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Performer Mayyadda singing at the University of Minnesota Juneteenth Celebration “We Are The Noise: The Echoes of Our Ancestors” captured on Saturday, June 15.
Best photos of June '24
Published June 23, 2024

Around and around we go on the Campus Connector

On the happenings of the campus chariot.
Image by Mary Ellen Ritter

There’s something to be said about the enduring impression left upon its riders by our campus chariot, the Campus Connector.

For research purposes, I rode the Campus Connector around for as many times as I could possibly handle the monotonous rhythm of the loop from Minneapolis to St. Paul campus and documented my observations.

Right off the bat, there’s a cacophony of complaints about the inaccuracies of the GopherTrip app. The timing of the bus’s arrival has a tendency to be slightly off, although there’s always the rare chance that it might show up in tandem with its miniature bus icon.

Fallen leaves litter the floor, remnants of the outside world that have penetrated the walls of the bus. There’s random bits of stickiness on the ground as well — although whether​ they’re the remains of a fallen iced latte or something more grotesque is quite unclear. The faded maroon and gold fabric of the bus seats succeeds in concealing whatever substances might linger on their surfaces, an intentional design choice, I can only presume.

Drivers mean business on the Campus Connector. I can’t say I blame them for their tendency toward sternness when it comes to kicking people off and sending them to the next parked bus in St. Paul. I imagine I might have hardened in a similar manner if I spent my days dealing with a routine onslaught of Carlson finance bros dressed in Lululemon joggers and thin Patagonia pullovers via the Blegen Hall stop alongside every other student onboard. Their only separation from every passenger is a thin plastic partition that serves as a flimsy barrier.

Save for a couple of phone calls made, a few muffled exchanges of pleasantries and the electronic voice uttering “Stop Requested,” the journey from Minneapolis to St. Paul remains largely quiet. Many passengers take Snapchat selfies as they ride, squinting their eyes and raising their eyebrows above their masks in order to convey their mouthless expressions. Others lose themselves in novels perched carefully in their laps, looking up only when they’ve reached their stop. The most common accesories are the AirPods many people wear, the noise of whatever song they might be listening to sometimes drifting my way due to a clear disregard for volume control.

It’s impossible not to notice the palpable sexual tension between two masked individuals when eye contact is accidentally made from the confines of one Campus Connector to another at a stop sign. It feels a little bit like something I shouldn’t be allowed to witness, beneath the soft glow that lights the interior of the bus.

Someone jumps through the doors of the bus seconds before it takes off, slightly out of breath as they select a spot to spend their ride and lean their skateboard against. Another person hauls a heavy bag of TaylorMade golf clubs onboard, leaning them oh-so-carefully against the designated handicap seat before settling into their seat. I’m shocked at the amount of people that opt not to take advantage of one of the many available seats once they’re on, instead choosing to stand up and grip one of the bars extending from floor to ceiling with all of their strength.

One student leans their head against a cool window, the tangled cord of their headphones resting against their chest as tears well slightly in their eyes. They’re looking slightly into the distance, body turned ever-so-slightly toward the St. Paul scenery flying past outside the window. Is it possible to understand true sadness without having had a good old-fashioned cry on the Campus Connector?

Despite masks being required to ride, there are inevitably a handful of students who fail to put them on. Others made the minimal effort to loop the straps of their disposables around their ears, still ensuring that their noses peek out from above.

When the bus comes to a roaring halt, those who haven’t been paying attention to things catch themselves against the bus interior. There tends to be a quiet shuffle as people gather their possessions and slip through the doors, occasionally running into others rushing on board. It’s interesting to observe the urgency as people slip on and off in comparison to the stillness of the Campus Connector journey.

I’m left with the understanding that there is an entire world of possibilities made available when you ride the Campus Connector. There’s an opportunity to hover somewhere on the edge of car-sickness among the jerking turns and twists. A chance to inhale the mixture of varied scents (perfume, sweat, etc.) from the people around you. Perhaps, if you’re there on a good day, you might even witness a flock of the campus turkeys, mercilessly eyeing you down and gathering on the lawn near one of your stops. Next time you ride the Campus Connector, take a look around. You never know what you might find.

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