Tag Archives: omnitrans 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.”

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

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
juno.carlson@omnitrans.org

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. 

Omnitrans is why I stay in San Bernardino

When their car was totaled in an accident eight years ago, Eric Newton and his wife Brenda decided it was time to forgo the expense of repairing and maintaining a personal vehicle. The two have relied on Omnitrans as their sole source of transportation ever since. They depend on the bus to shop for groceries, pick up medicine or to visit their favorite destination—Victoria Gardens.

“I’ve gotten to know most of the drivers, and they are great people,” says Eric. “I find them to be courteous, friendly and good about helping people who need information. In fact, Omnitrans is one of the reasons we decided to stay in San Bernardino. A few years ago I had the opportunity to move back to Riverside where I grew up but, after riding both transit systems, I really like the bus drivers here. Robin, Ken and Pete are some of our favorites. They don’t just tell you to get a bus book or point you to a sign when you have a question. They’re more courteous and willing to take a moment to help. That really makes a difference.”

Born with cerebral palsy, Eric is confined to a wheelchair, but that doesn’t slow him down a bit. The 55-year-old San Bernardino resident does computer repair and volunteers his time as a youth pastor at Vineyard Christian Fellowship on E Street.

Eric and Brenda have been married for 19 years. They first met on Thanksgiving Eve when a friend set them up on a blind date. He dropped Eric off at Brenda’s apartment for a quiet evening of drinks and conversation, and the two hit it off right away.

“At the end of the evening, she went to give me her number so I would call her again. I told her I wasn’t going home, that I thought I should stay right there because we made a good pair. She laughed, and I stayed. We were engaged by Christmas Eve and have been together ever since.”

His secret to a great marriage?  “Happy wife, happy life,” he says promptly. “We take care of each other.”

– Juno Kughler Carlson
   juno.carlson@omnitrans.org 

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Professional commuter chooses public transit

Commuter Mark Adelson is a San Bernardino resident who works in Riverside for the California Regional Water Quality Control Board. As section chief, he covers environmental science issues, water quality and permitting.

“My family’s roots are here in San Bernardino,” says Mark. “I grew up here, as did my two kids,  and I attended Cal State San Bernardino. My wife was born here and is the director of a local churched-based pre-school. We feel very connected to this area.”

For years, Mark relied on his car for the busy work commute. On a few rare occasions, he also tried the bus. He remembers being anxious, wondering what it would be like and if he would have to wait for a long time.

“Those were concerns that were actually pretty easy to overcome because everything is set up to make it simple for riders. The Omnitrans bus book, especially, is a wonderful tool. I’m basically a map guy and found the system map to be very helpful.”

Finally about seven or eight years ago, Mark decided that maybe it was time to make the switch from driving a car to taking Omnitrans for his work commute.

“Cost savings was a big factor,” he admits. “And I also wanted to commute in a more environmentally responsible way. In the end, it was the realization that I could save at least $150 a month that motivated me to make the change. On weekdays, I drive to the 4th Street Transit Center where I park my car for the day.  Then I take the bus to downtown Riverside. I mainly use my car on the weekends or for scooting around town. I like that I don’t have to deal with heavy commuter traffic or worry about parking issues in Riverside.”

Now instead of battling rush hour, Mark relaxes with his Kindle, reading books or news stories. Sometimes he’ll spend the time reading work reports or newsletters, and other times he’ll just sightsee. It’s a routine he’s become very comfortable with.

He offers this candid advice to other commuters who are considering the switch to public transit.

“By taking the bus, you do exchange some of the freedom you’re used to when you have a car at your beck and call. You also give up the convenience of not going exactly where you want to go, exactly when you want to go there. Still, for those people who can arrange their schedules, it’s a great solution that can save them a lot of money, eliminate traffic and parking hassles, and help the environment at the same time.”

–Juno Kughler Carlson
juno.carlson@omnitrans.org

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Omnitrans rider helps hospice families

Cynthia Bushaw has ridden Omnitrans since she first moved to San Bernardino in November. The 59-years-young former kindergarten teacher is a cancer survivor and proud grandmother of 9. She stays active with volunteer work and enjoys assisting one of her daughters who runs a home school.

Having ridden public transit in metropolitan cities like Los Angeles and Miami, she gives Omnitrans high marks for its clean buses, frequent service and  helpful drivers.  Occasionally it’s a challenge finding priority seating at the front of the bus because Cynthia has a disability that is not obvious to the other passengers. “Because I don’t use a walker or wheelchair, they don’t realize I have a need. When that happens, the drivers are good about asking people to move. Overall my experience has been excellent.”

As a regular rider, Cynthia relies on the bus daily. “I use Omnitrans for family visits, doctor appointments, church, shopping, and the laundromat. I will also be volunteering for elderly respite and hospice work soon and will ride the bus to those appointments as well.”

She has worked in hospice assistance before and found the experience to be both rewarding and challenging. “I like knowing that I can help these families. Not everyone can deal with death. I’m able to give the caretakers a break away from the situation and provide whatever support is needed.”

Still, she admits,  it’s not an easy thing to do. “Anyone entering into a hospice program has 6 months or less to live. You do get attached to the people and their families.  The important thing is simply to be there for them. My own mom passed away two years ago at age 87.  Even when death is expected, it is never easy for those left behind. I like the feeling that I can help make a difference.”

– Juno Kughler Carlson
junocarlson@omnitrans.org

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One year plus on the bus

I travel Route 22 almost every day. Since I’m a freelance writer, I like to take the bus down Riverside Drive in Rialto to the local Starbucks, which I call “my office,” to write. And what’s so nice about taking the same bus a lot is getting to know the drivers and some of the other passengers. Plus, I get to relax when I travel. No more honking at the driver in front of you because he doesn’t move when the light turns green, or shaking a fist at the driver who turns in front of you. I just relax and let the bus driver handle it! 

Since March 2012, I’ve been riding Omnitrans all over the Inland Empire and sometimes connecting to Foothill transit or Metro into the San Gabriel Valley.  Although I gave up my car unwillingly–thanks to an early morning drive on the 210 freeway in which sleepiness and the center divider got the better of the me–I’ve learned that, not only can I get wherever I need to go on the bus, but I enjoy it!

There are three drivers on that route whom I’ve talked to a bit, and they are always so pleasant.  Pete always greets me with a ‘hello’.  I haven’t been bold enough to ask the names of the other two, but we do joke around a little when I get on or off.  It’s nice to see an amiable face when I travel.  I always try to smile and say hello so that just maybe I can bring a little brightness to their day.

I know from personal observation that the Omnitrans drivers have an often stressful job dealing with the public.  I’ve seen a few situations where the driver is asked a question while they are driving, and they can’t answer fully because they have to pay attention to maneuvering that big bus in traffic.  Passengers don’t always understand, and some can get a bit offended.  But I’ve never seen a driver lose his or her cool.  They’ve always acted with tact and professionalism.

A few times in the last year I’ve had to range a bit farther afield in my bus travels.  It can be nerve-racking when you’ve never been somewhere before, and you’re not sure which way the bus goes, what times it arrives or leaves, or at which stop to get off.  But I’ve got the Omnitrans phone number stored in my call-list on my cell phone, and the agents always answer promptly and can direct me where I need to go.  The online maps and schedules have helped a lot too when I’ve had time to plan my trip ahead.

What I really like is the NexTrip information.  It’s nice to know when I have time to take out my glasses and read at the stop before the bus comes, and when I have to put them away to get out my bus pass!  Plus, before NexTrip started, I had many times when I’d leave my house for the bus stop, and either just miss it or get there way too early.  Now I can check NexTrip online before I leave so that I know exactly when to leave to catch the next bus.  So far, it’s always been extremely accurate.

I highly recommend Omnitrans.  It’s a great way to travel!

– Lynette Ranger, Omnitrans Passenger
lynetteranger@ramblingranger.com

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Life-long love of transit

Paul Castillo has been fascinated by public transit since he was 5-years-old. “As a child it made a big impression on me,” he admits. “Planes, trains, buses–I loved them all. My mom never drove a car, so we took the bus wherever we went. In school when they asked us what we wanted to be when we grew up, I always wanted to be a bus driver.”

Eventually he realized his dream and became a coach operator, driving buses for LA’s Metro Transit. “LA is very different from the Inland Empire. It’s like a jungle. There is tons of traffic which make it challenging to stay on time point. Passengers are generally rushed and often cranky. It’s a busy job. You really have to stay on your toes and be aware of your surroundings. You learn to keep your cool, and remain courteous and professional at all times. What I like best about being a coach operator is that you’re outdoors–not stuck in a cubicle all day. And you get to meet all kinds of interesting people.”

During the past year that he’s lived in San Bernardino, Omnitrans has been Paul’s primary form of transportation. He is currently out of work and is finding it helpful in his job searches. “I ‘m not as familiar with this area, so I go on the trip planner section of the Omnitrans site to do Google Transit searches. This way I can see right away how far away a business is, how long the travel time will be and what routes I would need to take in order to get there.”

His goal is to take a position with another transit agency, eventually working his way up to a trainer or management position. “I’d love the opportunity to work for Omnitrans, actually. I like the buses, and I’ve had good experiences riding the routes here. The passengers are much more laid back than in LA, and the coach operators have been very courteous and helpful.”

Paul is a 10 year member of Southern California Transit Advocates, a non-profit organization dedicated to the promotion, development and improvement of public transportation in the Los Angeles metropolitan area. He likes being around others who share his interests and enjoys the occasional group excursions to various transit agencies to learn firsthand about the ridership, buses and services.

–Juno Kughler Carlson

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!

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Email juno.carlson@omnitrans.org