Category Archives: Rider Profile

Omnitrans rider, veteran & leatherworker Ed Miller

Ed Miller with his prizewinning leather belt and holster

Longtime Omnitrans rider Ed Miller is a Vietnam War veteran, a talented leather craftsman and a recovering addict who is helping other vets in their struggle with drug and alcohol abuse. His story is an inspiration to anyone who thinks it’s too late to change their life.

In some was the deck was stacked against Ed from the beginning. When he was just an infant, his mother used to put alcohol in his bottle to quiet him and get him to sleep. His father was also an alcoholic. But it wasn’t until he received a “Dear John” letter during the Vietnam War that he started drinking heavily and began using opium. By the time he was discharged, he was completely addicted.

“For 43 years, my only focus was on how to get more dope and more alcohol,” admits Ed frankly. “It’s amazing that I still have any mental capacity after that. I drank and smoked my family away.”

Finally in 2006, Ed hit rock bottom. He devised a detailed suicide plan but decided to attend one last therapy session at the Loma Linda Veteran’s Administrantion Hospital. Psychiatrist Richard Newman took one look at him and knew that this was it. He asked Ed just one question. “Do you really want to change your life?” And Ed said yes.

“I quite cold turkey and never went back,” says Ed. “I got into the AA program, and it was like a little light bulb went off in my head. Hmmm . . . I have a choice. Do I want to fall asleep or pass out? Do I want to wake up or come to?”

“My life is very different now. I used to have to lock my stuff into a car to make sure it would still be there. At night I would pass out on my [drug] connection’s couch. Now I get to go home to where I live and enjoy it.”

Two years into his recovery, Ed joined a leatherworking class with Steve Nicholas at the VA hospital and discovered he had a gift for leather tooling and design. His intricate creations have earned him a well-deserved reputation among his peers. He is the current vice president of the Leather Artisans Guild of California.

In February, Ed competed in a veterans’ arts & crafts show and took home three first place awards for tooling, stamping and leather kit. He and the other first place winners now face a second elimination round. The final Gold Winners will receive an all-expense paid trip to Milwaukee where they will go on to compete on the national level against other veterans.

A collection of some of Ed’s leather work

Although he is passionate about his art, it is giving back to other vets that means the most to him. Three mornings a week he volunteers for Project Save at the VA, where he serves as a living example of what’s possible when you decide to turn your life around.

“About 50% of these guys come into the program because they are on parole or probation or have a court date coming up. I tell them they can wait around like me for 43 years, or they can change their lives now and enjoy the time they have ahead of them. If you were a civilian, you would have to pay over $10,000 to be in a 30-day recovery program like this. And it’s not hard to do. You just have to be honest with yourself–no more excuses–and follow along with what the facilitator tells you to do.”

Ed believes that Omnitrans provides a critical service for vets, especially those in the recovery process. “A lot of young vets in the program have had their cars impounded or mom and dad are tired of giving them money for gas and insurance. With the bus, they can’t say their car broke down or that they can’t afford the gas.  There are no excuses. They can attend program and get where they need to go without a big expense. It makes everything possible for them.”

Ed himself has been an Omnitrans rider for 3 ½ years and says it keeps him connected to his community. “Coming home I get to listen to the younger guys complain on the bus,” he chuckles. He sometimes shares his own observations with them that put it all in perspective.

“When you get past the complaining and the excuses, that’s when you have the power to change your life,” he says. “You just have to want it.”

- Juno Kughler Carlson
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A symbol of pride: Ed’s leather stamp

Bus keeps Ben rolling and independent

Ben Martin with Omnitrans Fleet Safety & Training Supervisor Don Frazier

One of the things we love best about working in transit is that we get to meet so many interesting people. Passenger Ben Martin is a good example. We had a great conversation when he dropped by the office to get straps installed on his wheelchair.

When I caught up with them, Omnitrans training supervisor Don Frazier had just finished tightening the straps and was testing them with a good yank. He and Ben were joking with each other like old buddies. They had discovered they grew up and went to school in the same neighborhood in LA.  It was an instant bond.

Ben explained he just bought himself this new wheelchair for his 61st birthday. He told us he has been an Omnitrans rider for about 4 years and loves it. It  gets him out of the house and gives him the opportunity to meet new people.

Omnitrans passenger Ben Martin

“My experience so far has been great because Omnitrans helps me to be independent. I buy all-day passes and don’t have to depend on members of my family to come take me or wait for some friend to pick me up. I look at the bus book, see how close it comes to where I want to go and just go. Sometimes I just get on the bus and ride to get away for a while. Three days a week I go for dialysis, and those days are hard.  I feel I just survive. Other days I feel like I could go out and be a Wal-Mart greeter, telling people hey, how ya doing? Come on in and spend your money” he laughed.

Ben told us he was a former Chino prison guard.

Heading for the bus stop

“It’s not something I wanted to do at first,” he said. “I used to play basketball with these prison guards. They would be on me all the time to come work there, but I always said no. At the time I was interested in working with the San Bernardino Marshalls or maybe becoming a lawyer. Then one day a job opportunity opened up at the prison and I saw how good the wages and benefits were. Once I got on, I thought this is not too bad. I worked there for 24 years.”

In 2003, however, he faced an unexpected medical challenge–diabetes.

“I was a macho, Dr. Pepper prison guard,” Ben explained. “You see, if you wore your uniform and went to 7 Eleven, you could get Big Gulps or cups of coffee for free. So I would go in there and get my Dr. Pepper. I was a Dr. Pepper man.  I would put 4 or 5 of them in my Igloo cooler to drink at work. If it was a real rough day, I’d get 3 or 4 more out of the vending machine. But I didn’t know it had all that sugar in it. I’d heard about diabetes and even took a little pill, but I wasn’t aware of the silent workings of diabetes. Sugar is the number one drug in America.”

“One day my big toe started turning dark. I thought it was bruised because I was having problems with my boots, but my ex old lady and my sister made me go to the doctor. They held me hostage at Kaiser Hospital for 47 days. They took my toes off and put a vein in my leg to help with circulation which was the problem. Diabetes works on your eyes, your organs, your kidneys, all that. The best thing I always tell people is drink plenty of water and walk. You see, I wasn’t doing a lot of walking. After 24 years, I was in the top 20 in terms of seniority.  I sat at my desk all the time, working the phone and entering the logbook. I sent rookies to do all the running around. Seniority killed me,” he laughed ruefully.

“I was off work for 15 months. I came back right after 9/11. The doctors wanted me to use a walker, but I was too bad of a prison guard to use a walker. I tell people today, man, use that walker when they tell you. It keeps the pressure and stuff off your feet. A lot of guys have that macho ego and they wind up not doing what the doctor says. And that’s what happened to me. The next thing I knew–boom–the doctors were asking me what do you want to do? Do you want to live? Because now we have to remove your other leg. That was a tough week. I told them to take it off. Life goes on. I live for my kids now.”

Boarding the Omnitrans bus

“I like the bus because sometimes I meet people I haven’t seen in years. You never know who is going to get on at the next stop. I’ve met people I knew back in high school or from when I went to Chaffey College. People recognize me. Sometimes I don’t like to be recognized. Sometime someone will shout out, hey man, don’t I know you from Chino? I just yell back yeah man, yeah.” he shook his head laughing.

Coach Operator Amy Prescott prepares to secure Ben’s wheelchair on the bus.

When Ben finally headed out the door to catch the bus, I gave him an Omnitrans cap and thanked him for talking to me. Delighted, he immediately put it on.

“So you think the bus driver will give me special treatment for wearing this hat?” he joked.

“Seriously though, I love Omnitrans. This bus company has helped me to keep rolling.” Ben grinned, “Only in America.”

Secured and ready to roll

 - Juno Kughler Carlson

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Andy Novak’s lifelong love of public transit

Transit advocate Andy Novak stands next to Omnitrans vintage bus Old Blue

Transit advocate Andrew Novak stands beside “Old Blue,” a 1958 vintage GMC transit coach restored by Omnitrans

For as far back as he can remember, Andy Novak has always been interested in public transit. As a child, he inherited his dad’s and grandfather’s love of trains which soon expanded to include buses as well.

“When I was a kid I used to love looking at the RTD [Southern California Rapid Transit District] maps and schedules,” chuckles Andy. “I was fascinated by the fact that someone could get on a bus and ride halfway across the city on a route.”

Later, as an adult, he found other people on the Internet who also liked buses.  He became actively involved with groups like Transit Advocates and The Motor Bus Society that would occasionally meet up to ride service or go on trips.

“The groups are pretty diverse, which makes it interesting. Many of the members also work within the transit industry as drivers, planners and mechanics. In addition to planning group trips, we help promote ridership and provide feedback to agencies based on our experience.”

Eventually he started a website called Rapid Transit Press (RTP), which featured his own books and photo galleries dedicated to public transit. In 2007 he published a special issue of his RTP New and Views magazine which covered 30 years of Omnitrans history and featured Old Blue on the cover.

RTP News and Views

Click to view this issue of RTP News and Views

“I had the chance to actually ride Old Blue back in 2006, during a Pacific Bus Museum trip,” Andy reminisced. “It was a great piece of history and the restoration job was nicely done. I think the older buses had a lot more character and style than you see today.”

Today Andy works as a ticketing department manager for Coach USA in Anaheim. The charter bus company offers sightseeing tours, airport shuttles, Megabus service and Amtrak thruway connections.

He is looking forward to the launch of the sbX rapid transit line and to getting a closer look at the new 60-foot articulated coaches.

“Good public transit is not only important, it’s a necessity. Not everyone can afford a car and not everyone can drive. And for others, it’s fun to just get on a bus and not have to worry about driving.”

Andrew Novak and members from the Motor Bus Society pose with Old Blue during a 2012 visit at Omnitrans. Click for larger image.






Wheelchair daredevil loves public transit

When you look at 61-year-old Paula Jackson, you see a beautiful woman with a big smile. But once you get to talking to the Chino resident, you realize this is someone truly special.

For the past six years, Paula has been a regular Omnitrans rider. She admits she’s a bit of a daredevil.

“The drivers love to see me coming,” she laughs. “I have the fastest wheelchair in California. They never have to worry about me holding up the bus. I can back up that ramp and into my seat quick without having to get passengers to move over. I’m going to have to replace this chair soon, and I hate to give it up. I feel like I’m swapping my Jaguar for a Volkswagon!”

Paula wasn’t always in a wheelchair. She was 28-years-old and living in Indiana when her home was broken into in the middle of the night. During an encounter with one of the men, she was shot and left unconscious. The incident left her unable to walk again.

“My life started at that moment,” Paula says. “That’s when everything turned around. Before I was shot I felt like I was in darkness. Afterwards I was grateful for the second chance. I went back to school and got my high school diploma and later took some computer college classes.”

It also had a big impact on her family.

“At the time I was hurt, my son was 7 ½ years old, and it was a whole lot on him as a child. It made him grow up too fast. He was always very protective of me and felt like nobody could help me like he could. It was him and me against the world. Now he’s is 40 and he still helps out. We’re very close.”

Despite the challenges, Paula was not one to sit around feeling sorry for herself. She was determined to not let her injury keep her from things she really wanted to do. “People in wheelchairs are still people,” she points out. “We can do the same things everyone else does, just in a different way. Some of us even go mountain climbing or kayaking!”

“Can you believe that I didn’t get my driver’s license until after I was in the wheelchair? I’d had my driver’s permit plenty of times, but whenever it came time to take the test I froze and wouldn’t do it. During my rehab, my therapist gave me lessons on a car equipped with hand controls. After three weeks she sent me to the DMV for my driver’s test. I was so nervous and told her I wasn’t ready, but she said she had faith in me. I passed the test with flying colors.”

Today, Paula still enjoys breaking boundaries and trying new things. Although she loves public transit, she wishes it were available 24/7 so she could do even more. Her time at home is spent gardening, sewing or laughing at the antics of her 3–year-old Yorkshire terrier Korkee. She’s also an avid reader.  New Mobility Magazine is a favorite because of the great personal stories people share. She feels that if everyone read it, it would cut through a lot of common misconceptions about people with disabilities.

“People are people,” she says again. “It’s what we do with our lives that matters.”

- Juno Kughler Carlson 

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Paula with Omnitrans bus driver Roderick Morton and fellow passenger Yasuko Fujisawa

Falling in love on bus route 8

Couple falls in love on public transit bus

“’Excuse me, can I sit here?”

Five years ago in February, Luis Martinez asked that question of a pretty dark-haired girl sitting towards the back of the Omnitrans Route 8 bus. When Celina Rodriguiz looked up and said yes, their lives were changed forever.

“It was his eyes that got me at first,” laughs Celina. “When they hit the light a certain way, they look like they’re glowing. Years later, that’s still his best feature.”

Can you find the love of your life on public transit?

“She had her head in her phone at first,” teases Luis.

“I was doing homework,” corrects Celina. “I was going to ROP at the time.”

“Then we started talking a little, asking each other how our day went, stuff like that,” Luis shrugs.

couple falls in love on omnitrans bus route 8

The couple soon realized that they were regulars on the route, and Luis always made a point of sitting or standing near Celina so they could talk. Slowly the two became friends. Their budding romance was quickly apparent to the other bus regulars, and they made sure that the seat beside Celina stayed open for Luis. It was three weeks before they exchanged numbers and went on their first date.

romance blossoms on the bus

Their relationship grew. But there were lots of things to think about, and challenges to overcome. Celina’s little girl Angelina was six at the time, and she wanted to be sure this was the right person to bring into her life. And Luis wasn’t crazy about kids so he was nervous. But as soon as he met Angelina, all that fell away.

“He kept saying how polite and well-behaved she was,” says Celina. “He thought she was amazing. The two of them actually hit it off right away.”

happy young couple loves riding the omnitrans bus

About two years into their relationship, Celina became pregnant with their son Jacob. The prospect of being a dad was a bit terrifying for Luis who had never imagined himself in that role. And strong-willed Celina defiantly tried to push him away saying she would be just fine on her own. But the two held on, knowing that deep inside they weren’t ready to give up on each other.

couple fell in love on bus and still together 5 years later

Luis stayed with Celina throughout the pregnancy. He was right there by her side during the labor and delivery–always a bit of a challenge for any father-to-be.

“Leave me alone!”

“Just breathe babe.”

“I hate you. This HURTS!”

Finally, baby Jacob was born, and Luis was the first one to hold him in his arms.

“He just . . . melted,” smiled Celina. “It was love at first sight.”

And he wasn’t alone. Angelina adored her baby brother and couldn’t wait to help take care of him. The two children were almost inseparable.

blended family enjoys going on adventures on the Omnitrans bus

happy children love riding the Omnitrans bus

Today, Jacob is three and Angelina, nine. His world still revolves around his big sister.

“The two of them are very close,” laughs Celina. “Every day he wants to know what is his sister doing, when is she getting home from school. She’s the only one he really listens to and he pretty much does whatever she tells him to do.”

Celina and Luis are still together and loving their role as parents.  It’s the thing Luis is most proud of in his life.

“I love being a dad. It’s fun to see the world through Jacob’s eyes. He’s really smart too. He gets really excited when we take them on the bus to Chucky Cheese. He knows the routes and can tell where we’re going!”

Celina and Luis laugh. Their relationship has gone through so many ups and downs, but when they look at each other you can see it’s worth it.

“In a way we balance each other out,” says Celina. “I tend to over-think and over-analyze every little thing, and Luis is more like wheeeeeee–let’s have fun! He’s more spontaneous. Together we’re better people.”

For more pictures from our photo shoot with Celina and Luis, visit us on Flickr.

story by Juno Kughler Carlson  /  photos by Janice Kuhn 

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she gave him her seat and he gave her his heart on public transit

Omni sweethearts Brittnii and Joseph

21-year-old Brittnii met her boyfriend Joseph when they were in high school. “He was different from the other guys I’d known,” says Emily. “He is a real friend and has always stood by me despite all the drama I go through. He used to catch the 5 a.m. bus from his house in Ontario to where I lived in Pomona, just so we could spend the day together. We’d take the bus on to go to the mall or out to a movie or just hang out. We’ve been together for 4 years now.”

The young couple currently lives together in Ontario. Joseph works at a warehouse and Brittnii is a full time mom to their 1-year-old daughter Emily. “Of course she was born on December 18—the anniversary of when we first got together,” laughs Brittnii. “She’s very nosey and loves to explore—it’s hard to get her to sit still for a second!”

The couple are still Omnitrans regulars, and little Emily has fun taking the bus with her parents.

Who knew that falling in love on public transit could have such a great ending!

Maria gets new wheelchair straps

Meet longtime Omnitrans rider Maria Greer. She stopped by our offices today for a wheelchair strap installation courtesy of Fleet Safety & Training Instructor Stephen McClure. Coach operators on Maria’s regular route had recommended she make the appointment so that her chair could be more efficiently secured.

“Every wheelchair is different,” explains Steve. “So the drivers can’t always tell where the best place is to hook it up to secure it. That’s why we offer free strap installation to our wheelchair passengers. Now, when Maria boards, her driver can simply attach these blue straps to the hooks in the bus to make sure she’s secured safely.”

Maria has been riding Omnitrans since she moved here in 1996, but her circumstances changed radically when she lost her leg to diabetes a year ago. Riding public transit now takes on a different perspective for the 50-year-old San Bernardino resident.

When she got her power chair in September, Marie first tried switching to our Access demand/response service but found that at $2.75 each way it was far too expensive for her limited income. Although she was self-conscious about being around people, she decided it just made more sense for her to go back to using the fixed route buses.

“But to me it’s not the same now,” she admits. “Before I could walk and choose where I sat and everything. Now I can only sit in the front of the bus, and I get a lot of eyes on me. It’s very irritating because after the eyes comes the question ‘What happened to your leg?’ It’s awkward. The drivers are good though. I have never had a bad experience with an Omnitrans driver. They help you out a lot, you know. They always ask where you want to get off and then make sure to stop right there and let you off.  And being the first on the bus—that’s a plus. Being the first off the bus, that’s a plus too. And when I have the grandkids with me, people are good about making room for them. They love having time out with grandma riding the bus!”

Family is everything to Maria.

“I love spending time with my grandchildren,” she smiles. “That’s just a blessing to me. I’m the mother of ten kids, and I have twenty grandchildren.”

“You’ve got me beat,” grins Steve from the floor as he gives one of the straps a hard yank with a wrench. “I have nineteen!”

Maria laughs, then says seriously, “We moved to San Bernardino from Los Angeles in 1996. There’s a lot of gang violence in LA, and I didn’t want my boys raised up in that. But, you know, you can’t run away from violence—it’s everywhere. You just have to teach your kids the best you can.”

All ten of Maria’s children and 19 of her grandchildren live with her in her 8-bedroom home. One of her kids has a car, but the rest take the bus. She’s raised all of her children alone and is now helping to raise her grandchildren. “I wish I had had the grandkids first,” she jokes. “They are more understanding, they listen, and I don’t get the backtalk. I’m so proud of them. Every day is something awesome, something new—never a dull moment.”

- Juno Kughler Carlson

Your safety is always our number one priority. Wheelchair passengers can call 909-379-7157 to make an appointment to come to our offices for a free strap installation with one of our friendly fleet safety experts. The straps take about 20 minutes to install.