Patrick Robinson
King County Metro 50 bus driver Reggie (Smiley) Wilson poses in his ride, where he's spent the past 28 years trying to brighten other people's day.

Metro driver "Smiley" keeps the laughs alive on Route 50

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Even the most smile-resistant curmudgeons might break down and flash those pearly whites if they accidentally stumble onto this particular King County Metro driver’s bus.

You can see him coming from at least a half-block away, with a bright yellow smiley face sign beaming through the front window of his Route 50 bus, traveling from Othello Station to Alki Point and back again.

You’re guaranteed a big grin and a welcome from the driver as you step on, and if his supply is sufficient on that day, he’ll hand you a pin that simply says “Smile.” Depending on the day of the week, you’ll get some sort of inspirational quote to go along with it. Riding his 50 bus on Thursday meant it was “Thirstday,” because “We are all thirsty for Friday!”

That driver’s name is Reggie Wilson, people call him Smiley, and he’s been brightening Metro riders’ days ever so slightly for 28 years.

Once you sit down, Reggie’s not done. He’ll take every chance he gets to interact with his riders, working the crowd like a comedian with his self-branded “corny” jokes and songs (“It has to be generic, above board and it cannot offend anybody,” he explained).

An example: Every Metro bus is equipped with an automated message Reggie can play that says “Thank you for riding King Count Metro.” He’ll play it three times in a row, pause for dramatic effect, and then bellow, “You’re supposed to say ‘You’re welcome’!” Without fail, no matter how tough the crowd, someone gives in and says “Your welcome,” followed by a round of laughs.

Another: Pulling up to a stop at the corner of 63rd Ave. S.W. and Alki Ave. S.W. on July 25, he opened the doors and asked a group of five adults if they needed a ride on the 50. “No,” they replied.
“Did you hear about what happened last night?” he asked before pulling away.
“No,” they replied again, momentarily perplexed.
“It got dark!,” he exclaimed. As the 50 pulled away, everyone on the curb was laughing.
“You see,” he said, looking back at his riders, “it’s so corny you have to laugh.”

Entertaining has been part of Reggie’s repertoire long before he became a Metro driver. From way back, he said, he decided to overcome his innate shyness with humor, but also inspiration. Alternating between “class clown” monikers in the classroom and “most inspirational” on the football field during his childhood growing up in Beacon Hill, it’s a craft he’s been refining for much of his 49 years.

When Metro hired Reggie to drive a bus, he said he had a plan from the onset.

“I’m going to do something in Seattle that they’ve never seen from a bus driver,” he recalled. “I’m a really upbeat guy, I like telling jokes, I like singing, I like doing that stuff, so I said I’ll just … bring that to the bus to lighten things up, and besides helping myself get through the day, you know, help people lighten up and smile more. When we are on the bus it doesn’t have to be all stuffy. You can say hello and you can get along and you can be all nice, you don’t have to look forward and keep your headphones on.”

“That’s what I wanted, and (28 years later) here it is.”

Reggie’s bus is inundated with little reminders to “SMILE” from the front all the way to the back window.

“So,” the curmudgeon might ask, “is this just all an act?”

“Generally I’m smiling all the time because I love my job and I’m blessed to have it,” he said. ““S-M-I-L-E for Reggie is really G-O-D. For me, when I wake up and I see my kids are healthy and I see I have a job and I see all these positive things in my life, man, I say, you know, I can’t complain too much.”

He tells the story of several years back when he, like everyone else does, was having one of those no good, rotten, very bad days. He wasn’t feeling the Smiley persona and decided not to put his smile paraphernalia up. One of his regulars got on the bus, stopped, and asked, “Hey, where’s your smile signs?”

He told her he just wasn’t feeling it on that particular day, and she replied, “That’s all the more reason to put them up!”

From that day on, no matter what, he’s represented the smile and encouraged it in others.

“I just like to see people laugh and be happy,” Reggie said. “That’s just who I am.”

The testimonials
Several Alki-area residents who depend on the 50 to get from here to there know Reggie well, and the reviews they shared with the Herald were glowing.

In fact, we learned about Reggie from a Metro rider and West Seattle resident named Maggie Fox who used to ride Reggie’s bus back in the 1990s when she worked downtown and lived on Capitol Hill.

“So many evenings, at 5:00 p.m., I’d be luck enough to catch the bus he was driving,” she wrote. “He made the trip home less stressful in the midst of rush hour traffic. At times, the route was painfully slow, but Reggie kept everyone focused on other things.”

Maggie was thrilled recently when she was waiting for the 50 in West Seattle and saw that telltale smiley face in the window. It had been years, and she had just reconnected with her favorite driver.

“Everyone loves him,” she wrote. “I told him last Monday that Seattle needs to name a street for him, and erect a statue of him like they did for JP Patches. Reggie brings the same kind of joy to people that JP did.”

Alki resident Mary McKendry shared in Maggie’s sentiment while riding the 50 on April 25.

“He’s always very pleasant and smiling and joking and he just makes it a nice experience to be on the bus,” she said. “He’s just a happy person and it makes you feel good.”

Now, let it be known not all reviews are positive.

A few years back, Reggie heard from his boss that a complaint had come in about him. An especially resilient curmudgeon had written in to say he’d had enough of Reggie telling him to have a good day and he wanted it to stop.

As every one of Reggie’s customers stepped off the bus on July 25 he made sure to say the same thing:

“Thank you, you have a good day!”

No one seemed to mind.

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Reggie Wilson has taken his approach to life in a few different directions, including the creation of a corporate training video called (as you may have guessed) “SMILE!” found at www.smile-video.com. He said he’s also working on a book of inspirational writings compiled since his high school days.

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