All Aboard the Anteater Express

By Ashley Alvarez

They’re reliable. They’re on time. They drop you off, then pick you up and take you home. The Anteater Express and our Anteater bus drivers are overlooked and slighted of honorable mentions, but they are arguably the backbone of this campus.

Besides Middle Earth, Mesa Court and the UTC  housing communities, the majority of students reside at an inconvenient distance from campus; close enough to walk to class, but too far away to arrive on time. To make matters worse, once on campus, the distance from one building to another is a venture of its own. The Anteater Express alleviates some of that strain. There are six major bus routes that serve the varied housing communities, none of which would be possible without our MVPs, the student bus drivers, the Ms. Frizzles of UCI.

Alexis Callejas is a sophomore majoring in mechanical engineering, and if you catch the morning bus, you’ve probably already met him. If a student’s earliest class starts at 8 a.m., you can bet he’s up earlier.

“I wake up around five, so I have time to get ready and eat and get to the lot by six,” said Callejas.

Callejas is going on his second year driving for the Anteater Express.

“It’s a really fun job,” he said. “You get paid well, you’re around other students, it’s a flexible schedule, and time flies when you’re meeting new people.”

Callejas is a happy-go-lucky fellow. He greets nearly everybody who walks on his bus — not routinely, but authentically. He opens the bus doors and his face lights up, his smile embraces passengers as if each person were a long-time friend that he’s happy to see again, making his added, “Hello, good morning” the cherry on top.

Driving a bus around the same route for hours can prove to be a tedious task.

“Sometimes driving around gets stressful [and] sometimes it gets boring, so to kill time in my head I’m usually thinking about school work,” said Callejas.

Other times, the road provides all the entertainment.

“Today I was driving the bus and another bus got stuck at the roundabout by Vista Del Campo, which we call the lollipop. There were like five buses stuck behind the stuck bus. It was kinda funny, and  it was kinda fun because it’s like all the bus drivers were together, like a party, like we still weren’t talking but we were all there.”

Other bus drivers, like Bryan Gutierrez, recall witnessing similar accidents.

“We see crazy drivers running stop signs and street lights, but my most memorable experience was when I caught these two bikes getting into a little crash in front of me. I was at an intersection and one bike T-boned the other; it was the oddest thing,” he said. “I thought that only happened with cars but I guess it happens to bikes too. I thought it was funny. I laughed about it for a while.” Proving again that one person’s misfortune is another person’s mirth.

It takes a special kind of person to do the job while maintaining a cheerful and approachable demeanor. Callejas said that the possible assignment of driving a new electric bus contributes to the excitement of bus driving.

“We show up to our shift, grab our stuff, and go to each of our buses. We don’t know the exact bus we’re driving at first but we do know which route we’re driving,” Callejas said. “Our supervisor will then assign us a bus. Everyone gets excited when they see A3 [the new electric bus] next to their name.”

He continued, “Kind of because it’s new, but it’s mostly a really smooth ride. I really like how it accelerates so quickly. It’s reliable. Nothing’s broken on the bus and it’s kind of like what I was expecting the whole time, like, for everything to work on a bus.”

Clearly, very few things bother our warm-hearted bus drivers, but something most of them seem to have in common is the small frustration that comes with having to tell people to move to the back of the bus and make room for other passengers.

Junior Jenny Hurtado, who relies on the bus, expressed her frustration at other students when they can’t make room.

“I have to wake up earlier to take the bus especially because the A Line isn’t running like last year, and now the buses get really packed. One time like three busses passed without stopping and I had to call Lyft,” said Hurtado.

Bus drivers realize this and try their best to accommodate as many students as they can.

“This year I’ve noticed there are more people on campus,” says Gutierrez, “so to make room on the bus you have to speak up louder, and kind of call them out. We’re just trying to get more people on the bus, to get you guys where you want to go.  Especially on this route everybody’s trying to go to class, and were just trying to do it as fast as we can.”

Teamwork makes the dream work, Anteaters. The bus drivers are doing their part, so as a community, students could try and make a conscious effort to make room for fellow students and ease bus drivers’ strains as bus drivers ease ours.