Ed Lara has enjoyed the view from the driver’s seat for about 20 years. He’s currently a driver with Carreras Tours in Ontario, California, and lives in Mesa, Arizona. Previously, he drove for Coach USA, based in New Jersey; Dreamers Bus in Phoenix; and Hayden Motorcoach, also in Phoenix.
Bus & Motorcoach News caught up with Lara to talk to him about why he loves driving a motorcoach, his career highs and lows, and his passion for the business.
What’s the biggest tip you received and the story behind it?
I’ve received corporate tips ranging from $500 to $1,000. Those are very nice to receive. An individual family on a trip gave me $300 at the end, which is great. But the most memorable tip came from a drunken passenger while I was driving shuttles for the Phoenix Open golf tournament. We were allowed to put up a tip jar or bucket in the front of the coach, and people generally would drop in $1 or $5 bills. As I pulled to the stop on one of my last runs of the night, this gentleman — who was pretty hammered — stumbled toward the front of the bus. Concerned he would fall, I walked in front of him down the steps. He slurred a thank you, then reached into his pocket and pulled out a wad of money. Fishing through the crumpled bills, he mumbled, “That’s a $1 bill.” He dropped it in my tip jar, and I thanked him for the tip. When I got back to my yard, I looked in my tip jar and on top of the $1s and $5s was a crumpled $100 bill. I’m sure to this day he still thinks he gave me a dollar.
Your strangest or most bizarre group you’ve driven?
Has to be the Phoenix Open shuttles. This stop on the Professional Golfers’ Association tour is famous for its rowdy, crazy spectators. These people would dress in anything from vintage golf wear to risqué outfits with stilettos, and from patriotic colors to Sesame Street characters. It’s kinda like Halloween for adults. You never knew what you were going to see.
What’s your go-to phrase?
Enjoy the journey. Though I might have seen something hundreds of times, my passengers could be seeing it for the first time. It’s important to enjoy the journey with your passengers. They’ll appreciate your attitude, and the trip will benefit from the enthusiasm.
How did you become a driver?
I started out driving a school bus, later switching to Coach USA in Phoenix. Driving passengers who choose to be on a motorcoach is much more relaxing than ferrying kids who dread their ride to school on a bus.
What are your previous careers?
I was a photographer for many years, shooting weddings, portraits, bar mitzvahs, events, products, etc., eventually owning my own studio. Then 9/11 happened and changed a lot of people’s lives … kinda like COVID-19 has affected all of us this year.
How many miles or states have you driven a bus?
I’ve driven at least a million miles, in 27 states, as well as Mexico and eastern Canada.
What is your favorite destination?
Tioga Pass, heading into Yosemite National Park in Northern California — beautiful mountain scenery. I always guarantee the passengers a bear sighting there.
What is your least favorite destination?
The windy road to Yosemite Valley. Although it’s a beautiful, scenic drive, there’s no room for error on this long and winding road.
From the perspective of the driver’s seat, what’s your favorite bus feature?
That would be cruise control. It saves your right foot on those long drives. I’ve also grown to like adaptive cruise control, which maintains a safe distance in traffic. It’s like the bus can practically drive itself.
What’s the best compliment you’ve received?
That I’m a fun driver. Passengers can’t believe it when they come to the bus for the Vegas Night Tour and “Elvis” is their driver.
What’s your funniest travel story?
Gotta be the group that wanted to wear all my hats, masks and props in a farewell picture on Twin Peaks in San Francisco. Everyone else there thought we were nuts.
From the perspective of the driver’s seat, what’s your best piece of advice for a new driver?
Be prepared; know in advance where passengers want to go. Never be late; always early. Never complain out loud; it’s their trip. My other saying is, “Everyone’s on vacation, except the tour guide.”
What’s your favorite bus to drive and why?
Has to be the Prevost H3-45, aka Black Panther. I love how they drive and how driver-friendly they are. This motorcoach is my second home.
What’s your career highlight?
That would be meeting new people from around the world and creating friendships and memories that will last forever. I love finishing a trip with a great tour guide, knowing the passengers enjoyed the journey.
If you are a motorcoach driver and would like to be featured in From the Driver’s Seat, contact Shandra Martinez at email@example.com.