CORONA CAN’T STOP THE BUSES FROM RUNNING ON TIME
On Wednesday April 8, The Sheet decided to ride the bus. The purple line to be precise, the only non-trolley, non-paying line that is still operating through Eastern Sierra Transit Authority (ESTA). Despite the Covid-9 quarantine in full effect, the route, and the drivers driving it, are deemed ‘essential’ by the Town of Mammoth Lakes.
The bus driver was Donnie Eimen, who has been a full time resident and bus driver, for exactly two and a half years.
The goal was to interview the driver and a couple of passengers but since quarantine started, passengers have been steadily declining. “The driver before me said he had five passengers during his entire shift,” said Eimen before explaining the current seven-hour shifts that the ESTA drivers are allotted.
The Sheet rode the bus twice, once at 2 p.m. and once at 5 p.m. During the second trip, Eimen checked his passenger log sheet and said, “I have had six passengers today and two of them were you.”
Eimen, originally from Southern California, likes his life in Mammoth Lakes. His wife still lives in Southern California but
the two are working towards retirement. Eimen originally came for the winters, but after a couple years of hiking, backpacking, and participating on the local search and rescue team in the summer, he quickly realized that summer is the true gem of the Eastern Sierra.
Eimen used to be a truck driver so The Sheet asked what he liked about driving the shuttles for ESTA.
“Well, it is a lot like driving a truck. But when you drive the bus, you have cattle with you [people] and sometimes I like to talk to the cattle.”
But now, the buses are nearly empty and there are no cattle available for casual discourse. Eimen is on the frontline when it comes to possible exposure to coronavirus, but is he nervous about the possible risk? “Of course I am. But I’m thankful to have the opportunity to work. I have bills to pay.”
ESTA drivers are split into two categories: part-time and full time drivers. During peak winter season ESTA has about 35 drivers employed and when they are going into shoulder season, they have between 10-15 drivers who are eligible for benefits. Eimen said the main thing Covid-19 did was push shoulder season forward about a month. Most of the time, ESTA waits until the Mountain shuts down Eagle and Canyon lodge before sending the seasonal workers home. This year they did it about the time the Mountain shut down.
ESTA offered paid time off packages to workers over 65 but Eimen, who is still working towards retirement, didn’t make the cut. “We don’t really talk about the lack of passengers, because most of the drivers are worried. If some passenger comes on and is hacking up a lung, it is definitely scary,” said Eimen.
Eimen mentioned that about a week ago, that type of passenger actually got on his bus. “When he got off I held my breath and then ran outside as quick as I could to get some air.”
ESTA provides its drivers with face masks and a selection of sanitary products but Eimen wasn’t wearing his face mask at the time … likely because it was just him on the bus. If you want to keep him company during his lonely 7 hour shifts, just hop on the purple line. There will be tape blocking off the first couple rows, but that’s to be expected. Eimen just hopes the tape won’t last, “I hope this turns around quickly. Maybe I’m being [optimistic] but it would be good if things went back to normal.”