At a glance, it’s difficult to identify Javier Moreno.
One of Moreno’s name tags has a Carl’s Jr. hamburger logo and is inscribed: “Ernesto - assistant manager.” Another plastic plate reads: “Knott’s Berry Farm - Alfred,” and yet another name placard is from the Der Wienerschnitzel hot dog chain. Moreno has supplemented this display on his orange safety vest with about a dozen other buttons and trinkets found as part of his job as a bus cleaner for the Orange County Transit District.
While most of the county sleeps, Moreno and another 71 workers clean and service the 480 buses operated by the OCTD, which on a typical weekday will carry 100,000 passengers to and from work, school and stores.
It is an occupation few describe as ordinary.
In his three months as a bus serviceman, John Krems has found a wallet, purse, boogie board, fishing pole, “billions of combs and pens” and a like number of beer cans and newspapers. If the dumpsters filled with the daily accumulation of bus trash are any indication, a good number of bus riders are slobs.
Although the consumption of food and drink is prohibited on OCTD buses, many riders apparently mistake the back seats for beer lounges and discarded cans wrapped in brown bags become the bane of a bus serviceman or woman’s night. Krems and the other four “runners” at the Anaheim base must wrestle the cans from the nooks and crannies behind seats and over wheel wells in their 6 p.m.-to-2:30 a.m. shift. Each runner services three buses an hour, which includes removing the men’s and women’s underwear, bird cages, sweaters, umbrellas and wheelchair that were recently left behind by riders.
Every night, every one of the approximately 332 buses that have been on the streets of Orange County return to one of three service centers: Anaheim, Garden Grove and Irvine. Runners bring the 18-ton buses one at time from a vast parking lot at each site, take out all the large items left behind and then attach a giant vacuum cleaner to the front doorway of the bus which draws out all the smaller objects and loose dirt. With its interior dust and trash free, runners take the bus to a service bay for refueling, routine servicing and inspections, and then on to an automated washing garage for a bath. Graffiti removal comes next; Lloyd Banta, Anaheim service supervisor, will not release a bus with any markings on walls or seats.
Because of the accumulated sand and surfboard wax inside, buses on the beach runs are generally the dirtiest, said Ginny Koehler, one of two women runners at the Anaheim maintenance base.
After the buses leave the wash bay, their minor mechanical problems are attended to by mechanics. For more serious repairs, overhauls and repainting, the buses remain in aircraft hangar-sized garages for as long as two weeks.
Working alone in small shops, an upholstery repairman, tire serviceman and fare box mechanic fix tears in seats, extract nails from tires and overhaul fare boxes.
With rows of coin mechanisms on the shelves before him at his work table, Ken Feskanich toils into the night at the Anaheim maintenance base to repair coin processors damaged by safety pins, rocks, cigarette butts and foreign coins, all of which have been thrown into the fare boxes along with the required 75-cent fare. “Whatever is in their (rider’s) pockets, ends up in the fare boxes,” he said.
At least once a month, each bus is given an extra-thorough cleaning that takes from two to eight hours, depending on the quantity of gum stuck on the floors, the amount of surfboard wax encrusted on the seats and the severity of the grime on the ceiling. This treatment also includes polishing the outside of the bus and waxing the floors, a detail that has gained the district national attention within the industry.
All this special attention produces a bus that is the way Thomas Espinoza thinks it ought to look when it rolls out for duty in the morning. Espinoza, who commands service operations at all three maintenance bases, brought his campaign for cleanliness from the Marine Corps, where he spent 20 years cleaning and servicing buses and trucks.
“People like to get on something clean . . . like their own car,” said Espinoza.
At 2:30 a.m., with a lot full of sparkling buses ready to begin rolling 90 minutes later, Espinoza, Banta, Koehler, Krems, Feskanich and the other service workers are ready to pack their equipment for another day, wondering how dirty the fleet will be when it returns and pondering whatever became of the rider who came on the bus in a wheelchair and left without it.