You could write a book about the characters who ride Longview’s public bus routes.
Just ask Greg Sambrano.
Sambrano, a 52-year-old car wash employee, future college student and aspiring novelist, is 30 pages into a work of fiction based on the people he meets during excursions across town.
“I cruise around and listen to people,” Sambrano said. “I just ride the buses. It’s all I’ll do today – talk to people sometimes, but mostly just listen and observe. You ride it a few times, you’re going to see the characters.”
It’s a dollar a ride. Like Sambrano, the News-Journal spent a recent Wednesday getting to know a few of the passengers who use Longview Transit every day. They are elderly people, working poor people, homeless folks and others who occupy a range of life situations.
“Everybody has a story,” Sambrano said, “and I want it to be told.”
ROUTE 2: MEDICAL DISTRICT/LONGVIEW HIGH SCHOOL
Bob Brown was waiting patiently, in khaki shorts and black socks, for his bus to arrive at Magrill Park. The park doubles as Longview Transit’s transfer hub, and after sitting there for a spell, he climbed aboard the No. 2 bus on his way to a doctor’s appointment on North Fourth Street.
Brown, 83, said he’s a retired accountant who has been taking the bus three times a week for about six months, since his car broke down and he chose to neither fix nor replace it. After working for 57 years and retiring to Daytona Beach, Fla., Brown never expected to wind up in East Texas.
“I met a gal on the Internet,” he said.
They spent three years together in Marshall, and when she died, he moved to Longview in 2007. Now he plays clarinet and sax in a church group. The band sometimes performs at night, well after the buses stop running at 6:15 p.m., or on Sundays, when the buses do not run.
“They pick me up,” he said of his band mates.
LONGVIEW REGIONAL. EXIT BROWN.
Other people on the bus included grocery store cashier Lisa Williams and hairdresser Royce Floyd, a couple of regulars who have gotten to know each other on their daily commutes.
“When gas went up, this bus was crowded with people,” Floyd said. “It was a shock to their system because they didn’t know how it ran.”
Floyd, sporting short, red hair and earrings, said he cannot drive because he has epilepsy. A native of New Orleans, Floyd said he landed in Longview when fleeing Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
WAL-MART. EXIT FLOYD.
“If you really want to know what happened to the people in New Orleans, have a stiff drink and have him tell you about what it was really like,” Williams said. “That’s a story, baby. It’ll blow your mind.”
Idling in front of Wal-Mart, bus driver Clinton Williams jumped from his seat to lower the passenger ramp. An elderly man in a baseball cap and motorized wheelchair rolled onto the bus. A replica Massachusetts license plate was taped to the back of his wheelchair.
The letters spelled “BOB.”
ENTER BOB SHIMELD.
As Clinton Williams secured Shimeld’s wheelchair, a Wal-Mart grocery bag fell from a cardboard box that Shimeld held in his lap. Lisa Williams sprang from her seat to pick it up for him.
“We sort of help each other out because you’re all in the same boat, because if you need help you realize other people need help, too,” Lisa Williams said.
Shimeld thanked her.
He said he moved to Longview about five years ago to escape the Massachusetts winters.
“If you stay still too long, your wheelchair will freeze to the ground,” he said, chuckling. “No snow tires for a wheelchair.”
He wanted to move somewhere warm.
“I had a map of Texas, and I threw a dart,” he said. “I said, ‘If I don’t like it, I’ll go somewhere else.'”
He likes Longview just fine.
“I’m 72 years old. (I do) a lot of sitting around,” Shimeld said. “About 30 or 40 years ago, I used to go out and raise hell. I’m too old for that now. I meet a lot of people at my apartment complex.”
ALBERTSON’S. EXIT LISA WILLIAMS.
People in Longview are pretty friendly, Shimeld said.
“You’ve still got a few rednecks running around,” he said. “Say, the Civil War was over 140 years ago.”
By about 9:40 a.m., Route 2 had circled back to the transfer center. Exit News-Journal.
ROUTE 3: PINE TREE/SPRING HILL AREAS
A big guy in a shiny black shirt lumbered onto the bus at the Magrill transfer center.
“I don’t want to see myself on the news tonight,” he said, noticing the cameras. “Too many women gonna be giving y’all calls.”
John Harris said he had dropped off a few job applications that morning and was heading to the Hiway 80 Rescue Mission on West Marshall Avenue to watch TV. The transit system is his only means of transportation, he said.
“You get good air-conditioning, good drivers, good music. You meet good people,” he said.
At that moment, however, the radio was not playing.
“He’s got music,” Harris said. “Hey Will, play your music, baby.”
Bus driver Will Gill cranked it up. Harris sang along: “Ain’t no woman like the one I got.”
Harris said he’d gotten to know the bus drivers since settling in Longview recently to be closer to his teenage sons in Hughes Springs.
“Right now, I’m looking for a job,” he said. “I’m a truck driver by trade.”
HIWAY 80. EXIT HARRIS. ENTER THERESE WARD AND SANDI TURNER.
The two women dropped their dollar bills through the money slot and took their seats, sipping oversized smoothies from a nearby coffee shop.
Ward and Turner were on their way to the Heart and Souls Gallery and Bookstore, a walk of only a couple of blocks from Magrill Park. There, Turner was to retrieve a set of homemade bookmarks she had tried to sell during the holidays.
“I thought they’d do really good at Christmas, but ehhh – nobody bought them,” Turner said.
“They’d be really good stocking stuffers,” Ward chimed in.
By 11:10 a.m., Route 3 was back at Magrill Park. Exit News-Journal.
Back at Magrill, Brown had finished his doctor’s appointment and was waiting for the Route 3 bus to take him to his residence on Fairmont Street, off Gilmer Road.
“I’m heading home to check my e-mail and maybe go swimming,” he said. “If I leave here at 11:15, I’ll be home by 11:27.”
ROUTE 1: MOBBERLY AVENUE/LETOURNEAU UNIVERSITY
Sambrano, the aspiring novelist, lugged an overstuffed backpack onto the No. 1 bus. He was studying the bus characters on his way to Church’s Chicken, where he planned to eat lunch.
“I want to know what makes these people tick,” Sambrano said.
He’s planning to title his book “East Texas Society,” but he hasn’t settled on a subheading.
” ‘East Texas Society-slash-Nonexistent’ or ‘East Texas Society – Nobody Knows,’ ” he mulled.
” ‘East Texas Society – The Other End’ or ‘We’re Here.’ ”
Sambrano was sitting next to his friend Bill Karaus, an older gentleman in a green raincoat.
“I used to take creative writing, and what he’s telling me, it’s pretty good,” Karaus said.
Karaus is the book’s narrator.
“Sit quietly and see them talking,” Sambrano said. “This is the part of society that no one talks about.”
SOUTH AND HIGH STREETS. EXIT KARAUS.
” ‘East Texas Society – Unknown.’ ‘East Texas – Dark Side.’ ”
The title will come.
About 12:15 p.m., Methvin and Fredonia streets. Exit News-Journal.
ROUTE 2: MEDICAL DISTRICT/LONGVIEW HIGH SCHOOL
Jean Hicks took her seat next to a young woman who was about to earn a little fast cash selling blood plasma. Hicks was planning to grab a bite to eat and treat herself to a manicure.
Sambrano studied the scene, taking it all in.
“What do you think of a 52-year-old man going back to school and trying to write a book?” he asked. “I know I can.”
By about 1:40 p.m., Route 2 had circled back to the transfer center. Exit News-Journal.
ROUTE 6: MARTIN LUTHER KING BOULEVARD/SOUTH EASTMAN ROAD
As the sweltering afternoon wore on, the passengers grew less talkative.
“I just like to ride. Nothing wrong with riding is there?” asked a man who sat near the front, staring out the window.
He declined further comment, but driver Dorothy Garrett said he’s a regular on her routes.
“He just rides all day when he’s not working,” Garrett added.
Throughout the day, several bus passengers said they sometimes share close quarters with people who put them on edge. Though no one had been talking to him, the only other passenger on the No. 6 bus at that moment started shouting from a back seat.
“You never saw me,” he said. “I do not want to be on TV. If I see you on TV I’ll shoot the TV. Pow! Pow!
“I’m not dangerous. I’m not dangerous. Just really calm. Really calm.”
When the bus finally returned to Magrill Park, Garrett bumped into her granddaughter, Olivia Garrett. The recent high school graduate had ridden the No. 2 bus from a job interview at Sitel, the large call center on Judson Road.
“It went great,” she said. “I got a job, and I start next week.”
ROUTE 5: LOOP 281/SILVER FALLS ROAD POSADOS CAFE. ENTER JOHN SOLOMON.
A young guy stepped onto the bus. John Solomon wore black jeans tucked into busted boots and a Posados baseball cap pulled over a black do-rag. The skin on his hands, wrists and forearms was peeling badly after a day of washing dishes.
“I never even noticed that till you brought it to my attention,” said Solomon, rubbing his arms. “I try to keep lotion with me. I’ll get some lotion and put on it and I’m good. My hands are in water all day.”
Solomon said he’s held the dishwashing job for two years. He rode the bus north to Loop 281, west to Silver Falls Road and back down West Marshall Avenue to Don’s Food Stores, at Marshall and Tyler, where he planned to get a money order to pay his rent.
“After I leave there I’ll just walk through downtown Longview, go down Green Street to Dove Laundry, then a few more miles to go back home,” he said.
There, Solomon would spend a quiet evening with his 2-year-old son and infant daughter.
“This is everyday life,” he said, “at home and work, and that’s it.”
* * *
Longview Transit bus fares
One-ride ticket: $1
10-ride ticket: $9
31-day monthly pass: $45
Discounted one-ride ticket: 50 cents. People may qualify for a discounted pass if they are 60 or older, receive Medicare or have a documented disability.
Free transfers: When buying a ticket, passengers may request a pass that allows them to transfer between routes. Pass is valid for one hour.
Information: www.longviewtransit.com or (903) 753-2287, ext. 10.
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Source: Matt Penney, Longview Transit general manager. Fiscal year is from March through February.
* * *
The Longview Transit passengers interviewed for this story were largely complimentary of the city’s public transportation system, appreciative of the $1 fares and courteous drivers.
Many wished the routes ran into the evening. Several of the people who hold jobs said they are regularly stranded when they work past the final route of the day, which typically leaves the Magrill Park transfer hub at 5:15 p.m. and returns at 6:15 p.m.
“If I miss the last bus, I have to catch an $18 taxi,” said Lisa Williams, a grocery store cashier.
City officials expect Longview Transit to nearly break even in the current fiscal year – generating $1.6 million in revenue while also spending $1.6 million for a net loss of not quite $15,000.
Source: City of Longview budget
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August 2002: City Council approves fixed-route bus system. To operate the system, the city hires Fort Worth-based McDonald Transit Associates.
March 2003: Bus service begins. Nearly 300 people board the buses on first day of operation.
December 2007: Advertisements on buses approved by the council.
July 9: The council OKs funds to purchase two new buses, replacing aging models.
Looking ahead: City officials say they don’t plan expanded routes soon, although residents and Councilwoman Sidney Bell Willis have asked about creating a stop at the Wal-Mart on Texas 149.
Published July 17, 2009, in the Longview News-Journal