Van drivers give life to quiet shuttle rides with Motown music

 Living off campus can be pretty difficult; for one thing, students living off campus don’t always have the option of a short return walk home. Luckily, there’s the Garnet shuttle, but despite its reliability, it can also be very time consuming. While taking the shuttle can be a grim reminder to some students that they live off campus, students who use it regularly have probably had the pleasure of meeting Robert Bennett, one of the shuttle drivers. Shuttle rides are generally silent, but during his 6-8 hour shifts, Bennett usually plays a wonderful selection of old school and Motown, singing along cheerfully.

“It’s just a relaxing, good time,” he commented. “A lot of times, I’m sitting here by myself … Listening to music helps make my day when I’m working.

Bennett grew up in South Philadelphia and moved to Delaware County in the sixties, around the time Philadelphia sound started to develop. Before retiring and working for Swarthmore, he worked as a crane operator in a shipyard and then a steel mill. Alone in a crane for hours, Bennett would listen to music during his shifts to help the time pass. Though Bennett occasionally talks to students during his shift as a shuttle driver, the riders are usually silent, so he listens to music. He mostly listens to the same music, marking his evening shifts with his own nostalgia.

“You can listen to some music, and it’ll make you remember a movie you saw or a thing you were doing,” he remarked generally. “Music really is a part of life.”

Some of Bennett’s favorite artists to play include Smokey Robinson, Curtis Mayfield, the Temptations, and Stevie Wonder. Though, depending on the day, Bennett occasionally plays modern day gospel singers too, like Donnie McClurkin and Kirk Franklin, whose sound is more upbeat.

“Music like Marvin Gaye’s … stands the test of time,” said Bennett, describing his Motown and old school favorites. “Most of the students who ride with me know me for my music. I listen to it because it’s not only soothing, but a lot of times, I’m introducing people to something they didn’t listen to before.

Bennett explained that after introducing students to artists, they often went home, looked up the artist, and returned to the shuttle having found out something new about them that even he didn’t know.

“So it’s a learning experience both ways,” he said.

Students indeed know and appreciate Bennett for his music selection, but also for his cheery demeanor and general wisdom. After a long day of classes, a shuttle ride home with him often puts students in better spirits.

“It’s definitely a pick me up!” said Mindy Cheng ’18, who takes the shuttle twice a day most days. “I like when he sings along. In general, the shuttle can be a frustrating experience, but with Robert it’s an upbeat time.”

Bennett usually works evening shifts at the beginning of the week. He highly recommends listening to stations 105.3 FM and 100.3 FM, which both play a lot of old school, classic R&B, and soul. He also recommends 98.1 FM, which plays mostly classic rock, and 103.9, which plays inspiration and gospel hits.

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