"You basically have the same people you see every day. We knew each other by our first names. When I drove Cabin Creek to St. Albans, Shirley Andrews made the best pumpkin pie you ever tasted. She would bring me a whole pie to take home to the family.
"I got so close to my people. I call them 'my people,' but I mean my passengers. They even had a baby shower for my wife. We'd have birthday parties on my buses. It was one big happy bunch of people, a family. I never had any trouble the whole 14 years I drove a bus.
"You knew when they were sick. Somebody on bus would say, 'Ruth is in the hospital today having an operation.' They'd bring birthday cards and get-well cards, and we'd all sign the cards.
"I drove the trolley when the Regatta was going on. I met people from Australia, Germany, England. I liked hearing the stories of people from other countries.
"The trolley went up Virginia Street to the Capitol, back down Quarrier Street to Randolph to Pennsylvania north and right back up again. You got to meet more interesting people on the trolley.
"When the Regatta was going on, we had a bus we decorated as a sternwheeler and entered in the parade. We got a couple of trophies. And we always decorated a bus for the Charleston Christmas parade.
"We don't have a bus we decorate now, but we do decorate a trolley. It's in every parade, Nitro, St. Albans, Montgomery, Belle, East Bank, wherever they have a parade in Kanawha County.
"When I started, we ran 365 days a year, seven days a week, no matter what. Weren't even closed for Christmas or New Year's. Even in snowstorms, we still went out. I've been out in everything.
"We have 65 big buses, four hybrids, and 13 KAT buses for the handicapped. We have 69 runs now. About 27 are straight runs. The rest are split shifts. You work a little in the morning and come back in the evening.
"I never had straight shifts except when I was on the trolley. I would come in at 4 or 5 in the morning and work until about 10, go home and come back out at 3 and work until 5 or 6.
"When I first started, our buses had air brakes and no power steering or air conditioning. We got our first air-conditioned bus with power steering in '82. The buses we have now compared to when I started are like Cadillacs. They've got air ride on them. They kneel so you can lower the bus against the curb. And they have ramps for wheelchairs and bike racks.
"We have ADA announcers. We used to announce the stops ourselves with a microphone. The Huntington bus has Wi-Fi.
"Prices haven't changed that much. When I started, the base fare was 25 cents and zones were a nickel. Now bus fare is a dollar and every other zone is a quarter.
"Ridership is up. There are still people who don't have cars and want to leave the driving to professionals -- that's what we call ourselves. Parking spaces in town are hard to find. Gas now is $3.79 a gallon. It's easier to ride a bus. You can take a bus to Huntington for $4.
"In '87, I came to management as a dispatcher. From there, I moved to street supervisor. I'm director of operations now. One thing I like about that is, when we hire new drivers, I get to train them.
"The street supervisor checks on the drivers to make sure they're running on time. If it snows, they're the first one out to check the roads. So at 3:30 in the morning, I would get a phone call from dispatchers saying it was snowing and I needed to check the routes. Whether or not to send out the drivers was my call.
"I always put this place in front of the family. I'm getting up there in years. We have four grandkids besides our two daughters. I want to spend time with them and my wife.
"I think my life turned out real well. I met a lot of people I never would have met doing anything else. I've never met a stranger.
"My only regret is not doing a lot more things with my girls because of putting work first. I'm a pretty satisfied person. If I can just do things with the grandkids and make them happy, that's what this old man wants to do."Reach Sandy Wells at san...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5173.