Avid Chronicle readers are familiar with the paper’s classic vignette articles. A brave author stakes out at some corner of the Duke world, carefully observing how Duke students live. Inspired by Rose Wong’s recent piece set in Pitchforks, and devoid of any other idea of what to write a column about, I set out for the C1 bus in hopes of chronicling the rich nighttime conversations I overheard. What better location than this all-important intercampus connection to see Duke students in action?
I went in with a vision: I would paint a literary Van Gogh for my audience with rich blue strokes of descriptive language, recalling the dialogue taking place under the starry night sky. Over the course of a three hour back and forth bus ride through the night, I was sure to witness firsthand the camaraderie, heartache, and spirit of a Thursday night at Duke from the limited perspective of the back of the bus and then artfully retell it for the opinion section’s vast readership. This article was supposed to be a Pulitzer contender, or whatever the equivalent is for Chronicle opinion columns. It would go viral, getting at least 100 likes on the Chronicle Facebook page. So I spent my Thursday night with the Notes app on my iPhone ready to go from the back of a bus, ready to record the juicy details that the passengers would bring me.
I wanted to capture a slice of life, but I didn’t even get crumbs—everyone that boarded the bus sat in silence, earbuds in, looking out of the windows, presumably in anticipation of their stops. I can’t be sure what they were thinking, because no one said a damn word to each other. I thought I could be an ethnographer, conducting my own study of human nature on the bus as it diffused through the membranes of Duke’s campuses. Instead, I was a bored college sophomore playing Doodle Jump on my iPhone. I wished that I was drunk at the party I had skipped to sit on a bus instead of sitting on said bus. Whereas students should have been stumbling onto the vehicle from a pregame headed to another party, loudly talking about their plans for the night in ridiculous costumes, everyone instead sat in unison silence. The partygoers must have Ubered that night.
On my long ride, I noted the pastel pink sweater of a girl headed from West to East, or maybe it was East to West. At some point I lost track of the bus’ orientation. Somehow, this was the most interesting observation I could make, because no one had anything to say. Later I overheard one guy ask a girl how “sorority stuff” was going, and I figured I’d finally hit the gossip jackpot. Her response? “Oh, good.” Conversation over. At another point, a friend sat down next to me for half of a ride, and we made some light small talk. Certainly, this chat would be at least something I could write about. “How are classes going?” “Good, a little tough, but, ya know.” Is the best we can do, people?
Though I didn’t get the glimpse of universal truth I was initially hoping to see from my ride, the lack of conversation I witnessed is, in its own way, a microcosm of the Duke experience and the hushed lives that we live aboard the Duke transit system. How many 9:50 a.m. buses have we ridden, headed to a 10:05, in complete silence? How many times have you whispered a story to your friend next to you as you hold on to those rubber hand grips that slide as the bus skirts, worried that everyone else may hear your tale? Can you imagine a Duke where everyone proudly shouts out their shame, the C1 a social centerpiece of our University?
So I conclude this barren reflection with a request for the Duke community: let's start talking on buses again, preferably about dramatic gossip and within hearing range from me. I’ll make a deal—I’ll leave the observational pieces to the rest of the Chronicle staff if you leave me with just a hint of your relationship drama, Shooters hookup or classwork struggles. As we ride the C1 of life, let’s remember that we don’t have to do it alone—there are curious ears all around, worthy of a glimpse at your night.
Jordan Diamond is a Trinity sophomore. His column, “Diamond in the Rough,” runs on alternate Mondays.