2017-04-13 / News

Bus driver celebrates many years on job

By Garrick Hoffman
Staff Writer

George Parker George Parker SACO/BIDDEFORD/ OLD ORCHARD BEACH – It’ll be two decades next year since George Parker, 55, began driving the ShuttleBus-ZOOM in Saco and Old Orchard Beach, with last week marking 19 years.

“I don’t mind it at all,” Parker said. “I get along with the people.”

Parker, an Arundel resident for most of his life, begins his day at 5 a.m. every weekday and ends at 1 p.m., running a route through Saco and Old Orchard Beach. He’s done the same shift since he began the job, he said, which picks up riders at the Saco Train Station, throughout Main Street in Saco and various streets in Old Orchard Beach. After stops in Old Orchard Beach he returns to the train station.

He recalls the interview for the job being a bit unconventional.

“I brought my baby to the interview with me because my wife was working and I was laid off, so I was babysitting,” he said. “They had an opening and I said I want to get there before anyone else does, so I packed (the baby in the car) and took her with me. It was really funny. The boss said, oh my god, if you’re willing to take the baby to the interview with you, you really want the job.”

He’s been with the company ever since. Its service is a positive offering for the community, he said, though at first he had worries when he signed on.

“It’s really good. It helps so many people that wouldn’t have a way (to get around) otherwise,” he said. “I thought I’d get really bored, but I don’t. I don’t have that issue at all. I just keep going.”

The bus operates on a wave-down system rather than bus stops, which means people can flag down the bus to catch a ride, which costs $1.25 to get on unless one has a bus pass. Sometimes, though, not everyone can easily come up with even that expense, in which case Parker has to make a judgment call, he said.

“You feel bad because you see someone counting a handful of pennies to get on the bus, you know, so then you have to make up your decision of once in a while helping someone out and giving them a ride,” he said. “It’s good business because it makes the name better. ‘They’ll help you out when you need it,’ someone might say. In the long run they’re going to come back, so you’re not losing in reality; you’re probably gaining someone.”

Parker, a self-described “social man” who gets along with people, has gotten to know scores of community members through his job, he said, and seems to see them everywhere, though he doesn’t always know them by name.

“I know everyone I run into,” he said. “Everywhere I go someone says, who’s that? And I say it’s somebody who rides the bus. They’re just everywhere. You get to know them so well. They know my kids, they know my wife.”

A local for all his life and a truck and bus driver for most of it, Parker said he’s seen the towns and the company change over the years. Biddeford Crossing off of Route 111, he said, used to be consumed by woods, and more businesses continue to emerge. The hour-long route he runs now used to take only a half hour because it didn’t have as many stops. The company has expanded, too, because of demand, he said.

“It certainly has (changed over time). When I started, we had one lady upstairs that was the director, but she also did advertising, phone calls, dispatching, scheduling – she did it all, and she had one girl helping her,” he said. “Now, if you go upstairs, there’s like five or six people, and they’re federally funded, and so-and-so works on this and so-and-so works on this. It’s crazy. Even though it’s still a small company, it’s not the small company that we were originally. It’s expanded a lot, actually.”

Parker has been involved in accidents while driving in the bus – all of which were the fault of the other motorists, he said – but company officials and technicians ensured Parker was in good hands.

“I’ve been hit quite a few times,” he said. “Cars run into you. They come out of the side street and hit you. That’s happened quite a few times. When you’re on the road as often as we are, you’re likely to have more incidents than the guy who just goes back and forth to work. Company wise they’re really good about it. They really back us up and make sure we have what we need to do it right – it helps.

“We have the guys at the garage that keep (the buses) as good as possible,” he continued. “They have a never ending chore of keeping up with them, but they do really well at keeping up with them. If you have something on the road as often as these are and you can manage to keep everyone going, it’s pretty good.”

Parker has made a living from behind the wheel for most of his life, he said. Before becoming a bus driver for ShuttleBus-ZOOM, he drove oil trucks and trucks for construction projects. His father was also a truck driver.

“I’ve been driving stuff for just about as long as I’ve been driving vehicles,” he said. “It’s mostly what I know. I took my turn in the factories doing that stuff, but this is the best of both worlds, because you’re outside but you’re protected from the weather.”

Winters are Parker’s preferred season to drive in, he said, because summer traffic strains his timing.

“In the summertime it holds everything up,” he said. “I’m really strict about being on schedule. In summertime you have no choice; you can’t do it. You can fight it all day long and try to stay close, which is what we do. We’re pretty close most of the time.”

Old Orchard Beach resident Beverly Guertin, who’s been riding the bus with Parker at the helm for about 10 years, sung his praises while on a ride.

“He’s the best bus driver this company has,” she said. “He’s always been good to me. That’s why I take this 10 o’clock bus. It’s got to have George. It’s a great way to start the day.”

“I paid her to come here and say that,” Parker responded with a laugh.

Although he knows 20 years as a bus driver for ShuttleBus-ZOOM is looming, Parker is modest about it because he simply likes to do his job and go home, he said.

“I don’t look for the recognition,” he said. “The people I get along with are all the recognition I need.”

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