Longest-tenured CATS bus driver celebrating 25 years whisking patrons around town

Sterling Garrett, 81, waves as passengers depart his bus in Westminster June 14. Garrett is celebrating his 25th year as a CATS driver.
Sterling Garrett, 81, waves as passengers depart his bus in Westminster June 14. Garrett is celebrating his 25th year as a CATS driver. (DAVE MUNCH/STAFF PHOTO , Carroll County Times)

Carroll Area Transit System bus driver Sterling Garrett has a suggestion for those new to Westminster.

"Just get on my bus and I'll show you Westminster," he said. "Ride once or twice, and you'll know everything."

Garrett, 81, drives the Westminster shuttle for CATS. He is the organization's longest-tenured employee and is celebrating his 25th year of service this year.

He's a mainstay in what is typically a high turnover position, said Crystal Winebrenner, dispatch and scheduling manager for CATS.

After injuring his back in a fall, Garrett could no longer work full-time in construction. So he found work that wouldn't put as much pressure on the bad discs in his back. He became a bus driver to pay the bills, working nights at a grocery store for supplementary income.

When Garrett is operating the blue CATS shuttle bus, he is part bus driver, part tour guide. He's spent most of his CATS tenure driving the Westminster shuttle, his preferred route, and knows where every speed bump, pothole and overgrown tree is in the city.

When driving, Garrett seems to enjoy talking with his riders. A friendly laugh follows most of his thoughts, both positive and negative.

By doing so, he gets to know them and their stories.

In the last year, six or seven regular riders at Timber Ridge Apartments either died or moved away. Most of his patrons ride often, so he can always tell if someone is missing.

"You know, it really bothered me," Garrett said. "I missed them."

Garrett may miss those who no longer ride, but he rarely misses work. CATS drivers get paid leave, but Garrett is usually stubborn about using it.

"We have to force him to take days off," Winebrenner said. "He doesn't like to take them."

Unless he's got a worthwhile project, that is.

Last year, Garrett heard through a friend about a woman who couldn't afford to get her leaky roof replaced. So Garrett, bad back and all, agreed to install the shingles himself. He used a few paid days off from work and a few Saturdays to complete the job.

After requiring knee surgery a few months ago, co-workers figured Garrett would be out for an extended period. He returned two weeks early, eager to get back to his Westminster shuttle.

During his route, he makes 22 stops. The first stop of the morning is at 8 a.m. in front of the Carroll County Government Building. He meanders through town with stops at several assisted living communities, McDaniel College and nearly every major shopping spot on Md. 140.

He drops off riders at Walmart, Target, Food Lion, TownMall of Westminster, the 140 Village Shopping Center and more.

Garrett gets a midday lunch break when a relief driver steps in. Other than that, he's hauling riders around town most Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. The final stop is at 5:35 p.m. at Sunny Brook Apartments.

He's become accustomed to drivers cutting in front of his bus. The driver of a Honda Accord sped past him in the Weis Markets parking lot the afternoon of June 14. Rather than get angry, Garrett simply waited for the driver to shift his car into a nearby parking space and then resumed his route.

Garrett has noticed more traffic snarls in Westminster since he started driving the bus 25 years ago, back when the city was surrounded by fewer businesses and more farms.

By now, he knows when traffic will be at its worst. It's hectic in the early morning and evening hours. The majority of his riders get picked up before noon.

Perhaps the most challenging day of the year is Black Friday, when Garrett must navigate his CATS bus through clogged parking lots.

Yet Garrett said he hasn't missed a Black Friday since starting his job 25 years ago, always willing to help even when circumstances are more challenging than usual.

Garrett has no plans of stopping driving any time soon.

"I'm never going to retire," he said.

And so long as Garrett can continue passing a required annual physical exam, he will be driving his Westminster route, waving at other drivers and riders as he makes his way about town.

"I get waved at everywhere I go," Garrett said. "Oh my, it's wonderful."