Freddy Jackson, an unemployed St. Paul hotel concierge, bought a broken-down MTC bus from a Hastings junkyard last spring for $2,000. This autumn, he'll be coming to a neighborhood near you.
Jackson has been spending his days this fall randomly picking up people who are waiting at MTC bus stops in Minneapolis and St. Paul.
"I'm on the road," Jackson says, with a wide grin. "It's official. The bus is refurbished. I drove 26 people around the city today. No charge."
Welcome to one man's world of unemployment, what Jackson prefers to call "funemployment."
"My grandpa died last February and left me a little inheritance," Jackson says. "So I decided to blow some of it on this new hobby. I fixed up an old city bus, put on my old concierge uniform, and I drive around town on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays for six hours a day. I swing by the MTC bus stops and pick up people waiting for their regular bus. I tell them I'll get them where they're going faster, plus they can grab something cold from the cooler. I have hot coffee on hand, too. Now, I might be playing some Bob Marley on the stereo or maybe a little Sam Cooke, sometimes gospel. On Fridays I try to have a sing-along."
Jackson says he doesn't limit his ride offers to those at the bus stop. He shouts to people walking down the sidewalk, telling them to jump in, "just to take a load off." He has also been known to stop in at local cafes and bars and ask the patrons to join him on a ride, just for fun.
"Some people have never taken a city bus before," he says. "They get in and they feel what it's like to have someone else do the driving for a change. They're so used to their busy lives driving their cars from errand to errand, they forget what it's like to just sit and let someone else take the wheel as they just watch the city go by. It's relaxing. People who drive cars every day have no idea how calming and soothing a bus ride can be. You're not in control. Someone else is. You have nothing to do but sit with your thoughts or daydream a bit, maybe read a good book. A lot of people with cars never know this kind of peace."
Last Monday morning, Sally Sundeen was waiting for the 16 on University Avenue when freewheeling Freddy pulled up and said, "Get in, honey, it's your lucky morning."
"There were nine people on the bus at the time," Sundeen says, "and they all had coffee in their hands, and Freddy was playing some Sly and the Family Stone. Everyone seemed so happy. I'd never been on a bus with that kind of feeling, that kind of spirit. Freddy took me straight to my job at the University of Minnesota, and even walked me to the door and held it open for me—all that and coffee with sugar and cream. He spoiled me. I don't want to go back to that somber old 16."
"I'm not only taking them in place of their regular bus," Jackson says, "I'm leaving my regular route from time to time and driving them right to their destination, even if it means winding down side streets or in one case down a narrow back alley."
Jackson is living off unemployment for the time being and says he's looking for work. He doesn't know how long he'll keep this up but says he's having the time of his life and will lament parking the bus permanently once a new gig comes along.
"I've had people try and pay me for this, but I won't take it," he says. "One guy tried to stick a hundred-dollar bill in my shirt pocket just to help cover the gas. I told him Grandpa is covering the gas."
Jackson says this time of year there's a "happy energy" in the air with the beautiful autumn days and the color in the trees.
"I was driving through Dinkytown during homecoming week, and I had five or six students on the bus singing 'My Girl' right along with the stereo. The sun was shining so bright, and the air was crisp and cool, and I said to myself, life is just a series of moments, you know, some better, some worse, and this one is as good as any I've ever known."
© TD Mischke