Drivin’ the CW bus: An afternoon with S.J.

During the Jazz Age in New York City, you took the A train to get to Harlem. To get almost everywhere in Carrboro, you take either the J bus or the CW bus. In the spirit of Charles Kuralt’s dictum that everyone has a story, Commons reporter Jacqueleen Jordan jumped on the CW bus and spoke with the bus driver, who chose to go by “S.J.”

S.J. driving the CW bus. (Staff photo by Jacqueleen Jordan)
S.J. driving the CW bus. (Staff photo by Jacqueleen Jordan)

While driving the CW route on a chilly Saturday afternoon, S.J. agreed to talk a little about herself and give some tips to Chapel Hill and Carrboro residents on bus safety. She has declined to give her full name, preferring to go by her initials.

S.J. is a bus driver with Chapel Hill Transit. The CW is not her only route. In fact, she has driven about all of them.

“That way you never get lost,” she said.

She knows the streets of Carrboro as well as she does the streets of Chapel Hill. This becomes useful when passengers ask how to reach their destination and sometimes need to transfer buses. On Saturday’s ride, S.J. gave extensive directions to two Tar Heel basketball fans about how to get to the game. They needed to change buses, so she used her radio to find out when their next bus would arrive and inform the other driver to be on the lookout for them.

Commuting residents through Chapel Hill and Carrboro daily, S.J. gets a unique view of both towns. Through her eyes, Carrboro is a slow paced, environmentally minded, mixture of a place.

“Carrboro has a bohemian vibe,” she said, driving into Carrboro’s more residential area. “In [Chapel Hill] you’ve got your hustle and bustle to get to point A and point B.”

Despite her apparent fondness of both towns, S.J. resides in neither of them. She has been a resident of Raleigh for the past nine years.

“I’ve never lived where I worked. That’s just the way I’ve always been. I love to travel.”

Originally, she is from Baltimore, Md. Growing up, S.J. and other kids living in the city didn’t have school buses. They had to take the city bus. She received her driver’s permit at age 15 and her driver’s license at age 16. She has been driving ever since.

Now, she drives buses like the ones she grew up with but unlike the ones in her hometown, Chapel Hill Transit is free. While free buses benefit both towns in many ways, it comes with certain difficulties for the drivers. For example, some people have a tendency to come in through the back door of the bus because they don’t have to pay at the front doors.

“A bus is just like a house,” S.J. said. “You wouldn’t enter someone’s house through the back door, would you? Come in through the front door. We want to see your lovely face.”

Another daily problem for S.J. is the intoxication of people who ride the bus to and from the liquor store. There are days when she will not let them on the bus. During Saturday’s ride, she refused to open the front door for an intoxicated man at Weaver Street Market. One of her passengers needed to exit at the stop, so S.J. asked her to use the back door. After the passenger exited the bus, S.J. promptly pulled away from the stop.

“There’s a little girl who rides the bus sometimes,” S.J. said. “I don’t want her to be exposed to that.”

By the end of the ride, S.J. has been courteous, helpful and patient with the majority of her passengers. She had to make tough decisions to ensure their safety and her own safety, but she still loves her job. Although she doesn’t live in either of the towns she works in, she’s become an active participant in both communities through her work.

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Edited by Sydney Leonard

Author of the article

Jacqueleen is a writer-photographer for the Carrboro Commons and a journalism student at UNC-Chapel Hill.