By Dave Millhouser
Forrest Gump was one of my heroes, in part because I respect folks smarter than me and because he appeared to experience and influence so much American history.
What a guy — heroic when necessary, and while not an intellectual giant, he was courageous without swagger and wise without being glib.
Gump seemed to meet every historic figure and always had a positive effect on everyone around him. It was a crushing blow when I recently discovered he was a fictional character.
Has it occurred to you that we, as an industry, are a bit like Forest?
Since the 1914 World War I Battle of the Marne, when the French used 600 taxis to rush troops to the front and save Paris from a German onslaught, there have been few significant events in Western civilization that haven’t involved buses.
This may be stretching a bit, but back then taxis and buses were sort of overlapping technologies, and they stuffed more than eight soldiers in each vehicle. That ain’t a cab, it’s a minibus.
We may not be super-sophisticated, but we are present and contributing.
In case you’re facing an invading army, the total bill to move 5,000 soldiers was about $300,000 in today’s dollars. Wonder if they tipped?
When improving roads made it possible, buses became active in virtually every event that has impacted society. Bus operators moved troops during wartime. We contributed mightily to the Civil Rights Movement, which had its symbolic beginning in a Montgomery, Ala., transit bus. We weren’t always on the side of the angels (that Montgomery bus was segregated), but we were there.
Many who heard Martin Luther King Jr.’s transformative “Dream” speech got there by bus. The Freedom Riders rode Greyhound 4104s and the Negro baseball leagues traveled by bus, as did the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League.
When a hurricane is imminent do they bring in fleets of trains? Nah, buses. During 9/11 airplanes were grounded, but buses carried on.
Want to get firefighters to a forest fire? Crews often get there by bus.
Name a significant sporting or entertainment event that doesn’t have a lot of folks arriving by bus. Imagine any city without a transit system. Many have “light rail” (politically correct for “trolley”), but those jewels lack the ability to adapt to changing demographics. If folks move, trolleys can’t follow, but buses just take the road.
Most of us rode to school in a bus, many commute to work that way, and how do you think pilots get to their airliners much of the time? You betcha. Good grief, if buses disappeared we’d have no casinos.
There was a recent National Geographic documentary called “World Without Humans,” but a world without buses is almost as difficult to imagine.
Just like Forest Gump, whenever anything is happening, we’re there, and we usually make things better. Think about it, and try to name another industry so deeply woven into the fabric of our society.
Even folks who sneer at riding buses benefit from our contributions to reduced traffic and cleaner air. It’s the transportation version of the biblical entreaty to “love our enemies.”
All too often we succumb to the perception that we’re transportation’s lowest common denominator when in fact, without us, none of the rest of it would work.
When you’re having a bad day, remember that without you roads would be congested, air would be nasty, many people wouldn’t be at work or school, and slot machines would remain silent. Ballparks would be deserted, and pro athletes and entertainers would have to take real jobs. The skies would be empty, because aircrews couldn’t reach their planes.
The movements that shape our democracy like the Women’s March on Washington, the Million Man March and Make America Great Again would shrivel. If that’s not enough, remember Elvis had a bus, and he loved it.
If you are having a REALLY bad day, imagine you’re working for United Airlines. That’s a real drag (pun intended).
The bus industry really is the Forest Gump of transportation. We’re everywhere. Occasionally slow on the uptake, but well meaning, trustworthy, grounded (another pesky pun) and in our own quiet way making a major contribution to society’s well-being, safety and pleasure.
We aren’t always pretty, but we safely transport more people to more places than anyone. Maybe we’re victims of our own success, so consistently reliable that we are virtually invisible.
This has been a traumatic time for me — first discovering that “Animal House” was not a documentary and now finding out that my role model, Forrest Gump, is a fictional character.
Thank goodness for Sidd Finch, a man I can admire. Not only was he the greatest pitcher who ever lived, the Tibetan-born phenom was accomplished on the French horn. How many musicians can boast a 168 mph fastball?
What a guy. Look him up.
Dave Millhouser is a bus-industry marketing consultant and freelance writer. Contact him by email at Davemillhouser@gmail.com.