Driving his route from afternoon to past midnight, 80-year-old Everett Minard's relationship with his riders is more than just an on-and-off affair.

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As usual, Everett Minard, 80, the oldest driver with King County Metro Trans it, was unfailingly polite.

It was the start of his shift, which begins at 4:15 in the afternoon and ends at 2:15 in the morning. Minard is a man who likes his job and his passengers.

“Hello, there,” he greeted a young man in his 20s who boarded the bus on its trip north on Third Avenue in downtown Seattle. It’s Minard’s habit to greet passengers, make eye contact and thank them for their fare.

He’s become a favorite for the regulars on his No. 2 bus route, which winds from Madrona Park, across the Central District, through downtown, up the hill to West Queen Anne and then back. The route number changes to 13 along the way, then back to 2.

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And the feeling is mutual: “They’ve become like a family to me, like a Metro family,” he said. “I look forward to doing this every night. It’s never dull.”

Minard, who was born May 30, 1926, heads a top-10 list of the oldest Metro drivers. The others range in age from 74 to 79.

There is no age limit for driving a Metro bus, as long as you can pass the state’s commercial driver’s license test, which includes a medical fitness certification. Drivers must take the license and fitness tests every five years. And the state requires every commercial driver to pass a federal Department of Transportation medical certification at least every two years.

Older drivers are “reliable on their attendance, they’re just good ambassadors,” said Lance Norton, head of the Amalgamated Transit Union, Local 587. “I honestly believe they’re an asset. They’ve seen things happen on the street, on the roads, on your bus. In most cases they have an exemplary record of safe driving.”

Linda Thielke, spokeswoman for Metro, said Minard “has a pretty good driving record, with only minor accidents, really minor, like losing a side mirror.”

On the recent shift, Minard lowered the hydraulic stairs that turned into a ramp for a woman in an electric wheelchair. The woman was carrying a poodle, and had a brown Doberman service dog on a chain. She made her way to the wheelchair space.

“I haven’t seen you in a long time,” Minard said, checking her wheelchair. “Are your brakes on?”

Minard began driving buses part time in 1985, and full time in 1989. He’s a Seattle native, and met his wife-to-be, Nancy, when they were first-graders at Magnolia Elementary. They married in 1948 and had three sons.

In the 1980s, one of his sons, Frank, was a Metro driver.

Sometimes Minard would ride along with his son, and the more Minard rode along, the more he thought, “This is a very interesting job.”

After working at a car dealership, then a plywood mill, Minard decided to apply for a job with Metro.

His wife, who’s also 80, retired only five years ago as a Seattle schoolteacher.

“It’s something we both decided,” said Minard, “that if we were doing something we liked to do, we would just keep doing it.”

Richard Lewis, 55, boarded the bus as it made its turnaround at Queen Anne. Lewis was wearing a black cap pinned with all kinds of buttons, from the U.S. flag to one that read “Smile.” Lewis is very familiar with anything to do with buses, and quickly points out problems to drivers.

On this day, Lewis made sure to take off the rubber band holding together a pack of bus schedules, so that passengers could pick them up more easily. Minard thanked him for the assistance.

Sometimes, Minard said, he feels like Dr. Phil, such as when a passenger starts talking about problems with his girlfriend. He says it’s because of his sympathetic ear.

Minard has nicknames for some of his passengers, and he greets them that way.

There’s “Mr. Wall Street” for a passenger who’s a director of investment research, and “Mr. Steinway” for an elderly man with an apartment in Belltown who has a legendary concert piano.

Just as he knows about their lives, some of his passengers know about the tragedies that have deeply affected Minard.

One of his sons, E. Lawrence “Laury” Minard III, founding editor of Forbes Global magazine, the international edition of Forbes, died in 2001, when his heart gave out while he was climbing Mount Rainier.

He had been making that climb with one of his two daughters, Julia Minard.

In 2005, the body of Julia Minard, 20, was found after she had apparently been strangled in a village in southern Belize. She had been backpacking with friends and had gone off exploring on her own, according to The Associated Press. Belize police charged a local man she had met at a bar with murder.

Minard sighed as he recounted the tragedies. Why his son? Why his granddaughter?

Back on the recent shift, Minard picked up a young woman in dark eye makeup, a regular carrying a skateboard.

Dropping her off on top of Queen Anne, he said, “Thank you, you have a good night.”

He honked his horn as she began skating.

“Watch her; she’s so good with the skateboard, she’ll beat us down to the corner,” Minard said.

The young woman did beat the bus.

Then the bus was empty.

But there were about four more hours left on Minard’s shift. Plenty of time to greet dozens more passengers and, sometimes, make them feel a little special.

Erik Lacitis: 206-464-2237 or elacitis@seattletimes.com

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