Section: Features

An afternoon on the KAT: riding beside a shuttle driver

An afternoon on the KAT: riding beside a shuttle driver

Kathy Workman didn’t want her picture taken. “I don’t even like being in family pictures,” she said, her hands covering her face. She does this often — each time she was asked a question she did not want to answer, she would look at me from between her fingers through the rearview mirror and smile.

Workman was born and raised around Mount Vernon. She drives the Knox Area Transit (KAT) shuttle five days a week from 8 a.m. until 4 p.m. She has been driving the shuttle for 12 years, since before KAT partnered with Kenyon on a grant system. Most likely, you have already seen the bus that Workman drives: small, white and spacious enough to seat around 25 people. Whether or not you take the shuttle, it is an ever-present part of a student’s daily life on campus, weaving between Chase and Gaskin Avenues.

“I see you guys building things up, tearing them down, starting new projects — you’ve got a real community here,” she said, pulling past the new English building’s plywood skeleton. We were driving to the Wright Center, downtown in Mount Vernon, past Whit’s Frozen Custard. Behind me sat a student with bright blue hair who spent her time silently looking out the window at the frost. It was early afternoon of the coldest day in a long time.

Workman said she remembers smiles, not names, but there were some students who stuck out in her mind — one alumnus, on a visit back to campus, rode the shuttle just to talk to her and left her a card.

“I like young people,”  Workman said, as we descended the hill and watched Route 229 tumble out in front of us. “I’m not trying to preach to them, I just like to hear what they have to say.” Workman also works with a youth group at the Apostolic Faith Church. She began driving because the hours worked with her daily routine, but the job has since become much more to her.

“I like how it feels to drive,” Workman said. “Church is also a big part of my life — so is being a servant. Driving lets me be a servant when I can.” That morning, Workman had stopped to pick up a student by the Kenyon Athletic Center who was underdressed for the weather. It wasn’t on her schedule and lost her a couple of minutes on time, but she saw the student needed help. “I try to go out of my way to help people,” she said, “not just drop people off at the stops.”

As we entered town, we passed a large, 19th-century, white-and-green-trimmed home, which had been divided into condos. Each morning, Workman gives a ride to a resident of one of those condos who works at the College. We rounded the town center, topped by the pillar monument of a Union soldier.

We pulled over to a municipal lot, where the blue-haired girl switched over to another shuttle. Workman and the other shuttle driver, Jim, talked for a little while. She apologized for not answering her walkie talkie, saying she had been too busy talking my ear off. We swung over to the Wright Center. There was no one to pick up and no one to be dropped off. Workman waited a good five seconds, then started the bus back up again. It’s never too busy this early, she told me. And the weekends are a whole different story.

Workman takes this same route 15 times a day. When we arrived back at the Bookstore, she idled so we could say our thank yous and goodbyes. I noticed a single glove on her dashboard, next to a purple monkey stuffed animal. A student had left it that morning, and Workman was keeping it in hopes that she returned. “You don’t want to be walking around with one glove on,” she said, “especially in this weather.”

We got out and photographed the bus from the outside. Workman had her visor pulled down, but eventually, she folded it back and opened up the bus doors. We said goodbye, and she drove off for her last shift of the day, descending down the Hill, soon to come back again.

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