April 8, 2013 9:31:36 AM
Sarah Fowler - [email protected]
Robert Meady is a man of few words who prefers to keep to himself. For two weeks each spring, he makes an exception, however.
He is the guy who drives "the big red bus" during the Columbus Pilgrimage. In that role, he is surrounded by people, most of whom want to know all about the bus.
Meady, 43, began driving the 72-passenger, double-decker bus for the Pilgrimage four years ago. An employee of Waters Truck and Tractor, Meady drives a school bus for Sale Elementary. Four years ago, children from Sale were on a field trip touring antebellum homes in Columbus. Columbus-Lowndes Convention and Visitors Bureau Director Nancy Carpenter said when she met Meady, she immediately knew he was the perfect man to drive the Pilgrimage bus.
"He was so sweet and so good with the children," Carpenter said. " We had just purchased the bus and needed a driver. I asked him if he wanted the job and here we are."
A Columbus native and graduate of Caldwell High School, Meady grew up wanting to be a truck driver. After high school, he achieved that dream, driving a big rig all over the country. Along the way, he was married and he and his wife soon had four children, three boys and a girl. When his wife died in January of 2000, leaving him with four small children, Meady gave up his dream and stayed home to drive a school bus.
"I didn't have a lot of choices so I could be home with the kids," he said. "I didn't want to send them off to be raised by a grandmother. I was going to raise them. That way I didn't have to point the finger at anybody if I did the job myself."
Two of his sons now serve in the military. Another son is in college. His daughter recently graduated high school.
Meady bought a house in the country and said with the hustle and bustle of his daily job, he likes to go home after work and sit on his front porch to watch the animals play.
"There's so much noise out here in town I felt when I was ready to buy a place I wanted it to be out," he said. "It's quiet. You can sit and watch the animals play with no one bothering them."
When he's not at home enjoying the peace and quiet, Meady said he enjoys meeting new people through Pilgrimage. And they all want to know about the big red bus.
Just last week Meady said he met a tourist from England who owned three double-decker buses. The two bus drivers talked shop for a while and Meady said he learned a thing or two from the Englishman.
"We really don't have a mechanic in this town who knows as much about it as some of the people doing the tours," he said.
Meady said the bus is a different experience for him. The bus is top heavy, so he has to be careful making turns.
While Meady doesn't crave attention, the bus has become something of a local celebrity.
"People see the bus and they'll wave," he said.
Meady said his favorite home on the tour is Whitehall, an 1840s home nestled on Third Street South.
"It's a nice setting," he said. "It's kind of shady. "
Meady admitted that while he enjoys driving the bus for Pilgrimage, he's never actually been inside one of the famed homes on the tour, not even his favorite White Hall.
"I just like to stay with the bus," he said. " It's something I always prefer to do."
While he stands with the rig, Meady said people are constantly asking him questions about the mechanics of the bus. "I guess they figure I know some of the stuff," he said.
As he makes his way over to the bus to prepare for another tour, he is approached by a man from Michigan.
"That's quite a rig but the steering is on the wrong side," the man joked.
With that, the quiet bus driver began giving his daily tour of the big red bus, which has become as much a part of the Pilgrimage as the homes themselves.
Sarah Fowler covered crime, education and community related events for The Dispatch.