The doors open to the Glendale Community College shuttle to reveal Froiland Valencia, sporting a blue cap and a gaudy gold watch, a stark contrast to his understated demeanor.
The shuttle speakers are playing music from a radio station that harkens back to his hometown of Michoacan, Mexico, 101.9 FM.
“Hello,” says Valencia, in that familiar exchange with the steady stream of staff and students pouring into the shuttle, until the last passenger has boarded. The procession of passengers stream onboard.
Valencia, a 57-year-old father of four has lived in East Los Angeles for more than 37 years, and has held several jobs during that time.
Today, Valencia balances two jobs. In the morning, he works as a part-time janitor for the Los Angeles Unified School District. At 2 p.m., he trades in his janitor jumpsuit for a crisp white shirt and black slacks, as he begins his eight-hour shift at GCC. He has been a shuttle driver at Glendale for a year and a half and loves the diversity on campus.
“Although I am not fluent in English,” he says, he knows enough to get by. In reality, he hardly uses it. Faculty, staff and students have taken advantage of the opportunity to practice their Spanish with Valencia, who is more than happy to help.
The driver takes his job very seriously. He is always focused while driving. “The safety of my passengers is my main priority and is of utmost importance to me,” he said.
Steven Montes, a criminal justice student, said, “It’s nice to know someone cares so much about the safety of others. I feel like I’m in good hands with Froiland.”
Valencia also serves as a lost and found of sorts. He says that when students find cell phones, books or other personal objects left behind in the shuttle, they always hand them over to him. “It makes me feel good that people trust me to turn the objects into the campus police,” he said.
Valencia has just returned from a week-long vacation and his absence has not gone undetected. As one of the students boards, she shouts an enthusiastic, “Hi! Where have you been?”
“Vacation,” he replies. “Oh, I missed you,” says Ani Arcumanyan, a first-year chemistry major.
Valencia said he makes it a point to connect with every rider who is vying for a seat on his route.
“It is my pleasure, and an honor to drive the shuttle,” he said, I get to my stop and disembark.
It’s not clear how long the shuttle will continue to run.
Valencia said, he has been told, that as soon as the elevator is up and running, GCC will discontinue the shuttle service.