After a series of jobs ranging from professional softball player to plumber, Vicki Hughes says she couldn’t be happier driving motorcoaches for Amador Stage Lines in Reno, Nevada. She’s had the job for three years after transitioning from driving school buses.
Bus & Motorcoach News caught up with Hughes to talk to her about why she loves driving a motorcoach, her career highs and lows, and her passion for the business.
What’s the biggest tip you received and the story behind it?
I had never been out of town with the charter, and I was assigned to drive a high school baseball team to Boise, Idaho, for five days. And they gave me a $500 tip. Then two weeks later, we went to Bend, Oregon, and they gave me another $500 tip. I got $1,000 in a month. I kept the coach’s Monster drinks on ice. I had it ready every single morning. I had his ice chest ready. And I would stand in front of the bus 15 minutes before they ever came out of the hotel. No, I just did it because I wanted to. I could tell he just wanted to be called coach and not by his name. It was a respect thing. They were great. I’m hoping to go again this year. Not for the money – it’s just that they were just great guys.
What’s the strangest or most bizarre group you’ve driven?
I hear stories, but I don’t actually have any yet.
What’s your go-to phrase?
Yippee ki-yay. Even when I was a school bus driver, I would go by the trainers and roll down my window and yell, “yippee ki-yay.” I usually just say yippee ki and we all laugh and I say, “See, I’m dating myself.”
How did you become a driver?
I inherited a love of driving from my family. My dad drove a truck. When I was a kid, my parents loved to go for drives every night. We would be sitting around the table and my mom would say, let’s go to Vacaville, which was four hours away, to have a hamburger, and it’d be midnight. We loved to go for drives, and we looked at everything. I could drive to Boise, Idaho, and never turn the radio on. I just love the scenery. My brother became a school bus driver and I couldn’t understand it, but then while working at Job Corps, I asked to learn how to drive buses and I thought, I can go to work for schools. I was working at a school, and I was just going to come to Amador for summer work. I quit my school job after five days and came over here. I love driving these big buses. I love the people. They’re usually all in really good moods because they’re going to Lake Tahoe, or to a conference. Everybody’s in a good mood, they’re fun to laugh and joke with.
What were your previous careers?
I was a professional softball player. I worked in school districts as a head custodian. I managed 110 apartments and remodeled them. I was a plumber at the Peppermill Resort Spa Casino. I worked at Job Corps, which teaches young people ages 18 to 24 skills like carpentry.
How many miles or states have you driven a bus?
I’ve only been to Oregon, California and Idaho.
What’s your favorite and/or least favorite destination and why?
Heading to Winnemucca (Nevada) I think, God, I’d hate to break down on one of these dark roads when I’m by myself. But I always had people on board, so it’s not a big deal.
What’s your favorite bus feature?
I love the Jake brake (also known as the retarder or exhaust brake, which releases the compressed air that gets trapped in the cylinders to help slow the vehicle.) You are coming down the mountain from Lake Tahoe, and you can shift down the power and so you never even have to touch the brakes. You just smoothly drive down it, and people at the end are like, wow, you’re such a good driver, and it’s not me. It’s the Jake brake. It’s nice and smooth.
What’s the best compliment you’ve received?
I had this passenger I picked up from Lake Tahoe to take to the airport. He had to be in his late 80s, and he says, “Boy, you’re a good driver. You are so smooth.” He says, “I was a driver.” I go, “Oh, I bet you were smooth, too.” He says, “But not like you.” I would rather have that than a $5 tip any day. I’ll never forget that man’s face. That was my best memory.
What’s your funniest travel story?
The Electric Daisy Carnival, commonly known as EDC, is the largest electronic dance music festival in North America. It’s held every year at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Every year, attendees dress really wild – like hardly any clothes at all. They younger drivers were shocked, but I grew up in the ‘60s where at Grateful Dead concerts nearly half the people were naked. These kids had clothes on. I even have a picture of the kids in front of my bus. They were playing music and we took a picture together.
What’s your best piece of advice for a newbie?
I was taught from the very, very beginning that you live and die by your mirrors. If you’re not in your mirrors every seven seconds, you can get yourself in trouble. You’re either going to live because you’re watching your mirrors, or you’re going to die because you’re not watching your mirrors.
What’s your career highlight?
Those two trips to Idaho with the high school baseball team.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.