You might call him “‘The King’ of the Road.”
Take a ride anywhere along the Concord Coach bus routes between Bangor and Boston, and you are in for a tuneful treat when your driver is Don Readel.
Along with his passenger-safety information announcement, Readel surprises riders by delivering short, heartfelt songs. Written by Readel or others, the chosen tunes and lyrics are usually upbeat and winningly sung, too. They address everything from love-sweet-love to being kind to one’s neighbor.
Most of the time Readel’s singing is greeted with exclamations of surprise and delight. “He’s darling?” “Who is he?” “That was absolutely charming!” “Encore, encore!” were some of the comments, accompanied by applause, that were heard on during one of Readel’s recent bus runs.
What drives this man at the wheel to sing to strangers?
“This life throws us so many curves. There’s enough stress out there. I’ve always enjoyed being around to lighten it up,” Readel said recently, after delivering passengers to Boston’s bus terminal with a closing song expressing sadness about fleeting relationships.
“I think of the Elvis Presley movies,” the 50-year-old bus driver went on. “In any kind of setting, all of a sudden ‘The King’ takes out a guitar and starts singing. That’s the way life should be!” Readel said.
In fact, during some of his summer bus runs, the singing bus driver whips out a guitar of his own. In winter months, when the weather is too harsh for his beloved instrument, he wings it a cappella.
Both a professional driver and showman to the core, Readel knows when to cut the singing act. He always rapidly retires to the driver’s seat after delivering his first surprising tune. If passengers insist on an encore, he croons the one-line song “Here is the shortest song in the world!” and gets behind the wheel again.
“The passengers usually bust a gut then,” Readel said, “but once in a while you get a voice from the peanut gallery saying, ‘That wasn’t short enough!’” the bus driver says, laughing.
Occasionally, passengers steal the spotlight from their driver. On one occasion, before Readel could complete singing the first few words of “You Are My Sunshine,” passengers stunned him by breaking into song, in four-part harmony.
“That’s the icing on the cake!” Readel said. “I ended up applauding my passengers.”
When he was younger, this self-taught music man made a serious go at singing for his supper. The Ayer, Mass., native sang in many venues ranging from restaurants and lounges to colleges, private parties, weddings and bar mitzvahs. He also gained some measure of fame among filmgoers at Nickelodeon’s The Fine Arts Theatre in Maynard, Mass., where he was known to “grab my guitar and run down the aisle to sing on that beautiful stage and proscenium,” Readel said.
Readel thought he would “call it a day with singing” when he took his steady bus driving job 10 years ago. “But I just couldn’t get away from it,” he said. “Music is what can tie all people together. I know this when my passengers sing along or tap their feet with the beat.”
He added: “Can you imagine if everywhere you went, people would sing you a song? It would be a better world. That’s for sure!”