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Veteran TriMet driver Cindy Kassab is awarded the agency's highest honor. But wait there's more.

COURTESY PHOTO: TRI MET - Some of Cindy Kassab's (second from left) regular passengers on the 43 Taylots Ferry line joined her at the award ceremony at TriMet in November.Out of thousands, only 10 operators in TriMet's 50-year history have even been given the Gold Grand Master Award. It's a good bet that none of the other nine is anything like the latest recipient, Cindy Kassab.

When she's not safely driving hundreds of passengers per day on the 43 Taylors Ferry line through Southwest Portland, the 66-year-old Kassab is shooting nature photographs around the globe or skiing on Mount Hood.

To even be eligible for this award, a TriMet operator needs a perfect driving record for 2,000 miles each year. Then the driver has to navigate a series of requirements that range from "excellent customer services" to "no warnings, reprimands or citations" to "following standard operating procedures" to "no preventable accidents."

It's that last one that Kassab had the hardest time achieving. "No preventable accidents. You can drive safely but somehow … OK, let's say you're driving along and someone pulls out in front of you and you end up hitting them. They say you could have prevented that and you're like, 'Really?!'" she said.

But she's never had an accident — preventable or unpreventable — in 43 years of driving a bus.

Most of the year, Kassab drives the 43 Taylors Ferry route that runs from Washington Square to downtown Portland through Southwest Portland. But not during the winter months. Though she's an avid skier who regularly gets in a few runs on Mount Hood before her driving shift begins, she leaves driving in winter conditions on the notorious hills around here to other operators.

"I don't drive runs I don't want to drive," she said, citing her seniority at TriMet, which celebrated its 50th year in 2019. Kassab's been driving one of the agency's buses for 43 years; since she graduated from the University of Portland in 1975. She currently drives the 43 line seven months out of the year.

"Sometimes I drive the 63 line up near Washington Park. I really love it, especially in the winter when tourists aren't around. Also in winter I drive the 67 Bethany, the 43 Main/Evergreen or the 48 Cornell from Hillsboro.

"It's more than just driving a bus. You have to be constantly scanning. Moving your eyes around all the time because there's so much to see," she said.

Since she started driving for $6.35 per hour as a 23-year-old rookie in 1976, she's only driven buses, never a MAX train.

"Not interested. I love talking with people and drivers can't do that on MAX. In fact," she said, "by talking with passengers I've made good friends on the 43 line. One of them had never been to Peacock Lane at Christmas time so I took her. Another one I took to Zoolights.

"I love talking with people but nowadays they're so engrossed in their cell phones that you don't get a chance to talk with people like you used to," she said.

WWW. CINDYKASSAB - An accomplished nature phtographer, Kassab took this photo in Galveston, Texas and titled it 'First Come First Serv ed.'It might be hard to reconcile the welcoming, chatty Cindy Kassab behind the wheel on Taylors Ferry Road with the stoic, searching Cindy Kassab in some exotic setting behind the sophisticated camera gear with which she shoots acclaimed nature photographs.

On display at her website ( HYPERLINK "http://www.cindykassab.com" www.cindykassab.com) are hundreds of nature photographs taken around the world. At one time her images sold for thousands of dollars. But those days are long gone and she's in it now because she loves photography.

Her other love is skiing. Here's how she described her routine on one day in mid-December: "On Monday, Dec. 16, I got up at 5:40 a.m. to drive to Mount Hood from my home in Vancouver. Got there by 7:50 and had some breakfast. By 8:50, I started skiing. I only skied until about 10:30 because it was my first day on the slopes and my legs were burning. Then I drove to Merlo Garage (Beaverton) so I could get changed and drive my bus route — the 67 Bethany/158th — starting at 1:28 p.m. I got done at 11:16 that night, drive home and by the time I got to bed it was a quarter to one. It makes for a long day but that's a great way to start the day."

Her secret for staying alert?

"It's called green tea Frappuccino."

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