Arts & Culture

Bus driver fares well on student routes

Shawn Hatjes

Shannon Alpers’ windshield is more like a bay window, allowing her to look out upon all of Eugene’s colorful scenery as she pulls away from campus, drives along 11th Avenue, turns north on Hilyard Street, then west on Broadway, goes over the Ferry Street Bridge, loops around Garden Way and Commons and then heads back to the University to repeat the route again.

“I like watching people,” Alpers says, glancing at a group of students on the sidewalk next to her before she carefully looks to the left, then right, and turns onto 11th Avenue.

Alpers has driven buses for Lane Transit District for five years, and before that she drove school buses and other large delivery vehicles. She’s always liked being in the driver’s seat, she says. She wears the usual gray LTD driver’s jacket with black slacks, but her huge, never-ending smile makes her stand out. It’s the kind of smile that
immediately puts people at ease.

The 79x, Alpers’ current afternoon route since February, is a massive articulated bus featuring cobalt blue seats with orange-red and blue-green dots on them. All of the expected ads are posted overhead: credit unions, snowboard shops, drug treatment centers, bus etiquette reminders.

The bus is unusually empty today, with only a dozen or so students scattered around the seats. Alpers is surprised, pointing out that she usually drives three or four packed bus loads of students away from the University each afternoon. The silence is disorienting.
Except for the occasional giggling coming from a group of girls toward the back of the bus, the rest of the students have headphones on or are staring placidly out of the large windows.

LTD drivers change routes every three or four months. Alpers enjoys all of the routes, but is especially fond of the routes that serve the colleges.

“I like the college routes. They’re busy, so they go by really quick. And the kids are polite and clean, so it’s nice,” she says, her hands always at the 10-and-2 position on the steering wheel. “(The students) are great. They’ve never caused any problems, and they’re nice to drive for. Drivers really appreciate them, the fact that they’re mellow and respectful.”

She also appreciates that she isn’t stuck in an office all day and gets to enjoy the outdoors from her bay window windshield.

“Especially now, in the spring; it’s beautiful,” she says.

Despite the many perks of her job, she has had to deal with some difficult situations, including one afternoon when a drunken man passed out in the middle of the bus aisle. But thanks to a group of University students, the issue was easily fixed. The students helped her get the man up and out of the aisle and Alpers’ supervisor dealt with him from there.

“Not so much on this route, but on other routes you do run into alcohol and drug issues … you see all ranges of life. I definitely lived in a bubble before I started working here,” she says.

Occurrences like the drunken man’s nap in the aisle are less common than most people would think, however. Alpers says most of her encounters with people are positive and interesting.

“It’s fun to get to know different people. There’s such a wide range. There was a woman months and months ago who had just moved here and she was so excited. She was starting a business to do with tarot cards and things … so she excitedly went around reading the palms of other people on the bus,” Alpers remembers.

She sits up in her raised seat and glances in the rearview mirror to check on the few remaining students seated in the back, much like a mother hen would check on her chicks. She smiles and returns her focus to the road.

In Alpers’ experience, being an LTD bus driver is more enjoyable than it is frustrating. Despite the intoxicated people, discovering vomit in hats, and having to pick up way too many copies of the Emerald that students leave behind, Alpers loves her job.

“It’s just a cool experience. There are so many different stories. It’s like being a
bartender — almost,” she jokes.

Exactly 28 minutes after leaving the University station, Alpers returns, parking the 79x at its usual spot near McKenzie Hall. The last remaining student in the back of the bus walks to the rear door, pausing before stepping off.

“Thank you,” he says, waving to Alpers.

“Oh, thank you,” Alpers replies.

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