I was lucky to join the CTAA team in August 2018. From the moment I joined the staff, I had heard enthusiastic things about the CTAA EXPO and National Community and Public Transportation Roadeo – the premier events for the community and public transportation industry. As someone with no background in transportation, I was excited – albeit confused – about the events that were to take place the week of EXPO. A word like “rodeo” meant something very different to me than to most in this field. Leading up to our trip to Palm Springs, I was reassured that the Roadeo wouldn’t look like something out of a country-western film. However, I still didn’t quite know what to expect.
Saturday, May 18
On Saturday morning, CTAA staff gathered to set up for the Roadeo registration. We were busy organizing everything the drivers needed: their patch, pin, 2019 Roadeo t-shirt and, most importantly, their certificate. As we got closer to the opening of registration, I noticed an accumulation of drivers in the hallway outside the room. I was told it was common occurrence that there would be a line forming roughly thirty minutes before we opened the doors. Sure enough, about 45 minutes before opening, there was a polite line of drivers eager to confirm their registration for the competition the next day.
Over the next four hours, we checked all the drivers and judges in, gave them their packets and answered any questions they had. It was here that I got my first glance at what it meant to be a competitor at the Roadeo: these drivers were both nervous and elated to be there. You could feel their sense of pride; getting to participate in this event is a huge accomplishment in itself.
One of my assigned tasks during the registration process was to work with the drivers to create their bios, which were to be read aloud when they competed the next day. The drivers I worked with were proud of their career and honored to serve their communities in a meaningful way. I finished the day feeling humble and grateful to serve in such an important industry.
Sunday, May 19
The day was finally here – the 30th National Community and Public Transportation Roadeo. I lathered up with sunscreen and armed myself with a hat for today, I was a Roadeo runner. This meant that I was to follow drivers through the course and collect their scores at each judging station. Once they had completed the course, the scores would be run to those tallying them up.
At 6:45a.m., I arrived at the most beautiful Roadeo site – there was a well-timed rainbow framing the mountains that line the Coachella Valley. I was christened with a reflective vest and joined the body-on-chassisdriver walkthrough. Participants moved from obstacle to obstacle and were able to ask questions along the way of the Roadeo Committee team that set-up the course. This activity truly solidified my limited understanding of what the drivers were about to go through and the level of perfection they are trying to achieve.
The competition began and my colleagues and I were off; following drivers and collecting scores. In order to not be visible whatsoever to the driver, I stayed a couple minutes behind their vehicle. This gave me the opportunity to get to know the judges working at each station. When they were not expertly analyzing each move made by the driver, I was able to learn where they were from and what their role is at their agency. By participating as a runner, I also had the opportunity to watch almost every driver compete. It seemed as though most drivers began feeling nervous, but increasingly gained confidence as they proceeded through the course. The judges were encouraging, often cheering on drivers after they completed a specific obstacle. One thing I noticed that remained constant throughout the entire day, was the feeling of happiness. Everyone was happy to be there and excited to be a part of something larger than themselves or their system. Sure, after lunch most of us had full-belly syndrome, and mix that with the dry California heat, it would have been easy to be snippy. But that just didn’t happen.
Some 17,943 steps (or 7.1 miles) later (but who’s counting), the competition had ended. The exodus of drivers and on-lookers happened quickly. We all had a couple hours to decompress and return refreshed and ready for the Roadeo Banquet, where the day’s winners would be revealed. At the banquet, I had decided to sit near the front so I could get some photos of the event. I had the opportunity to sit with Todd DeZurik (a driver from St. Cloud Metro Bus, who competed that day in the body-on-chassis course) and Ryan Daniel (the agency’s Executive Director). As each category was announced, the room erupted in cheers and applause as friends and co-workers gathered to support each other.
Soon it was time to announce the first-place winner in the body-on-chassis division. Like the rest of the attendees, I had no idea who the winners were. My choice in seating proved to be even more valuable than I imagined – I got to witness the face Todd made as he was announced the 1st place winner of the body-on-chassis category. Ryan and Todd embraced and couldn’t stop smiling as the news sunk in. Todd was the last winner announced and everyone who received an award gathered for photos. Their joy was infectious.
At the conclusion of the day, I felt grateful for the opportunity to meet more CTAA members and learn about what it takes for a driver to compete. I began to fully appreciate the lengths those in our industry will go to support one another whether competing at a Roadeo or serving passengers every day.
And as I went to sleep that night, I realized I could proudly say at future driving competitions, “this isn’t my first Roadeo.”
The Community Transportation Association of America (CTAA) and its members believe that mobility is a basic human right. From work and education to life-sustaining health care and human services programs to shopping and visiting with family and friends, mobility directly impacts quality of life.