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Shuttle driver brightens students’ day with smile and conversation

Kelsey Lindquist

Anyone who has been on the Mills shuttle after 3 p.m. in the last three years has likely encountered the cheery smile and jolly demeanor of Oscar Warren.

Beloved by regular passengers for his good-natured enthusiasm and positive energy, he says that the job combines two of his favorite pastimes: driving and talking with people.

“Why sit up here and be grouchy all the time? That’s just not me,” he said. “I think they call it karma – you put it out here and you’ll get it back.”

Between Mills and Rockridge on an ordinary Friday evening, Warren chatted with a girl in the front row, who perched excitedly on the edge of her seat as their conversation wandered from what she did over her break to his opinion of the Kanye West song on the radio and his preferences in mixed nuts. When the bus stopped, he bade her good-bye with a wave and a smile.

Once Warren finishes his driving shift at Mills, he heads over to his night job as a water treatment plant operator for the City of San Leandro, where he works from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m.

The 52-year-old bachelor doesn’t mind the night hours; he says he’s happiest when he’s keeping busy. Having grown up in a family that was constantly working around the clock, Warren said he got in the habit and it stuck.

He’s been a city employee for nearly 20 years now, but says he doesn’t plan on hanging around the treatment plant too much longer.

“I figure about mid-April, I’ll be hangin’ my boots up there,” he said.

Aside from his work at the plant, Warren has always had jobs that involved cars or driving. One of the first in his age group to get his driver’s license as a teenager, the Bay Area native gave up football at San Jose City College, where he studied Diesel Mechanics, to take a job at General Motors building cars.

Since then, he has logged nearly 20 years of driving experience at the wheel of semi-trucks and public transit buses. He also worked for Mills Public Safety for a summer, a job he found less enjoyable because he didn’t like writing people tickets.

When he’s not on the road, there’s a good chance he’ll be found on a construction site.

A self-described “jack-of-all trades,” Oscar is a certified welder with skills in carpentry, electrical work, and plumbing.

When he pulled up to the curb at Sproul Plaza half an hour after leaving Mills, Warren welcomed the cluster of students awaiting him with a huge grin. “Come on aboard, ladies and gentlemen!” he boomed, twiddling the steering wheel in time to his music.

Among the students who’d just arrived was senior Elil Hoole, who chattered happily about her evening as she slid into her seat and began to sweet-talk Warren.

“He’s awesome, he’s the best person I know,” she said, leaning forward and speaking loudly to make sure Warren could hear.

“He listens to cool music, and he’s always smiling. He knows everyone by name.”

Once he’d returned Hoole and the other passengers to Mills, Warren had 45 minutes before he needed to leave again, so he leaned back in his seat and hummed along with the radio. A few moments later, he opened the doors to let senior Nadine Farah enter the bus. Farah, a commuter, had time to kill before the shuttle’s departure, and preferred to spend it in Warren’s company rather than sitting alone. While they waited, Warren spoke gaily of his various fishing exploits, mentioning that he likes shellfish and makes a mean seafood gumbo.

Warren enjoys these conversations with students each day. He says Mills women’s personalities are his favorite part of the job.

“They chit-chat with me and keep me going,” he said. “We feed off each other.”

Before long, it’s 9:25 p.m, and he has to take off again: duty calls.

“That’s what Oscar is all about there,” he says with a grin. “I just work.”