This is a monthly series introducing you to City employees and their stories.
Four-thirty in the morning and Danny Brazelton’s keys are jangling. Music to his ears.
He doesn’t go on the clock until 5 a.m., but so what? There are people already anxious for his arrival, people who all but refuse the ride if Danny’s not the one to pick them up, people who have called him while he’s been on vacation, wondering when he’d return.
Brazelton, 57, is the longest-tenured driver for the City of Huntsville’s Handi-Ride service. But it’s not “tenure” as much as “tender” that would describe Brazelton.
The passengers he serves are typically elderly or dealing with an ailment and Handi-Ride provides their only mode of transportation. A majority are dialysis patients needing thrice-weekly care, with early arrival all the better. Hence the predawn beginning of his route.
“He’s ultra-conscientious about taking care of people,” says John Autry, Manager of Public Transportation for the City of Huntsville.
“Danny just doesn’t meet any strangers,” says his supervisor, James Green. “He treats people, especially older people, with a lot of patience.”
Tommy Brown, the Parking and Public Transit Director for the City of Huntsville, calls him “a hard-working guy, completely straight-up, honest, very active in his church, the kind of guy you’d want to be like. He goes way above and beyond what he should do.”
“I just do what I can,” Brazelton says, pointing his Handi-Ride van north on Pulaski Pike. “I look at it as a privilege, to do what I can do as long as I can do it.”
He loves to help. He loves people.
And he loves to drive.
Perfect match for man and job.
“I could be making $100,000 a year and not be happy,” he says. “I might be stressed out, going crazy. This is something where just to hear (passengers) say thank you or I appreciate it or a smile. It means a lot.”
And the thing about Danny, if he drops you off in the morning, he’s going to make sure you get home later in the day.”
The love of driving was born with that jangling of keys. An uncle and aunt would pay him a $1 to wash their car when he was a young kid. They’d hand him the key chain, and that noise alone was enough of a lure. It meant he’d get to “drive” the car, even it was only to maneuver it in the driveway and closer to the hose.
Turns out, other music is an essential part of Brazelton’s life. When no passengers are aboard, the Handi-Ride radio is on. He works part-time as a DJ, playing oldies music. Motown. R&B. Jazz. Says Brazelton, “If you were living in the 60s and 70s, that’s what I play. Something for people to reminisce to. Like when you kissed your first girlfriend. Or when you got expelled.”
He’s also involved in ministry at his church and, through the years, has worked as many as four jobs simultaneously. As he says, “You do what you can to feed your family.” He and wife Lisa, going on 39 years of marriage now, have four daughters and six grandchildren.
On a typical day, he’ll drive 120 to 190 miles and serve 25-30 passengers. Early in the morning, he might have as many as nine or 10 at once, many heading to the same offices for dialysis.
“And the thing about Danny, if he drops you off in the morning, he’s going to make sure you get home later in the day,” Green says.
He admits the incessant exposure to people struggling with their health “gets you down,” and that “it really hurts when you see them go.” But Brazelton is sunshine and smiles when he eases up in the Handi-Ride van, as on a recent late morning. He seems to know each passenger’s name and their health status.
First, there is a gentleman confined to a wheelchair, taken from a dialysis clinic to his home in north Huntsville, then a south Huntsville pickup at another clinic, with the passenger dropped off at work. An aging veteran living at a nursing home and elderly north Huntsville woman briefly share a ride, both in wheelchairs. (The Handi-Ride vans have elaborate mechanisms, with straps affixed to the floor by Brazelton, to keep wheelchairs safely in place.)
The woman, in her Sunday finest and wearing a pink flower in her hair, is Brazelton’s final passenger of the day. He pulls up at the Jaycee Center, where she is attending a seminar conducted by the Huntsville Police Department. He lowers the lift-gate and eases her to the pavement, then says his goodbyes.
As she whirs up the sidewalk, Brazelton watches, and sees that no one is at the door to let her in. He jogs up behind her and opens the door to the building before returning to the van, a smile on his face.
You go the extra mile every day, what’s a hundred extra feet?