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According to Greek mythology, the gods punished Sisyphus after his death by making him constantly push a heavy stone up a hill. Whenever Sisyphus neared the top, the stone would escape his grasp and roll down to the bottom of the hill, condemning the ancient king to another painful trip up.
Sisyphus would have felt at home on the Wellesley Senate Bus.
During weekends, the bus travels a nearly continous triangular trade route: Wellseley, Harvard's Johnston Gate, and two stops at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
For women who study all week in the single-sex environment of Wellesley College--where the nearby Coffee Connection closes at 8:30 p.m. on Friday nights--the bus represents the only means of escape. With its leaky windows, pervasive smell of car exhaust, and "fuck truck" image, the bus is a frustrating but necessary ordeal that women must endure during the four years they attend school if they want to leave campus, according to passengers.
At 7:30 p.m. this Friday, a dark curly-haired woman sits on one of the bus' blue and red plastic seats. Eventually she is joined by 11 other women. No men are present.
The women on the bus mention a couple explanations for the lack of men on the bus last Friday night. There is "nothing going on" at Wellesley this weekend, they say. Women looking for parties have no choice but to try their luck at MIT fraternities.
And, more importantly, the Wellesley women say, the bus gives them access to the cultural offerings of Boston and Cambridge--the restaurants and concerts, museums and movie theaters, clubs and colleges. Shipping party-goers from Wellesley to Harvard and MIT, and back and forth, is, one of the things the bus does, but not the most important.
Five of the women get off at the MIT stops. The rest, who are joined by two men, are heading home. The five or so women who sit down seem to be just getting back from a library or a class.
The buzz of chatter permeates the overheated bus. The conversations change topics with amazing speed. A pair of women, one of them the dark-curly haired women, discuss a mysterious stain on someone's scalp, then start talking about a math problem they couldn't solve--something about substituting theta for x. A few minutes later, the dark-curly haired woman exclaims, inexplicably, "But he's a married man, with kids!"
Although they are going home and not out on the town, the women on this bus are decked out in stylish clothes, the kind of clothes that a manager at a Boston department store might wear. Matching purses and shoes are everywhere. Even the women who are not wearing stockings and heels look "fashionable." One woman combines the low-rent fashion of ripped blue jeans with an immaculate yellow blouse and matching flats.
The bus drives down the Mass Turnpike at an agonizingly slow pace. The ride would be comfortable, if not for the leaky windows. Drips of rain collect insidiously on the green tinted window panes of the bus, and hit passengers in the face when the bus turns a corner.
Everyone seems to be in a separate little world. Up front two women intently munch on chicken wings. Two others gesture with the hands, making points in a conversation drowned out by the groan of the wheels. Someone else reads an MIT newspaper, The Tech.
This sort of peaceful ride is only a precursor for the evening's busiest run, which leaves Wellesley's Founders Lot at 9 p.m.
The students start lining up at 8:40 p.m. for the 9 p.m. bus. Standing 12 feet away, the smell of perfume fills the air. The clothes the women wear seem like nightime versions of the ones worn by the earlier bus passengers. Above-the-knees skirts have taken the place of cotton-slacks, and silver evening bags now hang where functional purses did earlier in the day. As they get on the bus, their high heeled shoes tap against the metal stairs.
The bus has about 30 seats but about 30 women have to stand. They do not seem too worried; the 9 p.m. is always crowded, they say.
The large crowd heading for Boston and Cambridge reveals some of the social pressures that accompany going to a single-sex school. During the week Wellesley students toil in an all-female environment and find it difficult to fit in the 40 minute ride to Harvard. The commuting difficulties divides work and weekends, they say.
Weekends are both the only time for the students to escape the monotony of student life and dress up for co-ed parties.
"The buses are the life-saver for us," says Debbie L. Dreyfus, a junior at Wellesley. "They are really the only way to get off campus on the week-ends."
"It's easy to take the bus," says sophomore Elizabeth Harmer. "I use it to get to the T, or to see friend."
"People at Wellesley resent the image of the bus and the tasty name people call it. It's not true," Harmer says. "I have a friend at Harvard and she said they hate Wellesley women. She says they think we can do whatever we want during the week, and then come out and put on a new persona for the weekend, while Harvard women have to put it on all the time."
Many of the women want to ask questions about Harvard. What do people think of us at Harvard, they ask. What kind of parties do you have? How's the social life?
The Wellesley women divide the riders into two distinct groups: a "Harvard group" of bus riders and an "MIT group." To which group people belong depends on whom you know at each college. But most of the women who got off at the Harvard stop say they just want to catch the T to get into to Boston. They say they really had to know someone to go to a Harvard party, which isn't nescessary at MIT frats.
When asked which fraternity they were going to, Sara A. Miller answers "one with men." Her companion, who is sitting in the back stairwell gives her name only as "Emily" replies, "the one with Greek letters that postered." They said that Harvard parties tend not to poster, so students looking for something definite tend to go to MIT.
The women are slightly touchy about the reputation of Wellesley women. Dreyfus says she "would kill anyone" who implied that she was "imported" for a party.
She does acknowledge the accuracy of the bus' notorious nickname. "It really is the fuck truck, let's be honest."
She estimates that slightly more than half of the women with their dark lipstick and mascara-ed eyes are actually going to parties, a figure that is backed up by several other women.
The women sitting in the stairwell--a first-year and a junior--say in unison that they ride the bus "as little as possible." The first-year says she is going to her fifth party, but the junior says this is her first frat party of the school year.
"I'm going to this party on the one in two million trillion chance that I'll find a guy who is not drunk and nice," says Emily. "The odds are not in our favor."
"We're looking to have fun," says Miller. "If men happen to show up, that's OK."
The women say they think the men may be "weird." The poster that told them of the party read, "If you have a problem getting to this party, call Mike," and included a phone number, they say. "If they are that desperate, they must be kind of weird," says Miller.
Dreyfus says she is going to a party at Theta Zi fraternity with her friend, Ted L. Baillie, a senior. "Ted is short for Jennifer," she says.
The two say they don't go to frat parties very often--Dreyfus says that this is the first one she will be at since her first year at Wellesley. Baillie says she used to go a lot when she had a boyfriend at MIT, but this trip to the university is the first in a long time.
"The Senate bus is not something that people do voluntarily," Dreyfus says. "I'm waiting for it to break down."
Even driver Freddy Lamons, of Roxbury, says the buses are crowded all the time. The crowding frustrates the passengers, they say.
"I don't think we should have to pay full price if we have to stand up," complains one student. Others say they are plagued by windows that swing open when the bus turns corners.
And three women recite in chorus an excerpt from the Wellesley News: "`I'd like to thank the Wellesley Senate Bus for giving me a chance to be my favorite animal--a sardine.'"
The sardine simile is a popular one, repeated by many who have to stand during the trip.
But the difficulty doesn't stop the students from riding the bus regularly. It can't. The appeal of leaving campus is so strong that most feel the urge to hop on the bus sooner or later. And many of these women say they ride the bus once a week, either Friday or Saturday night.
Harmer, who is returning from a church meeting, says it is mainly the first-years who go to the frats at MIT, partly because "They haven't grown out of it."
"Wellesley is only 12 miles out of Cambridge, but you don't realize that the commute is such a hassle," she says. "There is a lot to take advantage of in Boston. If you don't go in, you are missing out on a learning experience."
Another danger of Senate Bus travel, is that of being stranded in the city. The last shuttle runs out of Harvard at 2:40 a.m., with the next one coming at 9:40 the next morning. Many students say they have missed the bus at one time or another, but never the last one.
Most say they know someone who has been stuck, and have learned their lesson from this.
"You generally know of a friend where you can camp out in their room," Harmon says. "Two a.m. is not a great time to be stuck in Cambridge."
There are two buses that work the Wellesley route. It takes about two hours to make a full circut, with a lay-over of about 30 minutes at Wellesley.
The last heavy crowds board the bus at the 11:40 p.m. and 12:00 a.m. pick-ups from Harvard and MIT respectively.
The 11:00 pick-up from Wellesley is small, with only two men and three women on the bus--all of whom immediately fall asleep.
At the Harvard stop, sounds of the 9 p.m. bus crowd return. When bus driver Lamons opens the door, a group of giggling and chattering students get on.
They all crowd in; no one has to stand up yet. Once again, there is a strong smell of the mixing perfumes and hairsprays. These women do not seem to be coming from a party, instead they are talking about their nights in Boston. "Oh, I did the usual, dinner and a movie," one says.
At the MIT stops, the bus gets really crammed--again. A few people mutter sardine comments, and a some women in heels massage their feet.
The bus is five minutes early. During the wait some drunken frat men begin shoving one other. One average looking pseudo-combatant tells another "Watch yourself, man."
A few women peer out to see what is going on, but no one seems too interested in the scuffle.
Instead, people chat among themselves about their night.
"What were you doing young lady?" one woman asks another. "I went to Nu Delta, but we left shortly after we got there..." The rest is lost under the buzz of the women.
"All the way back please," calls the bus driver. "Down, down, down, down! Move back, move back!" There are nearly 40 women jammed in the aisles.
By midnight, self-absorbed women tell each other of the night's events, too tired to analyze and deconstruct their behavior. One woman is falling asleep to her walkman.
A brown-haired woman stares into the eyes of her boyfriend, who returns the gaze. They talk sweetly, not pretentiously, about how perfect they are for one another.
He looks like he is carrying an overnight bag; she wears a diamond ring on her left ring finger. They talk about names for their children. The bus driver take a sharp corner. "Better hold on tight, dear," he tells her.
The bus stops at Wellesley at 12:30 a.m., and everyone clears out. Most of the men who get off have bags with them that probably contain a change of clothing. Big drops of rain pelt the exiting passengers. Women sprint off as soon as they get out of the bus.
The bus driver, Lamons, has a 20 minute break between routes. He says he's been driving this bus for five years for Crystal Transport, a company he says he helped found. He drives the Wellesley Senate bus Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights, and says "I'd rather do this than B.C."
"The students are very nice, how else can you put it?" Lamons says. But the men who ride the bus are not quite as well-behaved, he says. "You get one or two that are bothersome when they get to drinking, but not the girls."
"The students are very nice, how else can you put it," Lamons says. But the men who ride the bus are not quite as well-behaved, he says. "You get one or two that are bothersome when they get to drinking, but not the girls."
The 1 a.m. run from Wellesley is nearly empty. A silent group of Black fraternity pledges files--on line--into the back, along with MIT junior Richard B. Wang, who says he just visited his girlfriend of a year and-a-half.
Wang says he met his girlfriend at an MIT frat party. She was an aquaintance of one of his roommmates, who invited the both of them to the fraternity.
Wang says the interaction of Wellesley and MIT students is "all connections. If you don't know anyone who knows anyone, it's very different."
"I invite friends of my girlfriend to frat parties, and I introduce them to my friends who don't have girlfriends," he says.
But having a girlfriend at Wellesley can involve a lot of travel time. Wang says he only makes the trip once a weekend and once during the week.
When the bus pulls up to Johnston Gate at 1:35 a.m., a few drunk Harvard students run by. "Hey, that's the Wellesley bus!" one yells and laughs.
If he had spent the night on the Wellesley bus he wouldn't have found it funny.
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