What It’s Like To Drive the Motorcade of U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen

Andrew Kyung, Staff Writer

On February 8th, I had the unique opportunity to drive the motorcade of Secretary of the United States Treasury Janet Yellen. My professor had received word that her team was looking for volunteer motorcade drivers, and when he notified my class about the opportunity, I could not refuse. The Secretary’s visit to Tennessee immediately followed President Biden’s State of the Union Address, which was delivered the day before. She had arrived to give a speech at a General Motors manufacturing plant in Spring Hill.

At 9:10 AM, I arrived at a designated address near the Nashville International Airport (BNA) to pick up my assigned motorcade vehicle. I had already been thoroughly screened with a background check the previous day. As I approached an assembly of people preparing for the Secretary’s arrival, I was greeted by a tall man in a dark suit. He introduced himself as a member of the Secret Service and proceeded to brief me with instructions. 

I was told that the motorcade vehicle I would be driving would carry Secretary Yellen’s assistant and the press. I quickly learned that normal laws of the road would not be applying to me. I was permitted to run red lights when necessary, encouraged to tailgate the car in front of me, and directed not to allow any non-motorcade vehicles from entering our single-file line.

At 11:35 AM, Secretary Yellen, her team, and the press landed at BNA escorted by Secret Service and other greeters. We intercepted them, and my passengers took their seats. Sitting shotgun in the Chrysler van was the Special Assistant to Secretary Yellen. The backseats were occupied by The New York Times, Reuters, Bloomberg News, and Agence France-Presse. 

The motorcade procession commenced immediately after, and as instructed, I tailgated the car in front of me. Aggressive Nashvillian drivers who veered too close to our motorcade were warded off with sirens and lights. We drove in perfect unison; if one car switched lanes, we all followed suit. Local roads were blocked off with state police on motorcycles for the fast travel of Secretary Yellen.

A quick pitstop was made at Swett’s Restaurant where Secretary Yellen enjoyed a meal of southern comfort food with good company – Mayor John Cooper and an unnamed former Tennessee Governor. Afterward, we headed to the General Motors battery manufacturing plant in Spring Hill, Tennessee, where she was scheduled to deliver her speech. At 2:30 PM, we arrived at the manufacturing plant and drove our cars into the factory single file. The facility was incomprehensibly massive at 2000 acres – six times the size of Vanderbilt University’s campus. 

30 minutes later, Secretary Yellen delivered her speech before a crowd of laborers, managers, and the press. Her speech touched on several issues mentioned in the previous day’s State of the Union address. In an assuring tone, she spoke highly of the nation’s job growth and economic recovery while calling upon Congress to raise the debt ceiling. 

Her speech was followed by a series of handshakes and photo ops. As Secretary Yellen met with workers and the president of the factory, I stood patiently waiting to meet one of the nation’s most influential individuals. After introducing myself and briefly speaking, we took a photo and headed back to our respective vehicles.

The drive back was full of excitement. The press occupying the backseats were writing in frenzy and providing each other with constructive criticism. I recall a New York Times correspondent giving their strong thoughts on the title the Reuters journalist had planned on using; the New York Times correspondent felt strongly that using the word “tout” immediately transforms an article from impartial to an op-ed.

We arrived back at BNA at approximately 4:45 PM. I watched the Secretary enter the airport to head back to Washington D.C. to deliver on the promises she made in her speech. As I waved goodbye to Secretary Yellen, her team, and the press, I felt sure that the unexpected opportunity that I accepted was well worth it.