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.
“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.
“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.”
“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.
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.”
– Juno Kughler Carlson
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