By Kristopher Kennedy
When I arrived on campus for PRE this year, my orientation group — or ‘family’ — was nicknamed the “Magic School Bacchus.” And I thought to myself, “What joy is this — to wear on my sleeve (proverbially) with pride that which has given me so much already, that to which I am eternally grateful: Bacchus, those unsung heroes of University Avenue, shrouded in the night, coming to get you, and me, and take us home, all of us home, safe and sound returned.”
Bacchus is (or dare I say it — was) a student-run organization seeking to ensure campus safety by providing shuttle rides via van for students in order to prevent drunk driving and sexual assault; Bacchus’ hours of operation are (alas, were) regularly from 9-12 a.m. on Thursday nights and 9-2 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.
However, due to the COVID-19 delta variant, it was determined that Bacchus would once again be missing from campus this Advent semester; student activities will be re-evaluating later in the semester to make a determination as to whether or not Bacchus might be able to return. But for now, the beacon for safe weekend transportation’s flame is snuffed.
At the present juncture, the Sewanee Police Department has received a grant to create a trolley system that will run Monday through Friday until 8 p.m. each day, for free. The program, starting this semester and available to all students, will also make trips to larger cities near Sewanee, as well as other special trips when asked.
Although the school is doing what it can to provide some transportation options (there’s not a total scarcity), a disturbing dearth still remains regarding safe student transportation on the weekends. Until 8 p.m., really? That’s the best we can do? No one’s worried about a ten-minute walk from McClurg to Gorgas at 6:37 on a Thursday night; people are worried about getting home safely while under the influence of alcohol trying to get from Fraternity of Your Choosing to Gorgas at 1:19 on a Saturday morning (I’m talking seventy-nine minutes after midnight, here). In this sense, Bacchus will be greatly missed, and it’s a downright shame Sewanee can’t provide some sort of alternative service that both protects against the delta variant and ensures its students safety on the weekends from Point A to Point B — Point B being a respite and a rest, a reprieve. A hearth. A home.
The beauty of Bacchus was that it not merely conformed to Sewanee ideals, but expressed them fluently, in the language which so often postulates our values: a single, caring community that gives a hand-up, where individual members look out for one another. Bacchus was a selfless service that prioritized and emphasized the well-being of fellow students. And now we’ve lost it. That’s at the root of my fears: this dissolution of Bacchus marks a winnowing of our community values; that, at a place like Sewanee, with so many bright and creative minds, no one was able to find a solution around this problem. My hope is that there is a tenable work-around coming soon. But whence? Is there anyone to count on?
Bacchus was more than just a practical resource; it has been a beloved service of many on campus. One friend of mine on this campus, who, in this hour of grief, wished to remain anonymous, admitted, “Bacchus was where I first found love.”
Bacchus resonates, firmly entrenched, within the emotional core of students — that is, those still old enough to remember it. With Bacchus having been in absentia for the 2020-2021 school year as well, members of C’24 have no relationship whatsoever with the sight-for-sore-eyes van shuttle, no memories of that sweet motor-fueled hug-a-lug of love rolling on four wheels. Peter Burditt (C’24) says, “I feel like I’ve been deprived of a lot of great stories and memories that would have been formative to my four years here. As great as the legends are, I do wish I could have taken a ride in a Bacchus bus.”
The sad fact is that there remain only two grades of Sewanee students who remember.
So here, after many laborious hours of composing, in the key of G Minor, is ‘A Funeral Dirge for Bacchus’ or ‘[O] How It Breaks My Heart’:
Bacchus, Bacchus, of the grapes
Who saved our necks — yea, by the napes,
And gave us passage safe withal,
And picked us up (were we to fall).
Bacchus, Bacchus, of the vine
Whose beating drums kept perfect time
With a new freshman’s beating heart
That never stopped (for your engines start).
Bacchus, Bacchus, yours and mine,
God of wine so rich and divine,
More than a van, aye — more like a muse,
To ameliorate unlucid minds so abused.
Bacchus, oh Bacchus, give us a kiss;
It’s not near enough to say you will be missed,
For you were our lifeline, so needed and near;
Without you, what else might we shift into gear?