Freshman Nicole Ross expected a normal commute to Foggy Bottom when she boarded the Vern Express late last month, but her ride was filled with trivia and candy from the Vex driver.
John Rasmussen, a Vex driver, is characterized by more than 10 students as one of the friendliest University staffers. Students said the 15-minute Vex rides with Rasmussen are typically packed with daily trivia questions, candy prizes and words of encouragement before and after a day of class.
Ross said she usually does not know the answers to Rasmussen’s trivia questions, but one day she blurted out the answer to a geography question asking where the Bering Strait is and won a Life Savers mint. Ross said Rasmussen’s enthusiasm for his job makes him stand out among the other drivers.
“He’s so sweet, and some people are so genuinely good,” Ross said. “A lot of people try to be nice and get it right half the time, but people like John get it right all the time, so I just really appreciate him as a Vex driver and as a person.”
Rasmussen began driving the Vex after spending about seven years serving in the Navy and 30 years as a satellite communications salesperson. He said his wife advised him to find a more enjoyable job when he became stressed toward the end of his communications career, which led him to earn his commercial driver’s license and start working as a bus driver.
He said he began posting trivia questions on a poster at the front of his Vex after winter break to help students de-stress during their Vex ride. His first questions prompted number answers for students to guess, like how many days until spring break and how long he had been married.
Rasmussen eventually began posting various types of questions at the front of his bus daily for students to answer during their commute to Foggy Bottom and back.
“I just want to make this 4-mile trip interesting and fun, and I didn’t want to be intrusive because you guys are so involved in your work and all the other things going on in your lives,” Rasmussen said. “I thought I’d put up some trivia, and whoever was tired of studying would play the trivia thing, and that’s been a lot of fun.”
Rasmussen said he and his wife brainstorm ideas for the trivia questions together most nights. He said he typically writes the geography and history questions while she creates pop culture questions about celebrities.
He said students on the early morning Vex rides do not typically answer his questions because they’re still waking up, but he gets about one to four responses per ride later in the day. He said he awards several prizes to students for correct answers, like Life Savers, Twizzlers and chocolate Easter eggs.
Rasmussen said he has the most fun with students when they try to deduce the answers to his trivia questions. He said one of his most noteworthy interactions with a student was when she knew the answer to a particularly obscure trivia question about the Latin translation of “woodchuck,” which is “materiae materietur marmota.”
Rasmussen said that while he aims to brighten his students’ days with trivia questions during the Vex rides, students have also taught him how to keep a positive attitude under stress. He said talking with students about their majors and where they are from have been some of his favorite interactions with students.
“They just have such great attitudes and they smile a lot and they laugh a lot, and they’re always chatting, and they’re just managing their stress really well,” he said. “And it helps me and I’ve learned a lot about that. Laughter is a great cure, right?”
He added that his late mother was an “umbrella hoarder” and he found about 15 umbrellas when he was cleaning out her house. Rasmussen said he decided to keep the umbrellas on his Vex to give to students who needed one on rainy days. He has one umbrella left, he said.
“I remember when it was raining really hard one morning and I had two of them left and this one young lady was getting off and she’s buttoning up her jacket and I pull one of the umbrellas out and I say, ‘Here take it,'” he said.
Rasmussen said he will return to GW as a Vex driver in August, and he is excited for another year of driving.
“My wife teases me about banging out of bed at 5 in the morning and going down to get my bus,” he said. “And she sees how excited I’ve been about it, and it really has been fun.”
Freshman Sarah McGonagle said Rasmussen brightened her day when he handed her an umbrella when she forgot to pack one on a rainy day.
“I take the Vex a lot living on the Mount Vernon Campus and every morning, when I get John as a Vex driver, it’s just a little something extra in your morning,” she said. “He’s always cheerful, always saying good morning to everybody.”
Freshman Deniz Giray Gonzalez said the encouraging poster messages Rasmussen hangs at the front of the Vex – like “Happy Friday Eve!” – can help students remain positive during difficult parts of their weeks.
“I used to wonder if it was an act he was putting up to be liked and rewarded at his job, but he has kept it up for so long and does it with such an honest smile that it can only be genuine,” Gonzalez said.