Friday, March 24, 2006

Greatest Story Ever

CONGRATS: A standing ovation for Arthur Winston, at a ceremony for his 100th birthday. The birthday party capped a 72-year span of continuous employment with Metro and its predecessor agencies. (Spencer Weiner / LAT) March 22, 2006

Getting Off the Bus After 76 Years of Work
By Nancy Wride
Times Staff Writer

March 23, 2006

After working for 76 years at public transit agencies, bus maintenance attendant Arthur Winston celebrated his first day of retirement and his 100th birthday Wednesday at a party in the cavernous Los Angeles MTA garage named after him.

There to mark his achievements were about 400 colleagues, members of the media, schoolchildren and family. The Laker Girls cheered, "Go Arthur!" A Metropolitan Transportation Authority choir belted out gospel songs. Schoolchildren gave him a handmade book that pronounced the slight retiree "our star."

All the while, the man almost everyone calls "Mr. Winston" grinned serenely under his black fedora. The crowd whistled and clapped in honor of his longevity and work ethic. Since Franklin Delano Roosevelt was president, Winston had missed just one day of work: the day in 1988 that his wife, Frances, died.

Winston, seated on a folding chair in a brown vested suit and shiny gold tie, gazed out at the sea of orange MTA vests and blue work shirts, at TV cameras and at a bus that had delivered him to this party with the constant punctuality that marked his career. Legs crossed, weathered hands folded in his lap, Winston soaked up the scene of silver and orange balloons floating everywhere. He never stopped smiling.

Not after 90 minutes of speeches from bosses and dignitaries, not after 45 more minutes of celebrity-like photo ops, with one well-wisher after another leaning in for a picture with him. Finally, the man of few words was asked why he was retiring. Why now?

"Oh," he whispered with a shrug, "100 years seemed like enough."

Indeed, Winston said, he had a few plans for his next century. He would be gardening at his home south of the Santa Monica Freeway, volunteering in the community — and exploring the city riding the Metro buses that he and, later, his crews, cleaned daily.

"I'm gonna cool down a bit first," he said with raspy voice — one of only three sentences he uttered during the hoopla.

Winston will not only play passenger. He will continue driving his faded green Tercel, his friends said. He recently passed his driving test for a license, said Bertha Crear, the mother of one of Winston's crew members.

"We had him over for dinner — I made neck bones; I know he likes neck bones — and he was so much fun," Crear said, her son Lester nodding beside her. Mother and son erupted in laughter retelling Winston's dinner table talk, including his scolding of a woman who worked at the state Department of Motor Vehicles.

"She told him … he should let someone else drive him around," Bertha Crear said, clapping with delight, "and Mr. Winston said, " 'I think you should let a younger person take your job.' "

As the devoted audience learned, nobody would have tried such a thing during Winston's career.

According to MTA and family speakers, Winston was born in Oklahoma before it was a state. He grew up picking crops, the son of a man who lived to be 99. At 12, Arthur hobo-hopped trains to California, where he finished his schooling, he told Lester Crear, who said he thought of Winston as a grandfather.

In 1924, Winston started his transit career cleaning trolley cars for what was the Los Angeles Railway Co. Winston quit but returned Jan. 24, 1934, and stayed until Tuesday. Along the way he married Frances, a seamstress.

He worked for 41 cents an hour for a decade — the crowd collectively gasped — while white men made a dime more. He quietly withstood such racism, including denial of his early dream of becoming a bus driver. By the time that option opened for him, Winston was middle-aged and content to stick with his routine.

Every workday he rose at 4:30 a.m. and drove to the bus yard now named after him, at 54th Street and Van Ness Avenue. MTA records show that he was never late.

He eventually oversaw a crew of nine men and women whose task was to clean out transit buses after they returned to the sprawling yard.

On Tuesday, he worked his last shift and was honored by the county Board of Supervisors. His new gig also was announced: honorary spokesman for the 99 Cents Only Stores discount chain. On Wednesday, a company representative presented Winston with a giant fake check and then a real one for $999.99, plus 99 gift certificates worth 99 cents each. In his only hammy moment, Winston crammed them into his suit pockets onstage.

Pride about Winston's grace and good attitude and pride about the MTA permeated the party. When a speaker was late, Winston's last supervisor, Dana Coffey, played to her audience when she joked, "They didn't take the Metro, or they'd be on time." Winston just grinned.

He was given a proclamation by President Bush, the state's U.S. senators and the governor. He was made an honorary member of the Buffalo Soldiers, a group honoring historical all-black Army units. The birthday sing-along with the Laker Girls was clearly his favorite moment.

"I don't know if he's a Lakers fan but he's definitely a Laker Girls fan," Lester Crear laughed as MTA Chief Executive Roger Snoble wedged himself into a photo with Winston and the cheerleaders.

"I do know," said mechanic Jay Sneddon, "that he will be missed. When we have a problem, we actually say around here, 'What would Arthur Winston do?' "


At Friday, March 24, 2006 4:31:00 PM, Blogger brent said...

LA - thanks for the info on your friend. I may not be in town May 12th, but if plans change I'll try to get up there. Don't actually know the 'Castle', but do know Chalk Farm Rd.

Definitely don't remember The Turk from the Godfather. Must see it again.

At Friday, March 24, 2006 8:13:00 PM, Blogger ffleur said...

What a fantastic man and a great life. They don't make 'em like that anymore.

One question, did he have any children?

At Friday, March 24, 2006 10:45:00 PM, Blogger GetFlix said...

What a great story.

At Saturday, March 25, 2006 10:21:00 AM, Blogger LA said...

ffleur - I found another story about him, more of an interview really. He outlived four children and currently lives at home with his great-granddaughter living with him. Here's the article. He's almost cuter in this one because you get more of a sense of him through his quotes.


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home