Sandy Martinez has enjoyed the view from the driver’s seat for about 10 years. She lives in Southern California, about 15 minutes from Disneyland. She drives for Transportation Charter Services (TCS), out of their Orange location, and has been employed with the company since 2014.
Bus & Motorcoach News caught up with Martinez to talk to her about why she loves driving a motorcoach, her career highs and lows, and her passion for the business.
How many miles or states have you driven a bus?
I don’t know exactly how many miles I have driven in a motorcoach because I don’t track every mile. As an average, I was driving around 7,000 miles a month. I have driven mostly in the Western U.S. — California (of course), Arizona, Nevada, Utah, — and several Canadian provinces.
What’s your favorite destination?
I absolutely love going to Canada and driving the Canadian Rockies. Along the Trans-Canada Highway — through Banff, Lake Louise, Moraine Lake, Columbia Icefield, Peyto Lake, Emerald Lake, Athabasca Falls, Bow River, Jasper National Park, Maligne Lake, and Spirit Island — are some of the amazing places I got to visit on my tours. There is so much natural beauty around every corner. Waterfalls, national parks and wild animals. This was an adventure of my lifetime, and I will never forget and be eternally grateful to TCS for sending me there.
What’s your least favorite destination?
I would have to say San Francisco. Besides the obvious challenges of the steep hills, the one-way streets, limited parking, constant construction and the additional road restrictions for the size of our motorcoaches, I always feel in San Francisco that I am in an “insane dodgeball game.” Obstacles such as cable cars, trolleys, skateboarders, electric scooters, pedestrians, city buses, other coaches, not to mention the people, who will walk out into oncoming traffic as you are coming down a hill in a 45-foot motorcoach. Yikes!
What’s the biggest tip you received and the story behind it?
Since, I have only been a motorcoach driver for 10 years, I have driven mostly locally and an over-the-road driver for about four years. My biggest tip was equal to about three weeks of pay. I don’t think it was due to me doing anything more that I normally do on my tours. I believe it was mostly due to the relationship I had with my tour director. He was so knowledgeable about our tour and had such a great sense of humor that we just “clicked.” We were able to work together seamlessly and played off each other. The entire group had such a great time during our trip, and so did we.
What were your previous jobs?
Since I really never knew what I wanted to become when I grew up, I have been fortunate to be able to have many different occupations during my life. I remind myself of the Frank Sinatra song “That’s Life.” He says he has been a puppet, a poet, a pirate, a pawn and a king. I’ve been a marketing director for several shopping centers in the Los Angeles area, such as the Bonaventure Hotel and the Sherman Oaks Gallery. I’ve also worked as a Los Angeles Metro, Beverly Hills and Hollywood Tour Guide. My resume includes selling automobile insurance and working as a headhunter for aerospace engineers. With that job, I traveled all over the country recruiting for the Space Station programs in the1980s.
I was a pastor’s administrative assistant for several denominations: Presbyterian, Lutheran and Methodist. I also worked as an administrator in several different industries and have a certificate as an “expert” in Microsoft Office. Just prior to becoming a commercial driver, I was a specialist in Christmas interior design. I worked seven years decorating the Mission Inn Hotel & Spa in Riverside for their world-renowned Festival of Lights. I also decorated all the Macy’s stores in the Orange County area. Each year during the Christmas season (when driving business is slow), I still take a week or two off to continue to decorate some beautiful homes in the Newport Beach area.
How did you become a driver?
After our contract ended at the Mission Inn, I needed to find another job. My then employer said to me, “You really are a good driver, maybe you should think about becoming a commercial driver.” Since I needed to reinvent myself, I said, “Why not?” I thought I was going to become a school bus driver and went through their classes and got my school bus license, as well as passenger and airbrake endorsements. However, school districts were having layoffs then due to budget cuts. So, I started looking elsewhere to use my commercial driver’s license and found a motorcoach company that needed my CDL to drive students. They hired me over the phone, and I started my motorcoaches career the very next day.
I must say, I don’t think I would have made it through my first year as a motorcoach driver if it was not for two people — my trainer, Jonathan Flores, and a fellow driver, John Whitaker, who took mercy and mentored me. Since my first motorcoach company was small (two motorcoaches and two mini-buses), they did not have a dispatcher or a full-time mechanic. It seemed that whenever I was in trouble on the road, no one in the office was able to help me. I would call one of these two people for guidance and, with them and my own resources, I was able to get myself and the passengers home safely under some extreme circumstances.
What’s your go-to phrase?
“Good is not cheap, cheap is not good.”
What’s your favorite bus feature?
A good driver’s seat, for sure. Since I am 5-foot-4, I need to be able to adjust my seat to see my back wheels in my mirrors at all times. However, a bus without a cage on the parking brake is also extremely important as I find them very difficult to release and, if you’re doing a shuttle, it will kill your thumbs.
From the perspective of the driver’s seat, what’s your favorite bus?
I’ve driven VanHools, MCIs, Volvos, and Prevost. I’m most comfortable in a Prevost, as I drive them most often. However, I do like many different features from all the buses I drive. If I could take my favorite features from each bus and make one my own, I would take the interiors of the MCI-Js (I love that cockpit, and the interior lights are so beautiful), the toilets from the Volvos (it has the fresh-water flushing system) and torque from the VanHools (they are great climbers, and they have the ability to charge your electronics and flush toilet when the bus is off). Then I would put them all on a Prevost H3-41 and H3-45, and I’d be in bus heaven.
What’s the best compliment you’ve received?
From a tour manager, “You’re the best driver I’ve ever had,” and from a senior male passenger, “You drive good for a girl.”
From the perspective of the driver’s seat, what’s your best piece of advice?
Plan ahead, know where you’re going and how to get in and out safely. Treat all customers like VIPs. Don’t depend on following other drivers to get you to your destination in a multi-bus move; you will be separated at some point. Take all educational courses available to you. I know that’s four pieces of advice, but they are all essential to me.
I’ve put a priority on expanding career opportunities, increasing my knowledge of an OTR Motorcoach Operator and being able to lead a tour myself, I am a graduate of ITMI training in both their courses for Tour Managers (class of #327) and Motorcoach Customer Service Driver Training.
What’s your career highlight?
Being chosen to fly to Canada to do summer tours with TCS. I was born in Montreal, Canada, but came to live in California as a child. So, I am a dual citizen and have the unique ability as a motorcoach driver to travel across the U.S. and Canadian borders while working.
Being a woman in this male-dominated industry can sometimes be more of a challenge. Just the physical attributes, like loading and unloading luggage all day, can take its toll. Being a motorcoach operator is not for the faint of heart. It can take guts and even courage to do what we do in small places with large equipment and many precious lives in our hands.
What’s the secret to your success?
We all need to think quickly on our feet, as situations come up every day in terms of safety to our passengers and in making wise decisions in order not to damage our equipment. No matter how much you plan, dealing with stressful unforeseen situations and traffic is a constant factor in our business. You need to keep a level head and be resourceful in making a plan B, plan C or even a plan D on a moment’s notice.
My goal is to learn something new every day to make myself a better driver and a better person. Being a motorcoach operator has been one of the most exciting — and at the same time the most challenging — occupations in my life. Being behind the wheel of these great big, beautiful machines is a rush, and the extra benefits of traveling and exploring the world while getting to meet people from around the world and taking them on what could be their trip of a lifetime — what could be better than that?
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.