The Blue Route: why our Bus Drivers are more valuable than we know

Our lives are filled with a cast of characters: Academy Award-winning family members, fake friends worthy of Oscar nominations for “best acting” and a variety of other supporting actors. I’d like to commemorate a certain group of people I believe deserve recognition for best performance: Georgia State’s very own bus drivers.

Like many of you, I frequently ride the shuttles. Particularly the Blue route transporting students from Turner field to GCB. Excuse me, “Langdale Hall.” I either sit or stand, typically with my phone in hand. I take quick glimpses of everything around me while trying not to make eye contact with anyone. I’m not very good at it, however, and constantly find myself over analyzing the situation asking myself questions like, “Did I look at her first or did she look at me?”; “Can she read my thoughts?”; “Is there something in my teeth or on my face?” and “If I said something, would this be less awkward?”

As we sit or stand, each of us passengers internalize our own thoughts, not taking as much of a concern with the other people riding alongside. We’re all extras in the other’s life, but during that route, we share a moment. Each of of our lives being connected. Our safety and level of comfort is tied to the lead supporting actor, the driver. That’s how I see it, at least.

Our drivers are unique. The experience you get from one shuttle can be significantly different from the next. Once, one of the shuttles had TV monitors and “Martin” was playing. I had a ball, chuckling to myself on the inside that morning. On other shuttles, the driver may play music. Kiss 104.1 or Magic 107.5. The classic tunes of musicians they used to listen to “back in the day” warms my heart and makes my imagination wonder. Wonder if life could be more like a musical and someone break out singing right on the bus. Then people join in and before you know it a Soul Train line has been formed and all of us passengers are having a

ball. Forgetting about the stress of school, bills, our future careers…we’re clapping our hands, singing and laughing to beat.

It’s never happened and I can’t seem to eliminate that wishful thinking every time I’m aboard a shuttle and one of the drivers is in such a great mood. “Hey, how y’all doing?” is a common greeting we’ll get from them. I remember back when Big Mamma used to work these routes. I never knew her name or much about her personally, but I knew she was always enthusiastic to see us. She was a more vocal bus driver. “Hey Baby” was her typically greeting, with a deep southern accent.

Over the years, we see a new cast of characters but the quality remains the same or debatably better. On occasion, I’ve interacted with the some of the drivers and gotten to know them more personally. They each have their own characteristic traits and mannerisms. Some laid back, slower talking. Some up-beat with wide grins as if they’re just happy to be out the house. And very selmdomly could I ever tell one of them may have been having a bad day, because no matter what, they’re all friendly.

Genuine, too. I’m not talking about the smile in your face for customer service reasons, either.

There’s one, for instance. I boarded at Langdale and remained standing because I noticed there was a lack of available seats. I knew at the next stop, had I sat, I’d end up offering my seat to a lady. So I remained standing, but she, the driver, kindly insisted I take a seat. She even jokingly offered me the seat near her at the very front of the bus. As I made my way to claim the throne, she says “I was just playing, you can’t sit here. But you can sit behind me.” I willingly obliged and the minute I

sat, she opened the door and seats were quickly filled. And, as I predicted, there was a shortage of seats for one of the ladies who boarded. So, I ended up standing back up and laughing it off with the driver and a few other passengers that observed the occurrence. Now, every time I see this one driver in particular, she greets with an even bigger smile. She nicknamed me “Trouble Maker.” And I thank her for that, because no matter what type of day I’m having, for that one brief moment, I can never be mad.

Big Al is a cool one, too. I met him only once but he shared some words of wisdom with me during that ride that I will never forget. It was cool how our conversation started. He had some slow jams playing. I don’t remember what kind of day I was having, but I remember when I was leaving campus…it was dark out. I said to him something along the lines of, “Big guy, got the slow jams playing. If it wasn’t for midterms and what not, I would try to holla at one of these ladies.” Big Al chuckled and a few girls around me noticed. He then responded, “That ain’t nothing. You just gotta find one that can relate to ya.” So I glanced the bus up and down, and confidently asked aloud “Well, which one of you ladies can I relate to?” Most of them started to laugh. The one that laughed the hardest I decided to compliment and praise. After making her blush a few times, I felt I got enough flirting practice in for the day.

I was about to occupy myself with my phone when Big Al asked, “So what you studying?” Typically, when asked that question, I respond with “Life.” It’s such a redundant question I get all the time but for some reason, I was straight up with him. “Political Science,” I said. Glad I did, too. I learned a lot from him over the next five minutes. Learned about politicians he knows, like John Lewis, one of our state representatives. I also learned his views on politics. He called me a “closet

republican” because I said “I’m independent.” But I think I won his liking back over when I said “I don’t want to affiliate myself with either group because I agree in part and disagree in part.” That led to us discussing the corruption of politics in our nation. He understood something about me that I can’t understand about myself, or hadn’t up to that point. He kept reiterating, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” And to be honest, that shit scares me. I hope he’s wrong. But it was cool, nonetheless.

I’ve met Reggie, who helped a girl find the confidence within herself to believe she could ace a test. She did and later came back to thank Reggie for instilling that self-confidence in her.

There’s Wanda, a couple others and even a “New Jack.” All of whom are great people that never complained about anything to me. Except a small few I directly interviewed, and the issue dealt with wages. And when I found how little our university is paying them, it appalled me.

It’s hard for me to believe the numbers because I’ve known these people and witnessed their genuine acts of kindness. Like the time when a girl passed out on the bus. It was during finals week, spring semester 2013. I had actually just got my CPR certification to lifeguard this summer, but all I could do was stare and think “Eff, I have a final to get to my damn self.” I notified the driver and stuck around for a few extra minutes, but didn’t feel guilty for leaving her because I knew she was in good hands and the driver would stick by her side. Not just because it was in h

her duty, but because of a genuine concern I saw within her.

It appalls me to know how much these people interact with us and go above and beyond the already-high expectations set before them for such a low paying job. It appalls me to know they’re doing all they can to keep a job and some students have even had the audacity to complain about them to higher officials. Never once have I felt unsafe while riding the bus. My own personal comfort level comes from within and isn’t affected by what the driver has to say or does.

I’m set hoping to graduate this December. Hoping, I say. One of my classes is…well. I’ll just say one of my classes. I know that after graduating, there’s going to be a ton of stuff I won’t look back on. But no matter where I go, whenever I ride any bus, I’ll probably reminisce and take a small glimpse back to the days here, forever hoping that Soul Train line will breakout.