Wednesday, June 13, 2001

Precious cargo

This driver treasures his mission

        Five round trips to the moon.

        2.3 million miles.

        Honk your horn for Tom Meyer.

        He's driven that distance on earth. And, he's never been in an accident that was his fault.

        His unblemished safety record covers his driving life. In cars. And, for the last 35 years, behind the wheel of a Metro bus.

        Metro plans to honor this safe driver today with a plaque. His name will be registered in the National Safety Council's 2-million-mile club.

        Tom receives his greatest reward daily. He delivers his passengers safe and sound.

        “I drive everyday people,” he said Tuesday morning as he carefully negotiated a narrow Evanston street with his east-side, west-side Route 64 bus.

        “I drive the single moms holding down two jobs and dropping off one kid to day care and the other to school. I drive guys working jobs no one pays attention to.

        “I hear about their problems and their good times.”

        Eugene Sanders, a Shillito's retiree, gets lucky sometimes at the lottery. He shares the good news with his favorite driver.

        “Tom is always on time and gives you time to get your seat,” Eugene said. “He doesn't start up and roll you down the aisle.”

        Another rider has trouble reading. She brings her mail to Tom. He helps her separate the good from the junk.

        Eugene and the mail lady aren't just passengers to Tom.

        “They're my friends,” he said. “I hear their life stories.”

        Tom Meyer's life story began 58 years ago in Price Hill. His dad, a tailor, owned a dry cleaner.

        A Western Hills High School grad, Tom got married 33 years ago this August. Two Augusts later, Mary, his wife, gave birth to their son, Tom Jr.

        August has been good to Tom.

        “Got my badge as a bus driver on Aug. 10, 1966,” he said. Two neighborhood policemen, “twin brothers, Howard and Harold Mills,” heard about the tailor's son not wanting to take over his dad's shop.

        “Too many ups and downs being in business for yourself,” Tom noted.

        The twins had a relative in the bus company. They suggested Tom apply. He liked to drive. His hobby was racing dragsters.

        Tom told me he has no urge to race at work.

        “Buses can't go that fast,” he joked as he ate his midday meal. Since he starts work at 5:45 a.m., lunchtime is 9:30 a.m.

        During a layover by Hyde Park Plaza, he washed down a turkey sandwich with a mug of coffee. Talk turned to on-the-job safety.

        “Here's the secret,” he said:

        “Leave plenty of distance between you and the guy in front. That gives stopping distance between you and trouble.”

        Wiping his white beard with a napkin, he climbed back into his bus.

        Watching Tom at work showed me why he's driven enough miles to go to the moon and back five times without causing an accident.

        Squinting his blue eyes as he drives, he takes in the street from curb to curb. Nothing escapes him. Cars pull into traffic. Kids play on street corners. People wait at bus stops. Riders call out, “Back door!”

        All are important to Tom. He takes their safety to heart.

       Columnist Cliff Radel can be reached at 768-8379; fax 768-8340.


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