On the Road: Behind the wheel with a bus driver who explores the MTA's 57 routes

Behind the wheel with a bus driver who explores the MTA's 57 routes

Gary Brewington welcomes two older women aboard the southbound number 27 bus. As the bus heads away from downtown, the two women tease the driver between stops. He teases back.

"I know where you're going," he says. "You're going to the casino."

"Why, you want to come with?" one woman replies.

"He's too young for us," the other says.

He doesn't confess that he's 58 years old because he doesn't look a day over 35.

The bus pulls up to the next stop—on time, a miracle for the 27 bus, which is notoriously late.

When it comes to his work, "I always try to show my gratitude," Brewington says. "Even if I don't like the job, I still try to reach out and search for the things that I like so that I can be more creative with it." When Brewington attended Baltimore's Barclay Elementary School in the 1960s, his first job was washing dishes for a local restaurant after school.

Around the same time, Brewington picked up another, less official, side job with a friend. The two would hop onto a streetcar with a stack of newspapers under their arms. The streetcar driver recognized the boys and let them ride for a stop or two without paying, while they attempted to sell their wares. Later, as a teenager, he was a brick-sander.

"The kind of jobs that I had built me up to the person that I am," he says. "I have this mindset from my upbringing to show appreciation for what you have. Whatever job I have, whether it's dishwashing, whatever it is, I try to do my best."

Brewington has been a bus driver for the Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) since early 2012. Before that, he taught HVAC through Lincoln College in Columbia, Maryland for 10 years and worked as a sheet metal mechanic for the 15 preceding years. But he always wanted to drive a bus.

"One of the reasons I couldn't go to the MTA back then is because I had two felonies on my record, so I couldn't get hired. But as time went on, I had a straight record without any problems with the law," he says. Records show that Brewington had a number of criminal charges in the 1980s and 1990s, and two misdemeanors in 2013 for selling clothing without a license. "If a person can change and hasn't been in trouble for over 35 years—that person has changed," he says, even though the math doesn't exactly add up.

"It was a real, serious training before we even got behind the wheel of the bus," Brewington says. The training period for drivers lasts about four months and the training starts in the classroom. "We talked about people and about the public. How to deal with different people and how to have the proper responses to different scenarios." After a month and a half in the classroom, the drivers learn about the equipment and functions of the vehicle.

Once he got into the driving part of the training, he learned how to operate the bus. "I had to get used to it. I had to make that bus feel like it was a part of my body," he says. "I had to imagine the length of it and the width of it. So my first experience was just fitting into that bus."

Now that he has many miles behind him as a driver, the training comes as second nature.

"Being a bus driver is a rewarding job," he says, explaining that he strives to be on time. "MTA gives you a schedule that's going from one end to the next end of your route. So if you're driving that bus early in the morning or evening time, people are going to work. In their mind, people are expecting that the bus says it's going to be at Greenmount Avenue and 33rd Street at 3 in the morning, then you should be there, either at that time or one or two or three minutes after that time. But not before that time."

According to the MTA's website, there are currently 57 bus routes, which include 47 local buses, four limited stop routes, known as QuickBus, and four express bus routes, which operate from various suburbs to downtown Baltimore.

And Brewington drives most of them.

"If I was on the eight line, and I had that for six months, I'd be doing that same route every day and that would begin to be boring to me," he says. "And I would see the same people every day. So I can't perform. I can't do my character seeing the same people because then I won't be new to them." It looks like those routes will change, though: Last week Gov. Hogan announced a $135 million overhaul of the transit system, which he said will be implemented by June 2017.

As for the character he plays, Brewington aims to make people feel safe, comfortable, but also to cheer them up if they seem down. "I do things to distract people when they're looking a certain kind of way," he says. He has learned a few tricks that generally help a person who seems to be having a bad day have a better one by the time they are off his ride. "I have to feel like I'm contributing on any job I have."

His character can't fix everything, however. Some routes are simply challenging. "Maybe I try a route and I don't like it. Maybe it's rowdy, or there's negativity. I don't want that route for six months," he says. Brewington explains that the MTA provides drivers with training for how to deal with negative situations, and for him, it's worked, but that doesn't mean he wants to stick with it day after day. "If I run into a route like that, guess what? It's only going to last a week."

Brewington has created a work lifestyle that prevents him from becoming jaded. "If I see somebody running for the bus, I stop. You don't really have to stop, cause [people are] supposed to be at the bus stop, so I could be going on by, right? But if I'm looking at my schedule, and I'm following my schedule, then I got time to stop."

Physical health is also very important to Brewington and feeds into his choice of schedule with the sheet. He regularly works out at the YMCA and Planet Fitness and he says that's a big reason he looks so youthful. "I'm very active. I don't smoke, I don't drink. I gave that stuff up years ago."

Brewington is looking forward to retirement in a few years, and plans to start his own business in retail, but for now he's content as a bus driver. "I've always been able to look into a job and find a way to be happy with it, to create an atmosphere where it'll be comfortable for me, as well as anybody else. And that's what I try to do at the MTA."

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