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Bus driver ends stress by writing

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He could have gone to The New Yorker. He could have gone to La Caille. Where did UTA bus driver Bob Curtis choose to meet me for the first Free Lunch?

We're sitting on Row 3 of Bus No. 9222, eating turkey sandwiches and potato chips and swigging Sprite. Out of the right-side windows we have a great view of the Triad Center parking lot. For background music, we have the loud hum of the bus idling. Bob apologetically says he can't turn the key and shut it off. Once that puppy's cranked over at 5:40 in the morning, there's no quiet time until he wheels the bus into the garage at the end of the line.Because the bus can't be shut down, Bob can't take much of a break either. Where he goes, the bus goes. Just try rolling up to valet parking at Tuscany in a diesel bus and see how far you get. That's why we're eating deli sandwiches and chips. But Bob doesn't mind. He brown bags it every day.

"Lunch is lunch," he says. "Today, I've got 20 minutes."

Bob lives in Midvale and has been a bus driver for 23 years, but he didn't want to spend his 20 minutes talking about traffic nightmares. "Construction and bad drivers don't bother me anymore," he says with a shrug. "I figured out a long time ago that you have to let life roll on around you. When somebody cuts in front of me or salutes me with their finger, I don't get angry. I don't let what other people do determine how I feel."

Bob has found the perfect solution to coping with the stress of driving eight to 10 hours a day. That's what he wanted to share with me over sandwiches. Perhaps a few other drivers and you horn-leaners out there know who you are and could learn a thing or two from Bob.

During Bob's lunch break and other times when the bus is idling during a layover somewhere, he pulls a notebook and pen from his Army green backpack, stretches out on the back row of the bus and starts writing.

Of course, Bob wouldn't recommend that you put down your cell phone, double-cheeseburger or laptop and do something as distracting as write while driving. But if you start jotting down your thoughts during little breaks throughout the day, something refreshing will happen, he says. You'll learn to relax.

"Writing is calming; it's an outlet for emotions," says Bob, who is working on two novels and has written numerous short stories and poems.

"Twenty years ago, I got angry in traffic like anybody else. Now, I spend my spare time writing, and it really helps. Writing has become my passion -- it's the main reason I drive a bus. At the end of the line (before starting another route), I might have 20 minutes to kill or I might have an hour. And I always sit on the back row and write."

Although he certainly has seen enough interesting characters on the job to fill up a few, well, buses, Bob rarely writes about the day-to-day grind.

"But I share writing tips with a lot of my regulars who write, he says, and they share tips with me. We pass each other pieces we've done and offer each other encouragement. Sort of a club for people who love to write but haven't had much published. A club for dreamers, I guess."

If you're a dreamer who takes Route 41 to West Jordan or Route 71 to Farmington, feel free to join the club, Bob says. And on snowy days, don't be surprised if your friendly driver suddenly launches into "White Christmas." Bob enjoys singing on the bus, too.

"Once, on the 71 in from Farmington, everybody stood up and applauded," Bob says. It was my first standing ovation.

"Of course," he adds with a grin, "I had a captive audience."

What's on your mind? You do the talking, and I'll buy the lunch. Send your name and phone number and tell me a little about yourself. Send e-mail to freelunch@desnews.com or send a fax to 466-2851. Or you can write me at the Deseret News, P.O. Box 1257, Salt Lake City, UT 84110.