The ‘Drunk Bus’ Diaries: A night downtown on the transit system

Photo by Katie West

Photo by Katie West

A 20-year-old in a pink button down shirt and jeans was throwing up on the bus.

“Hey man, spit in the trashcan,” said Tim Henderson, a student driver for the Pirate Express, known by many ECU students simply as the “Drunk Bus.”

Henderson’s words had no effect on the man, whose aim varied between the trashcan and the floor.

Passengers took turns holding a trashcan for the man, with the unfortunate duty falling to whoever was left on the Copper Beech bus at the end of Thursday night.

For Henderson, this is just part of the job.

“It’s work,” said Henderson. “It’s responsibility.”

While driving the bus is a job for Henderson, it’s a convenient and safe way to get down town for students.

“People think you’re encouraging drinking,” said Rachel Phthisic, a senior dental hygiene major who was on the same ride as the vomiting passenger. “You’re just preventing drinking and driving. ECU’s good for doing this. It’s safe.”

Not only is the Pirate Express safe, but Phthisic says it has friendly atmosphere.

“Everybody’s like family,” said Phthisic. “It’s best when there’s like a thousand people and they’re all changing purple gold.”
Brook Honeycutt, a sophomore dental hygiene major, who was on her way to Stilllife at the beginning of the night, agreed.

“You see random people and you start talking,” said Honeycutt. “You just meet friends.”

Even the bus drivers appreciate the atmosphere.

“I enjoy my job,” said driver Cody Woodall. “I see people I know, that always makes it more enjoyable.”

While the bus can be friendly, certain passengers make it difficult for the drivers.

“People try all kinds of way to sneak alcohol on the bus,” said Justin Boyd, who coordinates the Pirate Express for ECU Transit. “They think we don’t see it.”

Woodall once had a passenger that tried to hide a case of beer under his shirt.

“He said, ‘I’m just fat,’” Woodall said. “Eventually he lifted it up and he wasn’t allowed on the bus.”

Vomiting passengers are another major problem for drivers, like the man in the button-down shirt was for Henderson.

“They think that they can hold it,” said driver Adam Bordeaux. “A lot of them don’t want to embarrass themselves in front of their friends.”

After a passenger throws up on the bus, drivers have to get offender’s personal information so the well-publicized $50 fine can be paid. In Henderson’s case, the vomiting passenger was so drunk he could barely form words, and Henderson was unable to get personal information.
He drove to the downtown bus stop to let the police handle the situation.

A police officer boarded the bus and questioned the offending passenger, who claimed that he threw up in the trashcan despite the obvious stain at his feet.

“You’ve got bad aim bud,” said the officer.

The passenger, who was using an ID that wasn’t his, was eventually removed from the bus. Henderson then poured a cleaner known as Vomit Comet over the stain.

Some students waiting downtown for the bus to be cleaned began to get angry and at least one hurled an insult at Henderson.
Woodall says this is common, and that’s it really not that big a deal.

“Sometimes you take a lot of (complaints) from the passengers,” Woodall said. “It’s whatever, they don’t remember it the next day.”

The passengers waiting at the downtown stop around 2 a.m. were finally allowed to board the bus. This group was considerably rowdier, and although Henderson’s voice could be barely be heard above the din, he made it clear that he didn’t let the events of the night affect him.
“It’s a good night,” said Henderson. “Nobody got hurt.”

This writer can be contacted at

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