'Everybody Knows Joe': Beloved Van Driver Says Goodbye to the Shuttle

He sees them all: Quadlings working late, professors who don't drive and graduate students from the farthest reaches of Inman Square.

If they take the late-night shuttle, they're probably friends of Joe.

Jose A. Andrade, known universally as Joe, is the only full-time driver for the evening shuttle van. That means he sees half of the students who call the van every night (a series of part-time drivers share another van).

"If you take the shuttle, chances are you're going to see Joe," he says. "Everybody knows Joe. I cheer them up, I communicate with them, just like I'm communicating with you now."

For almost two years, Andrade has charmed his passengers with his friendly manner and constant willingness to talk.

But he plans to step down from the shuttle van on April 1 to take a daytime job in the stockroom of University Operations Services.

Andrade says his new position will be easier on his family, especially his two daughters, ages three and 20 months. The late-night conversations will be difficult to replace, though.

"I have some very nice friends here," he says. "I will miss the contact with all the students I've had--that's 100 percent."

Andrade is energetic and enthusiastic--during one lull in calls, he paces the van and gets on and off as he talks, standing and sitting and waving his arms.

As students get on and off Andrade's shuttle, he picks up their conversations where they left off.

When one graduate student boards, Andrade greets her by name and mentions a mutual friend--a former passenger who moved to Washington but who Andrade still talks to by phone.

"Hey Joe, how you doing, long time no see," says a professor who gets on at Divinity Avenue.

"Hi Joe. You're waiting for us?" a group of law students from Botanic Gardens ask as they step into the van.

"Oh my gosh, we're going to miss you a lot," says another professor as he disembarks in north Cambridge.

"I get along with anyone that gets along with me," Andrade says. "If you want to have a conversation with me you got one.... Kids come in upset from a test, I give them advice. I'm like a father figure."

He makes an effort to accommodate everyone, driving to certain students' doors without prompting.

"I know the color of your house," he says. "I know your house better than you sometimes."

One woman offers to get off at the corner, but Andrade refuses: "Going straight? I'll drop you off straight."

Andrade may connect with students in part because of his age--at 29, he is only a few years older than some of them. But his life story is very different from most Harvard undergraduates.

Born in the Azores, an island possession of Portugal, Andrade came to the U.S. at nine unable to speak a word of English. His courses at Kennedy Elementary School didn't help him learn, he says.

Instead, he picked up the language on the streets of Cambridge. Underneath his thick Boston accent, Andrade still has traces of Portuguese pronunciation.

Although he worked hard as a kid--Andrade has worked 60 to 70 hours ever since he was 15--his family still faced anti-immigrant prejudice, leading him to seek American citizenship.

"Because of the way I was treated in the past I wanted to make sure my kids were American, my wife was American," he says. "I've poured all my sweat here, I think I've earned the right to speak for this country."

Despite his early struggles, Andrade says he feels that he has achieved his most important goals in life.

"I have a family, I own a home, I'm all set. Some people want the world. Me? I want health now, and faith. You have to have faith in yourself," he says.

Although he grew up in a working class Cambridge neighborhood and attended Cambridge Rindge and Latin School, only blocks from the Yard, Andrade never encountered Harvard students before he began driving the shuttle.

"Until I came and learned about the kids here, I thought all the kids that came to Harvard are rich. That's wrong," Andrade says.

Almost all his passengers are respectful and friendly, he says. And he tries to return the favor.

"I know all these kids," Andrade says. "It's all about manners--you respect me, I respect you."

Passengers rarely present difficulties, although occasionally on Friday and Saturday nights, students returning from parties find the ride too jostling.

"I've had guys say, 'Joe, stop the van!' get out and throw up," he laughs.

The driving itself is harder work. The nighttime shuttle covers most of central Cambridge--from Central Square to the Somerville line to Porter Square to Mount Auburn Hospital.

Andrade says he sometimes logs more than 100 miles a night. And computing the most efficient route for a vanful of students takes mental gymnastics.

"If I stayed here another year I'd be an architect," he jokes.

The job is eight hours straight with only one 15-minute break. Andrade stays at work until 3 a.m. but is up early the next morning to take his wife to work and perform his twice-a-week day job driving a disabled professor.

"It's good for a single guy," he says. "But I've got a family and it's hard on them."

Still, Andrade says he's enjoyed the job thoroughly and will miss the students he's met.

"This is the easiest thing I've ever done," he says. "I can't believe they pay me for this."