by Shelly Pflaum
A Community Transit bus in Jackson is on its way to pick up some regular passengers. Without really thinking about it, the driver glances in a window of a little house as she drives by. She’s checking on another long-time rider.
Lyla Wing sits in her chair by the window, enjoying the early morning sun. Things are as they should be. Things are, in fact, as they have been for years. And Lyla is plenty content with that.
“I’ve always got things I can do. I’m never bored,” she said with an air of something akin to defiance.
Community Transit staff can attest to just how active Lyla is. She just turned 100 years old, and she is possibly the longest riding-passenger for the 8 county public transit system.
Lyla said she started riding during the winter months 27 years ago. When she noticed a decline in her driving skills, she made the wise decision to hang up the keys for good.
“I almost went out in front of a car a couple of times in one day and I thought, ‘well, that’s enough of that,’” she said. “I brought my car home that night and said, ‘that’s it.’”
It’s a decision she doesn’t regret. “I thought, ‘I don’t want to cause no accidents and get anybody killed—or myself, either.’”
Taking the bus isn’t always possible, but that’s where family comes in.
“If there was something important [and the bus wasn’t running] the kids would come and get me,” she said.
Since adjusting to life without her car, Lyla has been able to get almost everywhere using Community Transit as the biggest piece of her transportation patchwork.
“It’s been wonderful. I can go, now, wherever I want.”
Lyla proved that riding public transit didn’t have to slow her down. “I went pert near every day to the [Senior] Center, medical appointments, and I went for groceries, which I don’t do any more, and dentist appointments,” she recalled.
“I remember riding with all the little kids,” she said. “When I didn’t go, of course, they fussed because you forgot me.”
She has been riding with Community Transit so long that there’s no way to determine exactly how many rides she’s taken. Based on the data that is available, her estimated trip count is 15,255.
The number doesn’t faze Lyla. “I know it’s been quite a few,” she said, but her favorite part is not getting from one place to the next.
“[It is] all the jokes. All the fun we have on the bus.”
Even at 100, she’s still active and riding several times a week, often to the Senior Center, a place where her connections run deep.
Early in her journey with Community Transit, she traveled out there for both work and play. “I worked three years, and then I quit and I had my hip surgery. Then, I worked for a couple years because they couldn’t find anybody,” she said.
In those days, she said, the Senior Center was very active, with well attended meals and multiple events per week.
“When I started we were serving 50 people a day,” she said. “Now, we’re serving 15.”
Lyla said that, while there has been a shift away from Senior Centers which started as people began working later, she will continue meeting with her friends at the Center. She doesn’t believe all hope is lost, either. These days going to Senior Center is a multi-generational affair, for her.
“My grandkids came from Wisconsin, retired,” she said. “They love it down there. They’ve been there several times already.”
Family and friends will gather at the Senior Center in June to celebrate Lyla’s 100th year, but for the staff at Community Transit, such a momentous occasion for such a special rider couldn’t wait. As Lyla entered the bus to go to the Senior Center on her birthday, she was presented with flowers, a card signed by all the Community Transit staff in the Jackson office, and her usual unlimited monthly ride pass.
No doubt, she’ll put it to good use.
*Additional photos can be found on the Community Transit Facebook page.