When Darin Pavek’s father suggested he follow his lead and become a bus driver for Metro Transit, he didn’t think much of the idea.
“I thought, ‘Why would you want to drive around with 40 back seat drivers when you don’t know where you’re going?’” he recalled. “The idea gave me butterflies.”
With the prospect of a full-time job, Pavek overcame his reservations and began working at Metro Transit on Oct. 12, 1992. More than 20 years later, he has come to look at the job a lot differently than he used to.
After getting to know many regular commuters, Pavek said he now likes to think of his job as taking his friends to work every morning.
“I may not have their phone numbers, but other than that it’s really not all that different,” he said, echoing a comment he made in an interview with Minnesota Public Radio earlier this year.
The familiarity comes in partially because Pavek has spent more than a decade driving the Route 5 bus between Brooklyn Canter and Bloomington. As a “Night Owl” operator, Pavek is on the road between 1 a.m. and 9 a.m. weekdays – an early morning shift that got him recognized in a KARE-11 news segment about people at work during the early hours.
Among the early-morning customers who have built a relationship with Pavek is Steve Murphy, managing editor at WCCO Radio News, who takes Route 5 from south Minneapolis to his job downtown. In November, Murphy was robbed on the street, arriving at the bus bloodied and bruised. Recalling the incident, Murphy said Pavek’s reaction was characteristic of his caring personality:
"[The assault] didn’t happen anywhere near a bus or a bus stop. But I was able to make it to my “safe haven” bus after being attacked and Darin insisted I get off at HCMC – no excuses – and he was right," Murphy said. "…Darin’s great with riders – compassionate but professional – and I think it sets the right tone for a middle of the night urban route.“
Though he could choose a route with more daylight, Pavek said he has come to like working overnights because the streets are more serene. When he began as a part-time operator at Metro Transit, Pavek found himself battling freeway traffic between Minneapolis and Maple Grove.
“Initially I picked the overnight route so I could have my weekends, but after a while I actually started to like it,” Pavek said. “I like driving around with no traffic and without as many people on the bus – it’s a lot more relaxing.”
Though it may be quiet, Pavek still has plenty of memorable stories from his experience and says he’s seen enough that “nothing really surprises me.” One of his more vivid memories: driving down Fremont Avenue the morning after a tornado struck north Minneapolis in 2011.
“All of those people were so happy to see me because there weren’t any other buses coming through,” he said.
While that was a unique circumstance, the experience isn’t unlike what Pavek sees every day while out on his route. Whether they are at the beginning or end of their days, Pavek said customers are always happy to see him approach.
“That’s one of the parts I enjoy the most – picking up people and seeing the smiles on their faces when they see you coming every day,” he said.
Operator at a Glance
Name: Darin Pavek
Hired: Oct. 12, 1992
Employee Number: 6236
Routes: Pavek began his career at Metro Transit driving express routes to Maple Grove. Later, he became an “extra board driver,” picking up a variety of routes as needed. He moved to the Route 5 “Night Owl” ten years ago.
Favorite memories: Pavek said he’s enjoyed watching children grow up on the bus and getting to know many of his longtime customers. He remembers one customer in particular who rode often and brought him homemade candy every Christmas.
Awards: 20-year safe operator, 2012 and 2013 Bus Roadeo finalist
Hobbies: Outside of work, Pavek like to play the guitar, fly model airplanes and spend time with his Golden Retriever.
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