THIS SUMMER, I got a voicemail from Kathleen Dunne. The Outlook message said it lasted 3 minutes, 2 seconds. She’s a King County Metro bus driver, and she had a lot on her mind.

Cover story: 163 veteran Metro bus drivers are retiring, taking 4,400 combined years of memories

“I’ve been here 42 years, and I realized, looking at all my other co-workers, that I’ve been here since the old brown-and-yellow-uniforms days, before King County took it over. There is just a big piece of history leaving Metro in the next few months,” she says.

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, ridership is a fourth of what it used to be. Millions of dollars of lost revenue have evaporated. There were layoffs of part-time drivers. And this offer to the older drivers. Metro called it a “voluntary separation,” which really was a $20,450 buyout.

After all the emails and conversations that we’ve had, Kathleen and I are on a first-name basis.

Gone, she says in that voicemail, would be, “a lot of things that have been part of the city and Metro, and some very interesting people. It’s the changing of the guard. Just didn’t know if you wanted to ask them some questions.”

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Yes. I did.

When I was a kid growing up in Wallingford, and later Ravenna, I took buses a lot. That was in the days when you could tell your parents you were going downtown by yourself to catch some movies, and they said OK.

Metro buses long have been part of the city fabric. There to take you here and there, cheap transportation, with drivers you know will get you safely to your destination.

I was happy to talk to a group of these men and women.

They really did have great stories to tell. They are the essential workers who every day, in this pandemic, keep transporting thousands of us.

“Well, what’s the alternative?” Kathleen asks about why she kept driving. “We were all scared. You’re devoted to your career. I try to be as careful as I can.”

The drivers now have been issued face masks and a shield, and there is a yellow strap cordoning off the rear of the bus from the front, which is reserved for people with disabilities. “It took a long time,” she says about getting those precautions.

In the end, Kathleen says, this is what it comes down to: “I say my little prayers every day.”