Photo courtesy Mark Condes

Letter to the Editor: This Bus Driver Misses Students and Faculty

A note from a local bus driver longing for a crowded bus again

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A note from a local bus driver longing for a crowded bus again

This is a letter to The Lumberjack from local bus driver Mark Condes. The letter has been edited only for grammar and punctuation.

I drive a bus around Arcata, California. I frequent the Library Circle and the 14th Street & B intersection. Lately, on very infrequent occasions, I drop off an HSU student at one or the other. But this has been dwindling down to rare moments. I’m writing this because I just wanted to say that I miss all the students and faculty who have been my passengers for over a year now.
I miss making the rounds on LK Wood down to Camp Curtis, rolling out to Sunny Brae for my three stops there, the long drive down to Greenview Market to pick up the handful of students and a professor in that little corner of Arcata, and out to the Valley West loop where we scoop up the largest busload of students along Alliance and Foster streets, packing them in like sardines, as we like to say, with a call out to the back of the bus, “Do we have room for just ONE more?”
I’m a lucky person lately because I’m still working, still driving all over town. During these times, we only run what’s called the ‘Orange’ route. No more Red, no more Gold, just a mashup of both.
Truth be told, I feel a bit unlucky also. While we still pickup a handful of Townies going about their ‘Essential Needs’ business, nothing replaces all the bustling energy, the fantastic smiles, the mix of voices of my student riders.
I suppose I’m getting to the point, or heart, of the matter… ‘My’ student riders.
Maybe I’m just a softie. I know I’m not some old lonely guy grasping at any human interaction, desperate for some validity that I still exist and matter. But yeah, I suppose I’ve formed an attachment at some level. Perhaps it’s a mix of all things that make me who I am, that have allowed me to feel some level of connection with the younger people heading off to HSU and their open road to the future.
I have had the pleasure of watching my own kid go through the same process and life experience of college, and that was just a few years ago. I’m sure there’s a relationship here also.
While I ride around, one large circle each hour… hour-after-hour, I will often feel that tinge of loss, that nudge of sadness as I reflect on how alive this lumbering conveyance once felt, and now how hollow and empty it’s become.
And then there’s that other factor, an anomaly I hope… the separation of driver from passengers via a vinyl wall. So impersonal, a clear Berlin Wall, if I may.
As I arrive at each stop, in particular the ones where I would pick up students, I still pause while glancing out in the distance. I find myself looking for those waving arms, that transition from a walk to a full-bore run, as a student realizes they may miss their bus ride to school. I grew to know a number of them well enough that I could only grin and patiently wait for them to arrive, panting, fumbling for their student ID to swipe once they clambered up inside. 
I realize school will return to business in the future, and students will once again ride the bus. Yet, as with so many derailed aspects of our lives currently, there’s no firm date on when that will take place.
So I drive. I still take in those sweeping views as I top Union Street on my way to the Parkway Apartments, coax the bus up steep grades, and round the circle at the HSU Library. And when I pick up a familiar student, I still take off my sunglasses, pull down my mask, and with a smile call out through my plastic membrane, “Good Morning!”
From time-to-time as I roll through town, I catch a glimpse of a former, frequent student rider or professor, who no longer rides the bus. 
In those transitory moments, we may glance each other’s way at just the right instant. As recognition unfolds, so do the smiles, the nods, the waving of the hands, and I am granted a brief respite from the isolation imposed upon me by this COVID-19 experience.
While I am grateful to still be working, still driving, I am even more grateful for all the friendly smiles, the greetings, the eye-rolls, headshakes, and laughter over my bad jokes and puns, that I experienced these past semesters. I wonder how ‘My’ students are doing, how they are faring during these trying times… I care.
I look forward to life resuming in a more normal manner, and the days of a busload of students once again bringing their energy, excitement, and friendliness through the doors.
I honk and wave whenever I see students in graduation caps and gowns getting their pictures taken by the gates of the university. I shake off that bit of sadness and drive on.

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