Hoping to score an interview with a city bus driver for a story I was working on, I forfeited the warmth, privacy and comfort of my vehicle to wait in a Frankfort Transit shelter outside Chick-Fil-A on Thursday afternoon. But it wasn’t until two or three stops into the ride that I realized how fortunate I was to be aboard Kevin Lilly’s Red Route bus.
For only a quarter I was treated to a fantastic playlist of songs and entertained by fellow passengers who were bobbing their heads and singing along or lip-synching the lyrics.
“Ride my bus long enough and you’ll find something you like or something you haven’t heard,” he said, pointing to the USB drive, where he keeps his tunes, sticking out of the dashboard. “I like a variety of genres.”
That he does. As we pulled away from the curb I took a seat in the back behind 10-year veteran bus rider William Anglin, of Frankfort, whose rendition of R.E.M.’s “Losing My Religion” could easily rival John Michael Stipes’.
A driver for the city for the past two years, Lilly takes pride in his music and his riders have taken notice. In fact, there was one passenger who hopped on the bus at Collins Lane, heard one bar of Soft Cell’s “Tainted Love” and exclaimed “Hey, you are the guy that listens to the good music!”
“That’s what they tell me,” the 52-year-old driver replied.
A few minutes later when “Master of Puppets” began playing, the new rider looked me in the eye from across the aisle and crooned “obey your master.” To which I responded, “Can’t go wrong with Metallica.”
Over the next 30 minutes we bumped through West Frankfort neighborhoods still sprinkled in snow with “Summertime” by the DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince bumping on the speakers and we banged out to “Woo Hoo” by Blur.
As we neared Franklin Square Shopping Center at least three riders were belting out Dire Straits’ “Money For Nothing” and the all-male trio went up an octave during the “get your chicks for free” part.
The bus ride along with the accompanying soundtrack helped me see and hear Frankfort from a fresh perspective. The bus, which seats 16 comfortably, usually had at least half a dozen riders on at a time and Lilly’s playlist was much more fun than “The Wheels on the Bus” I was expecting.
Don’t get me wrong. Not everyone onboard was jamming out. Some wore earbuds and stared out the window at the passing landscape. Others had their necks folded toward the cellphones in their laps.
Waiting for passengers at Kroger West and crossing U.S. 127 South traffic to Leonardwood Drive we got an earful of how much Buddy Holly’s heart yearns for his “pretty, pretty, pretty, pretty Peggy Sue.”
A man of few words, Lilly confided that interacting with passengers is the best part of his job. It is through his music — which helps to break the ice — that he does most of his talking and forms connections with his riders.
Cream’s “Sunshine of Your Love” played as we hung a left onto Kings Daughters Drive and approached my stop. As I disembarked, Lilly bid me farewell the same way he does all his passengers. “Have a good day,” he said.
With “summer, summer, summertime” still knocking in my head and an extra bounce in my step, I walked back to my waiting vehicle thinking, “It’s gonna be a good day indeed.”
Chanda Veno is Managing Editor of The State Journal. She can be emailed at email@example.com.