When Yasuko Fujisawa boarded the Route 65 the night before Thanksgiving, she was so exhausted that even her bus driver, Roderick Morton, commented to her that she looked tired that day. She smiled and explained that there was a lot going on with work and the holiday. When she finally disembarked, she accidently left her computer bag aboard the bus. It wasn’t until the next day that she realized her mistake, and by then she was sure it was too late.
“In Japan, if you lose a wallet, you will get it back because someone will turn it into the police,” explained Yasuko. “In the U.S. it is different. People say this doesn’t happen. When I told my friends and family, they just shook their heads and told me good luck.”
It was a monumental loss for Yasuko. She and her husband are living with his parents, trying to save up money for a place of their own. Finding a job had been difficult for her, partly because of the language barrier. Although she came here from Japan as a student 5 years ago, she was still more comfortable expressing herself in English on the computer rather than in person.
She decided to put her portfolio online and offer her services as a graphics designer. Yasuko enjoyed helping small businesses grow by helping them to develop logos and business cards that helped them develop a unique identity. She was finally able to get work 2 days a week managing an Etsy site for a company called multeecustoms. To improve her writing skills, she was also taking a free English as a second language class at Mt. Sac. Her entire livelihood was tied to her computer, and now it was gone.
Thanksgiving day, her husband sent out an S.O.S. on Twitter, and Yasuko posted a private message to the Omnitrans Facebook page, explaining the situation and asking for help. They knew the offices were closed, and were surprised when they received a response from the social media manager. She told Yasuko how sorry she was that had happened and assured her they would do what they could to help. She gave her the phone number of the lost and found department and explained that it would reopen at 8:00 on Monday.
“It was so mentally helpful just to be able to talk to someone,” said Yasuko. “We like that there are so many ways—like Twitter and Facebook—that you can use to reach Omnitrans. It felt more reliable than just leaving a phone message. I was able to get a personal response and even find out what time the office opened so I could be there first thing.”
When she arrived at the Omnitrans offices Monday morning, she learned that the bus driver had found her computer and had turned it in for her. Her relief was immense.
We caught up with Yasuko and Roderick last night on Route 65 to find out more about what happened.
“I found her computer bag not long after she got off the bus,” Roderick said. “I was hoping she would realize she left it and loop back around for it. She’s one of my regulars, and I knew it was important to her.”
“If I had known your exact street I would have driven up and down honking my horn to get your attention,” he teased Yasuko. She laughed.
Roderick is well liked by his passengers for his sense of humor and customer service. “I’m known as the singing bus driver around here,” he said with a grin. “I do a little rock, a little Motown, once in a while to pass the time and make the passengers smile. For some coach operators, this job is all about driving the vehicle. For me, it’s about the customer. I want them to have a good experience when they get on my bus, and I do what I can to make that happen. If I see someone running to catch the bus, I wait for them. When they board I smile and say hello. I want my passengers to feel like someone really cares about them.”
“I was nervous when I began riding the bus two months ago,” Yasuko admitted. “Especially in the evening on my way home. But Roderick was always so friendly and made me feel so safe that I grew more comfortable. And each night it was the same regular five or six riders that climbed aboard at the transit center. We look out for each other like a little family.”
Yasuko searched for the right words to explain her thoughts. “Back in Japan, there was a little neighborhood that was plagued by crime. The people who lived there wanted desperately to find some way to stop what was happening. They banded together, but weren’t sure what to do, what action they could take to protect themselves from these outsiders. They decided to grow flowers and trees and bushes—many, many of them. Every home, every business was surrounded by these beautiful and fragrant plants. And the crime rate dropped. Outsiders could see that these were people who cared deeply about their community, and they left them alone. “
“Omnitrans gives me that same feeling. Roderick is always so kind to his passengers and cares about what’s going on with us. He has created a little community. I feel very comfortable having my friends or family ride his bus because I know they will be safe and cared for.”
As we talked, Paula, a passenger in a wheelchair at the front of the bus, overheard the story and asked to have her photo taken with the pair. She quickly put on her lipstick and handed me her cell phone. The three posed with big smiles. Watching them together, it was easy to see there was something special here. “This world needs a lot of love,” said Roderick. “I like being able to make a difference.”
–Juno Kughler Carlson
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