SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - Reggie Watson is used to living life on the road.
“I enjoy the highway,” he said in Santa Barbara last week. “It frees me up. Some people, traffic just drives them crazy. I feel real free on the highway.”
A driver for Ventura Transit System and Smart Shuttle for nearly three years, he takes people without reliable transportation to their medical appointments, sometimes hundreds of miles away.
“I’ve done other jobs on the highway: tow trucks, trash trucks, oil field equipment,” he said. “And I enjoy this… I get to be of help to people that need it, that I don’t even know. So at the end of the day, I feel good about that.”
Driving six days a week, Watson begins each day in Ventura County, often driving his white mini-van to pick up passengers in Santa Barbara County. During the pandemic, most passengers are going to essential treatments like chemotherapy and dialysis or, more recently, to get their COVID-19 vaccine.
Watson's van fits multiple people and is wheelchair accessible, but physical distancing guidelines usually limit the number of passengers to two at a time.
While Watson typically sticks to the Central Coast, he takes people to treatments at hospitals as far south as Los Angeles and as far north as Palo Alto.
“[The company] send[s] me jobs and I accept em,” he said. “Whatever they send, I do accept… Don’t even look at the miles in between. I just go do it.”
Watson's dedication comes after his own health scare.
“I had a major heart attack and [Ventura Transit System] transported me back and forth to my different things,” he recalled. “And when I became healed up, one of the drivers I knew from somewhere else said they needed drivers… And I came over and they hired me. Hardly missed any days since then.”
Watson acknowledges that sometimes his regular clients pass away during the course of their treatment, which he says is "a hard thing to deal with." But he remains committed to helping those in need.
He says the long hours on the road give him valuable time to get to know his passengers and also be alone with his thoughts.
“I get to drive up and down the coast,” he said. “I’ve seen whales breaching as I’m driving… lotta time to think about what’s going on in my own life and how I can fix these different things.”
And when it comes to finding the energy to complete his lengthy trips, Watson says "Starbucks helps."