He seizes the cool iron rod from its usual nest aboard the 40 foot lowfloor transit bus resting for noontime shiftchange. Preparing to return to afternoon service the driver ticks through his usual pretrip check list. Tamping each wheel and dually patiently performing inspection around the simmering vehicle he works methodically, ignoring all else as he checks its road readiness for eight more rounds, eighty more miles of starts and stops before night fall. Rounding the nose of the bus, he greets passengers who have been patiently awaiting his signal to the close of this daily ritual. The late comedian Johnny Carson’s joke about the Robin simmering his worm on the Pamona Freeway is not far from the current waiting conditions.
“Hundred and four degrees on the digital sign at the bank when I passed, ” offers a waiting cyclist as he completes loading a yellow Trek on the front rack. “When will this end? Have you seen the report this week?”
“Didn’t catch it,” the driver tosses over his left shoulder continuing to focus on changeover protocol. “When WILL it end?” he wonders silently checking each gage, then entering his driver identification number to start the bus’ GPS and communication system. “Short driver this morning,” he grumbles as he raises the seat, and adjusts the level of the steering wheel and rearview mirrors. Entering his last numbers, he hears the familiar bells and radio responses. “All aboard, he calls as the passengers begin loading toward cool air-conditioned comfort. [relative comfort]
“Is this the bus that goes to the mall?” a waiting passenger inquires.
“Which mall?” querries the driver. “There is Rimrock, Grand Mesa Center, Mesa Mall, Eastgate, Teller Arms. Where do you want to go?”
“Walmart.” came the frustrated reply.
“Sorry to have to ask you another question.” rebounded the driver, “Which Walmart, downtown or North Avenue?
“Next to Lowes.” came the irritated reply.
“You’re boarding the wrong bus, sorry! You need Eleven.” he picks up the microphone. “Route nine to route eleven, hold please, I have a passenger for you.”
“Copy,” comes the reply.
“There,” the driver pointed. “Your bus is diagonal across the concourse mam.” She turns with increasing frustration and pushes back through the boarding passengers.
“Next,” calls the driver.
“I need a day pass,” barks the next in line, wearing earbuds that were competing for the moment.
“Three dollars and seventy-five cents, sir.” responds the driver patiently awaiting fumbling fingers seeking exact change.
“How much?” the impaired border asks as he pulls the impediment from one ear.
“Three, seventy-five,” repeated the driver.
“Have two, ninety,” barks the fumbling passenger.
“Sorry, the fair for a day pass is $3.75.” reiterated the driver. “What would you like to do?” the seconds ticking away.
“I need a day pass. I have several appointments.” There is silence as the driver waits, having had experience with previous underfinanced confrontations. He then continues, “I can give you a one-way pass for $1.50 and you can get another later when you get more money.” he awaits a decision.
“Here, I’ll pay the difference, we’ve got to get going,” called a passenger waiting in line.
“Ok, that’s thoughtful, mam” affirms the driver.
“Be certain to thank the nice woman.”
“Thanks,” rises the frustrated response as he hoists a heavy backpack to his shoulders and heads for an empty seat in the rear.
Boarding continues with most passes registering.
“Sir, is this your pass?” the driver stops a man obviously in his 30s.
“Yeah, why?” comes the reply.
“It’s a youth/senior pass, sir. You appear to be neither. May I see the pass?” Passenger hands over the pass.
“What is our name, sir?”
“Mark,” he replies.
“This pass was sold to Ruth Alvarez. See, the name is written on the side of the pass. I have to confiscate it. How do you want to pay?”
“You can’t do that,” combats the passenger.
“Sorry, sir this is not your pass.”
“Ok, it’s my girlfriend’s pass, can I board anyway?”
“Can’t do that for you, sir, you must have a valid pass to board. Tell your girlfriend to pick up her pass at the main office downtown.”
“I’ve got to get to an appointment and I can’t walk in this heat.”
“Sorry, sir. Next in line.” There is no offer from others on board as the man turns into the hot afternoon.
A woman with a cart of groceries runs her card and makes her way slowly back prompting a younger man to rise from his seat to allow her a place.
A young woman with two children in tow boards, barking orders and directions to the youngsters as she fumbles for the appropriate fare.
Several final passengers run their fares and the bus is boarded.
Closing the doors, the driver prepares methodically to depart. Just as he begins to press the accelerator the radio blares, “We have a runner, running toward route nine.” The driver stops his forward progress, opens the door, and awaits the straggler.
“Thanks, driver,” huffs the bedraggled passenger, “Thought I had missed you. Are we going to make our connections in Clifton?” The driver smiles, considering the irony of the moment, she enters and pushes her way by several empty seats to an open place in the back corner.
Seconds still ticking, the driver closes the forward door and pulls into line with circling buses leaving the terminal.
And so it begins. Eleven routes and eleven drivers (four Para-Transit), similarly beginning their afternoon vigil, serving exhausted passengers for some 150 square miles this sultry summer afternoon.