Category Archives: Rider Profile

Talking geography & dinosaurs aboard sbX

An sbX ride-along interview with Andrew and Mark Strickert

Andrew Strickert on Omnitrans sbX BRT, photographer Juno Kughler Carlson

I met 4-year old Andrew on his first sbX BRT trip. “It’s really fast!” he grinned.

I offered him a gift from my prize bag if he would let me interview him. He eyed the bag thoughtfully. “Do you have any dinosaurs in there?” he asked hopefully.

I shook my head. “Nope. Sorry, fresh out of dinosaurs. I have a cap, a tote bag or a cell phone pouch.”

“A hat then,” he decided. He pulled it on his head, peering up from under the brim. “I like dinosaurs a lot.”

Andrew and Mark Strickert on sbX BRT

I snapped a few photos and talked a bit with Andrew’s dad, Mark Strickert, a student at Valley College. Thanks to the Go Smart program, Mark gets unlimited free bus rides with his student ID. Although he has a car, he prefers to park it at the Loma Linda Park & Ride and take the bus to school. It saves him money and time.

“It’s also much easier than trying to find parking on campus,” he points out.

Mark told me he used to work for Orange County Transportation Authority doing stops and zones but had decided to head back to school to study geography. His goal is to eventually do urban planning for cities or transit.

“I’ve always been a huge fan of geography, maps, and transit ever since I was a little boy,” he confessed. “I rode the bus by myself for the first time when I was seven. Of course it was a different time and place then. Chicago in the 60s was a lot different from what it is now. But I was always interested in cities and how to get around.”

Andrew Strickert on sbX BRT, photographer Juno Kughler Carlson

He smiled over at his son.  “Andrew’s pretty good at getting around too. He knows when we’re close to home and can tell where he is from places that he recognizes.”

“Do you help your dad out if he gets lost?” I asked Andrew.

The 4-year-old shook his head giggling. “He never gets lost!”

His dad laughed.

Andrew was so excited that it was hard for him to sit still.   He moved from one seat to another between stops to check out the ride.

“So what kind of dinosaur do you like best?” I asked him curiously

“The one that stands up” he answered promptly.

“A T-Rex? He’s a little scary. You must be very brave. I think I prefer the kind of dinosaurs that eat veggies.”

Andrew nodded and turned around to look out the big window for a moment, swinging his legs back and forth.

“I have a dog named Roxie,” he said suddenly.  “She does tricks.”

“Really? What kind of tricks?”

He peered at me over the top of the seat.  “She sits down.”

“Wow. . . That is a pretty cool trick.”

“I know!!’ he said proudly, then added. “Dinosaurs don’t know how to sit.”

He hopped off the seat and went over to join his dad in the articulated section of the coach.

“Whoa!!” he laughed and held on to his head when the driver made a right and the turntable seats spun in a circle. “That was fun!”

“You know,” I said suddenly inspired. “I’ve never met a dinosaur but, if I do, I will have him call you.”

“Yeah?” Andrew looked up interested. “Do you think dinosaurs can talk on the phone?”

“I’m not sure, but if I meet one I’ll ask if he can call you.”

“Cool.” Andrew hesitated for a moment. “Not a big dinosaur though, okay? And not the one that stands up. A little one. Maybe like a baby or something.”

I agreed. “Besides, a big one might accidentally step on me. We’ll stick with little dinosaurs. Anyway it was nice meeting you. Thanks for the interview!”

Andrew grinned, “Bye.”

He grabbed his dad’s hand and the two got up to try out yet another seat.

You meet the most interesting people on board sbX!

This one’s for you, Andrew.

 – Juno Kughler Carlson
  juno.carlson@omnitrans.org 

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They call me the Bus Man

San Bernardino resident Jerry Silva has been riding Omnitrans since 1981. “They call me the Bus Man,” he grins. “I ride around ten buses a day, sometimes just to sight-see and get out of the house. I ride for the joy of it.”

Jerry also likes riding the bus to the movies or to hang out with his best friend in Fontana who he’s known since 1976. They are both Dodger fans who met in kindergarten and connected over their love of baseball. Forty-two years later, their friendship is still going strong and they go out of their way to spend time together.

Jerry has ridden the bus for so long that he knows all the routes, most of the drivers and even the Omnitrans receptionists who sell him his bus passes.

Jerry Silva and Omnitrans receptionist

“Everybody’s so kind and courteous,” he says. “I’ve known driver Daniel Hernandez over two years now. He’s really friendly and has a great attitude towards passengers. He gets the job done. He makes sure everyone has the right fare, has a bus book and so forth. Charlene is very nice too. I’ve had a good experience with all the drivers.”

Jerry Silva catching an Omnitrans busFor Jerry, the bus is more than just a means of transport. It is a way to stay connected with his community. Having struggled with depression for most of his life, he has found the best medicine is reaching out to make a difference to others.

“I like to help people get to where they’re going, especially the senior citizens,” says Jerry. “If they don’t know which bus to take, I explain it to them and let them know what it will cost and so forth. It’s all about kindness, making people feel better when they’re down and out, looking for opportunities to do nice things. I am always positive. I don’t believe in the negative. I always tell people that negative attitudes lead to bad experiences. If you just move forward, then you have a future. Today is a beautiful day. Who knows what tomorrow may hold for us? “

Jerry R Silva on an Omnitrans bus

– Juno Kughler Carlson
juno.carlson@omnitrans.org 

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sbX BRT wins over former Route 2 rider

Route 2 rider Guy Berling and his bike on board sbX BRT

Guy Burling was born and raised in San Bernardino and has seen the city go through a lot of changes. In fact, when he first started riding Omnitrans years ago, fares were only a dime!

When our sbX BRT launched on April 28th, Guy saw it as a great opportunity to make history. He grabbed his bike and headed out early in the morning to be one of the first passengers to climb aboard the 6 a.m. sbX bus.  The experience made him an instant fan.

Route 2 rider Guy Berling and his bike on board sbX BRT

“It’s much easier for bikes,” he explains.  “You just roll it on board and have it right there with you. It’s definitely convenient and I like it lots.”

Guy works in air conditioning and refrigeration and normally rides Routes 2 and 5 on his daily commute. Being able to use his regular Omnitrans pass on sbX is a  big plus. He generally purchases a 7-day pass each week to cover his frequent trips.

Route 2 rider Guy Berling and his bike on board sbX BRT

Guy and sbX coach operator Christina Gaeta

“I can’t seem to keep passes in good shape past 7-days,” he shakes his head laughing. “I wear them out!”

Guy enjoys riding sbX and is still amazed at the amount of time it shaves off his work commute. “It saves me about 30 minutes easy,” he explains. “With sbX it takes around 15 minutes to travel between  Little Mountain and Inland Center Mall. It just whizzes by.  On Route 2 it would take about 35 minutes because the bus has to pull over at every stop. This is so much faster. Now I even have time to stop for breakfast if I want in the morning!”

Route 2 rider Guy Berling on board sbX BRT

Although he hasn’t tried it out yet, Guy is also looking forward to using the sbX free Wi-Fi to listen to his Pandora stations. A blues lover, he enjoys relaxing with a little Stevie Ray Vaughn, B.B King and Eric Clapton.

So far, he says his experience with sbX and Omnitrans has been great. His only challenge? “Getting myself to the stop in time!” he laughs.

For more photos of Guy and sbX, visit us on Flickr!

– Juno Kughler Carlson
juno.carlson@omnitrans.org 

Route 2 rider Guy Berling and his bike by sbX Little Mountain Station

Do you like this story and want to share it on your blog or newsletter?  All of our articles may be freely shared with others. Do you have a great Omnitrans or sbX story to tell?  Let us know!

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.”

If you are interested in contacting Ed or ordering one of his custom designs, you can reach him at edmill71@yahoo.com.

– Juno Kughler Carlson
Have a great Omnitrans story to share?  Let us know! Email juno.carlson@omnitrans.org 

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
juno.carlson@omnitrans.org

Have a great Omnitrans story to share? Let us know!

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
   juno.carlson@omnitrans.org 

Do you like this story and want to use it for your blog or newsletter? All our stories may be freely re-posted and shared with others! Do you have a story you’d like to share? Let us know!

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