Vineyard medical van shuttle driver provides a comforting ride

Loretta May at the wheel of her VTA van awaited passengers early Tuesday morning at the Vineyard Haven Steamship Authority terminal. — Photo by Nelson Sigelman

In December, Martha’s Vineyard state representative Tim Madden sent a letter to Vineyard Transportation Authority (VTA) driver Loretta May, who each week transports Island residents to Boston area hospitals.

Mr. Madden said he had heard about Ms. May from a constituent who was having a difficult time.

“She shared with me how wonderful you are and how you make the trip so enjoyable by showing those riding with you all the great sights in the city and along the way,” Mr. Madden wrote in his letter dated December 12. “I want to thank you for your amazing compassion as a driver and understanding that those who are heading to doctor’s appointments often enjoy a welcome distraction during the trip off Island.”

He described Ms. May as “a truly remarkable woman.”

“I damn near fell over,” Ms. May told The Times. “I was really surprised.” She said she did not think she had done anything special to deserve the notice of the Island’s state representative. To her, it was business as usual.

Ms. May has worked for the VTA since she arrived on the Island 12 years ago. She has a regular morning route between the three down-Island towns five days a week. On Tuesdays, she drives the Medivan to Boston, leaving on the 7 am boat out and returning on the 5 pm after shuttling her charges to various hospitals and medical facilities around the city. She transports anywhere from one passenger to 12 and tries to make the trip as pleasurable as possible.

“I try to go by what the season is.” Ms. May told The Times. “If the magnolias are all in bloom and if we have time, we drive down Commonwealth Avenue or go to Beacon Hill. When they opened the new bridge, that was exciting. When all the daffodils are blooming I go slow by the Commons.”

For passengers who rarely make the trip off Island, the sights closer to home can prove diverting as well. “We went around Falmouth Square at Christmas,” Ms. May said, but generally she takes the scenic coastal route to Woods Hole. “Everybody seems to like it when we go the coast route by the lighthouse. We get there about the time that the boat is turning the bend. They like that.”

Glenna Moore is a frequent Medivan passenger. “She calls your attention to beauty on every trip,” Ms. Moore said. “We’ll be talking about something. All of a sudden you’re transported. She constantly sees beauty wherever she is and draws attention to it.”

An inveterate traveler, Ms. May said she enjoys the weekly off-Island excursion, but the trip is not without its difficulties. “They don’t play by the rules up there,” Ms. May said. “They [drivers] run red lights. They [pedestrians] cross everywhere. I used to joke to everybody that I had about 450 combat missions to Boston.”

In between drop-offs and pick-ups, Ms. May tends to kill time in a shopping mall since driving a sizable van precludes the street parking necessary for visiting city sights.

On the way back, Ms. May makes a point of stopping for fast food. “A lot of times the riders don’t get a chance to eat,” she said.

Ms. May finds the work rewarding. “I really like the Boston trip a lot because I think it’s very important for the community,” she said. “For the seniors I know how hard it is to take the ferry, the bus, get into South Station and have to take the T or a taxi. If they’re having any sort of procedure or test they usually don’t like to go alone. They bring a husband or wife and that’s a few hundred dollars round-trip.” The Medivan trip costs $20 per person, including the boat ride.

The amiable Ms. May, who is a vibrant 63, enjoys the conversation and camaraderie among the riders, many of whom she gets to know during multiple trips. “Everybody has a story – a vacation story or what’s happening, what kind of procedure or a funny story.” she said, “Sometimes it’s heartbreaking, other times it’s kind of funny all the waiting they’ve had to do to get nowhere.”

Ms. May was born and raised in Malibu, California, where she surfed and rode horses. She brings a wealth of interesting stories. “She’s one of the most fascinating people I’ve ever met,” Ms. Moore said.

At age 14, Ms. May moved from her native California to Portugal with her grandmother, who she credits with infecting her with the travel bug. She spent all of her adult life exploring the world. In her fifties, Ms. May landed in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, where she took up work on megayachts which eventually brought her to the Vineyard for the first time. At 52, she decided that she had at last found her permanent home.

Ms. May said the first thing she did after arriving on the Vineyard was to buy a bus pass. “I asked the bus driver if there was work around. He said, ‘Do you think you could drive the bus?’ He brought me in and I got the job that day.'”

The long list of places she’s visited includes New Zealand and Australia, Thailand, Madagascar, Egypt and other places in the Middle East. During her six-week allotment of vacation time (some paid, some unpaid) she often takes cruises to exotic locales.

The weekly trip to Boston helps Ms. May indulge her wanderlust. “I like the trip. It gets you off the Island, back to reality.”

However, she said, “I can’t wait to come home. I know I’m a wash-ashore, but I kind of think that it’s my Island now.”