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“How long have you been driving?” I asked the bus driver when I was the only one left riding one morning.

“Five years,” he said.

“Do you like it?” I asked, just trying to make small talk to be friendly.

“Yes,” he said. And then I didn’t have to ask anything more. He continued to talk with increasing energy. “I grew up here. This is my town. And I think it makes a difference. I treat this job differently than some of the other drivers that come from other places,” he said.

“Oh yeah?” I said. “How’s that?”

“Well, I want my town to shine,” he said. “I want people to feel safe and comfortable here,” he said. “So I try to create a good experience for them while they’re on my bus.” And then he began reflecting about the community. “Things have changed,” he said. He talked about how when he grew up here everybody knew everybody…”blacks and whites,” he said. “I ran all over town as a kid and I knew everybody,” he said again. He laughed about how he and his childhood friends sometimes stole cookies from the back of the drug store and how the owner knew but let them get away with it. “Oh, he knew,” he said with a spark in his eye as he smiled into the rear view mirror. “Times have changed,” he said with a hint of melancholy. As I got off the bus, a woman stepped on with a cup of coffee and a bakery bag in her hand. “Oh, you got me a coffee and donut,” he said loudly with a chuckle. “That was awfully nice.” I looked back and the woman was carrying her breakfast to her seat with a smile on her face.

I found myself smiling too as I walked my last block to work. Public employees have been getting a bad rap lately. But here is someone who counters all that. Someone who sees his job as deeper than simply chauffeuring people. He can lift spirits, create a sense of safety and security, help people feel like they’re part of a community. And if it’s up to this guy, everyone will know each other by name here once again.