LEWISTON, Maine — Lerry Holloman’s bus sat empty of passengers when a woman climbed aboard, pulled a pass from her pocket and plopped in a seat.
“Good to see you,” the driver said.
For a few blocks they joked about Thanksgiving turkeys and chilly temperatures. Moments later, as the bus reached the woman’s stop, she stood before Holloman and gave him a friendly hug.
“You’re my favorite driver,” she said, and stepped off.
He didn’t seem surprised.
“I try to get along with everyone,” Holloman said. “I may not know you, but I talk with you like I’ve known you for 10 years.”
There’s also an ease that comes with choice.
“I have a bachelor’s degree,” he said. “I don’t have to be here.”
And he’s still going to school.
The 56-year-old Pittsburgh native has been working at college for more than a decade, fitting it in among jobs as a long-haul trucker, spray painter, bus driver and jail guard.
“I’m trying to be an example to my kids,” he said. “Education is the key to everything.”
He moved to Maine about 34 years ago, married and got a job at Bath Iron Works as a spray painter. He worked there for 10 years. He then went to work for Western Maine Transportation. He drove a bus for several years before getting a job hauling hazardous waste between Maine and Texas.
Meanwhile, he went to school.
He took classes at the University of Maine at Augusta and the University of Southern Maine. When his schedule prevented him from attending traditional classes, he went online, enrolling in the University of Phoenix.
After earning a four-year degree in criminal justice, he went to work at the Androscoggin County Jail. He served as a corrections officer before budget cuts set him loose about a year later.
So he returned to Western Maine Transportation, driving the purple bus around and encouraging people to go to school.
Among those folks are his growing family. He has three daughters, ages 32, 29 and 7, and five grandchildren.
He continues to attend school online, hoping to show them what it looks like to earn a master’s degree. He has two classes left. He figures he’ll graduate in March. After that, he may teach or try to work as an administrator with a law enforcement agency.
For now, he’s fine with driving the purple bus and chatting with folks as they climb aboard.
Some climb on just to leave their homes for a while, whether it’s on a casual ride to the Auburn Mall or an hour-long route up Sabattus Street before returning to the city’s downtown bus station.
It’s a job Holloman feels passionate about, whether it’s dealing with the holiday crowds who use the bus to take them shopping or helping someone get to their job on a snowy morning.
“We almost never stop,” he said. “We’ve got people out there who have to get to work.”