Jerome Hall’s final shifts as an RTD bus driver have been, for the most part, more of the same. He wakes up at 4 a.m. and makes the drive down to RTD’s Platte Division, which houses all of the buses used in Denver’s public transportation system. He pulls out of Platte by 5:31 a.m., and sets off for the day’s work, maneuvering the 30L bus, a limited line that begins in southwest Denver, up Federal Boulevard and into the city. The 67-year-old driver has done this—picking up Denverites and greeting them with a nod and a salutation—for 38 years.
But lately, a few things have been different. Today, for example, he’s got a reporter tailing him, asking questions, taking notes, and stopping him for impromptu photo-ops. His coworkers notice. “Whoa, Jerome, you’ve got the paparazzi with you this morning,” says one coworker. “Oh, it ain’t easy being a star, eh?” In the month leading up to his last day on the job, this Friday, he’s attracted a fair amount of media attention. But he hasn’t impressed everyone.
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“He never should’ve been hired,” jokes Leroy Rick, one of only three bus drivers in the RTD system who has driven buses for longer than Hall.
“I told you to shut up,” Hall says, holding back laughter. “What am I paying you that hush money for?”
Hall cracks, and soon both he and Rick are laughing as they saunter toward their respective buses. Rick and Hall have grown close over the years, and their friendship is something Hall expects to last long after his time with RTD is finished.
The two men see themselves as part of an increasingly rare group of RTD employees. It’s not common for bus drivers in Denver to put in nearly 40 years of work, as both men have (Rick expects to break 40). “Everybody can’t do this job,” Hall says. “And nowadays it just feels like people don’t want to work. They want everything given to ’em. You see it all the time: They come in, and they go right out the door.” He’s got a point. As RTD spokeswoman Laurie Huff will tell you: “It’s no secret. RTD is in dire need of bus drivers.”
Hall and Rick agree that a lack of pay for drivers—the current starting pay is $17.59 per hour—is a big factor that prevents RTD from finding and retaining good people. “Money talks,” Rick says. “The bottom line is money, and with rising costs of living here, there’s little reason for veteran drivers to stay.”
Hall—who is originally from Shreveport, Louisiana, and moved to Colorado after visiting his sister here in 1968—started working for RTD in 1979. Since then, he has driven approximately 629,000 miles, which is equivalent to more than 25 trips around earth. That number is all the more impressive considering the countless instances when drivers have cut off Hall’s bus or cussed him out. Hall’s even had snowballs and tiny pumpkins hurled at his bus while driving through town.
It’s easy to see why this job isn’t for everyone, but Hall says he’s really enjoyed his work. “I hated being cooped up as a factory worker,” says Hall, who worked at a local rubber factory and made seats for General Motors in Kansas City before getting his gig with RTD. “But when I’m driving I get to see everything. I’m outside.” His favorite view is still the skyline at sunrise, which shines as you’re driving into the city from the mountains.
But it’s the people—not the ones throwing snowballs or pumpkins, of course—that he’ll miss the most. Over the years, he’s built relationships with his passengers, recognizing regular riders even years down the road. “You meet a lot of people,” Hall says. “And they’ll remember you. It happens quite often, where people come up to you and recognize you from previous routes or something. It’s cool.”
On top of his commuter routes, Hall also drives for RTD’s Senior Shopper program, which picks up senior citizens at their homes and takes them shopping. A brief chat with the people he drives on this route and it’s easy to see the impact Hall has had on his passengers. One older woman, while she waited to hop on the bus, was both shocked and disappointed to hear Hall would soon be retiring.
“He’s become part of the family,” she says.
Hall’s daily work is simple, yet powerful. For some, he’s the first familiar face people see outside of home, and he often acts as a sounding board for passengers’ daily troubles. It’s cold today, and the majority of passengers are picked up before day breaks. The bus is quiet now, but with a hushed “good morning” and a nod of his head, Hall welcomes them to the day.