Driven To Madness

What is real and what is image and who drives the Greyhound bus?

Children believe that television's Mr. Rogers is a soft-spoken friend. What I believe is that if the man in the cardigan sweater changed jobs, he'd want to drive a bus for Greyhound.

Such is the faithful, comforting image all of us carry of the drivers who steward the nation's poor, the students, the soldiers, the families on a budget, and the elderly from one bus terminal to another. The man behind the wheel of the Greyhound does not change lanes unless he signals. He does not tailgate. He does not burn rubber. Certainly, he does not flip off the thoughtless motorist.

But last Friday, at four in the morning, someone shot at and hit a Greyhound bus after it left the downtown Phoenix terminal en route to Los Angeles. The company owners said they suspected striking drivers of doing the shooting.

What is real and what is image and who drives the Greyhound bus?

Jim Kelso, lives in Phoenix and almost makes a living driving a Greyhound bus. He is both competent and diffident. You would trust him to get your grandmother from Phoenix to Nashville without incident and you could depend upon his courtesy.

Yet last week, whenever a bus pulled out of the downtown Phoenix station, Jim Kelso exploded with anger, showering the Greyhound with outrage as he carried his picket sign: "Scab! Scab! Remember my face."

What pushes a gentle person to behave like a madman?
There is more to Jim Kelso's story than the simple explanation that he is a workingman out on strike.

From 1973 to 1978, Jim Kelso drove a bus for the City of Los Angeles. The first time he was stabbed occurred when a pair of transvestites told Jim another passenger was harassing them. In the ensuing confusion, he suffered a puncture wound in the left side of his chest. Two years later, three passengers armed with guns and knives robbed everyone on the bus and Jim was slashed during the stickup. He decided to switch careers.

By then he'd met Linda.
During his layovers, Jim would park his city bus in front of a Jack in the Box and get something to eat. His future wife was sixteen and serving double cheeseburgers.

They moved north to Morro Bay, where Jim worked on a boat as a commercial fisherman hauling in rock cod, salmon, crab and albacore tuna. In 1979 their first child, Jeffrey, was born.

"By 1981, the price of fish had dropped to the point that the fellow I worked for couldn't afford to have a second person on the boat," recalled Kelso.

He applied for work as a Greyhound driver, but the only opening they had was for a part-time janitor. Kelso took the job. When they added baggage handling to his cleaning chores, Kelso was up to forty hours a week and making almost $10 an hour.

Two years later, in 1983, Jim Kelso walked the picket line when the union went out on a bitter 47-day strike. By 1987 when Greyhound was sold for $350 million, he'd worked his way up from janitor, to ticket agent, to operations dispatcher to operations manager. He also had a second child, a little girl, Christina.

The new owner of Greyhound, a consortium of leveraged buyout investors fronted by Fred Currey, fired Jim Kelso.

"They weren't doing away with the job, they were just doing away with me. They wanted to hire someone for less money," said Kelso, who at the time made $1,600 a month.

In October 1987, seven months after his dismissal, Jim Kelso was accepted into the Greyhound driver's school. Once again he was driving a bus for a living.

Last July, Jim and Linda moved to Phoenix. They simply could not afford to stay in San Jose, California, on a Greyhound driver's salary. The constant struggle for survival generated stress. The way Jim Kelso explained it sounded like the national anthem of newcomers on their way to the Valley of the Sun. It is a truth so basic to the soul of Arizona that it ought to be embroidered onto samplers and sold at the state fair: "Our marriage was in trouble and we thought we could start over in Phoenix."

It has not been easy. Jim Kelso does not have a regular route. Because he is relatively new he is employed as an "extra board driver." He never knows from one day to the next where he will be sent to drive. He is on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.

"It's hell," said Kelso. "I have never been home for Christmas. I have never been home for Thanksgiving. I have been home only once for one of my children's birthdays. I average a dinner at home once a week. I don't have weekends."

There are slow periods during the year when there is very little work and therefore not much pay, followed by summers where sixteen-hour days are not uncommon.

Because he is always on call he cannot stray far from the family phone.
"We are not allowed to use beepers or answering machines. You must baby- sit your phone or you'll be written up for not being there when they call. If you get three write-ups in a twelve-month period of time, you are terminated or threatened with suspension. So I don't go to movies or to the kids' activities," said Kelso.

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