METRO Bus Operator Wins At Roadeo

While Michigan can claim the next Miss USA, Houston's got a new champion you've probably never heard of — the number one bus driver in North America. How did he earn such acclaim? From the KUHF NewsLab, Melissa Galvez reports.

This is probably a bus driver's day from hell: a customer gets on and starts yelling at him that she doesn't want to pay the fare. He tries to calm her down…:

"But yet she sat down and continued to argue with me. And then there was three more and one of them said that he wasn't going to pay either, he was only going to pay one dollar…"

But wait, there's more…

"And then all of a sudden from nowhere, water starts flying, and then there's a lady at the back of the bus, with a water gun. I finally had to say, this is it, I'm calling METRO police!"

Fortunately for METRO bus driver Frank Gonzales, that wasn't a real day-just a test of his professionalism at the American Public Transit Association's 2010 International Bus Roadeo, where bus operators and mechanics from across North America show off their skills. Gonzales won first place in the Customer Service Challenge for his handling of the non-paying-water-gun situation. He says that it's just a little taste of what he's been doing every day for 19 years:

"I'm a people person, you got people that come on board, they're upset, had a bad day, and before you know it, I can make them smile."

But Gonzales bears the title of number 1 because he also won first place in the Operator Challenge.  He had to maneuver a 40 foot bus through left turns and right turns, in a snake pattern called a serpentine, around barrels and through two lines of tennis balls-before a heart pounding "judgment stop" less than six inches before a barrier.  He practices on his own time on an obstacle course. The contest makes him feel a little like a real rodeo champion:

"I got the buckle, and the trophies...and oh, they gave me a bus!"

METRO has plastered a special bus with a picture of Gonzales and his new title.  With his wins and a 9th place finish in the Bus Maintenance Challenge, METRO captured second place overall in the competition. Gonzales doesn't plan to do any snake turns through the streets of Houston anytime soon, but it's a nice recognition for a job he loves:

"I'm the number 1 bus operator in the United States.  It feels good. It feels good."

From the KUHF NewsLab, I'm Melissa Galvez.

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