When there are absolutely no drivers available, it’s time to suit up!
I suppose it is a good problem when you have so much work that you run out of chauffeurs and drivers. That’s just what happened to me last Saturday. We ran out of qualified drivers our 55-passenger bus on a run from Bakersfield to Staple’s Center in downtown Los Angeles. While they may call it, “The City of Angels,” I can assure you there are not very many angels hanging out in downtown Los Angeles.
I have always told our dispatchers to accept every order. Don’t worry about whether we have the driver or vehicle. If we get to a point that we are short on one or the other, I will figure it out one way or the other. I might bring in a subcontractor from Fresno or Los Angeles and give them an entire day of work using their car so I can free up one of our own. It rarely happens that they have to actually call me at home and ask for help due to a shortage.
When I got the call, the dispatcher said, “You are the only one qualified to drive it that hasn’t already worked today. It is an 8-hour job.” Having the proper license from DMV doesn’t really make me “qualified” in my opinion. Obviously, I passed a DMV test by driving a bus with airbrakes so I am technically qualified but not very experienced at it.
I arrived at the yard two hours early so I could familiarize myself with this monster bus. The thought of going over the mountainous “Grapevine” in this beast was scary. At the peak of 4,160 feet, there are some pretty steep downgrades buffeted by winds that can average 40 mph in the canyon passes. Then there was the whole experience of driving in Los Angeles to worry about.
I picked up my passengers and headed south to the big city. I dropped my passengers off and knew that I would not be allowed back in the area until after 9 p.m. Where shall I go? What shall I do? I headed out to find a grocery store parking lot or maybe a city park. I quickly realized when I could not read any of the signs in the neighborhood I landed in that I need to keep looking. I ended up at the famous tourist area known as Olivera Street. I parked in the bus parking zone and had myself a nice dinner at a Mexican restaurant. They told me the tamales were made from chicken but I’m not exactly sure since it didn’t resemble chicken and I don’t know what roasted cat looks like.
Wouldn’t you know, as soon as I was done eating I was booted out since they were closing? As I drove away, I noticed Union Station, a world famous Los Angeles landmark. I took the entrance that said buses only. I was after-all, a bus! I took my place in line behind the LAX Flyaway Bus, the Santa Clarita Express and others. Each time the buses pulled forward to load passengers, I did too. When there were no more buses in front of me, I went around the block and got in line again. That was fun.
Back to Staple’s Center I went and found a nice place to park along the curb in front. I got a towel out and threw it down on the curb and took a seat for some good people watching.
Wouldn’t you know that my group was VIP and when the Kings hockey game ended, they headed to some VIP bar inside the arena for more cocktails before the two-hour ride home? Lucky me! Finally, just before the stroke of midnight, we were on our way home. For an old guy like me, it was a pretty grueling day.
— Jim Luff, LCT contributing editor
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