In 1997, Ulysses Casteel was asked by his boss to help cover a bus-driving shift at Yale while working for DATTCO, a New Britain, Conn.,–based bus company. It was a relatively quiet weekend for athletics, with no games, but nonetheless, Yale was short one bus driver to transport students for the 2-mile trip between Payne Whitney Gymnasium and the Smilow Field Center.
Casteel, a 50-year-old Fort Lauderdale, Fla., native, was eager to help others and obliged without a moment’s hesitation. Although the hours were long, his job was conveniently divided into 15-minute intervals. And with each new wave of students that entered his bus, he gained another opportunity to meet interesting student-athletes.
During his three-day stint, Casteel developed such a connection that when the B and B Transportation, Inc. took over the Yale contract from DATTCO in 2002, he was offered a full-time position as a bus driver and quickly jumped at an opportunity.
“This job was a godsend,” Casteel said. “I’m a people person, and this was the perfect job for me to meet interesting people from all over the world.”
But jumping at the opportunity seems too slow for Casteel. Instead, he skipped to the opportunity. Casteel is known as “Skip” to everyone who meets him. His nickname finds its roots deep in his childhood. Growing up, he was the only boy in his family and was called “Papa.” But as he grew, he started to skip everywhere, believing it would take him to his destination faster than walking could. His family members noticed his traveling tendency, and the name Skip stuck.
Now, 12 years after his first route with Yale’s athletes, Skip continues to drive the 2 miles between Payne Whitney and Smilow. In fact, from the moment a Bulldog steps onto Yale’s campus, Skip becomes as much a part of their daily routine as practice is.
“Ever since I was a freshman, he’s always been in a good mood and he always asks about the team,” football captain Paul Rice ’10 said. “ He’s a positive presence whenever, especially in those opening days of coming to school and trying to figure everything out.”
But Skip’s relationships with Yalies are not limited to four-year blocks of time. Casteel finds that some of the best parts of the year are when he can rekindle friendships with alumni who return to watch the games.
“I can remember that at one of our matches last year against Brown, Skip was at the game,” women’s tennis player Jessica Rhee ’10 said. “The game didn’t count for anything, but the fact that Skip came showed that he genuinely cared, and that being there meant a lot to him.”
The rapport between Skip and athletes — varsity, intramural and club players alike — stems from not only his personality but also his conscious effort to talk with everyone.
“When I first arrived, some of the other bus drivers complained that the students were mean. But I asked them, ‘Have you ever asked them their names or said hi to them?’ ” Skip said. “I know that being a student here is a full-time job, so if I can put a smile on a kid’s face before practice, then I’ve done my job.”
Skip said the responsibilities of his job boiled down to making sure that athletes are on time and cheering up students when they’ve had a rough day.
In fact, other bus drivers have noticed the relationships that Skip has built with the players not only because of his kindness to athletes on the bus, but also because he supports them when they are on the field.
“Skip is definitely a character,” fellow bus driver Steve Sykes said. “But what’s nice about Skip is that he gets involved.”
Although Casteel is often driving the bus during football games, he does try to sneak away to other games whenever he gets the chance.
“I love what I do,” Skip said. “My wife gives me a hard time that I spend more time at Yale than at home, but Yale is my extended family and I’m sure that I’ll retire from here someday.”