HAWAII AT WORK
CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL /
Esther Aweau will celebrate next month her 35th year as an employee of TheBus. She works a split shift each day driving three different routes that together take her practically all around the island, except for West Oahu. "I love my job," she said last week. Above, Aweau flashed a "shaka" sign.
Enjoying the journey
Esther Aweau helped pave the way for women as one of the first female drivers for TheBus
Esther Aweau has been driving the "Circle Island" bus route around Oahu almost every day for the past 15 years, and she has yet to get tired of it.
Title: Bus operator
Job: Drives a 40-foot, 42-seat passenger bus for Oahu Transit Services Inc.
"I love driving the Circle Island" Aweau said last week about her daily drives for Oahu Transit Services Inc.
, operator of TheBus.
The Circle Island route takes her from Mililani to Ala Moana, then over the Pali to the North Shore, then back to Ala Moana via Wahiawa.
"I love driving out there," she said. "I love the weather, the scenery, and I get to meet people from all over the world."
Aweau also has a morning route from Aiea to the University of Hawaii and back, then another, at the end of the day, from Ala Moana to Kahaluu, then back to Pearl City, where she starts her day.
Aweau joined TheBus 35 years ago next month. She applied for the job of driver while still working at the Dole pineapple cannery in Iwilei, where she drove forklifts and other heavy equipment -- a fact that impressed her future bosses at TheBus.
Her motive in switching jobs, she said, was to make more money, as in those days bus driving was predominantly a man's job, and "men made more money," she said.
Indeed, her salary almost quadrupled upon switching to TheBus, where she was one of the first 10 women hired by the company to be drivers.
A decade later, she paved the way for women again by becoming the company's first female driving instructor, which she did for the next 15 years.
A self-described "people person," Aweau participates every year in the Aloha Week Parade, usually as a pa'u rider. One year she was the parade's pa'u rider queen.
"Yeah, I was queen once," she said. "After riding (representing) all those nine islands, you become queen. (Laughter) That was, like, five years ago. But today I'm one of the judges. So if you go by, and you see us sitting up there, I'm one of them."
Aweau, 73, is single but has six adult children from her first of two marriages -- three sons and three daughters.
"I have one bus driver," she said of her oldest son Craig. "He's been working, like, 31 years."
Born and raised in Kaalaea, which is next to Kahaluu, Aweau attended Castle High School but dropped out before graduating to get married. "
"I made my mother cry," she said.
But later, she added, "I went to night school to get my education, after my kids grew up."
These days, Aweau resides in Kaneohe with her son Craig and his wife, Ina, and their son, Laahila.
She said she expects to keep driving for TheBus for at least a couple more years.
Mark Coleman: What is your work title?
Esther Aweau: Bus operator.
Q: How long have you been working for TheBus?
A: Next month, August the 22nd, it's going to be 35 years.
A: I know -- Wow! -- and I don't know what happened to it. It came and it went!
Q: Have you always been a driver for TheBus?
A: No. After working 10 years as a driver, there was an opening to teach -- to teach others how to drive a city bus. So I became an instructor for about 15, 20 years. I was the first lady instructor. And when I had first started driving, I was one of the first 10 women that started driving, back in 1973, so I was helping pave the way.
But I already was in that kind of field. I was with Dole Cannery. I was driving the forklift, and I was driving this square-looking object with big, big wheels, and when the trucks come in from Wahiawa, there's pineapple bins on it, and we go over to the truck and pick up the bins and take it down to the cannery.
Q: Why did you want to become a bus driver?
A: See, Dole Cannery is right next door to Dillingham (Boulevard), and there was a bus going by, and I said, "I think I saw a lady bus driver."
At the time, the money situation was different for women than men, because the men made more money, so I figured if I go and apply for the bus, I would make more money, and it was really true! I think with Dole Cannery it was $1.19 an hour -- and that was kind of high at the time -- and at TheBus it was $4.60.
I always wanted to do what men do because men make more money. My mom said, "I think I brought home the wrong baby." (Laughter) I said, "No, I just like doing those things."
So I found the bus station and went in and asked for a job, and I got hired that same day, like within a half hour, and I got hired to work that Friday. It was a Wednesday when I walked in, and I stated on Friday.
And later I became the first woman instructor on how to teach the guys how to drive the bus. I loved it. I love working with people.
Also during that time, I would drive during the day and bartend at night for Don Ho, at Honey's in Kaneohe. I live right there, that's why. I had two jobs because I have six children.
CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL /
Veteran bus operator Esther Aweau posed last week in front of one of the buses that she drives every day. Officials at TheBus looked favorably upon her when she applied for a job 35 years ago because she previously had operated heavy equipment at the Dole pineapple cannery.
Are you still working two jobs?
A: Oh, no. No, no, no. I don't need to do that anymore. (Laughter).
Q: What is your work schedule and what routes do you drive?
A: I start in the morning at 5:30, and then I have a break -- at 7:19, actually. Then I start again at 11 o'clock to get back on the bus. I drive the "Circle Island." I start from Mililani, go to Ala Moana, and from Ala Moana, I drive to Alakea (Street), then from there over the Pali, to Kaneohe, all the way to Kahuku, Wahiawa, and back to Ala Moana. It's a four-hour trip.
Then after getting to Ala Moana, I do about ... let's see, ...about an hour and 15 minutes more of the Kaneohe-Kahaluu route. So I get out of work about quarter to 7 -- p.m.
But, you know, after working 35 years, your body gets used to the hours. I don't feel all those hours working here. To me it goes by so quick. It's because I enjoy what I do. Especially the Circle Island. I get to meet people from all over the world. It's interesting, you know? Like yesterday, was people from Germany, Switzerland. ... I've been to Germany, I've been to Switzerland, so I could relate to them.
I do a lot of traveling. Like two, three months ago, I have a time-share in Vegas, so I can go for the seven days, fly back. I do keep myself very, very busy.
Q: I admit you have a pretty spectacular bus route, but do you ever get tired of seeing the same old scenery every day?
A: No, I find it different. I was just talking about that yesterday to one of the tourists. I said I love going around the island because there's the ocean out there, the mountains out there, and you have different kinds of weather, and the traffic is so nice -- not like downtown and Waikiki. And I get to see all the different people.
Like during the winter, the surf is up and all the surfers are there and it's really exciting. And during the summer, you see all the families at the beach because they can go in the ocean.
And you get people from all over the world who just jump on the bus. They pay $2 and they get to go around the island. Where else in the world do you get that?
I got 35 years; I can retire anytime I want to. But I don't want to. I love what I do. I don't even have an alarm.
Q: Since you have a split shift, what do you do on your breaks?
A: I use it to go do my errands. Like today, I went to the bank. We have a place here, that the city made, where you can exercise -- an exercise room. But I'm too lazy to go in there. (Laughter)
Q: Do you ever take power naps.
A: Yes! Of course I do. I have a four-hour break. Like right now, the last hour, I come in and rest. I have a Japanese futon. I jump on it and go to bed. It's nice here.
Q: Does having seniority give you the privilege of picking your route?
A: Oh, yes. Right now I'm No. 7. We got, like, 900 drivers, so I can choose wherever I want to work. So I love driving the Circle Island because I love driving out there. I love the weather, the scenery, and I get to meet people from all over the world. I'm just a people person.
Are there any routes that you haven't had?
A: Oh, I drove every one, but the last 15 years I just chose to drive the Circle Island.
Q: What about when the weather is bad -- does that ever make you nervous?
A: Nooo, no, no, no. It's exciting to see different kinds of weather. It's really nice. I can handle. (Laughter)
And the speed limit out there (in the country) is 35, 45, so it's really nice. It's not like getting on the freeway and you see those guys driving a hundred miles an hour. That's why I try to stay away from downtown. I like being out there because it's just soothing.
Q: What about seeing the same old people on the bus? Is that ever a problem?
A: Oh, you know, I look forward to seeing them because I'm a very helpful person, and they're out there just to get away from home. They don't bother you. They just get on the bus and they want to get away.
Q: What do you do when somebody riding the bus becomes a problem? Have you ever had to call the police?
A: Oh yeah. In fact, I hate to turn in someone, you know, so sometimes I would just pick up the phone and make believe I'm calling the police department, when it's really someone in the office. "Yes, hello officer ..." (Laughter) And those guys would get off the bus real quick. But I don't have any problems.
Q: Have you ever had an accident?
A: Uh, it's like where we park our bus, right next door to where I'm talking to you? I was just going to my 20 years without an accident, and I kind of cut it too sharp on the bus next to me. So there went my 20 years. But other than that, no.
Q: What's the most common accident that bus drivers have?
A: I think getting too close to the curb, and if they're not paying attention, especially if they're talking, that can occur.
Q: Are you allowed to listen to music while you're driving?
Q: Do you have to know first aid to be a driver?
A: Oh yes, you have to go through all of that.
Q: Have you ever had to use it?
A: So far, no. You know why? The ambulance, the fire department, they're like in every town that you drive through, so... so far, so good.
Q: What about knowledge of your vehicle -- do they give you any mechanical training in case your bus breaks down?
A: Oh, you have to go through that. In fact, when you take your test, you have to go through the engine and name all the parts and let them know what they do.
Q: What kinds of technological changes have you seen at the steering wheel since you started working for TheBus?
A: Well, when I first started, we had the stick shift -- double clutch. For me it was OK, because from Dole Plantation I had already started with that. I think that's why they hired me. Then five years after that, all the automatics came in. It's really nice having the automatics. We do have buttons we can push, like if we're climbing the Pali, we can push it down to 2 to give it that extra lift.
Q: How about air-conditioning?
A: Oh, it's wonderful. Every bus has air-conditioning.
Q: Is it ever too cold for you?
A: Well, there's another little button that we can push to bring it down, like when you're hearing somebody yelling, "I'm freezing back here." So we bring it down. (Laughter)
Q: Do you know the make and model of the bus you drive?
A: Gosh ... (Laughter) ... See when you're not an instructor anymore? I did know all the old ones ...
...Q: How much longer do you plan to keep driving for TheBus?
A: Maybe a couple years more. But I love it. You know, I don't have an alarm clock. My body gets up. So it's telling me, "Continue."
My mother is 95 years old. My sister picks her up every day and she teaches at the senior center in Kahaluu. I tell you, you can't believe that women. I think my sister and I fall on that side of the family. My mother is pure-blooded Chinese. My dad is Irish-French-German-Hawaiian. He was so handsome, that man, I told him I wanted to marry him when I grew up. Too bad you can't do that. (Laughter). He was one of the first to be hired by the first Kaneohe fire department. We kind of played at the fire department a lot when we were little. I think that's why I was kind of tomboyish and ended up doing this kind of job.