Bus driving not for faint of heart in Vail, Colorado | VailDaily.com

Bus driving not for faint of heart in Vail, Colorado

Theresa Cummings
Vail, CO, Colorado

The public isn’t aware of what it takes to become a bus driver. Well, at least I wasn’t!

It was hard enough obtaining my CDL permit, much less the license itself. Rich gave me a study book and he may as well have given me a book for learning Greek.

The last engine I had worked on was my 1957 Chevy that I bought for $50 in 1973 when I first obtained my driver’s license. The technical data seemed endless: air brakes, different styles of axles ” not to mention laws and regulations for passenger vehicles and hazardous material transportation.

Once I had my permit, it was on to the “bus barn” for pre-trip inspection, skills to maneuver the bus, and information critical for driving in the town of Vail.

I had met my trainer, Jordan Winters, while riding the buses. A 24-year-old, he reminded me of a surfer I knew in high school in Southern California. An ever-present baseball cap, hair that always appears surf-blown and a choker reminiscent of the ’60s culture I grew up in, he’s a very relaxed individual. We had four 10-hour days together and, on occasion, I’d remind him I’m his mother’s age and to be patient with me.

I had never driven a bus before, and approaching this enormous vehicle might as well have been Mt. Everest to a novice climber. Add to that the fact that I had been in the insurance industry and understood the “exposure” to the town of Vail with the responsibility of my transporting its citizens and visitors made my deodorant of little use!

Front to back, inside and out, I had to learn it all: wheel well, hub oil seal, required tread depth, Budd rims, belt-driven components and on and on and on and on.

Getting behind the wheel of a vehicle that cost the town over $250,000 is serious stuff. At least we were only driving around the barn on the first day.

Jordan worked relentlessly to get me to teach me the vigilance necessary to become a “depth-perception sensitive” driver. One might not expect this to be difficult, but just imagine parallel parking a bus and you’ll get an idea of what I mean.

Once on the actual roads, he was persistent about the factors most important to safety. He reminded me chronically to watch my mirrors, and my head was bobbing like a bobble head in the back dashboard of a car. The phrase “watch your off-tracking” was said so often I heard it in my sleep. But when I saw the green paint from one of our buses on the side of a planter in town, I understood his intent.

By the time it was over, I was comfortable behind the wheel and felt I could remember all the technical data for the driving test. In fact I did and received my CDL license with a compliment from the examiner, Ed Hansen, on how well I did. It kind of made me want to pull up my boot straps and spit on the ground.

Next came the route training. There are many routes from East to West Vail and many drivers. Each of them wants you to succeed and have differing tips for being as safe and accurate as possible.

Bob Chadwick, one of the veteran drivers, was a great help. Besides driving tips, he knows the valley, its history and the local wildlife activity like the back of his hand. A professional photographer, he can tell you where to find what in Vail.

With a break between day training and night training, I helped Joyce Rihanek reorganize the transit office as a remodeling was nearing completion. She is the transit office manager and DOT compliance coordinator for the town of Vail.

During my time with her, I had the chance to go over bus training with her. It was truly a gift. I got a huge shove from being knowledgeable to educated, and from comfortable to confident.

It brought to mind when Cindy Van Hoose encouraged me to become a bus driver. She told me, “Just go in and meet Joyce. She’s a great person and knows everything about the transit system.” Cindy was right on both counts.

It’s been quite a ride, no pun intended. I have a great appreciation for these drivers. They are professionals in their own right. I’ve certainly been on plenty of buses in my life, but will never ride one again as I had before, taking the drivers for granted.

When I arrive at my destination, my “thank you” will be different, filled with respect and appreciation for what they do to get us all safely to our destinations.

Theresa Cummings recently moved to Vail. Her columns document her transition to the High Country lifestyle. E-mail comments to letters@vaildaily.com. Submit your guest column to valley voices@vaildaily.com.

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