Donna Hernandez has enjoyed the view from the driver’s seat for 17 years. For the past 15 years, she has worked at Pacific Coachways in Garden Grove, California.
Family is important to Hernandez. She has three grown children, who live in Texas, Ohio and Italy. She loves spending time with her grandchildren — and is awaiting the arrival of the sixth, Jack, in June. At times, she needs to take time off to care for her aging parents.
“From time to time, I have been able to take this time to travel and visit with my family,” Hernandez said. “Of course, I try to ask for time off during slower times at work. I am truly thankful for their flexible hours. This career has enabled me to care for my parents’ needs, and the wonderful people at Pacific Coachways have been so helpful.”
Bus & Motorcoach News caught up with Hernandez to talk to her about why she loves driving a motorcoach, her career highs and lows, and her passion for the business.
From the perspective of the driver’s seat, what is your favorite bus feature?
I enjoy sitting up high and seeing the whole road, along with the excellent mirrors.
How did you become a driver?
I began driving a school bus in rural Merced County, experiencing driving in the foothills below Yosemite and on the valley floor dotted with farms. I would pick up many children at their doorsteps very early in the morning to get to school on time on very long routes. It’s where I learned patience and focus, from dealing with the very thick tule fog.
What are your previous careers?
I had been a stay-at-home mom for many years, helping also in our family printing business when I spotted a big banner on the side of a large trailer, advertising “Learn to drive a school bus.” My kids had grown up, and I thought it sounded fun. Soon, I moved back home to Orange County and started to work at Pacific Coachways, driving both school buses and motorcoaches. I enjoy both vehicles, but probably prefer driving an air-conditioned, smooth-riding motorcoach.
The strangest or most bizarre group you’ve driven?
Probably the most awkward trip was a one bus shuttle to and from a wedding at a country club to several hotels. Getting there was great; nice people. After the wedding, the first few groups back to the hotel — mostly with seniors and young families — were uneventful. The last group … they were late back to the bus. Of course, many had enjoyed large amounts of alcohol, including the wedding party and the bride and groom. It started out OK, but then the bride and groom became agitated and were personally attacking the groom’s parents. Loud, and almost violent. I exited the freeway, stopped, turned around and told the newlyweds that, if they didn’t stop this behavior, I would drop them off at the nearest McDonald’s. After that, it was a quiet, yet awkward ride back to their hotel.
Another was on a high school trip as students toured college campuses. I made a wrong turn and found myself in a clothing-optional living area, when the college students saw the bus, they decided to take their clothes off and streak. That was a regrettable day.
What’s your go-to phrase?
“I haven’t ever lost anyone, and I won’t lose you.” And when asked how long I’ve been driving (I’m pretty sure my male coworkers don’t get asked that much) I say, with wide eyes, “Oh, you’re my first group ”
How many miles or states have you driven a bus?
I have probably driven a million miles over the past 15 years. I don’t keep track, so it’s just a guess. I mostly drive in the Western states, but I did drive an old bus across the country to deliver it to a small company in North Carolina. With that fun trip, along with the Western states, 15 total.
The best compliment you’ve received?
It’s funny when I hear my passengers say, “I could never drive a bus like this.” It happened one time while driving a group of surgeons, so I replied, “Well, I could never perform surgery!” I feel that this is an honest and kind compliment.
What’s your favorite and/or least favorite destination and why?
I have been fortunate to see many truly awesome places. I will never grow tired of seeing Yosemite at the Tunnel View, or the giant trees in Sequoia, or the fantastic Grand Canyon. I’m so proud to share these places with my customers.
What’s your funniest travel story?
When dropping off a nervous teacher or group leader, they sometimes ask, “How will I find you at the end of this tour?” I smile and tell them, “I have never lost anyone, and I won’t lose you.” Somehow, they believe in my superhuman bus driver skills and walk off confident.
What’s the biggest tip you received and the story behind it?
Not the biggest, but my first tip — and the sweetest — was when I picked up 20 little kindergartners and lots of their moms to the zoo in a school bus. When I dropped them off, one mom approached me with a handful of money and said, “Thank you. You were so nice, and not scary like our last bus driver.” I laughed all the way back to the yard.
I also had a nice group of retirees from the Midwest traveling to California with a very inexperienced tour director. She couldn’t understand why I refused to go places buses are not allowed. She repeatedly complained to the group that I was just being mean. Apparently, the group understood my rules and mailed me a $1,500 check after already giving me a very generous tip.
I enjoy being a part of a good travel experience for “my people.” When my group shows appreciation, even if the tip isn’t big, when they show genuine gratitude, I’m so happy.
What’s your best piece of advice for a new driver?
Here in California, there are many destinations close by. We get to share destinations that many people dream of visiting. It’s wonderful to hear their expressions as we pull up to Disneyland, the Hollywood sign, Santa Monica pier, the Disney Concert Hall, and many other places. This is a fun job, I meet many great people, and take them to many great places, even if it’s just the parking lot of a great place. I often tell new drivers that they should always ask the advice of a veteran driver, whether a question of parking, a location or simply an unfamiliar button on the dash of your bus. How would you know, if it’s a new thing?
From the perspective of the driver’s seat, what’s your favorite bus to drive and why?
That’s a tough question. I like our little 30-foot Van Hool. when I have to maneuver tight turns and small areas. It’s great when the bus gets very quiet, then a burst of applause when they think I’ve managed a miraculous maneuver. The big 45-foot MCIs are probably more comfortable for a long drive. I even like a school bus, with their shorter clearance, when dealing with some camps with lots of low branches. It can make the trip easier.
What’s your career highlight?
I love driving all sorts of passengers. One day, I may be driving the White House Press Corp with exciting destinations. The next day, I may drive Girl Scouts singing all the way to camp. In 2010, I was honored to drive Olympians to their events in Vancouver, Canada. We had fun working, but also exploring the venues. It’s always fun to drive seniors on their fun day trips, most of these kinds of trips invite me to go along on their tours of fascinating places, and if I can find a safe place to park, I’m going!.
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