No one tells you where to get off
It was a mistake anyone could make - despite what your boss may say.
The BMW was in the shop, so you thought you'd take the bus from your west county home to work. It might be a little inconvenient but, heck, you're a professional with a college degree - YOU can handle anything.
Little did you realize you'd end up at Chesterfield Mall, miles away from your job. Now what do you do?
Relax. You're not alone.
"You get a lot of people who don't know where they're going," says Mary Sykes, a bus driver with the Bi-State Development Transit System for 13 years.
"They get on the wrong bus," she says. "I either have to bring them back and get them on the right track or leave them off somewhere."
After conquering college, mastering professions and rearing families, people don't like to admit they can't ride a bus.
If they miss their stop - or blow it completely by getting on the wrong bus - they frequently don't admit it until the end of the line. And by that time, they're frantic.
"They get all upset and nervous and everything," says Bill Clifton, who has been driving a Bi-State bus for 14 years. "You have to sit them down and say, 'Calm down. We'll get you there.'"
There's an art to bus-riding - especially in the county, says Corine House, a bus-riding veteran who has journeyed from the city to her job in the county every day for the past 29 years.
The key to success is knowing the schedule for a county bus, House says. "In the county, you need to know the schedule or you're lost," she says. "You'll be standing around for an hour."
But one failure shouldn't be disheartening. Even the most sophisticated passenger can get on the wrong track at first.
"It can really be difficult if you don't know how to ride the bus," Clifton says. "You can get out here and get lost."
Or you can lose something else.
One woman got on Clifton's bus with three kids. But after she got off, she had only two, Clifton says.
A radio call from the dispatcher to Clifton solved the mystery: kid No. 3 was snoozing in the back of the bus. Clifton simply brought the boy back to meet Mom at the garage.
"He didn't even know she got off the bus," Clifton says. "He slept all the way to the end of the line and back."
That's the great thing about St. Louis bus drivers - most are nicer than their counterparts in larger cities. They don't try to intimidate you.
"I'm sure we've got our share of grumps," says Tom Sturgess, Bi-State's director of communications. "We've got 1,100 bus drivers, so I'm sure some get up on the wrong side of the bed."
But Clifton and Sykes are quick with a smile, hello or goodbye. They take a personal interest in their riders, they say.
"You get to know who's going to be there (at a stop)," Clifton says. "If they're not there, I take it kind of personally. ... I'll sit there, take a look around and wait for them."
Sykes says most riders are regulars. "They depend on us," she says.
But a driver can't always depend on the passengers - especially if the driver doesn't know the route well, Sykes says.
"Sometimes they'll help; sometimes they won't," she says. "The ones who need to get to work will. But you might get one who takes you to his front door."
West Citizen Journal (St. Louis, Mo.), Aug. 7, 1987
Rookie suffers mass confusion