by Fran Marsh
By day, they are mild-mannered campus staff, but into the night and in the hours before dawn, they become...vanpoolers -- those Berkeleyans who live distant from campus and choose this easy way to get to work.
Dorothy and Tony Padilla have one of the longest marriages -- almost 33 years -- and one of the longest commutes around. They live at Western Ranch near Stockton, about 75 miles east of campus.
Since 1978, they've been commuting to campus -- first from Fremont; then from Stockton.
Their 15-person cell-phone-equipped van leaves at 5:45 in the morning, arriving at campus about 7:30.
Over the years, vanpool members have observed each other's birthdays with cake and family additions with baby showers -- all while on the road. "One year, we had a Christmas potluck in the morning and ate all the way in," said Dorothy, who works in Loans and Receivables.
The Padillas know the bypass at the Altamont and the back way around the Caldecott. They have navigated around floods, accidents and increased traffic over the years.
But they see vanpooling as more than just a way to get to campus. "It gives people a chance to voice their opinions among friends," said Tony, the van's owner and principal driver. "For example, during the OJ trial, we had our own jury going, complete with a law student on board to keep us on track."
And there are benefits other than saving money. "We've got time to relax, listen to music, read and catch up on sleep," said Tony. "One time one of our members confided he hadn't been sleeping well. When I asked him why, he explained, 'Oh, not here...at home!'"
Their van, a 1989 Ford, has 288,000 miles on it. "Other than normal maintenance, all we've done is replaced one transmission," said Dorothy, who serves as her husband's backup driver.
Among riders are staff at Clark Kerr Campus Plants and Grounds; Planning, Design and Construction; Financial Aid; Nuclear Engineering; and Central Computing Services. But none of the passengers wants to drive, so when the Padillas go on vacation, the van shuts down and passengers find other ways to work.
Tony, who works at Plants and Grounds, calls area rideshare offices to fill spaces and has spoken at seminars sponsored by TRiP, the campus transit, ridesharing and parking office. To encourage folks to join their van, the Padillas offer potential riders three free days travel. They have one space available now.