How to Ride Swarthmore’s Garnet Shuttle

It would not have been unusual some time last year to find me leaving Mary Lyon barefoot and climbing onto the shuttle carrying my shoes in hand. During my first year of college I found that if I put on my shoes before leaving my dorm room, I missed the shuttle. This seems like an avoidable problem: just put on my shoes earlier and then finish getting ready. I tried this, too, and somehow I still missed my ride to campus. So I started putting on my shoes after boarding the shuttle.

Joe McSwiggan, my favorite morning driver, noticed this new behavior and commented on it each time I appeared without shoes. He would warn me I would catch a cold, or he would tell me that he could not let me on without my shoes. He was just joking, of course. Joe loves to joke around with students.

One of my favorites is when he pulls up to the dorm and opens the door partway, telling the amassed students that his shuttle is all full and cannot fit anyone else. After letting us stand there for a moment worrying about getting to class on time, he laughs in his friendly way and opens the doors wide, welcoming us on. Usually, we find that the shuttle is entirely empty. We chuckle when he tells us how often no one bothers to look and see if the shuttle really is full, they just take his word for it.

Joe is not all jokes and games. He cares deeply about his students, our lives and our well-beings. On windy days he warns each bus load of students to be careful when passing beneath large old trees. On particularly sunny days he reminds us to wear sunscreen and drink water. Joe listens to our stories of life growing up in all sorts of places. Part of why he loves his job is that he gets to meet people from around the world.

Shuttle drivers Robert Bennett left, and Joe McSwiggan share a laugh next to one of the Swarthmore College Garnet Shuttle buses on the campus of Swarthmore College.

Joe knows I take art classes so he always asks me what I’ve been drawing or painting. He asks about my family and how my school work is going. He is like an on-campus grandfather. It is so nice to have him here for an upbeat morning chat, to ask his advice or share my concerns, and to exchange stories on the morning ride to campus.

Joe tells us stories, too. I enjoy hearing about the shuttle maintenance and how things used to be at the college. But I have an interest in this kind of stuff. I really enjoy learning how our campus operates and getting to know the people that make it work that way, who make our student lives run smoothly and seem so easy.

For years, Joe did all the maintenance on the shuttles. He did the oil changes and oversaw when they needed new brakes. (It turns out that when you drive in loops around campus every day on a route with lots of stops and lots of stop signs, you need new breaks every year and new oil every 5 to 6 weeks!)

When Joe learned I draw, he asked me to draw the shuttles for him. As part of the maintenance work he still does, Joe uses blank sketches of the shuttles to mark any dents, scratches, or other issues with the shuttles. As an example he gave me a drawing a student did a few years back for the passenger vans. I was touched that he asked me to help him out with the sketches.

One of the angles from which I sketched the shuttle. [The image shows a black and white line drawing of a shuttle bus viewed straight on from the driver’s side]

My favorite evening shuttle driver is Robert Bennett. Many students know Mr. Bennett by the music he plays on his shuttle and we love it when he sings along. He tells me about his granddaughters. What sets Joe and Mr. Bennett apart for me is that they approach their job with care and take genuine interest in their students. They’re both enjoy working withy us young people and they take good care of us. I really enjoy hearing about their grandchildren.

I’ve lived in Mary Lyon for two years now and since it’s on the Garnet Shuttle route, I’ve gotten to know several of the shuttle drivers and how the shuttle works.

The shuttle schedule varies slightly from weekdays to weekends, but in general it runs 7 AM to 11 AM each morning and from dusk until 2 AM in the evenings. I personally really enjoy the ten minute walk between Mary Lyon and the dining hall, but I also love our shuttle drivers! So while I walk as much as I can, I often take the shuttle instead of walking, especially if one of my two favorite drivers is driving.

I’ve found that the shuttle provides a comforting piece of life that I don’t find elsewhere on campus. Growing up, I lived 13 miles from the main town and so the ride to or from town and school was a 20 minute drive. I don’t think I ever realized the space that that drive inserted into my day. If I was tired when I got picked up from school or climbed on the school bus, the 20-30 minute drive was a little gap in my day to just sit and absorb or decompress a bit. In the evenings, especially at the end of a long day, it’s really nice to climb on the shuttle and just sit, watching headlights go by and feeling the sway of the vehicle.

But the shuttle holds a range of experiences, too. It’s lovely to board and see a friend I haven’t run into in a while, so we catch up on the ride. Other times I ride the shuttle with friends and then we sit next to each other and talk.

One afternoon I needed to grab a change of clothes from my dorm before Umfundalai African Dance class but I didn’t have time to walk. The shuttle driver very nicely waited outside the dorm for me to return with my dance bag so that I could get a ride back to campus.

Especially for those of us who live in dorms that are a few extra minutes from the center of campus, the shuttle is often how to get packages and luggage to the dorm. I’ve ridden the shuttle along with a mini-fridge, a lamp, painting materials, luggage, plants, and empty 5 gallon buckets. Maybe I just like the juxtaposition of these less-common campus objects and the fact that we W

Joe McSwiggan is one of the morning drivers. He’s also one of my favorite drivers. He gets to know us students, plays tricks on some of us, and never fails to give us life or practical advice. He’s sort of like my on-campus grandfather. Joe also does the student van certification tests. He tells me about how he does them. He asks about friends of mine he hasn’t seen in a while. Last fall, my roommate, Ellie, and I got on the shuttle together nearly every morning. If one of us got on without the other, Joe would always ask “Where’s your sister?”

Joe tells me about his grandchildren. He likes to go to their baseball games on the weekends.

He asks me what I’ve been drawing lately and how my painting class is going. This summer, he sent me advice about growing my garden. They are constants in my life. No matter what the day holds, if Joe is driving, he greets us with the same warm smile, humor and advice. No matter what happened during the day, Mr. Bennett is glad to see us and tell me about his granddaughters.

Joe can be a trickster. If I have forgotten something and run back into the dorm to get it, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to come back out and fun the shuttle isn’t where I left it, but has pulled backward just so you can’t see it when you walk out the main doors. He has pulled that one on my enough times that I know to expect it, but unsuspecting first-year students?

Another common Joe prank is that he’ll pull up to ML, open the shuttle doors, and say “I’m full.” After a moment of worry on the part of the students, he says “I’m joking, come on in.” Often, students don’t even notice that the shuttle is empty when he says it.

Catch a little interview with them here

What do I want to say about the Shuttles? What story am I telling? I’m telling a story about the people at Swarthmore. That the people who work the less flashy jobs care about students and go out of their way to help us and make our lives smooth.

I would rather get to know Carolyn who runs Workbox (the Facilities Office’s system for keeping track of maintenance and repair issues) and go visit her office in the facilities building to hear about the new work orders than I would go spend time in flashy (and, admittedly, really exciting) new Singer Hall.

I am more excited to hear stories from my friends in facilities of building the new Singer Hall than I am to visit it. (Although, I must admit, it is a really exciting building!)

Phase 1 of Singer Hall during construction. [The image shows the construction of a four story building. Blue-purple building material and orange safety fence can be seen on the structure. Four crane arms are extended to various heights near the building]

(would rather hear the story from friend in facilities of how they needed to prop up Hicks Hall* (a former building on our campus) so that it would not fall into the foundation hole while building Singer Hall than go spend time in the the flashy new building.

*Hicks Hall would later get taken down to build the second phase of Singer Hall, but in the meantime, the foundation hole of Phase 1 of Singer Hall was so close to Hicks Hall that they had to put special equipment in place to keep Hicks from falling into the hole!)

I really enjoy learning about how our campus operates and getting to know the people that make it work that way, who make our student lives run smoothly and seem so easy.

Our Garnet Shuttles also have routes to the local Target (a large retail store with clothing, school supplies, toiletries, furnishings like lamps, rugs and shelves, and food), GIANT grocery store, Movie Theaters, a nearby town called Media, and a longer route to the King of Prussia shopping mall which is the second largest shopping mall in the U.S. in terms of floor area.

  1. Know where the shuttle stops
  2. Be at the shuttle stop when the shuttle comes
  3. Get on the shuttle
  4. Get off where you want to get off

In December, Joe decorates the shuttle with snowflake shaped window stickers and a reindeer nose and antlers on the hood.

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