Daily Picture Show

Portraits Of The People Who Drive Richmond, Va.

  • Marcia Scmiegelow grew up on Long Island. Her father was a truck driver who took Marcia, at 13, to get her own road experience in the parking lots of train stations. She ran for the union position of financial secretary in 2011.
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    Marcia Scmiegelow grew up on Long Island. Her father was a truck driver who took Marcia, at 13, to get her own road experience in the parking lots of train stations. She ran for the union position of financial secretary in 2011.
    Michael Lease
  • Julio Vidal was born in the Dominican Republic and was the first Spanish-speaking driver at GRTC. He previously worked for New Jersey Transit and says, "Compared to New Jersey and New York, the ridership here, they good. I love it."
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    Julio Vidal was born in the Dominican Republic and was the first Spanish-speaking driver at GRTC. He previously worked for New Jersey Transit and says, "Compared to New Jersey and New York, the ridership here, they good. I love it."
    Michael Lease
  • Jennie Bullock started driving a bus when there were few women on the job. She says, "Some people didn't want to ride with the women. When you pull in, they would say, 'Go ahead, I'll wait for the next bus.' ... But I think word got around that Ms. Bullock was a strong woman and she didn't play."
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    Jennie Bullock started driving a bus when there were few women on the job. She says, "Some people didn't want to ride with the women. When you pull in, they would say, 'Go ahead, I'll wait for the next bus.' ... But I think word got around that Ms. Bullock was a strong woman and she didn't play."
    Michael Lease
  • Marshall Avent drove tractors at age 9 on his family farm in North Carolina. He has served as president of GRTC's union and recently got his MBA. "I wanted to leave more of a legacy for [my daughter], so I decided to keep on going to school," he says.
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    Marshall Avent drove tractors at age 9 on his family farm in North Carolina. He has served as president of GRTC's union and recently got his MBA. "I wanted to leave more of a legacy for [my daughter], so I decided to keep on going to school," he says.
    Michael Lease
  • Eldridge Coles has worked every job at GRTC "from sweeping the floor to CEO," he says. "I used to always say, 'From the back of the bus to the head of the corporation.' " As CEO, Coles negotiated a three-year contract with the union "without bringing in lawyers," he says. "We did it among ourselves. And we did it in a week's time. I'm very proud of that."
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    Eldridge Coles has worked every job at GRTC "from sweeping the floor to CEO," he says. "I used to always say, 'From the back of the bus to the head of the corporation.' " As CEO, Coles negotiated a three-year contract with the union "without bringing in lawyers," he says. "We did it among ourselves. And we did it in a week's time. I'm very proud of that."
    Michael Lease
  • Leslie Zink dreamed of driving one of the buses she rode as a little girl. Now, her grandson is also "crazy about buses," she says. "I try to show him every now and then about the new buses and everything. He just says, 'Grammy, when can I ride with you?' "
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    Leslie Zink dreamed of driving one of the buses she rode as a little girl. Now, her grandson is also "crazy about buses," she says. "I try to show him every now and then about the new buses and everything. He just says, 'Grammy, when can I ride with you?' "
    Michael Lease
  • Harry West is a Vietnam veteran who flew home to Richmond the day he returned to the U.S. He remembers "picking up this young lady that worked down on Ninth and Cary. She would get on and never said anything, was always reading." West eventually struck up a conversation with her. She's now his wife. "We have two fantastic kids," he says.
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    Harry West is a Vietnam veteran who flew home to Richmond the day he returned to the U.S. He remembers "picking up this young lady that worked down on Ninth and Cary. She would get on and never said anything, was always reading." West eventually struck up a conversation with her. She's now his wife. "We have two fantastic kids," he says.
    Michael Lease
  • Debrorah Hopkins started her career as a teacher but "wanted to do something a little different," she says. "I wanted to deal with people in a different aspect." Hopkins has noticed her ridership change over the years.
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    Debrorah Hopkins started her career as a teacher but "wanted to do something a little different," she says. "I wanted to deal with people in a different aspect." Hopkins has noticed her ridership change over the years.
    Michael Lease
  • Carl Brown drove trucks in the military, but he says bus training was hard. "You have that many people's lives in your hands driving the bus, you need to be aware of what's going on," he says. His favorite thing about the job? The nice customers. "I have some that are so nice that when it's hot, they'll stand at the bus stop with ice cold water and hand out water to the drivers."
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    Carl Brown drove trucks in the military, but he says bus training was hard. "You have that many people's lives in your hands driving the bus, you need to be aware of what's going on," he says. His favorite thing about the job? The nice customers. "I have some that are so nice that when it's hot, they'll stand at the bus stop with ice cold water and hand out water to the drivers."
    Michael Lease
  • George Barrett credits the civil rights movement for being able to apply for "one of the highest paying jobs in the city of Richmond" at the time, in 1971. "I had big fun back in those days with the transit system," he says. "The passengers grow up right along with you. Some of them you go to their funerals. And some of those people still with me today, you know what I mean."
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    George Barrett credits the civil rights movement for being able to apply for "one of the highest paying jobs in the city of Richmond" at the time, in 1971. "I had big fun back in those days with the transit system," he says. "The passengers grow up right along with you. Some of them you go to their funerals. And some of those people still with me today, you know what I mean."
    Michael Lease
  • Dave Edmonds drove a school bus in North Carolina as soon as he got his driver's license at 16. His bus in Richmond got stuck in the snow one winter. "I had people in the neighborhood coming and bringing me soup and sandwiches and coffee," he says. "I didn't worry about being hungry because they'd look out for you."
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    Dave Edmonds drove a school bus in North Carolina as soon as he got his driver's license at 16. His bus in Richmond got stuck in the snow one winter. "I had people in the neighborhood coming and bringing me soup and sandwiches and coffee," he says. "I didn't worry about being hungry because they'd look out for you."
    Michael Lease
  • Kasandra Ellis used to drive a school bus like one of her grandfathers. Her dad was a long-distance truck driver. "Driving the bus is in my blood, so I love to drive," she says. "So this job was perfect for me. Because I'll drive from here to Timbuktu. I guess I just love to move."
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    Kasandra Ellis used to drive a school bus like one of her grandfathers. Her dad was a long-distance truck driver. "Driving the bus is in my blood, so I love to drive," she says. "So this job was perfect for me. Because I'll drive from here to Timbuktu. I guess I just love to move."
    Michael Lease
  • Sheronda Hill was urged by a friend of her father to apply for a job at GRTC after a manufacturing company she was working for folded. "Ride the bus!" she says. "There's nothing wrong with it! If you never rode the bus before, don't judge it. Take one trip. One time. And then you take it from there."
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    Sheronda Hill was urged by a friend of her father to apply for a job at GRTC after a manufacturing company she was working for folded. "Ride the bus!" she says. "There's nothing wrong with it! If you never rode the bus before, don't judge it. Take one trip. One time. And then you take it from there."
    Michael Lease
  • Robert Scott grew up in New York but grew tired of the city. In Richmond, he has a "lotta favorite passengers. Sometimes they wanna bring you something to eat."
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    Robert Scott grew up in New York but grew tired of the city. In Richmond, he has a "lotta favorite passengers. Sometimes they wanna bring you something to eat."
    Michael Lease
  • Bruce Korusek grew up in Richmond and took his first picture of a bus at age five, now part of an archive of Richmond bus memorabilia he began assembling as a teenager. He says as a child, "Everyone rode the bus. It was just a different world. So I grew up interested in buses because they were my key to going anywhere."
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    Bruce Korusek grew up in Richmond and took his first picture of a bus at age five, now part of an archive of Richmond bus memorabilia he began assembling as a teenager. He says as a child, "Everyone rode the bus. It was just a different world. So I grew up interested in buses because they were my key to going anywhere."
    Michael Lease

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The people who keep the world functioning — its garbage collectors, utility workers, public transit operators — often go unnoticed, existing as a kind of invisible backbone to our lives. But three residents of Richmond, Va., want to change that, by focusing on the city's bus drivers. Their project, Driving Richmond: Stories and Portraits of the GRTC Bus Drivers, was on view at the RVA Street Art Festival last month.

Sound portraits taken from interviews with the drivers accompanied their photos in the exhibition.

hide captionSound portraits taken from interviews with the drivers accompanied their photos in the exhibition.

Michael Lease

Laura Browder first came up with the idea when a former student (and the festival's curator), Vaughn Garland, told her about the exhibition space: a long, cavernous brick building that housed Richmond's public transit company for over 100 years. At the time, Browder was conducting oral history interviews for a project about civil rights in Richmond.

"It was clear to me from those interviews how pivotal buses, and busing, were in this Southern city that underwent profound changes during the civil rights era," she says.

In Driving Richmond, 15 employees of the Greater Richmond Transit Company sit for portraits against plain backdrops. Photographer Michael Lease says the sameness in setting was intentional:

"Aside from his suit, there is no difference in depiction between the CEO, Eldridge Coles, and a young operator like Sheronda Hill. It's my hope that the setting in which the portraits were made equalizes the subjects."

The photographs were displayed with "sound portraits" gathered by Benjamin Thorp during interviews with the drivers.

With these pictures a greater history of Richmond emerges — one of desegregation, women's entitlement, union rights, immigrant assimilation. And though their histories are vastly different, it seems that all those interviewed agreed on one thing: They love their jobs.

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