Respectful mayhem: a night at the helm of SafeRides

November 17, 2011

John briskly stopped the van in the middle of the road, allowing me to swiftly unbuckle my seatbelt and exit the passenger-side door of the vehicle. I raced out of the van toward the two huddled bodies lying on top of each other in the middle of the black concrete on P Street and screamed, “Is everything alright?”

The first body looked up and made eye contact with me. “Yeah, he’s my roommate,” he responded. “We’re just … uh … wrestling.” The roommate verified the claim.

It’s not every night I witness an impromptu drunken wrestling match in the middle of the streets of Georgetown. Then again, it’s not every night I volunteer in the SafeRides van. (norvado.com)

Last Friday, John Morris (COL ’13) and I spent our night roaming the streets of Georgetown, picking up students and delivering them to their desired destinations.

Armed with the knowledge that I once crashed my Volvo into a parked car in rural New Jersey, Morris decided to spend the duration of the night—seven hours—driving the van, a task he did with exceptional poise. I sat in the passenger seat, fiddled with the iPod, and responded to the command station for pick up requests via radio.

Over the course of the night, we saw both the mundane and the amusing. We drove a few wonderfully polite students to Safeway.Ten minutes later, a few friends had to carry a girl who was too drunk to walk into the van in order to get her home safely. Later in the night, we picked up people at the Emergency Room and brought them home, on our way passing two students lying down on the 35th Street sidewalk, casually texting.

Students didn’t make up the entirety of our interactions. In Burleith, an eight-point buck stared head-on at the van as we dropped a passenger off at home, only to sprint away moments later.

Throughout the experience, my perceptions of the Georgetown’s neighborhood relations changed.

Georgetown students, on the whole, were respectful of the service. Those who used the service to travel to parties and bars were traveling a long distance and benefited from a ride. The drunken students—who I had been most excited to pick up because of the amusement they would provide—were respectful of the vehicle and grateful for the lift.

Over the course of a seven-hour period, only one student was disrespectful to the service, and that’s because he knew Morris and me and wanted to act like an idiot. (On Monday, when I told him I was writing about how respectful Georgetown students had been, he responded, “Seriously? I humped your van.”)

The most striking thing I realized was how quiet Georgetown students are on the streets late at night—with the obvious exception of the area outside Tuscany Café at 2 a.m. The aforementioned kids wrestling, lying down and texting, and going to parties were all virtually silent in the streets when they were walking or when we were picking them up.

Still, while we may be well behaved, we are a presence late at night and a large number of residents in the community put up with us.

Time and time again, our neighbors vilify Georgetown students for causing a ruckus at night, making noise, and improperly disposing of trash. Maybe one Friday night is too small of a sample size to come to a reasonable conclusion, but in my limited experience at Georgetown, it’s evident that even late at night, students are well behaved. Yes, some students may cause a disruption once in a while, but a few sour apples should not ruin the whole batch.

And if I’m going to give a benefit of the doubt to the students, I have to give the same to the neighbors—the vocal minority of the neighbors has a problem with us, not the indifferent majority.

Riding around in SafeRides for a night reminded me that I live in a shared community. For the most part, Georgetown students respect and understand where the neighbors stand, and the neighbors understand they live in the midst of a college community. We shouldn’t be absolutist when saying the “neighbors” hate us or “Georgetown students” are misbehaved. That’s not true. A large portion of the neighbors has learned to live with a bunch of well-behaved college students. A few neighbors hate Georgetown students like my friend, who go around late at night, and hump vans.

Sorry buddy, I still love you.

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