Catching the last bus to St. Paul

Students riff on their experiences making it on the last Campus Connector of the night.

Campus connector driver Ralph Leeder chats with passengers while waiting for next scheduled departure early Saturday morning outside the St Paul Student Center in St. Paul.

Anthony Kwan

Campus connector driver Ralph Leeder chats with passengers while waiting for next scheduled departure early Saturday morning outside the St Paul Student Center in St. Paul.

Emily Cutts

Friday night started with rowdy students getting on the Campus Connector and ended with a much quieter bunch âÄìâÄì and for one passenger, a little less in her stomach.

For students living in Bailey Hall or other housing near the University of MinnesotaâÄôs St. Paul campus, the Gophers After Dark buses are the way to get home at the end of a Friday or Saturday night in Minneapolis.

Often, Ralph Leeder is at the helm, making sure students get home safe.

“I gotta take care of my children,” Leeder said.

He is a favorite among his late-night bus regulars. They greet him by name, sometimes with cheers and occasionally bring him something to eat.

“Ralph is by far the funnest driver. Every time he is driving the bus I will sit right next to him and talk to him,” freshman Spencer Knott said.

Leeder always has something to say, offering words of advice or his view on politics.

Friday was his last full-time shift. He will soon be returning to the printing industry. His shift began at 5 p.m. with the large double-bus connector and ended at about 3 a.m. in the shuttle bus.

There are many names for the late-night bus. Technically it is called a cut-away bus, but Leeder sometimes calls it the “pumpkin bus” because at 10 p.m. he switches from the double to the shuttle. Sometimes he calls it the “mother ship” and points to the “M” on his sweatshirt and notes that “your mom isnâÄôt here.”

The first small bus to Minneapolis on Friday night smelled slightly alcoholic as 20 students laughed, chatted and even danced in the back as the radio played loudly.

One student yelled, “Bump this, Ralph,” and, obligingly, Leeder turned up the music.

First years Dani Gunder, Katie Blake and Kelly Froehlich sat together on a two-person bus seat on the first small bus out and on the last one back. The girls were heading to Minneapolis to hang out with friends.

By midnight, there were almost no students waiting to be picked up at Bailey Hall. When his bus empties, Leeder can turn down the music as he drives across the transitway.

When he reaches the bus stop outside of Mariucci Arena, students run across the street and hop on the bus instead of waiting until it makes its loop and comes back from West Bank.

Not all the students who take the late bus are going to a party or have been drinking.

Breanna Zarmbinski, a first-year medical student, said she catches the later bus when she is studying.

Students who live in St. Paul said when they go out to Minneapolis, they stay aware of the time so they donâÄôt miss the bus home. Some of them even set phone alarms.

Their seasoned advice: “If you are at the bus stop by 2 a.m., you will make it home.”

“You have to set a curfew for yourself,” Colette Nix, a first year and Bailey resident, said. She said as long as you set an alarm you wonâÄôt be stranded in Minneapolis.

Lindsey Geyer missed the bus home once, but since then she has learned her lesson. She said that during Welcome Week the last bus drove past her at 1:45 a.m. and just honked.

When students do miss the last bus they have a few options. They can call a taxi, but as first year Robert Covey learned, that can cost a lot. He paid $20.

Campus Security wonâÄôt walk students all the way back to St. Paul, but they will walk them to a Metro Transit stop and arrange for another escort to pick them up once they get off.

Students can take the Gopher Chauffeur home as long as they call before 2 a.m. As a last resort, they can walk home.

For students who make it on the bus with Leeder, he asks those feeling sick to grab a bag or put up the “distress signal” so he can stop.

Unfortunately, one student didnâÄôt make it off the bus before she got sick on LeederâÄôs floor. Cleaning it up was one more thing he had to do before going home.