Allen McDonald has enjoyed the view from the driver’s seat for more than a decade. He is a driver for TCS in Orange, California, where he has worked since 2016. He previously worked for Lux Bus America in Anaheim, California.
Bus & Motorcoach News caught up with Allen McDonald to talk to him about why he loves driving a motorcoach, his career highs and lows, and how he’s surviving the pandemic.
What’s your biggest tip?
I was on a two-week Southwest tour with a church group from Germany. Don’t remember the exact tip amount, but it was close to $3,500, plus almost $1,000 more for optionals. I cried when I got it.
What’s the strangest group you’ve driven?
I’ve been fortunate not to really have any outlandish groups. Those stories are reserved for my early limo/party bus days. One that comes to mind was some sort of religious cult that held its annual conference in downtown Los Angeles, and we were their ground transportation provider. Just a very strange group all around.
What’s your go-to phrase?
Work to live … not the other way around.
How did you become a driver?
I first started my driving career as a limo driver in the San Francisco Bay Area. Over time, I started driving larger vehicles, including shuttle and party buses. I eventually upgraded my CDL and moved to Orange County at the end of 2009. Then, I answered the call for bus drivers for the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, Canada, and spent several weeks driving a fixed route in downtown Vancouver and Whistler. During my time there, I got to know many motorcoach drivers and decided to give it a try when I returned home. I applied and was hired that May at Lux Bus America, and the rest is history.
What are your previous careers?
I worked in retail management at a FedEx Office, formerly known as Kinkos. I was also a personal banker/premier client manager at Bank of America.
How many miles have you driven, states have you driven through?
I’ve never kept an exact count but, on average, I drive about 70,000 miles a year, so about 750,000 total so far. I’ve driven through 20 states and three Canadian provinces: Alberta, British Columbia and Ontario.
What’s your favorite destination?
Yosemite National Park has to be my favorite. I’ve been going there since I was a kid, and it never gets old.
What’s your least favorite destination?
Erie, Pennsylvania. It seems so depressing and well … eerie. I’m sure the folks there are great, but I sure didn’t feel that way when I was there.
From the perspective of the driver’s seat, what’s your favorite feature?
Gotta be the digital dash and mood lighting on our latest MCI J4500. I drive a lot of college and professional sports teams, and the lights are always a crowd pleaser.
What’s the best compliment you’ve received?
How shiny I keep my bus. I’ve also been told a time or two my smooth starts and stops are exemplary.
What’s your funniest story?
There are many. My friends and family say I should write a book someday of all my travel experiences. One that comes to mind was a tour I did a couple of years ago for a group of insurance agents from Taiwan. As we were wrapping up our Los Angeles city tour, that particular day happened to fall on “World Naked Bike Ride Day.” I have never heard so much laughter and seen so many women whip their cameras out that fast before. Later, I was told some of the women were comparing their photos and making comments about their spouses.
What’s your advice for newbies?
When I was a new driver, I asked a lot of questions from the people I thought did a good job. I learned being flexible and having a good attitude is everything. My rule is to always arrive a minimum of 15 minutes early. If you arrive on time, you’re already late. Lastly, always map out and look at your times if you are on an all-day charter or multi-day trip, and make a list of questions, if any. Nothing makes you look more incompetent than when you have 55 sets of eyes watching you and you don’t know where you are going. If you aren’t familiar with an area, you are going to look at a map/Google street view, etc. It will save you a lot of time. Do not rely on GPS.
From the perspective of the driver’s seat, what’s your favorite coach?
I cut my teeth on a Prevost H45 and that’s where it stays! I like the newer MCIs, but for all-around performance and comfort, you cannot beat the Prevost.
How the pandemic has affected you?
Since our industry was shut down, I have had to make major adjustments to keep my family afloat. In the beginning, TCS was fortunate enough to receive a PPP loan and a single contract providing shuttle services at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). Even though we were paid for 40 hours a week, it wasn’t enough as this was supposed to be the start of our tour season, and that is the bulk of my income for the year. Eventually, the PPP loan was exhausted and hours were reduced, and ultimately, the contract came to an end.
I’ve driven a bus twice for a few hours, total, since Aug. 25. I’ve been able to fall back on my CDL as a truck driver for a local hauling company. It will suffice for the time being, but I hope I can return to my OTR driving someday.
Our company participated in the Motorcoaches Rolling for Awareness event in Washington, D.C., as well as in Sacramento, both of which I was a driver. I’ve also witnessed many of my fellow bus-driving family members make some hard decisions as their livelihood has gone away and unemployment has come to an end. Some are about to lose their homes. Many have left the bus industry, taken multiple part-time jobs, moved across the country, etc. … It is heartbreaking.
If you are a motorcoach driver and would like to be featured in From the Driver’s Seat, contact Shandra Martinez at firstname.lastname@example.org.