After moving to the Twin Cities in 1974, Phyllis Wade-Myers spent a decade leading what was known as the “fluff department” at a commercial laundry service. Commuting on the bus, she was impressed and encouraged when she saw women behind the wheel, thinking to herself, “I could do that.” And so she did, building a reputation for warmly greeting everyone who stepped on board during her 33-year career.
While she entered with confidence, Wade-Myers was quickly struck by the realities of the job and found herself wondering, at least initially, if she was cut out for the work. During her early training, she remembers her palms sweating as she brought a group of fellow trainees back to the garage. The working conditions were a challenge, too: Buses lacked heating or cooling systems, so in the winter she bundled up and put a piece of carboard on the floor to help shield her feet from the cold air. Her first years also meant working lots of nights and holidays, putting in 16-hour days while raising two children and keeping her job at the laundry service. “On Thanksgiving, I’d go home between shifts and baste the turkey,” she said. “You just did what you had to do and you didn’t really think about it.”
Wade-Myers got more comfortable, though, and decided to make transit a full-time pursuit when she realized the job would pay twice the $7 an hour she made at the laundry service, putting her dream of owning a home within reach. She was good at it, too: in her 33 years, she recorded no responsible accidents.
Her comfort on the job allowed her personality to shine at work. At the garage, she served as an informal mentor and motherly figure, befriending her peers and offering her thoughts on the job, personal health and spirituality to those who sought her opinion. On several occasions, customers also asked for her counsel, staying with her during breaks to discuss whatever issues they were facing in their lives. For her part, Wade-Myers, was especially fond of the elderly and special needs customers she got to know. And she built strong rapport with commuters going to work early in the morning on Route 67, a route she operated for many years. Wade-Myers embraced any chance she had to learn from people of different backgrounds, too, initiating cultural celebrations at the garage and learning some Spanish and American Sign Language so she could better communicate with customers. “Everyone has a story, and when you learn that you get an entirely different perspective,” she said.
Wade-Myers’ personality extended to her wardrobe as well. An amateur clothing designer, she disliked the operator uniforms and regularly customized the attire to her tastes. That included a regular rotation of colorful scarves and unique jewelry, as well as some one-of-a-kind headwear fashioned out of the standard-issued clothes made available to operators. “For a woman to wear the same thing every day was just beyond me,” she said.
Looking back at her career shortly before retirement, Wade-Myers said she was grateful to have found a home at Metro Transit but surprised at how long it lasted. “I thought I’d be here until I ran across something better, but I just never found anything better,” she said. In retirement, Wade-Myers said she planned to spend more time volunteering and counseling through her church, Minneapolis-based New Salem Missionary Baptist, sewing, fishing and with her family, including two children and nine grandchildren.