Kristen M. Clark

Night Owl driver observes motley group of students during 16-hour evening shift

By Kristen Daum

The State News


"I'm in the Brody Complex right now if there's anything in here," Monica Griffin said into her radio.


The dispatcher on the other end crackles back, "Not at the moment, but I'll keep sticking by the phone."


The Capital Area Transportation Authority, or CATA, bus rumbles across campus, creaking around bends. There's a chill in the air while students shuffle past lifeless buildings to late-night destinations.


It's 2:22 a.m. on Saturday, and Griffin, a CATA driver, has a little more than 90 minutes left on her shift. Griffin has been working since 9 a.m. on Friday, so she's anxious for 4 a.m. to roll around.


With most East Lansing bars and restaurants closing by 2 a.m., it's a busy time of night for CATA's Night Owl drivers, and there's seemingly no end to calls for pick-ups.


After two no-shows and two packs of students who ran from East Grand River Avenue to catch the bus, Griffin picks up her radio and hails the dispatcher.


"Tell them, they better be here — not calling from Grand River trying to get there," Griffin says into the radio.


At almost 3 a.m., the bus drops off 12 rambunctious students at South Wonders Hall, and the atmosphere quiets in their absence.


"Hoo, jeez …" Griffin says, exhaling a deep breath.


The bus is almost empty, and Griffin's soon ready for more pick-ups. But first, she has to make a long-anticipated stop.


"Hubbard," a seemingly intoxicated male student slurs for the third time since he boarded nearly 20 minutes earlier. At the same time, he tries to maintain his balance in his seat as the bus lurches down the road. "I want to go to Hubbard!"


When the man finally steps off the bus and heads toward the residence hall's entrance, Griffin chuckles and shakes her head.


"That's why I don't drink, girl!" Griffin says. "The smell — my stomach is just turning."


Griffin notices the time — it's just after 3 a.m. "One more hour!" she says. "Whoo!"


She doesn't usually drive the Night Owl route. Griffin's a regular on Route 30, which travels from Spartan Village to Akers Hall, but Griffin helped out Friday night because of the rush of drivers needed for Silver Bells in the City in downtown Lansing that evening.


She has been with CATA for about four and a half years, and started after her aunt talked her into it.


The best part about driving for CATA? The paycheck, Griffin said.


She gets more than $20 an hour during a normal shift, and for anything more than eight hours in one day, the pay rises to $31 an hour, she said. That's also why Griffin said she took the extra hours Friday night.


At about 3:15 a.m., accounting senior Omar Qazi boards the bus from a Lot 89 shelter.


Qazi said he uses the Night Owl and Lot Link services almost every day when he's studying or using his car late at night.


"It's usually not busy on weekdays, but weekends …" Qazi said.


As Qazi exits the bus at 3:20 a.m., he leaves it empty once more and Griffin signals the dispatcher for more pick-ups.


The next half hour takes Griffin across campus with both energetic and exhausted students. But after no-shows at Van Hoosen and West Shaw halls, Griffin makes her way toward east campus for her final pick-ups in the Brody Complex.


"They always call when they're not at the stop," Griffin said with a sigh. "And people always want to be dropped off first — but we are not a taxicab."


At 4:05 a.m., Griffin does her final drop-off at Abbot Hall near Cedar Village apartments, where students are still out, walking down the sidewalks.


After about 16 hours on the job, Griffin's ready to call it a night.


Nov. 22, 2006 • Features