Behind the Wheel with Jane at Roger Williams University

Listen to this episode.

A Roger Williams University shuttle bus, like the one driven by Jane Walker featured in this episode.

Alex Bowden: [00:00:00] This episode contains content which may be too inappropriate for some younger listeners. Listener discretion is advised.

You're listening to Rhody Radio, Rhode Island Library Radio Online. When you're listening to Rhody Radio, you know you're listening to something good. My name is Alex Bowden, and I'm this week's guest host of Rhody Radio. If you want to find me on Twitter, my Twitter handle is @alexbowdenlive, and if you want to find me pretty much anywhere else, my handle is @alexbowdenlive. I'll be starting a Twitch stream soon where you can see me try to entertain, at twitch.tv/alexbowdenlive.

If you want to catch up with Rhody Radio episodes, Rhody Radio episodes drop every Tuesday at 9:00 AM. Each week is a new voice from your neighbors around the state, and you can subscribe wherever you listen to podcasts. Make sure you follow Rhody Radio on Twitter @RhodyRadio, or on Facebook @RhodyRadioOnline. Before we start, I'd like to mention that there are some awkward sound quality portions of this podcast. There are parts where copyrighted background music is clipped out and replaced in order for this content to be published. If you'd like to listen to the original podcast, you can shoot me an email at alexbowdenlive@gmail.com, and I'll be glad to send you the original version personally. With that being said, I hope you enjoy Behind The Wheel with Jane at Roger Williams University.

Hello, Rhody Radio listeners. My name is Alex Bowden. I'm 22 years old. I graduated from Roger Williams University in 2020, [00:02:00] so last year. I don't really know how to begin this podcast without saying that, because graduating from 2020 has, I feel like, essentially been my identity for the past year. I've been holding on to this podcast that I did last year for, again, about a year now. I've been holding on to this podcast, and I'm not really sure what to do with it, or how to make a theme out of this particular podcast. It kind of clicked a few minutes ago, and in a really weird and interesting way, I feel like the following podcast is about work, so let me tell you about work.

[music]

Yes, I know, this podcast isn't about me, and you probably don't really care about what I have to say about myself. From the description you read about the podcast, you're still expecting a story about a woman who drives a bus. You'll get that, I promise, but I feel like it's important to tell my side of the story for just a moment. [00:04:00] For the past year, I've been applying to jobs in radio, television production, and performing, and of course, I've been receiving nos left and right. During this time, negativity was setting in, but I managed to find things that kept me going. I got a chance to talk with friends almost every night, play video games with them.

In the day, I would send off applications, I would watch streams on Twitch, go on YouTube, watch interviews with comedians and broadcasters, and try to learn from inside of my house what I might want to do when things open back up again. Now that things are back open, I've been doing standup every night for the past four months, I'm starting a Twitch stream where I can build an audience myself, and things are kind of going okay. Your question might be, still, what does this have to do with Jane? Well, first, I think she should introduce herself. Jane?

Jane Walker: Hi, my name is Jane Walker. I am a shuttle driver at Roger Williams University in Bristol, Rhode Island.

Alex: Jane is someone who loves her job. As I sat on the podcast I made all the way back in my senior year of college, I would listen back to it and be reminded that no matter how crazy things get, I should pursue what I want to do. Jane is the embodiment of that. Jane gets to do what she wants to do every day for work. Not only am I super envious of it in a nice way, I'm also super proud of her. Now, both of our stories parallel during 2020, and we both lost out on opportunities to do what we loved. With that, let's look [00:06:00] back on a time before the world changed forever. What you're about to hear is a podcast recorded one week before the shutdowns began.

[switching to pre-recorded audio tape]

[music]

Alex: Every college has something in common, and that is Thirsty Thursday. Thirsty Thursday is the ultimate college party night, it gets all the attention. Now, this begs the question, if so many students are participating in Thirsty Thursday, who's the glue that holds it all together? The answer may be more unassuming than you would expect.

Jane: I went into the dollar store the other day, and I liked the marshmallows. They had-- I'd seen it said, "unicorn," so I figured it was unicorn marshmallows. I got home, I look at the bag, the damn thing said "unicorn poop."

Alex: This is Jane Walker, and that's all you need to know for right now. Trust me, she'll tell you the rest.

Jane: My life wasn't easy, trust me. I was married, and I caught my husband with another woman, so I threw him out. If it wasn't for my dad, I would've been in trouble.

Alex: Jane is an open book, full of stories. This is only one of millions, but when you drive the campus shuttle for over 16 years, you're full of them.

Jane: I picked up the three boys and I asked them where they were going. They said, "Bayside." I said, "Okay, but I have to go to Baypoint first." One of them, he was huge, he was big. He was a big boy, and his friends looked like toothpicks--

Alex: The students absolutely love her. One student even defended her during a shuttle driver observation test, proclaiming she was the best damn [00:08:00] driver they have. The students care about her because she cares about them.

Jane: I'll have girls crying on the shuttle, and I'm like, "What's the matter?"

"My boyfriend broke up with me."

I said, "You're crying over that? You're young, you're very pretty, you shouldn't be tied down right now. Your boyfriend right now should be your schoolwork."

Student 1: Hello.

Jane: Hello.

Student 2: Hey, buddy?

Jane: I'm good. How are you?

Student 3: Hey--

Student 4: I had to leave my room earlier.

Jane: Hello--

Alex: On every ride, Jane says, "Hello," as people get on, and, "Have a good night," as people get off. She tries to be there for people, even in the most minute circumstances.

Student 5: Jane, what do you think of penguins?

Jane: They're cute.

Student 5: Yes, precisely, penguins are adorable.

Jane: [chuckles] Why?

Student 5: I'm going to try and convince my girlfriend to take me to the aquarium tomorrow to see some penguins. It's not going well, so I wanted an outside opinion.

Alex: You see what I mean? And she keeps going after they're gone.

Student 6: Take it easy, Jane. Thanks.

Jane: Have a good night.

Student 6: You too.

Jane: See you tomorrow.

Student 6: See you tomorrow.

Jane: Huh?

Student 7: I said I hope he gets to see his penguins.

Jane: Penguins are cute, but they can be vicious.

[music]

Alex: Would you consider yourself, in a really backwards way, a therapist, or a counselor for some of these kids who are just getting on the bus just for a trip back, and they learn a life lesson? Because that's what it feels like.

Jane: This is the way I look at it, they're far away from home, far enough to stay here, but close enough to get home. I wouldn't want to be one of their parents if they got into a car accident at one, two o'clock in the morning.

Alex: Overall, Jane loves the job, and loves the students. She encourages fun on those Thursday nights, as long as it's not open containers on her shuttle. She is even the rare kind of driver that loves when people sing [00:10:00] along to the radio.

Jane: If that comes out on the radio, they'll start singing it, I don't care. It should be fun, because it's like-- Next week, everybody starts leaving because of spring break, so this would be actually like the last party night until they all come back.

Alex: The thing was, like most college students in 2020, we never came back to finish the semester, and Jane, due to a pandemic no one was prepared for, is like most shuttle drivers, out of a job. No students, no bus. Even though the end of college was cut short, she always ended the ride right.

[cheerful background chatter]

Student 8: Thank you.

Jane: You're welcome.

Student 9: Thank you, Jane. Have a good rest of your night.

Jane: Have a good night.

Alex: Among all the unforgettable Thirsty Thursdays, Jane's goodbyes are what us students will never forget. On behalf of Jane, this podcast is in memory of her father, Herman.

[music]

[pauses pre-recorded tape]

Alex: That was where the infamous podcast I had been sitting on for a year was left off. For about a few months, I realized I wanted to add something, a few words of wisdom from Jane. In July of 2020, I called her and put her on the phone to give some words of wisdom. Here's what she had to say--

[switching to pre-recorded audio tape]

Alex: My question is, what words of wisdom would you have for people who are feeling down during all of this, who have missed out on graduation, and missed out on the end of the school year, and jobs, what is something you would say that, I guess, everyone should hear from Jane?

Jane: [00:12:00] It was sad not to have your commencement ball, your barbecue, but I just hope that everybody just keeps in touch, and just think of the good times. When they start feeling down or depressed, just think of the fun that they've had. That's what I do-- I think of some of the things that were really funny on the shuttle, and the times where I'd start yelling because they're drinking-- [laughs] Just think of good thoughts. You all graduated, but you didn't have your full fourth year of school. Just think of the happy times. The Christmas parties that you all had, the spring week, the concert that I'd sit out in the shuttle, and the whole shuttle was vibrating to the music--

Alex: Yes, you can hear it from outside. When I would be too late to get tickets, and I would just be walking in front of the rec center, it’s like an earthquake, it's going to register on a scale somewhere.

Jane: Oh, yes. If I was right in front of the rec center, and I was sitting in the shuttle, it would massage on my back because of the vibration. [chuckles]

Alex: It was a great day. [laughs]

[pauses pre-recorded audio tape]

Alex: [00:14:00] That was it for the podcast. I never added those words of wisdom in. In fact, I forgot about the podcast I made entirely. I threw it up on SoundCloud, and would occasionally send it in as a work sample. Sometimes I'd email it to radio personalities around the state, but that was it, until I got this opportunity from Rhody Radio, a work opportunity. I get to do something I love, something I've been preparing for. This is exactly what Jane was doing. Over the year of negativity, I realized I had got microphones for myself to do studio-quality podcasts, and better equipment to really bring life to my stories. I picked up the phone one more time, one year later, and called Jane.

Before I play the phone call, I should mention that Jane brings up the name Almeida. Almeida is a series of off-campus apartments at Roger Williams University, just for your reference. Now, take a listen to just a segment of an hour-long conversation I had with Jane--

[switching to pre-recorded audio tape]

Alex: I mean, here's my other thing, I felt like the time had passed for that. 2020, for me at least, was super bitter. It's like I was unemployed the whole time. I was looking for jobs the whole time, and I was just utterly lost. We left on a tough note, and I felt like there was no proper goodbye. Funny enough, I got my diploma in the mail, and I left it on the kitchen table. I left it there, and I had to go run an errand somewhere. My brother was eating lunch on the kitchen [00:16:00] table. When I came back home, because he was eating or chewing with his mouth open or whatever, the diploma was speckled with chicken tikka masala sauce on it. [laughs]

Jane: Oh, my God.

Alex: I had to write to Roger Williams-- I hope they listen to this so that they know that I've got two diplomas. I had to write to Roger Williams and fake that I never got a diploma, so-- There we go.

Jane: I felt that you all got burnt on that year.

Alex: Yes. I mean, there was promise of, "Well, it'll be over by the end of the summer, so we'll do it in August." Obviously, situations occurred in which that was not going to be plausible.

Jane: I know when school started back up that last August-- End of August, beginning of September-- I forgot when we started. We were running half-capacity. If I had a 24-passenger, I can only allow 12 students on here, and if they didn't have a mask, they could not get on. It wasn't the same. Then here comes the Thursday night, all the freshmen up at the shuttle stop-- "I can't take you to Almeida. We were told freshmen have to stay on campus. Wherever you live, that's where you can hang out. You're not allowed to go to Almeida."

Alex: Do you think the mood around Roger, or the mood in general, was a lot more tense during the past year?

Jane: [00:18:00] A lot of people were quiet, they weren't jolly like they would normally be. If you had a class, let's say you had a science class, and there's supposed to be 24 students in there, the first half of that quarter for that class, 12 students were there, and the rest had to do it on the computer online. Then halfway through, they switched, so they all had a chance to be in class.

Alex: Did you have to do COVID testing?

Jane: Twice a week, everybody.

Alex: Did you ever end up getting it?

Jane: Getting COVID? No.

Alex: Good. Me neither.

Jane: Because I did everything I was supposed to. Halfway through my shift, they gave us-- Instead of a half-hour break for dinner, they gave us an hour. This way, if we needed to fuel, we can go fuel, and then we had to sterilize the shuttle. This shuttle gets sterilized three times a day.

Alex: How does that process work?

Jane: They got some stuff that's supposed to be really good. It stays on for like two months, but we've been using Lysol in between--

[person speaking in the background]

Jane: Excuse me, Alex.

Alex: Yes, no problem.

[background conversation]

Jane: Sorry.

Alex: No, you're good.

Jane: Somebody got lost. They were looking for the library.

Alex: No problem. So you had to sterilize the bus three times a day--

Jane: The daytime driver would do it in the middle of her shift-- Actually, four times, [00:20:00] because after her shift, she would spray it, and then when I go on break, I would spray it, and then before I leave, I would spray it. We had to do the handles, the steering wheels, the seats, the armrests. We had to spray everything.

Alex: Did all the shuttle drivers return to work on like a certain day when school came back?

Jane: When school opened up full-force for classes and everything, that's when everybody came back, but the daytime driver, Chris, and myself, we came in two to three weeks before everybody else. We went through every shuttle, we swept it out good-- As a matter of fact, we didn't sweep, we vacuumed everything, wiped down everything, and sprayed it with the good stuff, and then we would park it. All we did during those three weeks was just to start the shuttles up so the batteries don't die, but we-- I made her work, because when it comes to the shuttles, I am anal. It has to be perfect.

Alex: Were you happy to be back by the time it was like, "Okay, we can have you on campus," and all of that? Or would you have rather returned, let's say at the point we're at right now where things are opening back up?

Jane: No, because the day I got laid off, I was [00:22:00] crying my eyes out. My supervisor came to my house-- Because I live in Bristol, she came to my house, and she had a big brown envelop, and I already knew. I went outside, and I just started crying.

Alex: Do you know how many months you were laid off for? What the exact amount of time was?

Jane: They let me collect-- Everybody left what, March? Everybody had to be out of here in March, correct?

Alex: Yes, I think it was like March 15th.

Jane: Right. It was like two weeks-- No, when you had your spring break, they kept adding weeks, so it was like three weeks. That's when they decided to let everybody go home because of the COVID. Then two weeks after that, I just stopped collecting, so it was like April-- From April until September. The end of August, beginning of September, I was collecting, and I needed it. I had not used unemployment in over 18 years.

Alex: You felt bad for having to take it, and instead, you could be hanging out on campus and--

Jane: I would rather work. I didn't care if they had me cleaning toilets, I would rather work than stay home and collect.

Alex: Yes, that makes sense. I mean, you loved it there, and you still do from the sounds of it. Even when [00:24:00] crazy students are calling you names, and not wanting to wear a mask on the bus, or whatever it may be, you still stick around regardless.

Jane: I'm 64 years old, I've been taking care of kids since I was 16. I used to babysit when my sister went into the hospital, at the age of 16, I was watching four kids. Cleaning the house, cooking, giving them baths, putting them to bed, washing clothes, doing dishes-- I did what a mother would do. Her neighbor next door, she would come over and check to see everything was okay, but I did everything. Then when my other sister got married and had kids, I babysat her kids.

Alex: That cycle continues to today, which is why it was such a tough thing to-- I mean, not even just get laid off, but on top of that, just societally in general, you couldn't go near anyone, you had to social-distance. I know you, you're a very extroverted person, that's a tough thing to deal with. It seems like a weird thing to harp on, but when-- I mean, Jane, that's a huge part of your personality, and to be stuck inside for however many months, April to September, even prior to that and post that--

Jane: Trust me, I did not stay in my house. I went outside. [chuckles]

Alex: Did you take walks and stuff?

Jane: I went and sat out in the [00:26:00] sun, and I would crochet and do things just to keep myself occupied, because I would be sitting there saying, "I wonder what the kids are doing. I hope everybody's okay," and then I'd start crying. It's like, "I can't, no."

Alex: I know for a lot of people, when it was time to go back to work or-- I mean, for some people, when things were opening back up, for some it was-- When you had to go back into the office or back into work, was it tough for you to transition back into working after just kind of hanging out for a few months?

Jane: When I first came back, they put me on first shift. I'm not a morning person, so-- We would do one shuttle a day as far as like the cleaning, and then we would sit up at the main gate. I would bring crocheting over there, and I had a portable DVD player, and we would watch some movies, because they shut the cable off.

Alex: Oh, no.

Jane: Yes, they've been shutting it off in the summer. I'm sitting there, and I'm crocheting, and then all of a sudden I start dozing off, I want to sleep, because I'm not used to the daytime. Then I end up going outside and walk around a little bit, and then go back in and start doing what I was doing.

Alex: Are you excited to do Thirsty Thursdays again? Are you excited to take people to clubs, and Almeida, and wherever everyone's going to go [crosstalk]?

Jane: I don't know if they're changing the schedule, because [00:28:00] we've been done by eleven o'clock, eleven-thirty when school was open this past year, because the bars were closed. I don't know what they're going to do this year as far as the bars being open, if they're going to run the shuttles later like they did two years ago. I don't know. That part, we haven't come across yet.

Alex: If it does happen, what are you excited for most?

Jane: Oh, I'll be looking forward to it.

Alex: You want to get back to kids singing in the bus and--

Jane: Oh, yes. [chuckles]

Alex: That's one thing I miss a lot, is just the crazy stuff that used to happen, I don't know why. You take it for granted when it's there, and then you miss it when it's back.

Jane: That's one thing though, you should never take anything for granted, never, because you don't know what tomorrow's going to bring. We could open up the first two, three weeks full-force, and then the next thing you know, bam, we're cutting down, we're going back to shorter hours.

Alex: Do you see your work in a different light given what's happened? Do you think it's a lot more fragile? Do you think that something like this might happen again, and you're kind of experiencing the days happy to be where you are?

Jane: I hope it doesn't, I really do, because I'll go bananas. I'll tell them, [00:30:00] "Give me something to do. I don't care if you have to give me-- Let me clean toilets, I don't care. I need to work."

Alex: Yes. I wanted to ask this, well, now over a year ago since we did the first interview. It never really crossed my mind to ask you this then, and it popped in afterwards, and then COVID happened. Now we're here, and now we're talking about work, not doing work, all that stuff, I wanted to ask about a potential retirement. Do you see that in your future, or are you going to be trying to do this for as long as you can?

Jane: I have another three years before retirement.

Alex: You're going to go for it or?

Jane: I don't know, I'll have to look into it. I want to make sure that if I decide not to retire at 67, are they going to penalize me? If they don't penalize me, then I won't do it. I'll try to stick out as long as I can.

Alex: Yes, you got the energy. You can keep doing it.

Jane: You know what? To be honest with you, all you guys are the ones that kept me going.

Alex: I appreciate that, and I think that anyone who's hearing this would appreciate hearing that too. That's really nice.

Jane: I didn't care for Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday-- I loved my Thursday night. That was the best night out of the whole week.

Alex: There's people that don't like the Thursday night crew, but--

Jane: Well, I do.

Alex: Yes, we got you on our side. We got Jane. That's all we need.

Jane: If you cross the line, I'll let you know it, that's it. You see, I'm like [00:32:00] the mama horse here.

Alex: You know how to deal with it.

Jane: Yes, I do.

Alex: Nice. It's true, you do know how to deal-- I've seen you deal with it, I've seen it live. This is true.

Jane: I said it before, you're all away from home, far enough away to live here, but close enough to go home just in case of an emergency or whatever. Somebody's got to look out for everybody.

Alex: Yes. I think what you just said is verbatim what you said in the podcast from about a year ago, 100%.

Jane: Yes, and I still will do it.

Alex: Yes, that's good. I know you would do that too. I'm having you tell it from your perspective for the audience, but I'll back you up on that. I'm a prime witness of that, so that's good. Podcast-- I had like three hours of audio collected between all the times we were together. There was all the audio of when I did the bus trip with you, there was audio of a phone interview I did with you before the bus trip, and then there was audio-- We did like an hour in your break room as well.

Jane: Yes.

Alex: I had to collect all that audio, and the project was to do the 4-minute and 30 second podcast, which has now turned into this big thing that people are going to be listening to. One of the things that I [00:34:00] said in the podcast, or was kind of glanced over, that I asked a lot of questions about at the time, was about your dad, Herman. I asked a lot of questions about him, and you were talking about him quite a bit, and at the end of the podcast, originally, I dedicated it to him from you.

Jane: Yes. When I listened to that, I cried my eyes out.

Alex: Are you serious?

Jane: Yes.

Alex: Oh, my gosh. See, here's the thing, when I said that at the end, and then I listened to the whole thing, I feel like we didn't get-- Like, I didn't put him in the podcast enough. I felt like I should have talked about him more. I had a whole section actually, where I had a whole quote from you about how your dad influenced your work-- He was a great dad, I want you to tell us a little about your childhood, growing up with him, and how he influences the way you are currently treating kids when you're running the bus, when you're running the shuttle.

Jane: My dad-- I have two other sisters, so it was three girls, no boys. I was the tomboy because I'm the youngest, and I was daddy's little girl. One thing I could say is he never hit us, my mom did all the hitting, and he would never swear in front of children or women. If we had a barbecue in our backyard and you said the F-word, he would ask you nicely and tell you, "There's women and kids around. Please don't [00:36:00] use that language." If you did it three times, you are out of there. He didn't want to hear it. You're not going to disrespect the women and kids in his yard.

He worked, he was a carpenter. His last job, he worked at the Hartford projects in Johnston, and he made the blueprints for the kitchens. He redesigned the whole kitchen. When they were remodeling all the different apartments, that's the design they used. When he retired, he wasn't even home two weeks. He lied about his age, and worked at a bowling alley in Middletown called the Rock 'N' Bowl. He actually lied about his age because he didn't look his age. He looked younger. That's when I first started working here in 2003.

It was snowing that day. I was supposed to work that night, and I got a phone call from his boss saying that he may have had a heart attack, that he was sending him to Newport Hospital, that I needed to get up there. My youngest son, Charlie, and myself, we drove up, but I called my supervisor and I told him-- I said, "I can't work tonight. My father may have had a heart attack, he's in the hospital." We're driving now, there's like six inches of snow on the ground, so I have to go slow. The hospital called me three times, "Where are you?"

I said, "I'm almost there." I said, "The roads are bad."

"Okay. When you come, just go right to the desk and tell them who you are."

I did that, [00:38:00] and they took me into the back right away, and they stuck me in the family room. That's when I knew he was gone.

Alex: One of the things that I find interesting was the lying about his age to keep on working. Was he a big people person?

Jane: Yes, he got along with everybody. When he was working at the projects, he used to come home, and a couple of times, he'd be upset. I said, "Dad, what's wrong?"

He says, "They evicted a family, and they had three kids. I had to change the locks. After I changed the locks, I went in my car and cried."

Those kids, they're playing while he's working. If he's doing something in one of the apartments and he has to leave to go get something, a little boy was out there crying because this chain fell off his bicycle, so my father fixed it. He loved his grandkids.

Alex: Well, it seems that his personality and his spirit continues in you, 100%, from everything that you've told me about him--

Jane: Thank you.

Alex: --and from as much as the audience knows too, I think everyone would agree that [00:40:00] that's the case.

[inaudible 00:40:02] much for joining me. I appreciate it, and a lot of the audience appreciates it too. A lot of people that I talk to who have heard the original podcast really loved your style and the way you talk about things, so it's awesome to have you back over a year later to talk about all of this with me. Thank you so much.

Jane: You're welcome. It's an honor to be a part of your podcast.

Alex: Thanks, Jane. Bye-bye. With that, we come to today. We're not really sure how things are going be working out in the future. Stuff seams really uncertain, but I think the moral after all is, as long as you're doing what you love, and finding the good things in life amongst all the bad, everything's going to be okay. That's my final word, and to really close out this podcast, Jane's got something to say. Bye, everyone.

Jane: This podcast is dedicated to the Roger Williams students, and to my dad, Herman.

Alex: Thank you so much, everyone, for listening to the podcast. In order of appearance, music credits go to Since1999 on YouTube, 1sosamakaveli on SoundCloud, and Mars Reaven on YouTube. Thank you so much to all of those artists for supplying their music to this podcast, and thank you for listening.

[music] [00:42:00]

Rhody Radio is a project of the Rhode Island Office of Library and Information Services, and is supported through a grant from the Rhode Island Council for the Humanities.

[00:42:13] [END OF AUDIO]