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photo: cody kawamoto

The city bus driver who has seen everything.

Every driver has their own thing, as far as sitting in traffic and being with the people.  Basically, it’s just unplugging yourself. For me, there was a time during my breaks when I started listening to self-help audio books, like Zig Ziglar, Wayne Dyer, Tony Robbins. A lot of stress comes from your ego; if you don’t take anything personal, you won’t stress over stuff you shouldn’t be stressing over. Why should I stress over traffic? I have nothing to do with the traffic! That’s what helped me. Some guys work out, a lot of others have hobbies, or another job, not like another 9 to 5, but they have a trade. There are guys that fix cars, or locksmith. It’s basically to just get away from the bus job and reboot.

Usually, we don’t work straight eight-hour runs, or shifts. We drive split shifts, four hours on, break for four hours, then you go back on for four hours. It’s called a two-time-out. There are others called three-time-out where you go on a two-hour shift in the morning, then you break for two hours, then you drive for another three hours, then you break for an hour, then you go back on for another two hours then you finish work. They do have shifts that are just straight eight hours, nine hours or even 10 hours. It goes by seniority, there’s maybe 1,000 drivers. I work the split shift. It makes sense because they need most of the drivers during peak time, which is the morning and afternoon rush hours and when school gets out.

Every three months we pick a run, again by seniority. If you’ve been driving 20 years you can probably get the same run over and over, whereas with my seniority—I’ve been driving for 15 years—it changes every three months. Right now, I’m driving the No. 9 and the No. 1L.

I like the changes; it depends on my mood. Sometimes I like the short routes, like from the zoo to Ala Moana. Sometimes I like a long trip like from Hickam to Waikiki. A lot of drivers have their favorite routes. I don’t really have a favorite. Some guys like the country buses because they do fewer trips.  

We get cut off a lot, or, when we try to merge into traffic, people won’t let us go. It happens all the time. Other drivers, they see a bus as big, slow. But that’s how it was back in the day. Today’s buses are fast and very responsive when you step on the gas. People try to outrun the bus and they lose.

I’ve had a car hit me. The person took off, but I got the license plate and the cops found the person. I would say every day there’s an accident, whether it’s a mirror breaking off, or someone on board falling or a car hitting a bus.

I’ve never hit anybody. It’s pretty sad because I know a driver who had a high school kid commit suicide by jumping in front of his bus. There was another situation where a woman was drunk, got out the back door and fell down under the back tire of the bus and it was dark. The driver felt a bump, and was like, “What was that?” So he reversed to pull back into the bus stop and he ran her over again. These guys take a long time to recover. I’m thankful, knock on wood, it hasn’t happened to me. A lot of these guys go through shock and they don’t drive for a long time.

The part that stresses the driver a lot is driving the Ala Moana bus with a sign that says “Ala Moana,” and the announcer voice on the outside that says, “Welcome aboard, Route 8 to Ala Moana,” and then still every person that comes on the bus says, “Do you go to Ala Moana?” But you gotta remember this is a driver’s career, so he’s gotta hear that for the rest of his life if he keeps driving that No. 8. He’s gonna keep sitting there. “Yes. Yes. Yes.”

I don’t want to make it sound like we hate passengers, but I would say passengers cause more stress than the driving. We pick up the general public, meaning everyone and I literally mean everyone. We have crackheads, disgruntled people. I understand it more now, they’re not attacking me personally, it’s just ugh, you start to lose hope for mankind. Really? Are we this bad? Is society this bad?

After five years, you’ve pretty much seen it all. It gets to a point where nothing surprises you. Before, I was like, “What? Someone peed on the bus? Oh my god! That’s so gross! Someone crapped on the bus?!” Actually crapped on the bus. But now I’m like, “Oh, well, today’s Tuesday.” It’s like nothing.

I’ve been called out by a homeless guy. I’ve been called out by an elderly woman. This old guy used to catch the bus and I’d talk to him, just small talk, and this lady in the seat near him goes, “You talk too much! Shut up and drive!” I swear to God, she’s like 80 pounds, not even 4 foot 6, old school Japanese, really sweet. And she points to the man, “And you! Shut up!” I was like, “Hey, you can’t talk to us like that.” So I called it in. It didn’t hit me until I was calling it in. Really? I’m calling this in? This old lady! The supervisor came out and gave the old man a ride home and had me drop off the old lady.

If you come on the bus, I’m going to smile or say hello, or acknowledge you so that you know that whatever happened before you got on the bus—it’s on the outside. Where you need to go, I’m gonna take you, let’s do this. Maybe they came from the doctor’s and they got some horrible news, or they came from their apartment and found out their wife or husband was cheating, anything could happen.

—As told to Tiffany Hill