Driving In Circles on Purpose

By Emily Martin

It’s a quarter to five in the morning and Letitia Francis is ready for her day job, well, actually her two jobs, which are really the same job: driving busloads of Middle Tennessee State University students to and from classes. In the afternoons she’s a Raider Express driver. In the mornings she drives a bus for one of the apartment complexes that caters to students.

Soon enough she’s on her first route of the day. The brakes squeak and the engine hums. 

At a stop she opens the door with a twist of a handle and students hear her familiar refrain: “Alright, come on board.” 

         

Francis, who has dark brown eyes that complements her short reddish, curly hair, has been a Raider Express driver for 22 years and driving a bus for an off-campus apartment complex for four years. Her regular riders may not know her name, but they know her style which is to say, she likes to talk and she likes to listen. 

          

“I love listening to people’s lives. Some of the passengers like to talk.. others don’t. So, I respect that,” she said. Over the years she says the riders explain their relationship troubles, career problems, financial burdens, health related issues, even spiritual battles and sometimes she can relate to it. “It’s nice of them to share it with me. It puts my own life in perspective.” 

         

“Make miracles happen on a Monday y’all,” she frequently shouts out to departing students. As the week progresses, she changes the day of the week. “Work it on a Wednesday people,”  is her Hump Day message. “Feel good on a Friday,” is the one everyone wants to hear her say.

         

Every time a student gets on the bus she makes sure to greet them. She wears flamboyant floral patterns and usually wears a beanie in winter. The operator loves her tennis and chicken burritos from Free Bird. She is always sipping on tea or coffee, occasionally a caramel raspberry latte from Starbucks. 

         

She has been driving since 1995. Going in circles on a bus can get boring from time to time and Letitia says a lot of the time she thinks to herself. “Thoughts fly through my head. I watch the little caterpillar here that dropped out of a tree and then curled up in a circle, and I’m wondering if the wind is crushing him when I’m driven 45 miles an hour and I’m thinking well I won’t get to see it grow into a butterfly,” she said. These are the kind of random thoughts that cross her mind throughout her shift. She laughs at her confession, a loud laugh that travels to the back seats. 

         

She was born and raised in Chicago but moved to California after joining the military for a few years. After living in California for about five years her parents relocated to Murfreesboro and she followed. 

         

“My father had a sister marry here and they had offered to sell my mother and father an acre of land,” she said.  Shortly afterwards, an earthquake in California shook them up and the family moved east.

         

Francis did not originally consider driving as a career. Growing up she always wondered what she was going to do, “I was still searching for what I wanted to be when I grew up and all that time I was doing it, no matter what job I had, I was always driving,” she said. Letitia followed in her father’s footsteps, who was a driver of transfer trucks “I’ve driven across the United States and Canada,” she said.

         

She loves to drive. “I rush out the door and I make my drive here. I always check the vehicle to make sure it is in tip top shape.” Letitia does a practice run every morning to check that the bus is fully functional before riders get on. “I like to get it all warm and cozy if it’s cold outside for the first passengers that get on in the morning,” she said.

         

The hard worker ends her shift at Aspen Heights at 1:05 p.m. but her day does not stop there. After a quick lunch snack Letitia continues driving at 1:30 p.m. at MTSU where she drives the Raider Express. Monday through Friday she runs the same routine until she gets off at 7 p.m. every night. 

         

Letitia is always seen smiling and encouraging students to have a wonderful day. 

         

“That’s what I do, I drive, I like driving,” Letitia said. Normally passengers don’t ask for advice they instead just need someone to listen and she says it seems to help, big time. She wants everyone to know that those things can mean a lot when people think we don’t see them when they walk past. 

         

One of the things about driving that she enjoys is the people. “I just meet some of the most awesome people that have the most resilient spirits and a great sense of humor. Those are the things that you can’t put a price on,” she said. Many of the passengers don’t see that they make her days she says. 

         

“It is the least I can do, you are out here trying to achieve your goals and I can at least get you there. If that’s one less thing you have to worry about, is getting back and forth.” Take care and enjoy the day are the words you are left with after leaving the bus. “I don’t think people think that they make a difference to me and what you all do for me. A lady from France brought me chocolate,” she said. 

         

Just another part of the job that “surprises me.”