ROBERT BUGGEY pulled out of the Frankford Transportation Center, drove his SEPTA Route 88 bus through Mayfair, Holmesburg and Bustleton, across the Montgomery County line and up a tree-lined stretch of Moreland Road near Huntingdon Pike, where he said, "I've seen turkey vultures having lunch in the road. Deer. The guy in that house raises guinea hens. I've seen them on the road, too."
The critters all survived because Buggey, 61, a SEPTA bus operator for 40 years, still has the intense focus he learned as a young Marine Corps truck driver.
A few minutes earlier, a cat ran in front of his bus along the Blue Grass Road commercial corridor.
Buggey had just carried a woman's full shopping cart down the kneeling bus' steps and made her laugh, saying, "Glad I'm not going shopping. Looks like you got everything off the shelves."
Then Buggey pulled out, braked immediately, peered through his front window at four lanes of midday traffic and said, "Well, the cat made it."
Buggey has won SEPTA's safe-driving award for 28 years in a row.
His regular riders in Northeast Philadelphia think he's the cat's meow.
As Buggey stopped on Welsh Road at Old Bustleton Avenue, an elderly woman fretted about making her connection with the 58 bus that had already arrived across the street.
"It's a shame I'm missing my bus," she told Buggey, who replied, "I think you can make it."
Buggey hand-signaled to the 58 driver, who waited until the woman crossed the street and boarded. Another satisfied rider.
Buggey grew up in Germantown, bought his first house in Olney and has lived in Lawncrest for the past 32 years with his wife, Theresa. They met when both worked at the Veterans Administration after his military discharge.
"We took the same buses to work - the 26 and the H," Buggey said. "Fell in love. Got married in 1974."
For years, they've vacationed in the Caribbean.
"I scuba dive," Buggey said. "My wife reads Harlequin romances on the beach. She takes 30 books with her and gives them away when she's finished. People call her the 'Library Lady.' "
Buggey said his biggest thrill was coming up from a dive, hanging onto a safety bar 15 feet below the surface to decompress, and suddenly noticing the toothy jaws of a barracuda, opening and closing next to him.
"Turned out, his name was Henry," Buggey said, "and he was known to the men on the fishing boats, who threw fish guts overboard to him. He was just waiting for his handout."
Buggey plans to retire in September. Until then, he'll keep regular riders like Addie Hixon happy.
As Buggey carried her heavy shopping cart down the bus steps, Hixon said, "It's so loaded I can hardly lift it. And I've got one bad knee."
Buggey told her, "I wanted to get you one of those pogo sticks so you can hop off the bus but SEPTA wouldn't let me." They shared a laugh - which happens often on Buggey's 88 bus.