I sat in the front seat of the T.R.A.C.S. van as students quickly piled into the back at midnight. There was snow covering the ground, but guys were still committed to going out and girls were still committed to dresses and heels.
With Smarties spilling out of his cupholder, Jerry Guerriere — famously dubbed as “The Smarties T.R.A.C.S. Driver” — drove laps around Lehigh to save students from a long walk in the cold. It’s his fourth year as a driver and this past week, I had the privilege of seeing Jerry’s life as a T.R.A.C.S. driver from a front row seat.
We started to drive around campus at 10 p.m., and as Jerry casually relayed to me his love for classic vampire movies, three boys from the back began to chime into our conversation, too. As we further questioned the veteran driver, I could feel the jokes coming out more smoothly and any nerves quickly dissipating.
Jerry is 65 years old and has lived quite an eventful life. Prior to being a T.R.A.C.S. driver, Jerry was in the Air Force for a number of years. He was stationed in England right outside of Oxford at a previous Royal Air Force base.
“I was a mechanic working on aircrafts fixing things,” he said. “I got a lot of job satisfaction from fixing things so I definitely liked it.”
He met his wife of 44 years — with whom he has two children — in England while she was a nurse in Oxford. After moving around the Northeast for a few years, the Guerriere family finally settled in Bethlehem where Jerry began working with Lehigh’s Transportation Services.
Now — along with handing out Smarties to students — Jerry is famous for playing Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’” during his nights on the job.
“I go a little nuts when you have 14 people in the van and there’s a million different conversations going on,” he told me. “But when you put the music on and everyone starts singing along, everything just becomes better. The ride becomes fun for them.”
It was fun for me, too. As we drove onto lap three, Jerry told me about how busy Thursday nights are and how slow Sundays were. He explained the policy surrounding not picking up extremely inebriated students. But what he mostly focused on was the interactions he has had with students.
“One time I met someone from the exact same school I went to in Queens,” he said. “It’s such a small world and I don’t think you really realize it until you start to connect with people.”
And Jerry cares a lot about connecting with people. Even during our ride around campus, he explained how he once wrote a letter to the editor of The Brown and White during the month the Umoja house was vandalized.
In the letter he said: “You will never have another opportunity to meet so many people from different places again in your life so make the best of it.”
It’s a mantra Jerry still holds onto today.
“I’ve met students from all over the world on this job,” Jerry said. “My favorite times are when I only have a couple of students and we really get into conversation. You get such a different perspective during those conversations.”
But sometimes there’s a lack of communication, too.
“A lot of the students think I’m psychic,” Jerry told me as someone started to wave down the van after we passed. “They don’t realize that I won’t know that you want a ride until you actually do something to show me that… And jumping in front of the van isn’t the best way either.”
T.R.A.C.S. stands for Take a Ride Around Campus Safely but it seems students often forget about the safety aspect of the service.
Jerry explained that when drivers say that 14 people is their capacity, they really mean it.
“Fourteen people maxes out my driver’s license. It maxes out the van. It maxes out the insurance,” he said. “We can’t overload because it affects the steering and even the braking of the van. Safety’s first.”
T.R.A.C.S. shuttled close to 6,300 students last semester, according to Bob Bruneio of Transportation Services. These students were taken home safely from 21 stops by two vans a night and six drivers total. It may seems like a miracle, but it’s due to dedicated, wholehearted people like Jerry that make that happen.
So next time you catch a ride with Jerry, ask him how his leather sewing hobby is going. Mention how you appreciate him buying Smarties for you to enjoy. Sing along to the catchiest song Journey’s ever written. But most of all, thank your T.R.A.C.S. driver for what they do and for ensuring that you will always get home safely.
Nadine Elsayed, ’18, is a multimedia editor for The Brown and White. She can be reached at [email protected]