a sober girl cry! As Marvin hangs up from yet another call, one of the drunk girl’s friends comes forward on the Van. “Could you please take us to the Shoreland, like, very soon? It’s like, very bital.” She says bital instead of vital. After she returns to her seat, Marvin says, “I’m never going to do this by myself again. Never.”
2:06The crying girl howls, “And their fucking parents can pay fucking 40,000 a year. But there’s fucking homeless people, and they don’t care about homeless people! Nobody here cares!” Meanwhile, a guy in the back is saying, “Man, that beer tasted like shit.”
2:07The drunk girl continues to “hate everyone here” and wants her brother, the only person who cares about her. She apparently becomes aware of a conspiracy against her: “They want me to vomit in this van! Why are we not there?” A cell phone rings.
2:08”We’ve been in this van for a fucking hour,” complains the drunk girl, clearly confusing 13 minutes with 60. “I love my brother. He’s the only person who fucking cares about me.”
2:09As Marvin picks up another call, we arrive at the Shoreland and drop off the drunk girl, her friends, and about six others. As we pull away, I can see the drunk girl bending over in Shoreland’s yard.
I swear I wasn’t studying
2:22We pick up a female passenger from the Reg en route to B.J.
2:25Marvin is no longer giving callers estimated pick-up times. He is now saying things like, “just watch for the van,” and “I can’t put a time frame on it at this time” and “I’m sorry, I’m the only one driving tonight.”
2:31At the Shoreland, we pick up a female passenger who turns out to be my housemate Margaret. In talking to the two girls now in the van, I remarked how funny it was that our first call from a B.J. resident came from the library. She set me straight, though: She wasn’t at the Reg; she was visiting friends in Hitchcock. Hmm
2:32I entertain the van with my rendition of the crying drunk girl. I get a particularly loud laugh from Marvin.
2:39We arrive at Hitchcock, where Margaret and I live. I make fun of Margaret, who is sober but nevertheless having problems opening the Van door.
A minor collision
2:43A call from the police sergeant comes, concerning a wallet that Diana left in the Van early in the night. We pull over near an intersection and wait for the sergeant to come pick up the wallet.
2:45The wallet exchanges hands. As Marvin backs out of his parallel park, we hear a bang. We backed into the police car. It had pulled up behind us, blocking the intersection. “Hey, they’re the cops, they can park wherever they want,” a passenger said. Marvin sticks his head out of his window, yells something to the police officer, and drives away. I presumed that neither vehicle was damaged, but neither driver seemed to check.
Watch what you say
2:58We pick up two guys from Alpha Delt who are talking about a fight.
2:59A guy lays his hands on the hood of the van, which is stopped on University just outside of Bartlett. Perhaps he’s blessing it. Perhaps he’s just shitfaced.
3:00About 14 people get on the van, likely because the Phi Delt party has just been broken up by the police.
3:02The billions of people who just got on are having problems closing the van doors. Come on, guys, all vans work like this. Say it with me: Right door, then left door.
3:03On our drive to the Shoreland, I hear snippets of “that party had major drama” and “no throwing up on the van!” Two guys in the front seat are talking about the girls at the party, saying “Those girls were pretty good-looking.” I then overhear, “Yeah, but is it a guaranteed lay?” and laugh to myself, which caused one of the guys to notice me. “Are you transcribing this?!?” he asks.
My new favorite swinger
3:05A ton of passengers get off outside the Shoreland. One guy, whose name I later learned was Derek, says, “I gotta piss like a motherfucker.” He proceeds to step outside, relieve himself on the grass across from the Shoreland, and get back into the Van, hitting his shin on the door on the way in. Another passenger, second-year Ram, summarizes Derek’s injury, “All in all, it’s a level-one drunken injury. There will be some repercussions in the morning,” but no serious consequences.
3:10Derek spontaneously rolls from the front bench to the second. We pull up near a guy Derek doesn’t like, and Derek tells Marvin not to stop for him. Marvin laughs and picks up the guy anyway.
3:11Derek, who has somehow gotten into the third seat back, tries to start a fight with the guy he dislikes, saying, “Let’s go at it.”
3:13We pick up two guys from Dunkin’ Donuts.
3:14Derek leaves the van, but not before inviting me to a swinger’s party.
3:18We pick up nine people. The noise in the van includes tales of drunken Dance Dance Revolution, chantings of “Shoreland,” and talk of “‘shrooms, coke, weed.”
3:23A girl is talking about how stressed out she is. Her stress apparently manifests itself in her speech, since she’s adding an “-age” suffix to everything. “MCAT-age and application-age and suck-age ” She says that MCATs are in a week, and if she doesn’t become a doctor, she is going to cry and kill herself.
3:28”I don’t understand nothing you’re saying,” Marvin says over the phone. The slurring caller is at Dunkin’ Donuts. Marvin stops outside of Broadview, trying to drop off the previous Dunkin’ Donuts pick-up, but they live in Breckenridge.
3:35We’re back at Dunkin’ Donuts. The two guys we picked up there at 3:13 are still in the van, but in good spirits about it. Five people get in.
3:38The two 3:13 guys plot ways to get back to Breck quickly, suggesting that they have their housemates call the Drunk Van and ask to be picked up at Breck.
3:43The Dunkin’ Donuts guys finally get to Breck, 30 minutes after pick-up.
4:38We arrive back in the police station parking lot. I run in to use the bathroom (I’d needed to go for quite some time, and was rather jealous that Derek could relieve himself in front of Shoreland and I could not) while Marvin works on some paperwork.
4:53A little over four hours after I entered the Van, I wave farewell to Marvin and my drunk van night.
Drunk Van Stats
~In the four hours and three minutes I was with him, Marvin received 88 calls, that’s a phone call every 2 minutes and 45.6 seconds.
~ I counted 107 passengers on the Van, but likely missed some. At least 41 of these passengers were fresh out of frat parties.
~Marvin’s first pick-up was at 12:06, and his last drop-off was at 4:33. The last call he received was at 4:06, and the last pick-up he made was at 4:30.
~The quickest ride, from Alpha Delt to Pierce, was less than one minute.
~The quickest call-to-drop-off time was eight minutes.
~The longest ride, from 54th and Woodlawn to 56th and Harper, lasted 42 minutes. The girl got in at 1:44, but her drop-off was delayed by the nearly-puking drunk girl. I suspect that overwhelmed Marvin just forgot about her, at least until she timidly asked at 2:20, “Do you think you’re going to be able to go to Harper soon?” She was finally dropped off at 2:26.
My night documenting the drunk van brought things far stranger than drunk kids, like the two people who went to the Shoreland at 1:29 holding microwaves, or the guy who got in at 3:54 holding a stuffed dog. And who could forget the two girls in bunny-ear headbands from 1:31?
I also heard things far weirder than drunk kids: snippets of “Irish boys’ asses” and “lubricate my skin”; musings on what frat had the best alcohol; jokes of selling guitar picks to raise $100; career goals and majors; the dangers of dormcest; and an explanation of Chicago fast food places from a Californian (“It’s weird; they have, like, tiny burgers,” she said to her cell phone, explaining White Castle. “I just can’t imagine not having Del Taco.”). And this exchange:
Girl: She has a problem with maintaining male friends.
Guy: Yeah? Why?
Girl: (nonchalantly) She fucks them all.