Saturday, March 10, 2012

Awesome Bus Driver Award

One afternoon as I signed in to drive the afternoon commute I was informed there was a "See Me" with my name on it.  These summons to visit with the Chief always give a transit operator pause.  Meeting with your Chief usually means serious business.   My glass must have been 1/2 empty that day, because at first I assumed the worst and began searching my memory - I hadn't been in any accidents (recently). I was generally running the route on time - neither too fast or too slow.  Had I done or said something that could cause a rider to file a complaint?  Then I remembered.

In this case, it was because I had received a commendation from a rider stating that I was always on time, handled situations with riders well, was friendly, capable, skillful, etc. and ended by saying I was awesome!  My Chief (always ready with a smile and encouraging word) congratulated me and told me to keep up the good work.  There's really no tangible reward for this, just an "Atta Boy!" and it goes into my file, hopefully to provide a little offset next time I do something stupid like knock someone's rear view mirror off in downtown traffic.

The operator doesn't often know who sends in a commendation (or a complaint).  I had received one prior to this in which the rider stated they rode on my bus every day for months and had many fond memories of doing so because I was their favorite bus driver.  They didn't tell me in person, and I never was able to figure out who it was.  But this time I knew because she had told me she was going to do it.

Part time Metro operators like myself have the opportunity to change routes every four months or so.  This helps us learn more routes, and keeps us from getting bored driving the same thing all the time.  We go into a room with all the available routes posted on the walls and pick a route and time based on our seniority.  For various reasons, I kept picking the same route at the same time of day for almost a year.  This continuity has some benefits. You get to know where your regular riders' stops are. You know where pretty much everything is around the route so you can answer questions with authority.  And you may get to know some riders on a level beyond the daily "hello" and "goodbye".

I came to know a little about the woman who had sent in the commendation over the many months she rode on my bus each weekday.  I try to respect riders privacy and don't ask a lot of personal questions, but one day I overheard a particularly chatty rider ask her where she was from.  Nigeria, she said.  On another occasion I heard her say she provided overnight care in one of the retirement facilities along the route.

At her stop, I would always say something like "Have a good evening (or weekend)" or "See you tomorrow (or next week)".  She would smile and haltingly repeat the same back to me, as if English were new to her and coming along slowly.  Over time her command of the language improved and she began departing with sentences of her own accord.

A couple of months prior to her call to Metro customer service, she boarded as usual.  Only a handful  of riders were aboard as it was the beginning of a holiday weekend.  At her stop, she said to me "Happy New Year.  God bless you and your family. You have done well", then turned to descend the two steps out of the bus.  She always took these steps slowly (sometimes she did so with a grimace).  At the second step she turned and looked directly at me, her gaze piercing deeply into my very soul.  She held that gaze for what must have been a couple of seconds, but seemed to me much longer.

It was like she could see how I had left my "career" job, closing the doors of a  business that had been in my family for 40 years and wondering what I was going to do now?  How I had taken a desire to help others into a job driving the bus, where no matter how well you do, you're still more likely to get ignored, glared at and cursed then thanked.  How I always did my best to treat every rider equally, whether or not they felt like paying the fare, however they smelled, however slowly they moved, however obnoxiously they spoke.  She seemed to realize the discomfort of the job; sitting for hours, constantly vigilant to avoid accident, sometimes missing breaks, lunch, even restroom stops to keep on schedule.

Somehow she took all that in and never averting her gaze repeated, emphasizing each word,


She turned and departed.  I continued on my route.  It was all worthwhile.

The riveting tale of how I came to be a Transit Operator


  1. Great Narrative Jon!

  2. Thank you! After I first wrote it, I decided it sounded too whiny and self-serving and almost deleted it. But it really is an honest representation of a transit operator's job - and one of the reasons I keep getting behind the wheel five days a week(and enjoy doing so).

  3. Update: She told me today she was from Kenya, but had lived in Nigeria as well.