By Loreen Berlin, Special to the Indy
Even though Remona Carpenter lives in Cypress, she’s forged a close bond with many of Laguna Beach’s Sawdust Festival artists. In fact, the exhibitors know her so well, that one of them left her a love note recently in the form of an adhesive butterfly placed on the steering wheel of her trolley. They know she loves butterflies.
Carpenter looks forward to spending her summers in Laguna even though it means spending seven hours a day threading her way through the town’s streets, congested by visitors.
She’s not alone. Her fellow drivers – some of whom drive 100 miles from home before they ever step aboard a trolley – have a similar outlook, happy to work for a pay check when their regular jobs driving students to school are on hiatus for the summer.
Carpenter even received a letter from Mayor Kelly Boyd and another from Sawdust Festival administrators commending her driving. The city’s fleet of 12 trolleys boarded 348,814 passengers as of Aug. 4, halfway through its nine-week run ending Sept. 1.
“She’s the best and we love her,” said supervisor Regina Merwald.
Carpenter said being recognized for her work makes her feel special and lets her know she’s doing her job. “Overall, the job has been amazing,” Carpenter smiled.
Chuck Saloga, of Westminster, a fellow school bus driver, likes the canyon atmosphere. When he retires, he plans to work in Laguna as long as his Class B License is active.
Drivers say passengers express amazement that trolley drivers can negotiate Laguna’s car-choked roads and still show patience to passengers.”I’ve learned to treat people with kindness and they return that kindness,” said Saloga. “I try to be polite to everyone.”
Rosa Nunez, of Anaheim, observes both cheerful and grumpy customers boarding her trolley, but few interfere with her job. “This is a place you can work without problems most of the time,” Nunez shared.
Most of her passengers are from someplace in the United States. Locals tell her they love the trolleys because they take cars off local roads. Ridership is up; to 581,704 last summer, compared to 136,734 in 2002. And the type of passengers that board shifts throughout the day. The mornings bring the younger crowd headed for the beaches and surfing. At midday, riders go back to work or sight-see within the town. The biggest crowds mostly of older people board in the evening, she says.
With a constant smile, the newest driver James Mesa, of Montebello, says, “Step into my office,” as he invites guests onto his trolley.
Mesa said the trolley looks like a convertible school bus with lots of air. “And that’s a good thing. I’m enjoying it very much,” he says with an even broader smile.
One passenger who rode his route from beginning to end complimented him on driving smoothly and on being friendly. “That touched my heart,” Mesa said.
Besides the atmosphere of fun and blue skies, Mesa said there’s lots of responsibility drivers take upon themselves. It can be challenging with other vehicles and pedestrians.
Being trained as a school bus driver, Mesa was told if you filled a bus to the top with money, it would never equal the value of even one school child. He keeps that in mind in Laguna as well when he gets behind the wheel. “My trainer’s training has always stuck with me,” he said.
Trainer Dexter Rockward and five fuel and wash employees see that the trolleys are ready for the first 9:30 a.m. route.
Rockward tells drivers to stay focused and not worry about traffic but to stay calm and be patient and courteous with passengers. He’s the first person to test-drive new trolleys and then pass that knowledge to employees. Three new ones were ordered recently from a manufacturer in Wisconsin.
In teaching drivers, Rockward endeavors to get them to appreciate it’s a serious but rewarding job. After being on the road, drivers come back and thank him for his training.”Can’t ask for a better city to work for,” said Rockward. “They’ve been good to me; it’s an honor for them to trust me.”
Loreen Berlin may be reached at [email protected]