SALISBURY — As passengers get on and off driver Tyrone Gordon’s city bus, a lot of thank-yous and hellos are exchanged.
It’s hard to catch Gordon in a bad mood.
“You doing all right, young man?” Gordon says to many of his male passengers. At 66, he feels confident he’s older than they are.
The Route 3 bus travels along North Long Street, Park Avenue, Cedar, East Lafayette and back to Long, before Gordon guides it toward East Spencer.
Two people enter the bus at the stop outside Rowan Helping Ministries. Two get off the bus at Park Avenue and Shaver Street, and three more jump on near East Lafayette Street Apartments.
Next to East Wind Apartments on Boundary Street, a man steps quickly on board just to shake hands with Gordon.
“Have a good day,” the man says.
“Yes, sir,” Gordon answers.
At 1:39 p.m., a woman passenger disembarks at Henderson and Long Street in East Spencer and yells over her shoulder, “See you at 4:40.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Gordon says.
On the trip back toward the transfer location on Depot Street, Gordon picks up five passengers, all carrying bags of food they have picked up at Rowan Helping Ministries.
During his several-minute layover at the transfer site, Gordon helps Alice Cummings maneuver her motorized chair into the bus and position it so he can strap her in for safety.
Cummings is heading to an appointment at the Hefner VA Medical Center.
“Cut it hard, cut it hard, now come back the other way,” Gordon directs.
After Cummings is in position, he says, “You did a great job,”
Outside the bus, before he sets off for the other part of his route that takes him by the hospitals and Catawba College, Gordon says, “All wheelchairs are different. We just kind of work with them.”
Gordon is among five full-time (and three part-time) bus drivers for Salisbury Transit, and Salisbury remains one of the smaller N.C. cities to offer bus service.
No one is a bigger fan of mass transit than Gordon, who sees daily what it means to citizens depending on buses to get to their jobs, stores, doctors appointments and schools.
“One of the greatest things for the American people,” Gordon says. With no mass transit, he argues, it would be like taking sports out of America — and he considers himself a sports fanatic.
Gordon and the other drivers alternate on all the shifts and routes, as dictated by the schedules posted each week. There are three different routes and two shifts. Gordon says he doesn’t have a favorite — he likes them all, because he’s always dealing with the public.
The morning shift runs from 5:45 a.m. to 1:45 p.m.; the second shift, from 12:45 to 7 p.m.
“You get to know everyone,” Gordon says.
To him, a city bus is like “a social meeting room, where people can communicate with one another.”
Gordon likes to think of himself as part of a team with Salisbury Transit.
“We all have one goal — and that’s safety first,” Gordon says. “We thrive on safety first. You have to be mindful of your surroundings all the time, so we focus and concentrate on safety first.
“You’re going to hear me say it every two or three sentences.”
For decades, Gordon worked for charter bus services out of Maryland and North Carolina, driving to places across the country and into Canada. In a cab or on a bus, he figures he has 45 years of driving experience, including his four full-time years with Salisbury Transit.
“I love it,” he says. “The people, the everyday challenges.”
Gordon adds he works with a great team of drivers, whose dedication he witnesses daily.
“He’s a really good man,” says Barbara Kemper, who often rides a city bus out of Spencer. “He’ll always wait for me to run up the block, so I can get on the bus. He’ll go the extra mile, if someone needs it.”
Gordon grew up in Baltimore as one of six children. His father died when he was young, and his mother raised the big family by herself. Gordon says she was “one in a million.”
As a youngster, Gordon was heavily involved in sports and Boy Scouts. He finished high school in 1965 and served in the U.S. Army from 1965-68, including a year’s tour in Vietnam.
Eight months after the war, Gordon was out of the Army and still only 21 years old.
“I just knew then,” he says, “that driving was my interest.”
At first he tried driving a Baltimore cab, but being overseas with the Army had struck him with wanderlust. He hated the cab.
“It kept you local, in Baltimore,” Gordon says. “I wanted to spread my wings.”
Gordon signed on with a charter bus service and started two years of training with older, experienced drivers.
“I had some great trainers, who had a willingness to work with me,” Gordon says. “They went the extra mile.”
Gordon says when he runs into young people today who show a desire to learn and work, he tries to treat them the same as his trainers did.
Some of Gordon’s favorite charter trips over the years included the Alamo, the world’s biggest rodeo in Houston, numerous excursions to meet up with cruise ships leaving Florida, the Muhammad Ali Center in Louisville and the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City.
For many years, Gordon was driver for a 75-day civil rights tour of 30 high schoolers — 10 African-American, 10 Jewish and 10 white students, with four adult leaders. He would drive from Washington, D.C., and hit New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, the Carolinas, Georgia, Mississippi, Alabama and Tennessee.
“I looked forward to that,” Gordon says. “You talk about something educational.”
The great thing about charter bus trips, Gordon says, is that people put their worries behind them and leave the driving to professionals such as him. He usually saw folks at their best.
“You get to know a lot of people, and people don’t forget you,” he says. “I’ve been very fortunate. I’ve had the opportunity to meet so many great people.”
Gordon and his wife of 17 years, Patrice, relocated to North Carolina after her mother died in 1996, so they could be with her ailing father.
Gordon started driving for P&B Travels in Lexington. Fellow driver Joe Shannon was working part-time for Salisbury Transit, and he told Gordon of another part-time opening five years ago.
Gordon was soon a full-time driver for Salisbury Transit.
“I’ve been real fortunate,” he says.
Gordon is a Cubs baseball fan and, understandably, a Jeff Gordon racing fan, given how they share the same last name.
“When I get the opportunity, I love to fish, wherever there’s a pond,” Gordon adds.
Back at the transfer site, Gordon hears on the radio that he should call the office. A dispatcher tells him to swing by the West Franklin Street transit center when he’s in the vicinity so he can pick up an intern for a ride-along.
Gordon loves the city program giving youth summer jobs. After this teenager rides each route, he or she will be more familiar next week when they are in the office, handling calls from the public.
“They are always great kids,” Gordon says.
He tells the office he should be there about 2:40 p.m.
Before Gordon steps back onto his bus for the next part of his route, he sees another familiar face milling around the transfer site.
“Hey, what’s up, young man?” he says. “You doing all right?”
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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