December 5, 2013

Long time fixtures at Augusta airport packing up and heading south

Lynda and Mike MacFarland, who have been selling Greyhound bus tickets for 35 years, are saying goodbye to Augusta and hello to retirement.

By Keith Edwards kedwards@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

AUGUSTA — Lynda MacFarland tears up, in the cubbyhole office where she and her husband, Mike, sell Greyhound bus tickets at Augusta State Airport, talking about “Sir George” and other old friends they have met in their 35 years together in the business.

click image to enlarge

DEPARTURE: A Greyhound bus drops off and picks up customers Wednesday at the station at the Augusta State Airport. Mike and Lynda McFarland, who have served as Greyhound’s bus agents for 35 years, are retiring on Dec. 20.

Staff photo by Andy Molloy

click image to enlarge

retiring: Mike and Lynda McFarland, shown here with their dog, Moka, who joins them at work daily, plan to retire Dec. 20 as Greyhound bus agents. The couple have sold tickets for 35 years in Augusta, currently at the Augusta State Airport.

Staff photo by Andy Molloy

The couple, who started working at Depot News in downtown Augusta in 1978, then bought the business and became agents for Greyhound in 1982 before moving in 2003 to the airport, where Mike also runs the adjacent Hertz rental car counter, plans to retire Dec. 20, leaving behind their nearly 11-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week schedule, and a bus load of memories.

Sir George was one of their many beloved regulars at the former Depot News, a downtown gathering spot that sold newspapers, magazines, cigarettes and, of course, bus tickets. But he didn’t start out very friendly. Without saying a word, he’d walk into the store every morning, slam his quarters for his daily newspaper down on the counter harshly, and walk out.

Lynda, determined to get him to open up, always greeted him warmly and told him to have a good day, getting no response. Eventually, the man told her the only way he would talk was if they called him “Sir George.” So they did.

Over time, he became more and more friendly with the couple. They even got to know his adult children, who lived away but came to visit in the summer. So one day when Sir George came in, shaking because of health problems, the MacFarlands called his children to let them know. The children took him to live with them, but not before he came by for a tear-filled goodbye with the MacFarlands.

“He was crying; we were crying. We knew he was never coming back,” Lynda MacFarland said.

Like Sir George, the MacFarlands are moving on, and leaving town, though they do plan to come back to their Chelsea home, at least for summers.

“We’re getting an RV and heading south. We’re going to see the country,” Mike MacFarland said of their retirement plans. “For the last 30 years, we’ve worked seven days a week. It’s time to go on vacation. We’re done.”

Kathy Saucier, of Augusta, stops by the MacFarlands’ office just inside the airport entrance regularly — not to take the bus or rent a car; just to see the MacFarlands, whom she got to know when they owned Depot News and she worked downtown at the nearby KeyBank building. They even introduced her to her husband, who was a Greyhound bus driver at the time. The pair got married in the MacFarlands’ backyard.

Saucier said she’d go to the Depot News for her morning coffee, where she’d chat with the MacFarlands and other regulars who worked downtown every morning.

“Mike and Lynda are awesome people. They have always been there for me, sharing the good times and consoling me in the bad times,” Saucier said. “I will miss them greatly, and a lot of other people will, too.”

Lori Buzzerio, area manager of Greyhound Lines Inc., said the company has not yet decided how, or whether, it will continue to serve the Augusta area after the MacFarlands’ retirement.

She said the MacFarlands are “great agents. I wish them well in their endeavors.”

Mike MacFarland said he thinks Greyhound will keep some sort of presence in Augusta. He joked that he doesn’t care what happens, as long as he doesn’t get hit by a bus on his last day at work.

Greyhound is one of two bus services in Augusta. Concord Coach Lines opened a bus terminal in north Augusta in 2008.

John Guimond, manager of the Augusta State Airport, said he has not heard anything from Greyhound yet about whether it will remain at the airport. He said Hertz officials have expressed interest in maintaining a presence at the airport.

“The MacFarlands really took care of passengers for Greyhound and Hertz,” Guimond said. “They won’t find anybody as good as Mike and Lynda. They’re good people, very customer-oriented. Their presence at the airport, and in the community, is going to be missed.”

Many of their workdays at the airport have been pretty slow, especially in the afternoon, after the last of the daily buses — two headed north, two headed south — make their stops in Augusta.

Many bus passengers buy their tickets online. As agents working on commission, the MacFarlands are paid by Greyhound only when they physically sell tickets.

Lynda said some passengers ask them numerous questions about the bus service, then finish with a final question — “Are tickets available online?”

“Sometimes they’ll sit right here (outside their sliding window) and get tickets online on their smart phones,” Lynda said.

Mike said that’s why he started also renting cars for Hertz, because bus ticket sales alone weren’t enough for the couple, who have eight now-adult children, to make a living.

The MacFarlands are the first and last people some people see in Augusta.

Saucier said the couple makes a great impression.

Passengers, especially those who’ve had too much to drink, occasionaly can be a handful, though the couple noted that was more of an issue downtown, back when there was more going on in that part of the city.

Their small dog, Moka, joins them on the job, continuing a tradition started with their former dog, Mieshe, which they had 14 years before it died about a year ago. Lynda said Moka often gets “borrowed” by other airport workers and accompanies them for parts of a day.

They said they’ve been able to tolerate working seven days a week, nearly every week, because they like the people — most of them, anyway. Especially their only direct co-workers — each other.

“We enjoy working with each other,” Mike said. “If we didn’t work together, I don’t think we’d do it.”

Keith Edwards – 621-5647 kedwards@centralmaine.com
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