Mark Tobin-Cortez thought he’d join the service. But after being diagnosed with flat feet, he had to rethink that plan. His father, a 23-year bus operator, encouraged him to apply at what was then known as the Metropolitan Transit Commission. Tobin-Cortez liked the idea but didn’t think he had the kind of experience he’d need to pursue a career in bus maintenance. After taking a class in which he helped rebuild a firetruck engine, he applied and got the job. Hired in 1976, Tobin-Cortez ultimately spent more than 43 years at Metro Transit.
Tobin-Cortez’s first stop was at the old Northside Garage, where he worked overnight cleaning buses. “I was told I’d be working 9 to 5, which I thought was gravy,” Tobin-Cortez said. “Then I learned it would be 9 p.m. to 5 a.m.” After stints as a fueler and vault puller, Tobin-Cortez graduated to roles as a skilled helper and technician. At the old Snelling Garage, he steam cleaned engines, built mirrors, glued seat covers together in the upholstery shop, went on service calls and did a variety of other jobs. He also spent a few years as a miscellaneous bus operator, getting behind the wheel before or after putting his time in at the garage. That experience, he said, gave him a better appreciation for the issues operators reported to bus maintenance. “They’d tell us the bus just died and we couldn’t believe it,” he said. “Then it happened to me.”
Tobin-Cortez was among the first employees to work at the Overhaul Base when it opened, spending 12 years in the brake shop there. He was also among the first technicians to work at East Metro Garage, where he spent more than a decade inspecting buses. “I got tired of going on service calls and thinking we could prevent some of these issues if we just did a better job with inspections,” he said. Toward the end of his career, Tobin-Cortez moved from St. Paul, his hometown, to Brooklyn Center. To avoid a long commuter, he transferred to the Ruter Garage where he spent his last two years as a general technician.
Tobin-Cortez retired in April 2019. In retirement, he looked forward to having more time with his two dogs, fostering animals and creating marionettes and hand puppets, a longtime hobby.