Submitted by Michele Hall
“You have to take the bus!” The young woman is glowing with excitement as she and her friend clamber up the hill from the marina in Montague Harbour, Galiano Island. What she is referring to is not a standard public transportation system, but the legendary Hummingbird Pub bus that in the last five years has become even more well known due in no small part to the current bus driver, Tom Tompkins, known by all as Tommy Transit.
The only way to really understand what makes over 6000 people come for a ride on the bus every summer is to experience it for myself. We all file onto the bus and Tom greets everyone with a smile and a flourish of drumming on the percussion instruments above the dashboard that looks like the bus has had a head on collision with a rock band. As we head out of the parking lot, the bus engine coughs ominously. Tom calls out over the speakers, “The old red bus was so reliable, this one not so much. Can everyone be ready to push if we have a problem?” Laughs and hoots from the passengers as he hits the brakes intermittently as though the bus is having trouble starting, the screeching tire effects coming from the song Pink Cadillac. Then we turn onto the main road with Fats Domino’s classic Blueberry Hill blasting throughout the bus. “If I don’t play this song, I could get fired,” he announces, “And if you don’t sing along, you could be walking.”
I caught up with Tom to ask a few questions about what makes his bus so popular. He leans against the old yellow school bus painted with hummingbirds on the outside and decorated with children’s drawings on the inside. From mid June until the end of September, he makes a run from the pub every hour from 5 to 11pm, picking up sailors and campers at Montague Harbour and the Montague Campground 5 km down the road from the pub. Wearing a brown fedora and a colourful shirt, he has a warm smile and easy manner. He is so well known that our chat is constantly interrupted as Tom greets and hugs both long-time islanders and recent visitors. He has an uncanny ability to remember faces and greets almost everyone by name, even those he met just the night before on the bus. To say that Tom is effervescently gregarious is an understatement, and his playful personality is undoubtedly what has made the bus ride a favourite tourist destination every summer.
“The bus ride turns CEO’s into 12 year olds,” Tom shouts back to me. It’s true that everyone is joining in on the fun by shaking a tambourine or a maraca as we roll down the winding roads of the island towards the harbour. “My goal is to transform people’s holidays into a joyous, fun and memorable experience by creating a vortex of playfulness and inspiration during the short 7 minute ride. I let everyone know that this gig is the dream of my life and I encourage everyone, especially the children, to never give up on their dreams.”
Tom obviously loves the island, slowing the bus and lowering the volume of the music as he shares tidbits about the island – some factual; some obviously elaborate tall tales that have locals and tourists alike laughing along. At the end of the ride, just before we hit the gates of the campground, Tom turns the music and lights off, slowing the bus to a crawl. Everyone aboard is suddenly silent as Tom’s voice dips to a whisper drawing our attention to the lights of the bobbing boats offshore. “My friends, to your left is the Galaxy of Galiano, which means that tonight you will be sleeping amongst the stars. I want each of you to have one last thought for the day before you crawl into your berth or sleeping bag. I want you to say to yourself, ‘How blessed am I’. Look at the amazing life you have carved out for yourself. Good night. Safe travels, see you again.”
As we rock and roll back to the pub with the last busload of happy tourists, I can see why the Hummingbird Pub bus has become a legend and why people from all over the world eagerly say, “You have to take the bus!” For more: www.TommyTransit.com