In the early morning haze Shirley Cockman checks the fan belts and engine fluid levels of her van. She washes the windows, sweeps the interior, makes sure the wheelchair lift is working and completes her daily safety checklist. Thus begins a day in the life of a Southeast Missouri Transportation Services (SMTS) driver in Oregon County.
As she drives toward Thayer to pick up her morning riders, employees of the Oregon County Sheltered Workshop, the sun crests the hills as a bright red globe in the dewy mist. Cockman looks in the rearview mirror at me and says, "Looks like we'll have a sunny day." She is always a gleam of sunshine; at each stop she gets out to greet her riders with a cheery "Good morning" and ensures their safe entry into the van. On most days there are three pickups in Thayer, then on to the Alton area to pick up five more Workshop employees.
It's 8 a.m. The van arrives at the Workshop. Director Dennis Foulks is outside, along with others. Greetings of, "Hey, how ya doin'?" and "Morning" fill the air. Cockman smiles and drives to the Alton Senior Center. The next two hours are break time before the 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. local Alton transportation service begins. She doesn't kick back and relax.
She checks the list of those who have called in for rides, and calls her regular riders; "Don, are your going to walk to the center or do you need me to get you today. He's going to walk to the center but needs to stop at the grocery after lunch to pick up a few things. And so it goes.
We pick up two residents of Shepherd's View Residential Care. Both use walkers. Shirley matches their slow careful steps, chatting with them then guides them up the steps into the van. The walkers are folded and secured with bungee cord. Everyone buckles their seat belts. The safety of riders is keenly important; the van doesn't move until everyone is buckled up.
As we drive around town hauling folks to and from the beauty salon, the grocery store, the dollar store, restaurants and the senior center, there's lively, friendly conversation. Health and food appear to be the main topic of the day: recent doctor visits, inquiries into the health of others and, as we wait in the Wallace & Owens parking lot, favorite recipes are shared.
Shortly before 2 p.m. the last in-town rider walks into her house, leaving a few minutes of relaxation before taking the Workshop employees home. After dropping off her last rider of the day Cockman reminisced about a rider who had a seeing-eye dog and how she would describe the passing scenery to her, "She really appreciated how I would tell her about the squirrel and what flowers were blooming." All part of a days work for an SMTS driver.
SMTS is a non-governmental, non-profit organization providing local, long distance medical, and special contract transportation services. Shirley's route is a combination of special contract with Oregon County Sheltered Workshop and local service in the Alton area. The other drivers are Beverly Crawford and Philip Jett. Crawford provides transportation within Oregon County and to Ripley and Howell Counties for both shopping and medical appointments. Jett is the long distance medical appointment driver.
To schedule a ride these are the local contacts: Alton SMTS office (417) 778-7240; Thayer, Edo Howard (417) 264-7902; Wilderness, Millie Dodson (573) 251-3499; Couch/Myrtle, Lucille Garrison (417) 938-4479. For long distance medical contact the SMTS office (417) 778-7240 or the Fredericktown main office at (800) 392-0754.