Barbara Brown always liked buses.
When she was 6 years old, she took a trip with her father in a private jet to see Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky. The jet landed, and she and her father boarded a small bus that took them to the caves, known for their deep crevasses and towering stalagmites. When they returned home, her mother asked her if she had enjoyed the outing. She got an unexpected response.
“I got to ride a bus!”
About five decades later, she’s still enthusiastic.
Brown has been a University bus driver for 25 years. Currently, she drives the inter-campus route, which takes her from North Ingalls Street out to the Medical Campus.
For Brown, bus driving was an easy choice over office life.
“You know, I’ve got a corner office,” she said. “It’s a room with a view. . There was a huge double rainbow when I was driving out to (Medical) Campus this morning.”
Driving a bus in Ann Arbor is different than driving one in another similarly sized town. The University is a magnet for famous and influential people. In addition to driving the regular bus, Brown has driven around University President Mary Sue Coleman and important visitors like Toni Morrison, the Buena Vista Social Club and Cesar Chavez.
She said it was awkward listening from the front seat when the woman the University dispatched to greet Chavez only wanted to talk to him about the beaches in California.
Were it not for the passengers, the job might get lonely, she said. Because drivers are always on their individual routes, their interaction is often limited to waving at each other in the office or when they pass each other on the road.
But her passengers are enough to keep things interesting.
“I love talking to the passengers with their different stories,” she said and then paused and smiled. “And everybody’s got a story.”
At 57, Brown says she’s getting close to hanging up her uniform.
“I like driving, but when retirement comes I won’t think, ‘Oh I wish I were driving a bus,’ ” she said.
But she added that she’ll miss her route.
“No matter what happens, at least once a day I meet someone who’s very interesting,” she said. “And I’m not sure someone who’s retired can say that.”