western Faces: Shuttle driver doesn’t mind endless cycle

Jesse Osbourne

The engine strains and whines as the Big Red Shuttle approaches its next stop on the Hill.

Passengers wait anxiously on the sidewalk with arms crossed.

“What’s up, Jerry?” one passenger says, climbing aboard the bus.

Conversation fills the bus as Jerry Runner, the driver, waits for stragglers, many of whom greet him with appreciation or familiarity.

“Lovin’ All Night” by Patty Loveless blares on the back speakers as the bus bounces past sorority houses, heading for the next stop. A voice on the CB radio repeatedly blurts out “35 to 89.”

Runner drives the two-mile loop around campus every day.

His workday starts at 7 a.m., when he comes in to pick up the shuttle. He is at his first stop, Jones-Jaggers Hall, by 7:30.

Eight hours and 35 loops later, Runner takes the shuttle back and ends his day at 3:30 p.m.

On average, Runner drives 70 miles in a day, about the same distance from Bowling Green to Elizabethtown.

But going around in circles doesn’t seem to bother Runner.

“Overall, I’m well satisfied,” he said. “You just have to take it hour by hour and be safe.”

Staying alert and keeping his mind on his job is a top priority for Runner.

“If a kid wants to cross the street, he’s going to cross it,” he said.

Runner has seen accidents happen right in front of his shuttle before, causing his passengers to be stranded and late for class.

In situations like that, he said the passengers usually understand. Some passengers, however, just want to make a scene, he said.

“You get a smart one sometimes, but maybe you misunderstand,” he said.

While trying to keep his mind on driving, Runner said it’s sometimes hard to make small talk with passengers. But he tries to be available for them.

“I know a lot of them real well, but I never know their name,” he said. “A lot of them I know good enough to cut up with..”

Runner retired from driving a truck in 1998 and began driving a shuttle at Western in 1999, when the school began operating the internal loop.

“I didn’t really intend to work when I retired,” he said. “But I’ll stay a good while as long as I’m comfortable.”

Runner has watched the Hill evolve in his over 27,000 trips around it as a shuttle driver. He was also a construction worker here in the 1960s and notices “a world of difference” on campus.

“The last 10 years it’s really made its change as far as beauty,” he said. “And it’s still growing.”

Maintenance workers mowing lawns blow grass in the path of Runner’s shuttle as he passes.

A sign above Runner’s head reading “Pull cord if you want to get off at the next stop” catches someone’s attention. A red light flashes. Runner hits the brakes and the shuttle screeches to a halt.

Faces that stared blankly forward moments earlier shuffle off the shuttle and head to their destinations.

“See ya,” one said.

And with that, Runner’s trip begins again.

Reach Jesse Osbourne at [email protected]