Carolyn Drake, Enroute to Mountain Brook
Ruby rides to work on the bus.
BIRMINGHAM, ALABAMA - “It’s Monday morning and we get onto the bus at 8am as usual, but we notice something out of the ordinary: Ruby is sitting alone. "Where’s Ella Mae,” Ashley asks. “She called me last night to tell me she retired,” says Ruby. “They don’t need her no more.”
Ella Mae is 81-years-old and has been riding the bus to Mountain Brook for fifty years to clean the homes and raise the children of wealthy families who live there. She’s a commanding presence on the bus. The other women listen to her. She always sits where she wants, and its always next to Ruby. They banter and joke the whole way to work, inseparable for thirty minutes a day.
Mountain Brook seen through the back window of the bus.
But Ella Mae’s boss passed away a couple months ago, and that meant there was nothing left for her to do in that big empty house. She kept riding to work for as long as they’d let her. She’d check the mailbox, make herself breakfast, and then sit down to look out the window. Mountain Brook is a pretty place, modeled after an idealized British village. Its full of golf courses, magnolia trees, and country estates. “There ain’t no sense in me sitting at home and looking at these four corner walls every day,” she explained. “Not as long as I am able.” But mainly she kept making the journey to Mountain Brook to visit with friends on the bus.
From this Monday forward, Ella Mae’s seat is empty. Ruby continues to ride over the mountain, surrounded by her dwindling group of colleagues, to take care of her own ninety-year-old boss, who’s still plugging away at life. “I’m gonna miss that mouth,” she says with an honest laugh.“