Before Uber arrived and we all became obsessed with how many gold stars we could get for behaving ourselves in the back of a Toyota Prius, public transport was as integral to a big night out as chips or mephedrone. For many of us—read: those of us who have to accept the night bus in order to afford another round of drinks—it still is, and just as the club offers an expedition into dark, clanking mystery, so the journey to and from is an adventure in its own right.
Whether it's jumping aboard an adorable P4 to Brixton, sliding around the tram to Deansgate, or losing your mind on the last Merseyrail into town, the after-dark commute can be a perilous but rich affair. The constant wobble of wine bottles as they roll up and down the top deck, the stank of vomit and aftershave, gloopy mascara tears and thick April rain. Public transport on a big Saturday night is an odyssey of suburban escape and big-city promise—a pilgrimage of sticky shoes, wide-eyes and bolted barriers. Come with us now as we journey through the dos and don'ts of night-time voyages over broken tarmac, pausing only for hilarious anecdotes and temporary traffic lights. Start your engines, top up your Oysters, please move down inside the content.
Obviously timing is important when it comes to catching buses and trains—the advice in this column is generally more developed than that—but its relevance to your happiness becomes far greater on a night out. For example, get to a bus stop too early on a winter's night and you risk feeling the sub-Alaskan sting against your bare legs as the digits "12 MINS" in blinking orange lights apparently react to the cold by freezing in time. Then again, arrive too late and you'll miss the last bus—suddenly that request for one more song back at the flat has cost you more than just a noise complaint from the retiree below who's heard Paleman's "Beezledub" 15 times in one night.
2. Safety in Numbers
If you're using public transport on a night out, always travel in a group. There's the obvious dimension to this, that public transport by night isn't the safest place to be, so having a few extra people minimises your risk of being headbutted or having your Hula Hoops stolen. That's not the main reason why traveling on your own is a bad idea though. The worst part is navigating your way through every possible facial expression, as you try and look invisible before the pissed-out-of-her-mind bride-to-be who is lilting down the aisle handing out free "kisses with tongues." She's getting closer now, you're looking out the window pretending to think about things. She's two seats away, some drunk bloke just gave her a kiss on the cheek, you're desperately reading your obviously out-of-battery phone. And she's here, breathing in your face, her mates are screaming "GO ON GIVE HER A KISS," you can smell the Jacob's Creek, you grimace, you shake your head, you say sorry, you say no, her friends shout "AWWWWWWW," she's doing a mock-sad face, she returns to her seat and your night is ruined before it's even begun.
Handling confrontational, public banter on your own is a burden no-one should have to carry. Think ahead; protect yourself.
3. Lads on Tour
Speaking of confrontational public banter, there's perhaps no sound more distinct to a nocturnal commute than a muddle of lads boarding the bottom deck of the bus, or filing onto the the same tube carriage as you. You'll probably instinctively sink into your seat, fearing the next 30 minutes are about to be ruined by rugby songs and jokes about people you've never met, but honestly give them a chance. Unless they're Actual Dickheads the presence of a boys night out on your way to the club can provide an ambience that would turn Eno's pink-round head green with envy. One of them's singing Bon Jovi, look, another one of them is trying to pole dance, the Irish one is chatting really loudly about being Irish. This joie de vivre is crucial to passing the time on journeys from Earlsfield to Elephant and Castle. Let's see how many people we can get on the backseat of the bus.
4. Doing Drugs
Do you remember a couple of summers ago when that city worker was filmed snorting coke on the tube? That was horrible wasn't it? The sagging belly, the open collar, his head flinging back as he uttered the immortal "This is no playground boys," like a baddy in Hustle. My mate reckons he saw someone else doing this on the overground the other day—apparently in this instance the memorable quote was "I just do a bit on weekends, that's all, okay?"—so clearly it's something happens reasonably often. If you are one of these people apparently sniffling up chunky mounds of coke from between your pinched, clammy fingers, clawing at the crystals with your blackened nails, please stop. Don't do it anymore. I would genuinely rather watch someone take a shit on a train than witness the garbled justifications of their class-A dependency, as they audibly try and convince themselves and the rest of the Northern Line that it's "just a bit of fun at the end of the day."
5. Being on Drugs
That said, we can't stop you from taking drugs before you travel on public transport. If you fancy experiencing the joys of the DLR, two pingers deep, as it glides over West India Quay, be our guest.
6. Drinking Tinnies
Sure, you know you're not supposed to drink on public transport, but fuck it, laws were made to be broken, and they were made to be broken by legends with blue-bags of Kronenbourg in their hands and the scent of Sure Active Dry in their nostrils.
7. Playing Music
The chances are you're not the person who gets to play music on the bus. Playing music on the bus, especially playing it loudly through a speaker of some kind, takes a special kind of inner-confidence only possessed by select few. To waltz onto a 75 full of punters, packed in their seats like church pews, and start blasting Bugzy Malone freestyles from your phone is to say to the world: I am here and I shall not be shaken. Getting on a bus on your own and playing music out loud without feeling even a shred of embarrassment or societal pressure requires an assurance of mind so steely it's practically superhuman. This person probably isn't you, so close that Best of Gorillaz playlist you've just opened on Spotify and put your phone away.
8. Throwing Up
An acidic swill in hinge of your jaw? Bubbles of gas passing up through your chest? Thick, gluey saliva festering in your mouth? Try not to be sick on public transport if you can. Instead it's up to you to focus on the most boring point on the vehicle—an emergency exit, the pattern on the chair cushion, your mate's theory as to why Corbyn can't win—and pretend you feel fine until the next stop. It won't be easy, and trickles of carroty phlegm may well win out, but keep your head down and there's a clear plastic bin bag at Kennington with your name on it.
9. Making Friends
This is a regular bone of contention among my friends. I've got mates who believe that talking to strangers is a nice and perfectly normal thing to do, and that it speaks to the commonality of humankind when we recognise ourselves in those we've never met. However I'm of the thinking that I've already made my friends through a lengthy process of trial and error, so why would I take a punt on a horde of medical students on their way to an Elrow party? Either way, the chances are you're probably all going to different parties, so the worst that can happen is someone called Henry in a blue Oxford shirt calls you a legend thirty times as he gets off at Clapham Junction.
That said don't obviously try and chat someone up. Chatting someone up on a bus is as dignified as having sex in a Costa toilet.
10. Falling Asleep
Happens to the best of us. Your Big Mac might have gone cold, but hey, at least you're finally getting to see Woking.