Monday, March 29, 1999

COMMUTING COLUMN


After five-plus decades, bus driver waves goodbye

BY TANYA ALBERT
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Metro bus riders say goodbye to a legend this week. For more than a half-century, Sam Hornsby has climbed behind a large bus steering wheel, opened the doors to let passengers on and driven them to their destination.

        And he's always done it with a smile.

        Mr. Hornsby has seen plenty of changes over the years.

        He used to use a watch to make sure he was on time. Now a new global positioning system tracks exactly where he's going. A computer screen on his dashboard tells him how far ahead or how far behind schedule he is.

        Uniforms are a bit more relaxed and the buses have changed over the years. He once drove a bus with an engine that he had to climb over to get to the driver's seat. And instead of his counting out change, passengers simply put their fares in a box.

        Bus routes have been modified, too. For more than a decade, he's headed up I-71 each morning. It didn't even exist when he started with the bus company in 1943.

        But a few things have remained the same: Commuters stepping onto Mr. Hornsby's bus always get a big grin and a friendly hello.

        His secret: “When I leave my place at 4 a.m., I leave home there,” the Williamsburg, Ohio, man said as we pulled out of Metro's Bond Hill garage and headed toward I-71. “When I leave work, I leave work there.”

        The philosophy has worked.

        The driver, whom passengers know simply as “Sam,” turns 80 Sunday and he's still passionate about his job.

        He fought in World War II for three years but came back to the bus. He even had a brief five-month retirement in 1985 but missed meeting people so much that he came back.

        “I don't do it for the money,” Sam says. “I do it because I enjoy doing it.”

        When I joined Sam for his early-morning route recently, he redefined “service with a smile” for me.

        Sam, a tall man who looks younger than almost 80, sits straight at the wheel, looks each passenger in the eye as he or she climbs on board.

        “Hey, sweetheart!” he says to Evelyn Labrier as she stepped out of the cold into the warm bus near Harper's Point in Symmes Township.

        “Good morning!” he says as another woman puts her money in the fare box.

        Near Kenwood Towne Centre he waves to a man sitting in a car while a woman gets out on the passenger side to catch the bus.

        “I always wave to her husband so it's OK to pick his wife up,” Sam says lightheartedly.

        His happiness is contagious.

        Ms. Labrier's face lights up the second she recognizes Sam.

        “It helps to start off with a friendly smile,” the Symmes Township woman says. “And Sam's got it. He's never been in a bad mood.”

        “He's very personable with his passengers,” adds Les Scott of Blue Ash as the bus makes its way south on I-71 to downtown Cincinnati. “Some bus drivers don't even look at you when you get on.”

        As passengers step off the bus downtown, Sam is just as generous with the “good-byes” and “have a good days” as he was with the “hellos.”

        “I may not know names,” Sam says, noting that he almost never holds conversations with passengers while he drives. “But I never forget a face.”

        As Sam pulls back in the Bond Hill garage to park his bus for one of the last times before he retires, he says bus driving is in his blood: “I'm going to miss the people.”

        His passengers will miss him, too.

        Tanya Albert's “Commuting” column appears each Monday in the Metro section. Contact her at tmalbert@enquirer.com

       



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