The hours are grueling and the complaints are plentiful. But the stories she gets to tell make the whole thing worth it.
The guy drenched in mud, lamenting his lost shoe.
The student two-timing his girlfriend in the backseat with his best friend.
And the jokes. Heaps of lame, immature jokes that only the drunk would tell.
“They’re funny for like five minutes,” says Holli Kinkel, a junior political science major.
Kinkel is the director of RamRide, the university program that provides free late-night rides to any student who calls in.
The program, billed as one of the most efficient university safe-ride programs in the country, dished out its 50,000th ride on Saturday.
But as the program packs up for the year and prepares for the next, the most fun Kinkel had with the program wasn’t as an administrator, but as a front-lines driver.
She called the time she picked up Mud Man “one of the strangest rides I’ve ever had in my life.”
Not to mention it soiled the car.
“I tried putting trash bags out,” she explained.
No dice. The mud caked the interior and the crew had to scrub the insides. Not that the drunk cared.
“He was just really upset that he lost his shoe,” Kinkel quipped.
Students volunteer to become RamRide drivers and navigators. As director of the program, Kinkel gets $2,500 a year, a tiny monetary gain for the grueling hours required.
RamRide operates during the school year on Thursdays from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m.; and from 10 p.m. to 3 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.
It cost about $61,000 to operate this year, most of that going to rent the cars.
“It’s just a good time,” said Seth Walter, a sophomore political science and theatre double major who has volunteered as a driver.
“It’s fun to hang out until 3 in the morning. I think the experience is the most rewarding part for me.”
Kinkel said she wants to make working for the program more fun. And doing so, she reasons, would increase the number of volunteers, which, in turn, would decrease wait times.
And wait times always have been and are the subject of most complaints she gets.
Sometimes we tell people, ‘you have an hour and a half.’ And they say, ‘Well, I’m just going to drive drunk.'” Kinkel said. “People can be pretty rude about it.It’s a free ride. If we don’t have enough volunteers, wait times go up.”
RamRide was modeled after a safe-ride program at Texas A&M. Its in its fourth year, and Kinkel will stay on as director next year.
For the most part, she doesn’t plan any major changes to the program; just some fine tuning. She wants to add another car to Thursday nights, because she says the demand is there. And she also wants to lower the driver age requirement from 21 to 18, something she’s trying to negotiate.
Looking back on it all, there are times she was unhappy about the whole thing. The measly pay. The complaints. The long hours. The thanklessness of it all.
But those thoughts pass, because she knows she’s making the community safer.
“Sometimes we get cynical and tired,” she said, “but it’s remembering what we’re doing it for.”
Managing Editor Vimal Patel can be reached at email@example.com.