Ex-police chief perfects his pick up techniques
Published 1:22 pm, Friday, December 10, 2010
He backs down a driveway, steering clear of the mailbox. "I've been pretty good so far, all these dings and dents have nothing to do with me." He gives a quick toot on the horn.
"Welcome aboard bus 7," he calls out to his first passenger of the day. He takes the ride ticket from Ester Sotolongo and holds it out the window as he punches a hole in it. Sotolongo takes a seat right behind Peck.
Sotolongo asks if they'll be picking up another regular -- 102-year-old Lenora Cox. "Her last birthday, we had two cakes," Sotolongo says as the bus heads into Parish Court. Waiting is John Masi, a World War II veteran who took part in the invasion of Normandy. Peck sees another frequent customer across the lot. Rolling down the window, he asks, "Hey Hank, you riding with us today?" He wasn't.
As they head to Cox's house, Peck puts in a new CD -- Tony Bennett. Frank Sinatra is a favorite of his passengers, he says. One customer lives up in Greenfield Hill and when he was on the list, the other riders all wanted to be dropped off before making that long trek. But now that Peck has started driving and playing music, they prefer to come along for the ride, he says. "They'll all be in the back, singing along."
Driving since August, Peck has done very well in his new career, Sotolongo says. "He's wonderful," she says. "Especially with his background, he can tell us all the stories. And he always knows exactly where he's going."
Peck wants to know how lunch was the other day and asks about another rider who hadn't been around because of a broken hip. As he makes his way to Cox's house -- his first time there -- he asks his passengers for help in locating it. "This is a new one for me," he says. "I rely on my co-pilots."
Cox climbs on board, and the group makes one more passenger stop before heading over to Doughnut Inn, where Peck goes in to collect a big box of doughnuts that the coffee shop donates.
As they wait for Peck, Sotolongo says having the bus service is great. "It's nice for the older people to get out."
When he retired from the Police Department in May after 31 years, Peck didn't expect to find himself back in the building on Mona Terrace where he attended elementary school, then known as Oldfield. In fact, he thought he'd find another full-time job in the law-enforcement field. But he finds the 19.5-hour-a-week job fits in nicely with his life these days.
"This is called an encore career. This is so much fun," Peck says. "These people really depend on us." He's still able to consult with other departments and travel with a flexible schedule. "Everybody likes it."
And he's come to appreciate how important the bus service is to the town's elderly. After dropping off his group in the morning at the center, Peck makes a few doctor appointment runs before heading back to the center. At 12:30, some of the seniors return home and a new group comes in on the bus.
"I never really paid much attention to this," Peck says, "but it is such a large part of these seniors' lives. Some people need to use it two or three times a week for doctor's appointments."
It costs 50 cents for a roundtrip ticket to the Senior Center, $2 round trip to a doctor's office in Fairfield and $4 for an office visit in Bridgeport. To take a taxi across own, Peck says, would run close to $17.
Peck learned there was an opening for a driver when he saw an ad in the newspaper. "I had to get a special license, not a CDL license, though," Peck says. "This is a 15-passenger bus, so I needed an `F' endorsement."
Moving from Police Department headquarters on Reef Road to the Senior Center on Mona Terrace has cut his commute in half, Peck jokes. In fact, there is a trail from his back door through the marsh to the center. "It's a 13-minute walk from my back door," he says.
Before he heads out for the morning route, Peck heads to the office of Hank Steffans, who gives each driver their passenger list for the day. As the buses warm up, they sip coffee and swap jokes and stories.
"This is the best job," Peck says. "I get to pick up chicks all day."