For the past 12 years Rob Thompson—aka "Jazz Man"—has driven the Campus Connector bus, playing jazz CDs from a boombox and greeting people with "hey baby" and a smile. He's the most famous bus driver at the University of Minnesota, if not the entire state of Minnesota.
But recently the transportation company that contracts with the university pulled Thompson off his route after receiving a complaint from a female passenger to whom he'd given his phone number, along with an offer to "talk jazz." The company suspended Thompson for three weeks and reassigned him to some other route where can't play his CDs anymore. When school started back up last month, students wondered where he'd gone. Yesterday the campus paper reported on his whereabouts in a front-page story, which led to another story on the teevee news.
"I passed out my phone number to a lady on the bus just to give her some information on places you could go to get good jazz in the Twin Cities," Thompson told KARE 11. "I never knew you couldn't give out your phone number." Maybe a bit naive? Offering to "talk jazz" could be construed in a number of ways, from "let's discuss a musical genre" to "let's share unlimited breadsticks at my favorite restaurant" to "let's trade you to Iran for arms." It's totally possible that the passenger who complained had a valid reason to do so. But given Thompson's passion for music and overall reputation, he probably just wanted to talk jazz.
A spokeswoman for the transportation company points out that providing "safe and reliable transportation," not becoming "socially active with the campus students," is their top priority. But there's nothing to suggest that Thompson and his jazz tunes endangered anyone's safety. And if Thompson really were some sort of scary, bus-driving predator, what would stop him from handing out his phone number to every female passenger on his new route? Seems like the company overreacted in their response.
Several years ago, some students formed a University of Minnesota Jazzman Appreciation Society Facebook page in Thompson's honor. Other students formed a Jazz Man Fan Club and a Jazzman Fan Club. But the most active at the moment is the Jazz Man Is the Man page, which has more than 4,500 fans. "People like the Jazz Man are the ones doing the big work around here. Being real, being kind to others, and not sweatin' the small stuff; those are the things that really help the world feel a little better about itself," says one commenter. "We will get you back, Rob! There are 40,000 students that want you back," says another.
America's two biggest movements right now: Occupy Wall Street, and Bring Back the Jazz Man.