When Mrs. Morales at Corona Elementary School assigned a transportation project to her pre-K class, 5-year-old Teresa knew immediately what she would pick. While other children worked on models of planes, trains, ambulances and cars, she created a diorama featuring her beloved Omnitrans bus.
“I love Omnitrans because it takes me and my mom everywhere we want to go,” Teresa grins, peeking from behind her project. “And I get to see my favorite bus drivers, Landru and Alicia!”
Her mom Matty smiles, “Landru has known me since I was pregnant with her. I’ve been taking the bus for the past 15 years since I was a student at Chaffey. My mom was actually the one who taught all of us kids how to use the bus. We were more afraid to take the bus than her–and she had no English then! She used to take us everywhere. We were always worried we’d get lost, but she’d tell us, ‘No you won’t. Don’t be afraid.’ Now the drivers are like family to us.”
Matty remembers how she used to work late nights at a Burger King in a bad section of town. “Every night after my shift, I would have to run to the stop so I wouldn’t miss the bus home. It was not a great area for a woman to be alone, so I used to tuck my hair under a baseball cap and put on a big coat to try to disguise myself as a man.”
The coach operator who drove the route was concerned about the young woman, especially since his was the last bus of the night.
“I don’t want you to be stranded out here alone,” he told her. “It’s too dangerous. If I get to the stop and don’t see you right away, I’ll wait. ”
Matty smiles, “He was very kind, and made me feel safe. We’ve always had nice drivers who looked after us.”
Teresa nods her head and bounces in her seat excitedly, “Landru and Alicia are my friends. They always say hi to me, and I tell them about school. They helped me with my project.” She points to two photos she has glued to the the sky on her diorama. “My mom took my picture with them on the bus.”
Teresa shows me all the other tiny details she’s included in her project, like a bus bench, a route 63 sign and a flower garden. “I love it so much,” she says proudly. “I like school and always get 4’s and ‘great jobs’ on my projects. That’s the most you can get. Do you know that when I grow up I want to go to college? I want to learn new things.”
“Tell her what you want to be when you grow up,” her mother prompts her.
“A veteranarian!” Teresa grins. “I love all kinds of animals and want to take care of them.”
“Are you going to take the bus to work when you’re a vet?” I asked.
“I think so,” she says, considering. “Then I can tell Landru and Alicia about the animals I’m helping!”