One day, Braden Lewis will tell his grandkids about the global pandemic and everything else that happened during 2020. He’s planning on his stories having a happy ending.
The 17-year-old – who represents the fourth generation of Lewis Coaches Inc. – is playing a role in trying to ensure the survival of his family business and the motorcoach industry.
“I think I was born on a bus because this love of buses has just always been in me,” said Braden, who at age 4 was so enamored with the first brand new motorcoach his grandfather, Harold Lewis, Sr., bought that he feigned sickness and skipped preschool so he could go to the bus yard to see it again.
Braden exhibits poise and maturity beyond his years, from his courteous use of ma’am and sir when addressing people to taking the time to express his gratitude for others.
‘He fell in love’
Harold Lewis Jr. says he feels blessed to have a son like Braden, who has a passion for the business started in 1960 by his grandparents Earl and Noney Lewis, Sr. The New Orleans company — with eight coaches and 15 drivers – specializes in charter and tours.
“He fell in love with buses before he could walk. As he got older, he got more and more involved in the business,” said Lewis. “He’s pretty active in the daily operation. The only thing he can’t do is drive, but he does pretty much everything else.”
The high school senior organized the company’s trip to Washington, D.C., to take part in the May 13 Rolling Rally to raise awareness about the critical role the industry plays in transportation infrastructure and the need for government support in the form of $15 billion of directed funds.
“It was a great experience,” said Braden. ”It was good to see everyone, although we had to distance ourselves and we couldn’t be as interactive as we usually are in the motorcoach industry.”
He traveled with his dad and four drivers. His grandfather stayed in New Orleans to oversee the office.
Part of the rally
Braden knew he had to go after getting a text from Jack Kaufman, vice president of Timi’s Tours in Moweaqua, Illinois, telling him he had to be part of the rally.
It didn’t take much to convince his dad, who gave Braden the task of organizing the trip.
He contacted ABC Companies to select the message “Government Directed Funding $75 Billion for Airlines, Trains and Public Transportation but $0 for Motor-Coaches” for the bus graphics. For this important trip, Braden picked the company’s prized maroon-colored founder bus, an MCI J4500, named after his paternal great-grandfather, Earl Lewis Sr.
Braden credits Phil Robinson with Peter Pan Bus Lines for helping to arrange accommodations for him, his dad and four drivers.
“He got us great rates and great rooms,” said Braden. “Due to social distancing, nobody could share a room, so he helped us get enough rooms for everyone, so a big thank you to him.”
The six wore masks and sat apart on the bus during the 34-hour round-trip drive.
“It wasn’t what we were used to but we definitely had to do what we had to do to make sure none of us contracted this virus,” Braden said.
New Orleans was one of the early hotspots for COVID-19, and Braden’s mom, Shawanda Lewis and an employee became ill. Although neither required hospitalization, a 14-day self-quarantine was required for them and their families.
“I couldn’t see a bus for two weeks — that kind of drove me crazy,” Braden said of the quarantine.
When the bus arrived in D.C., the first thing they did was have it cleaned.
“I’m big on my buses being clean,” said Braden, who had the bus taken to First Priority Trailways for a wash.
Tours and photos
Understanding the historic importance of the rally, Braden took a lot of photos of everyone’s buses, which he shared on social media.
“The rally really showed me how strong our industry is, how connected we are and how united we are,” he said.
Lewis says he was impressed with the turnout at the rally.
“It was just such a beautiful thing to see everybody coming together for a common cause,” he said. “The best memory that I have was at the beginning, when you come into the staging lot under a bridge and then you just see a sea of buses.”
Optimistic about future
While his buses have remained parked since early March, Lewis remains positive and optimistic about the future of the business.
“I’m really hoping that they find a way to get this virus under control. Once we get the wheels turning back in some normal direction, the motorcoach industry will be fine. We’ve fought through a lot of stuff in the past and come through it,” he said.
When Lewis thinks about the future of Lewis Coaches, he sees Braden’s future.
“I’m getting everything prepared for him,” Lewis said. “Once he gets out of college, this is gonna be his baby.”