Frank McBride retires: Farewell to the 606 as it was

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By Fiona Cooke

 

My first glimpse of Frank McBride was when he picked me up outside the publishing house where I worked in Port Melbourne. It would have been around 1999 or so. He was at the helm of the Westrans 606 bus (aka ‘The White Chariot’), driving us towards St Kilda.

Frank had quite a large moustache then – for some reason this made an impression. I remember he was having a conversation with someone up the front of the bus as we turned off Williamstown Road onto Bridge Street in the dusk. Did I detect a tiny accent; a way of bending certain words? In between snatches of conversation he rendered favourite tunes in his unique double whistle, a combined hum and whistle.

It was spring, and warm – I remember the windows were open. Inside the bus the lights were bright and the seats were red. Everything about the bus looked a little worn but welcoming. It was like hurtling along in someone’s living room. Outside the windows, the trees and cottages of Port Melbourne, Albert Park and Middle Park zipped past in the shadows, before we met the bright lights of Luna Park on the home stretch.

As I came to realise, it was a living room of a kind. It belonged to all of us who rode the 606. Frank made it feel like that, I think more than anything, by really noticing each person as they got on the bus, and sharing a word or two with them. He went out of his way to answer questions from newcomers, and would often introduce them to others on the bus, should there seem to be a converging of interests.

Frank shared much of himself as well. Aside from his family, his interests ranged from karaoke to the successful designing and building of machines such as an AMCA (speedway car) for his son and a fifth-wheeler for himself and the family. (The caravan’s still being built but nearly there.) He had me thinking, we should transform the 606 one day into a neon adventure bus with karaoke bar interior …

Admittedly, Frank might bend the rules from time to time – stopping between actual bus stops to pick up certain regulars. I admit we loved him all the more for that. His generosity and kindness were unbelievable. He’d regularly go above and beyond, passing on messages, reuniting people with their lost property (like that phone with the annoying frog croak ring tone), getting people safely to where they wanted to go.

Frank explained many times that the reason he loved his job was this route in particular, and the people on it. His approach made a phenomenal difference to our lives, to the bearableness – no, to the actual pleasure – of riding the bus to and from work, to school, or to the market.

There were people who’d been riding the bus to Port Melbourne for a decade or more, who extended this fellow feeling generated by Frank to others, so that we became a small bus community. (The Irish – from Frank’s home country – were, if possible, welcomed even more warmly than the rest.)

Christina, who worked for Kraft and had taken the 606 for 20-odd years, at some point thought: Why not a bus breakfast? And so the (roughly) biannual event was born, where current and past 606 people get together to share a meal and updates. Frank’s wife, Linda, comes too, and sometimes one or two of his children and grandchildren. The 606 people, past and present, often bring their partners and children.

At our most recent bus breakfast, we thanked Frank for all those years he drove us safely back and forth, and for transforming the many hours we spent together. For all the times he got up at five in the morning, sometimes when he wasn’t feeling too well, to be there for us.

Now he’s retired, it’s the end of an era for all of us, even for those of us who’d stopped taking the 606 for one reason or another before he went.

We had 14 or so people and we didn’t stop talking. We’ll keep going next time we get together for a 606 breakfast. What’ll it be, guys? In six months or so?

 

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