Late night on the Nite Owl bus can get a bit rowdy.
It’s a little after two in morning on a Saturday, and the drowsy passengers of the Market-Frankford Nite Owl are about to have a rude awakening. At the City Hall stop, a group of teenagers have bum-rushed the already standing-room-only bus, about a dozen of them coming through the back door, fares unpaid.
Inside, the din created by the teens is deafening, and save for the odd expletive, it’s tough to make out anything anyone is saying. As the driver circumnavigates the loop around City Hall, the tenor of the crowd reaches a fever pitch, and above the buzz you can only make out one phrase: “He’s puking! He’s puking!”
By 21st Street the crowd’s tone goes up an octave and becomes a rhythmic scream—“UH-AHH, UH-AHH, UH-AHH”—mimicking the pulse of someone in the throes of the dry heaves.
The bus stops and the sickly teen goes down, and is grazed in the face by the hand of a passenger who has attempted to help him remain upright. Seeing this as a disrespectful gesture, four or five of the teens begin punching the passenger, who shields his head and face with his arms.
After a lot of noise and confusion and attempts by other passengers to restrain the aggressors—all above shouts of “I’m just trying to get home” by exhausted, possibly inebriated, definitely frustrated and now-delayed riders—the teens hastily exit the bus into the night.
Whether you’re a regular of Center City nightlife, or strictly a recreational goer-outer, getting home after an evening of drinking requires a plan.
Taxis are time-honored but expensive; drinking and driving is hardly pardonable; Drive-Drink-Walk can involve a hangover courtesy of the Parking Authority.
What’s left is SEPTA.
The Broad Street subway and the Market-Frankford El cease service shortly after midnight, and SEPTA offers all-night replacement bus service—the Nite Owl—for the two systems, along with 25 other bus routes. SEPTA Regional Rail has provided late-night service along the R5, R6 and R7 lines since late 2008.
As the above anecdote illustrates, the Nite Owl can get a bit rowdy.
SEPTA Press Officer Andrew Busch says their bus operators have it under control. “We don’t want them to get in the middle of a situation,” he says. “They have the training and are told what to look for, they know what to do to ensure everyone’s safety.”
At 1:20 on a Sunday morning things are much more subdued on the Market East platform where college students Keith, Dylan and Guy are all waiting to catch the R5 to Keith’s King of Prussia apartment.
Keith talks about the train ride into Center City. “I was an asshole,” he says. “I made people hate me.” He then explains his method of picking up women, a fool-proof plan he refers to as “La Comida.”
The essential ingredient of “La Comida” involves asking women about their favorite restaurant, and then making vague promises to take them there.
Aboard the train, Keith gives “La Comida” a test run. Sizing up Car 141’s 50-odd passengers, he strikes up a conversation with a young woman named Carla. After some flirting, he casually asks her what restaurant she likes. “I’m acting like such a skank,” Carla says before answering, “Cheesecake Factory.”
Carla gets off at Overbrook and, after the exchange of a phone number and a kiss, Keith retires to his seat and, smiling, says “La Comida just happened.”
Out of the R5 and into a Main Line Taxi, chauffeur Mike Long says he’s had relatively few problems with drunks off the train since late-night service began in ’08. “Our drunks are well-behaved,” he says. “More than I ever was.”
Back on the Nite Owl, the guy on the receiving end of the beat down is startled, but unhurt, and probably wishing the drunks were more well-behaved. Before exiting the bus a few stops after his bout with teenage fists of fury, he says, “Honestly, I don’t feel any of it.”
“That was some corny-ass shit,” an onlooking passenger observes about the fracas. “I’m just trying to get home.”
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