Five days a week, William Lindsey gets up at 3 a.m. to pilot a bus through Carson, Compton, Paramount and Downey--and into the hearts of his passengers.
"Always a joy to end the day with William at the wheel! And he's always on time," wrote rider Lynn Montano, underlining always.
He is the "only man who helps people in need," another said. "So kind a person," declared a third.
Those comments and 49 others were written onto "ballots" passed out by the Southern California Rapid Transit District to determine the transit agency's best-loved bus driver.
Rider Suzanne Carter believes it's Lindsey.
"The best bus driver to ever ride with," she enthused on her ballot.
Well, not quite, according to the balloting. Rick Cadelli of West Los Angeles picked up the most votes for that honor. But Lindsey, who lives in Gardena, was named the best in the South Bay.
His prize was a pair of season tickets to Los Angeles Clippers home games and a plaque that will be displayed at division headquarters. More important, according to RTD officials, is the recognition that he has made a difference.
Indeed, the job is nothing fancy, nor are the neighborhoods Lindsey serves, but this 46-year-old father of two, this once-and-still-married husband of his high school sweetheart, this 21-year veteran of the RTD, this sufferer of hemorrhoids--the bus driver's plague--has found happiness behind the wheel of a 40-foot bus.
"Happy? I think so," he said.
"I don't have everything I would like to have, but really, I'm happy. I have my health. I am able to provide for my family."
His passengers' most common comment is that he always takes the time to be pleasant, cheerful and helpful.
"I like the job, meeting the people," he said at 7 a.m. Friday as he pulled No. 127 out of California State University, Dominguez Hills, on the busiest run of the day. "I know the people on the route, a whole group of regulars."
Lindsey did not start out to be a bus driver.
He said he grew up in a wood-frame farmhouse on a brown clay dirt road outside Indianola, Miss. He moved into town as a teen-ager, graduating from high school and going to work afterward in a yarn factory. Twenty-five years ago this June 18, he married Janice, the girl next door.
The young couple decided to move away from the backwardness and racially oppressive atmosphere of Mississippi in the early 1960s.
"Back in that time, I thought I had gone as far as I possibly could back there. I felt there was nothing I could do to improve my situation," he said.
In Los Angeles, he wanted to get into electronics, but lacked training and had to look elsewhere. "Being recently married with a child on the way, these things can get in your way," he explained.
He went to the RTD.
"Thank God, they hired me," he said.
The relationship has worked out well.
By dint of seniority, Lindsey now has one of the easier routes, No. 127. "It's a good line to have," he said. "It's not busy and it doesn't go downtown."
Carter, the rider who wrote so glowingly of Lindsey, was one of the first he picked up Friday. She was on her way from Carson to her job in Paramount.
"That's my driver," she said with evident satisfaction when asked about Lindsey.
"He's a good man. If he sees me coming up the street, he'll wait for me. He knows there is an hour (before) the next bus. I can truly depend on him," she said. Students laden with books, gym clothes and chatter began getting on.
Shean Woods, 16, a varsity basketball player at Dominguez High School in Compton, said: "He is nice all the time."
"He waits for you when you are late," said Damien Timmons, 14, a 10th-grader heading for Paramount High School.
Wife 'My Backbone'
"They are a good group of kids," Lindsey said as the group disembarked a few minutes later.
With what is evidently characteristic modesty, Lindsey attributes his sunny disposition to his wife--"She is my backbone, she keeps me going"--to his Baptist faith and to his own philosophy.
"I try to think positive. If I fail, I try not to let it bother me," he said. Although the route is the same every day, "every trip is different," he said.
"Another reason I like the job is that there is no hassle. You come up here and do your job and treat people like you want to be treated. The division manager is a good guy. You are pretty much on your own."
Route 127 winds through many poor areas where merchants put iron gates on their stores and where, Lindsey said, pointing ahead, "about the best thing they got going is that Sizzler."
Looking, as always, on the bright side, he pointed out a barbecue restaurant that serves "the best in Los Angeles."
But most important, he said, "the people are nice."
"He is such a pleasant person," one rider wrote. "He makes taking the bus a pleasure. You need more drivers like him."