From time to time, someone calls TriMet Customer Service to say, “I want to thank a driver who did something really great. I don’t know his name,” the rider admits, “but he looks like Santa.” At this, one name snaps into focus: Hillsboro resident Bob Foster, a TriMet bus operator since 1981.
Bob first donned the red suit more than 25 years ago—“when I had to use a little white shoe polish to gray up my beard”—for a holiday party at TriMet’s Merlo garage in Beaverton. For a while, he shared the honor of playing Merlo Santa with a couple of other operators.
“The spirit of Santa is the gift of wonder. The feeling that I am trying to exude is that it is OK for us to expect good things to come our way.” — Santa Bob
But as the years rolled by, Santa service became a bigger part of Bob’s life. He started scheduling his vacations so that “Santa Bob” could visit families all over the metro area. His stops include a local tree farm, Breakfast with Santa in Mitchell, a toy store in Northeast Portland, and the Hillsboro School District’s holiday party for the Life Skills Classrooms.
By now, it’s a Merlo employee tradition to bring your children, or your grandchildren, or somebody else’s children to visit Santa in the drivers’ break area. A bus garage can be a busy, gritty place, but on Santa’s lap next to the tree, the only thing that matters is the children’s hopes and dreams for the holidays.
Bob displays this spirit—along with the apple cheeks and snowy beard—every day in the driver’s seat. He says, “We operators are the attitude of Portland. Each morning, I’ve got about 100 people who are going to reflect all day on our interaction. Maybe it’s conscious, maybe it’s unconscious, but at some point in the day they’re going to remember the nice operator who maybe brought a little joy and humor into their day.”
It should be noted that Bob Foster isn’t the only TriMet employee who’s especially attuned to the spirit of Santa. Dave Kay in bus maintenance and Shirley Block in field operations are said to be responsible for Mr. and Mrs. Claus’ attendance at the union holiday party.
But if you’re on the bus and hear Westside high schoolers yelling, “Where’s your reindeer?” or a wide-eyed Washington County child whispering, “It’s him!” there’s a good chance you’re riding with “Santa Bob” Foster.