CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- On Friday, after 29 years with the bus company, Bill Diaz hits the road to retirement. He has an administrative title now: operations manager. But the best part of all those years, the operation he most enjoyed, was behind the wheel of a bus or trolley.
He saw plenty of changes during his tenure as a driver. He remembers when buses ran 365 days a year no matter what, when the base fare was a quarter, when the company got its first air-conditioned, power-steered bus in 1982.
What he missed most working behind a desk was the camaraderie with his passengers, the second family he refers to as "my people."
At 61, he could work longer, of course. But there's this wistful matter of misplaced priorities. For nearly four decades, he put the job first. Now, he wants time for his flesh-and-blood family.
"I grew up out on what they called Slip Hill in the Two-Mile area, out toward Sissonville. My dad was a forklifter for National Lead. There were 13 of us. They adopted two more, so eventually there were 15.
"My father was from Mexico. He spoke broken English. I don't know how he ventured up this far to marry my mother. It's something we should have asked and didn't. Now they're both gone.
"I thought I wanted to go into some sort of law enforcement. Working for the bus company was the farthest thing from my mind.
"I started working when I was 15. Back in '65, I worked at the Chuck Wagon Restaurant on Summers Street, first as a dishwasher, then as a short-order cook.
"The people who ran the Chuck Wagon, George and Pete, taught me how to fix the orders. They had what they called the Chuck Wagon, a double-decker hamburger with Thousand Island dressing on it.
"In 1968, I started working at the Certified Gas Station, pumping gas. I made $1 an hour. Next I went to Bonded Oil on Pennsylvania and Lee Street.
"That's where I met my wife, Helen. She was a customer. She was driving a little green Volkswagen. We were still doing full service then, checking the oil and transmission fluid, washing windshields.
"We had little whistles, and when a car came on the lot, you blew your whistle to let other employees know that was your customer. It was love at first sight, but the first couple of times she came in, I didn't want to wait on her. Eventually they all said I needed to go wait on her. So we started talking. I met her in '70 and we married in '71.
"Russell Jones, a gentleman I worked with at Bonded Oil, he quit there and came to work here. He kept telling me to put in an application at the bus company. I said I didn't want to work there.
"I finally went down and put in my application. I told the manager I was there because of Russell, but I really didn't want a job. He told me to fill in the application and we'd see where it went.
"That was a Monday. On Wednesday, he called and said he had a physical exam set up for me. I kept saying I didn't want to drive a bus. He said I would start training that Monday. They needed drivers left and right, because we had all kinds of service back then.
"I started out on the extra board, filling in for somebody on vacation. The drivers who trained me put me at ease, and I liked the customers right off the bat.
"It was about three months before I picked up my own run, Nitro-St. Albans, a night run. I was on that probably six months before a senior operator bid on it and got it.
"Then I bid on Loudon Heights and had that for about a year. My customers were basically the maids who worked for the families there on the hill.
"The longest run I had was the trolley. I drove it for three years. Another one I liked was the DuPont Express. We started in Clendenin and picked up DuPont workers, then got on the interstate and took them up to the plant.