The phone call tone shines brightly through the bus’ speakers and after two rings, volunteer driver Don Newcomer cheerfully answers with a sing-song: “It’s a great day to ride the Flivver.”
Over the speakers, a woman known as Taco Mary says she’s at Aldi’s, and please come get her.
Newcomer jots down the destination in a notebook on his right, throws the bus into gear and there goes the green-and-white Flivver through the streets of Forest Hills.
Wave if you see it. The drivers will surely wave back.
Mary Cesa lives in the “alphabet streets” part of town. She’s cheerful and wants to know how everyone is doing. She’s used the Flivver for about seven years. She has a great laugh. She doesn’t go to Taco Bell as much as people think.
“I used to walk up to Giant Eagle but then I got artificial knees. I’m so thankful for the Flivver because me and my husband don’t drive. He has epilepsy and I have (an) illness, so we don’t have a car or kids or anything,” Cesa says.
Newcomer, a driver for about two-and-half years, appreciates the chance to help out a group of people in his community a few times a month.
“I love helping people. The seniors are so appreciative for all the things we do. We pick them up door-to-door and take them to the grocery store and the doctor’s office or whatever they need to do and pick them back up again. It gives them the freedom they need,” Newcomer says.
Since 1974, Forest Hills volunteers have run the free busing program for its seniors and disabled residents of the borough. All drivers and board members are volunteers and insurance, maintenance, phone and gas costs are paid for by rider donations, often dollar bills and quarters, or whatever else the riders can afford to drop in a little wooden collection box by the door.
The Flivver operates Monday through Friday from 9:30 a.m. until 3:30 p.m. and Sundays during church services. Holiday service is limited.
The bus may be new, but the ride up and down the hills and through the narrow streets of Forest Hills can be a bit rough, especially when one of the big dual wheels catches one of the curbs and shakes the Flivver from side to side.
It’s appropriate that the ride isn’t always smooth-as-glass-perfect.
“Flivver” is an early American slang term for an old vehicle that gives a rough ride. Although this version of the Flivver is less than two years old, the old, skinny streets keep the name honest.
Nearly all the riders are regulars and throughout the day the Flivver makes a constant loop up and down the hills to Giant Eagle, Rite Aid, Aldi’s and the many beauty salons, banks and doctors offices that line Ardmore Boulevard.
Many of the riders live in Centurion Commons and the senior apartment building near Spee-D Mart on Ardmore, but there are still many seniors who live in the same homes they lived in for 30, 40, 50 and even 60-some years.
Allen Norse climbs on and wonders why the Pirates have failed so badly. It’s a nice sunny day and he’s talking baseball with the driver as they drive the hill to Giant Eagle.
“It saves me a lot of headaches of trying to get a jitney or getting a bus or something,” Norse says. “I really appreciate it.”
Donna Prentice has been using the Flivver for around 15 years.
“It’s wonderful,” Prentice says. “My goodness, I couldn’t get out unless I had it.”
Then she turns and stuffs a folded dollar bill into the slot. Her dog hears the Flivver and barks.
The Flivver is available for senior residents or residents with disabilities of Forest Hills. To ride the Flivver, call 412-519-3955 and the volunteers will pick you up at your door. The Flivver is always looking for volunteer drivers. Call the number to inquire.