Piroska “Portia” Kemenczei has been in the driver’s seat for 12 years. All of those years she has been working for Pacific Coachways in Garden Grove, California. She credits the company for giving her the opportunity to grow.
“They were the first and only bus company I worked for,” said Kemenczei. “As a woman driver, it is very important to me to feel safe on the road. I always know Pacific Coachway buses are well-maintained. Their mechanics go above and beyond the job of making sure everyone is safe while we are hundreds or thousands of miles away.”
Tom and Connie Giddens, owners of Pacific Coachways, say some of their clients who book charters specifically request Kemenczei as a driver.
“She gets requests from several tour guides for over-the-road trips, such as national park tours across the states. She is also frequently asked for as a driver by local band programs. She does a great job for us,” Tom Giddens said.
Kemenczei says passengers are another reason she loves her career.
“The icing on the cake is our wonderful, wonderful customers,” she said. “I can’t remember having any bad experiences with customers. Maybe a few hard ones, but those ones actually make you even better.”
Growing up in Hungary, Kemenczei has had a fascination with the United States and its network of roadways.
“Since an early age, I dreamed about driving on those long American highways. I love to have a moving ‘office,’ where my scenery changes day by day, and living in a beautiful country where I get paid to show (my customers) around,” Kemenczei said.
Bus & Motorcoach News caught up with Kemenczei to talk to her about why she loves driving a motorcoach, her career highs and lows, and her passion for the business.
How did you become a driver?
I had been driving around, visiting national parks and sightseeing places on my own, when life diverted me to a professional opportunity to meet people from around the world. I began by signing up for Pacific Coachways’ school bus training class, which led to a job with the company.
What’s the best part of your career?
I feel like I am a part of our customers’ journey, helping them have an experience that could last for a lifetime. Making memories with them and keeping in contact with a few of them via email tells me I’m doing something good in life. That fills up my heart and soul as well. I truly, truly can say I have a job that I love. Every day is different. Every day is a new experience. I’m living the best life I ever could imagine for myself, that a little girl in Hungary wouldn’t dare to imagine. I am so thankful and feel so blessed.
What’s your go-to phrase?
It’s not the destination, it’s the ride. That phrase has stuck with me since the beginning of my motorcoach career. I had a wonderful tour group from Canada. We were traveling to California on a wine- and food-tasting tour. They found the sign and gave it to me to hang on my coach. That’s how I feel when we are out there traveling. That’s how it feels for the drivers and, hopefully, to the customers as well.
What’s your favorite and/or least favorite destination and why?
I have a long list of favorite destinations, such as the Grand Canyon and Yosemite National Park, and hope to add more. I like to say it doesn’t matter how many times we visit a destination, they are always great to visit over and over again because, each time, I see them through the eyes of my passengers, who are seeing them for the first time. I’m happy and excited to be part of their journey.
There are so many great places I got a chance to go. The United States is a beautiful country. There are so many wonders. Driving through Utah, the landscape is so magnificent. Getting out and soaking up the scenery with your eyes and with all of your senses is great. It can’t really be put into words. Those in this industry know well what I’m talking about.
I can’t remember any places I don’t like. San Francisco is a good place to visit, but if you ask bus drivers, probably many of us — if not all of us — would put that as their least favorite place to go. That’s because the city is not bus friendly. I’m not sure they are even friendly generally, and that has to do with it being a small place and always overcrowded.
What’s the best compliment you’ve received?
I enjoy people’s reactions when they see me pulling up with a giant bus and a tiny person getting out of the seat. Don’t underestimate women drivers. The highlight of my days is seeing satisfied customers at the end and receiving wonderful comments about my driving skills or the trips we have just done.
What’s your career highlight?
Being hired by Pacific Coachways has given me an opportunity to do what I love to do: driving, visiting beautiful places and taking care of customers who share similar passions.
What’s the biggest tip you received and the story behind it?
It was a year when we had a group that was part of the Rose Parade. We were moving people for several days. At the end of the trip, each driver received $1,000. I felt honored because these people were spending a great amount of money coming to the USA — on hotels, transportation, food and moving their equipment. They brought their own horses to participate in the parade. They were spending a huge amount of money on the trip, but that they went out of their way to take care of their drivers was mind-blowing to me.
How many miles or states have you driven by bus?
Throughout my 12 years on the road, it must be close to a million miles. I’ve visited nearby states and got a chance to drive up to Canada, as well. One of my first big assignments was driving at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver.
What’s your best piece of advice for newbies?
My advice is for women who are considering becoming bus drivers. Definitely do your research on the bus company you are thinking of applying to because it makes a huge difference. First, do they already have women bus drivers at the company? That, to me, shows the owner and staff members have an open mind and know that women can drive and do the job. The United States is actually doing much, much better at hiring women drivers. But, still, there are areas and companies where it is harder to get in or feel accepted.
Second, don’t be afraid to ask questions throughout the hiring process. After all, you also want to know how women are treated at a company. Is there room for growth equal to a man at the company? Is there a possibility of hours equal to a man’s? When the answers are hesitant, it may be a sign that women aren’t welcomed there yet in this male-dominated industry.
Read more From the driver’s seat columns.
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.