Veteran Comet Cruiser operator connects with students as they adjust to life in Dallas
12 months ago
Bhargav ArimilliLife & Arts Editor
Comet Cruiser’s 883 West service to McCallum Boulevard is almost always full. Dennis Taylor, one of the longest-serving drivers for the Comet Cruiser service who operates the McCallum route, chats with students on the 15-minute journey, asking about their days, offering recommendations for restaurants in the city and reminding them to call their parents.
A native of San Antonio, Taylor grew up in a military family and moved around the country for his stepfather’s job. Once the Vietnam War began, Taylor chose to join.
“I went into the military because I wanted to see what all the hubbub was about,” he said. “I was against the war because I felt that the people in charge were lying to us — the youth —and the only way to find out was to be a part of it.”
For Taylor, his time in the Air Force’s special operations Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE) program played an important role in shaping his views.
“It gave me a sense of accomplishment and … develops a strong discipline in leadership,” he said. “My military background and my travels get me to (connect) with people.”
Taylor’s connections began to strengthen after he decided to make use of his commercial driver’s license by working as a bus driver for Plano ISD after hopping between a few careers following his time in the military. He attributed his decision to leave his old job as an advertising executive because he wanted to have an impact on youth.
A year later, he began working for ECHO Transportation, a UTD contractor that provides Comet Cruiser services.
“I immediately started driving on the McCallum route where I’ve met so many of my passengers who are now dear friends of mine,” Taylor said. “I’ve been fortunate to carry people for years.”
A large number of students who use the Comet Cruiser service are international students. For Taylor, creating an open and welcoming environment for these students, who are often unfamiliar with the area at first, is an important component of his job.
“I feel as though I’m an ambassador,” Taylor said. “I’m an ambassador for this country, our company and UTD. If one of my students picks up the phone and … calls mom and dad, I want them to have a good conversation about somebody that they met (who) is an American and treats them with respect.”
Taylor said his passengers have been extremely kind to him in his five years working as a Comet Cruiser driver. He said one particular memory stands out.
During one of his shifts, he realized that he had forgotten his water bottle and lunch. Two students stepped forward and offered him food. Small moments like these, he said, remind him why he loves his job so much.
“I look at these kids and I look at myself. I couldn’t do what they’re doing,” Taylor said. “They’ve come to a country far away at a very young age, not knowing the language well. They come here and they really put themselves into it. They’re the best, nicest, most friendly people I’ve ever met.”
The sprawling Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex offers a number of sightseeing locations, but for many international students who don’t have licenses or cars, these places are inaccessible. Because of this, Taylor said he tries to help students get out of their apartments by suggesting public transport alternatives in order to see the city.
“I want them to get a sense of the culture, because that’s what it’s all about,” Taylor said. “Take your sandals off, put your boots on and enjoy yourself!”
Taylor’s multicultural friendships extend beyond graduation. He keeps in touch with some of his former passengers, who have gone on to pursue careers elsewhere in the United States. But with each year, Taylor said he hopes to welcome new members to the UTD community and maintain connections with them. He plans to stay with ECHO and Comet Cruisers for as long as he can.
“When I sit and think about the various jobs I’ve had in my life — and I’ve had a lot — this is by far the most significant,” Taylor said. “I truly enjoy what I’m doing right now. I truly enjoy what I’m doing right now.”