By John Pfeifer
Glacier Valley Transit (GVT) provides free public transportation year-round in Girdwood, but its workers are more than just bus drivers. Sometimes, they’re a one-person welcoming committee for new arrivals. In the summer, they serve as tour guides, and year-round, they’re a friend to the many regular riders going to and from work or just hopping on the bus for a few minutes to chat and go for a ride.
Jeff Locke is one of GVT’s three full-time drivers. “One of the best parts of my job is getting to know people. My regulars. They’re people I would never have met if I weren’t a driver,” he said on a recent drive.
Locke has been working for GVT almost five years. He came to Girdwood in April 2000 to just hang out for the summer, but he never left.
“I’ve made friends from all over the world,” Locke said, and he’s kept in touch with many of them. “China, Jamaica, Serbia,” he listed a half-dozen countries. “We get a lot of Australians. Out of all the countries, I meet more Australians than anyone else,” he said.
“If people want, I give them a little tour. Mostly I point out what businesses are in town. They always want recommendations about where to eat,” he said. “They also like to hear the story about the ghost trees down by the inlet.” During the 1964 earthquake the bedrock dropped nine feet, and the trees were soaked with saltwater, creating today’s Girdwood Ghost Forest.
Locke explained how sometime the tourists have misconceptions about what Girdwood offers visitors. “When I say I’m taking them downtown, they’re expecting a Walmart and a movie theater. I tell them, well, your downtown is nothing like our downtown,”
Locke said, “One of my favorite questions is, ‘How many people live here?’ I say around 2,000, and they say, ‘So, you must know everyone then.’ And I say, ‘What, you have 2,000 friends?”
Dawn Skadan is another full-time driver and has been working for GVT two-and-a-half years. She’s equally enthusiastic about her job. Last year, she decorated the buses for Christmas and people liked it so much, she’s doing it again this year. In fact, she’s expanded to other holidays. During Thanksgiving week, the buses will be adorned with turkey drawings made by students at the Girdwood K-8 School. “They went all out and made some great decorations,” she said.
Skadan is also known as the Disco Lady (at least she’s called that by one of her riders). On Friday and Saturday nights, she puts up a disco light and plays dance music on the bus speakers. “I tape it up to the visor so it doesn’t bother me but so that the colored lights swirl around the bus,” she said.
“We get everybody pumped up,” she said. “I want to get people to their destination safely, but I also want them to have a good time.”
Sometimes, though, things can get out of hand. “Once there were some ladies who just came from a bachelorette party. When they got on the bus, the Backstreet Boys were playing and they went bananas. When some of them started to swing on the handrails, I had to tell them to stop,” she said. “They were nice ladies but they were having a little too much fun.”
You can meet a GVT driver by just hopping on a bus any day of the week. This time of year, GVT operates the town route, which travels from Alyeska Hotel and Resort to the Tesoro station with several stops along the way. In the summer, they add a second route up Crow Creek Road. More information is available on their website glaciervalleytransit.com.