After countless kilometres behind the wheel, Joe Hronek has gently applied the brakes to a career that spanned 38 years as a bus driver for B.C. Transit.
Hronek, a Colwood resident, began driving with Metro Transit, the precursor for B.C. Transit, in 1980 following eight years working for Correctional Services Canada (CSC) at William Head Institution. Ironically, Hronek’s wife, Stephanie, had put in a few years as a bus driver before she took a position with Corrections Canada, where she worked as a parole officer.
“You could say that our careers crisscrossed,” Hronek noted. “It made for some interesting conversations around the dinner table.”
When asked what kept him driving a bus for so long, Hronek was hard-pressed to explain.
“I never thought I’d drive a bus for 38 years,” he said. “It went so darn fast. I loved my co-workers and my passengers were lovely people, 99.9 per cent anyway. I’ve kept the cards and letters I received from passengers over the years. They mean more to me than anything else.”
Once Stephanie retired three years ago after 30 years with CSC, Hronek said he started to think about retiring in December 2016.
“She did some part-time work and then took a full-time job at Victoria General Hospital,” he said. “Stephanie describes her job as an air traffic controller for nurses. She thrives in that sort of environment. We’re very different in that way.”
Retiring finally provided stability in terms of planning their days off together, Hronek said.
“We’ve been able to go up to our property in Cowichan more often. It’s given us the opportunity to plan more time together. It’s nice after all these years to have supper ready when she gets home from work. She loves it.”
Retirement has also enabled Hronek to spend to more time working on his Austin hot rod, which he calls “an ongoing project” that he plans to take to more car shows.
“I’m a big roller derby fan as well,” he said. “I have a daughter who’s a member of a team in Courtenay, and I’m looking forward to taking in more of her games.”
Hronek is also looking forward to devoting more time to his membership in the First Special Service Force Association. The group gets together to keep the history alive of the unit consisting of Canadian and American soldiers, made famous for their exploits in the 1986 movie, The Devil’s Brigade.
His curiosity began after one of his co-workers looked at a picture of Hronek’s uncle, who served with the group, and recognized the insignia. “He’s the one who really sparked my interest. The association spend a lot of time contacting friends and family from that group. It’s very rewarding.”
Hronek joined the Victoria-Esquimalt Military Reenactors Association a year ago as another way to foster his fascination with military history.
“I dabbled a little (with the association) last year, but now I have the time to jump in with both feet. I also want to pick up my didgeridoo and get back to playing that now that I’m retired.”
When asked if there are any stories he’d like to share from his time as a bus driver, Hronek had a couple that came to mind.
“My most surprising one happened on my 35th birthday,” he recalled with a smile. “A couple of co-workers arranged for a strip-o-gram to get on my bus during a layover. That was very memorable.”
Another time several young ladies who had obviously been enjoying a night on the town were getting off his bus when one of them told the others that she was going to thank the driver. “She gave me a very passionate kiss on the lips. Those are things you don’t forget.”
Hronek said one of his proudest moments involved the other drivers he worked with.
“A driver, a real prince of a guy, experienced what you can only describe as every driver’s worst nightmare. It was back in the days before there was stress leave, so all the drivers offered to cover his shifts until he was able to return to work. I was so proud of our co-workers and will never forget what they did. I still get emotional talking about it.”
Hronek, who retired on Nov. 9 as number one on the seniority list, ranks 35 years plus of continuous safe driving as his greatest accomplishment.
When asked if there there’s any advice he wanted to share, he didn’t hesitate for a second.
“Don’t chase after buses, there’s always another one coming along soon enough. And pedestrians and cyclists would be doing a huge favour not just for drivers but for themselves if they didn’t wear dark clothing. You can buy a flashlight for $3, and it makes it much safer for everyone at night.”