Tag Archives: omnitrans wheelchairs

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!

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.