After 12 years being employed as an OATS Transit driver, Magdalena Villarreal said she still enjoys taking her bus, which she proudly takes care of as if it were her own car, to different places and meeting new people.

“I love what I do,” Villarreal said. “I love the people I pick up.”

In addition to loving the work she does, she said she also appreciates the understanding nature of the people she works for.

“My daughter has kidney and heart issues and there have been times where I’ve been gone for weeks at a time and been able to come back and have a job, where most places would say, ‘You’re gone, you’re out too much,’” Villarreal said. “My boss always says, ‘Go take care of her, let us know how she’s doing, keep us updated.’ It’s very relaxing to know I’m able to come back to work after being gone so long.”

What would surprise people most to learn about your job?

“It’s a fast-paced kind of job. You don’t want to be late to pick up people to take them to their appointments. But it can also be easy and laid back. You get to drive a vehicle like a bus, car or van depending on the license you have. You get to listen to music. You pick up people and get to meet different kinds of people. A lot of them get on and tell stories of, ‘Back in the day...’ and that’s always amazing to me. It’s interesting and it’s good to learn from them.”

What’s the most common question you get about what you do?

“‘Are you old enough to drive?’ That is always everyone’s first impression of me. And yeah, I’m older than they realize. It always throws them off and it throws them off even more when I tell them how long I’ve been here. I’ve been here for 12 years and this November will be 13 years.”

What is the most challenging aspect for your job?

“Finding addresses. A lot of the time, the GPS doesn’t find them so I go between Google Maps and MapQuest. We don’t use MapQuest very often, but sometimes MapQuest finds the address Google Maps couldn’t find. Google Maps will sometimes take me somewhere and say ‘You are here,’ and I’ll zoom in and it’s in the middle of the road and I’m not there. That’s the most challenging. There was a time I was sent to pick up a rider and I’m on a bunch of gravel roads and the map is taking me this way and that way, I’m zooming into the map and I’m like, ‘Where is this person at?’ I called the office and they’re getting pretty much the same thing I’m getting. So when that happens, I usually call the client and see if they can direct me from where they’re at. A lot of the time they can and by the time I do get there, I’m like, ‘I never would have found this by myself.’ Sometimes I’m like, ‘Next time, I’m just going to call you.’”

What is the most rewarding aspect of your job or career?

“Definitely the people. A lot of the clients are just so sweet. A lot of the people I pick up are from the Veteran’s Home and they’re always so happy to see me. They’re like, ‘I’m so glad it’s you coming to pick me up.’ Every now and again I’ll also cover for Head Start and I get to pick up little kids and a lot of the times they’ll give us hugs. Different riders of all ages and being greeted with a smile are always very rewarding.”

Would 10-year-old you be surprised that you are in this position or field?

“Yes, I never thought I would be doing this. I used to drive a school bus in Jefferson City. I actually liked it a lot until I was hit head-on by a drunk driver. It was pretty scary, but I got through it. My daughter always says, ‘When I get older, I want to drive a bus like you.’ But she also wants to be a pediatrician after being in the hospital so long. She says, ‘But I want to help little kids,’ so I tell her, ‘Be a pediatrician. Help out little kids.’ But me at that age, I’d be pretty shocked.”

What advice would you give someone starting a job similar to yours?

“I would tell them to always listen to the client. They know themselves better than those in the office or what we’re told on our tablets, information-wise. They know what they can and cannot do. I always ask if they prefer to use the lift or the stairs. They tell me, ‘Oh yeah, I can take the stairs,’ and I carry their walker. A lot of people are scared of the lift and ask if they’re going to fall. We’ve picked up some pretty big wheelchairs on this lift and it’s never fallen. We also get a routine check-up every six months on our lifts so everything is up to par. And just to reassure them, I offer to ride with them or be right behind them on the stairs so if they fall, I can stop them.”

Staff Writer Dustin Steinhoff can be reached by emailing dustin.steinhoff@dsjnow.com or by calling (660) 747-8123.

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