By Chelle Delaney
One of the drivers calls her grandma.
And some of those buying tickets may call her the “Greyhound lady.”
The small gray-haired woman behind the red counter at the Greyhound Bus Lines ticket office in Tucumcari is LaRose Hicks Szaloy.
Her office, 10 feet by 16 feet, sits on the edge of the parking lot at McDonald’s restaurant on First Street.
She’s been working at that location since 1995. But, Szaloy has had a much longer relationship with Greyhound. She’s worked for 30 years either as a bookkeeper for the Tucumcari bus agency or as its agent at the front counter.
“I wish we had more like her,” said Robert Hernandez, area sales manager for Greyhound. “She’s one of those agents you wish you had a cookie cutter for.”
Hernandez supervises about 20 agents in an area from that spans from Albuquerque to Amarillo and from Sweetwater, Texas, on I-20 to Benson, Ariz., on I-40, he said.
Szaloy has the distinction of being the oldest agent in Hernandez’ jurisdiction, he said.
“She’s sharp as a tack,” said Hernandez. “LaRose takes care of business very well.”
“I’m 76 and I work 70 hours a week,” said Szaloy. “It’s my home away from home.”
She started out working as a bookkeeper in 1976 for Margaret Wieland, who at that time owned several truckstops, Bob’s tire shop and the Greyhound agency in Tucumcari and Dalhart, Texas, Szaloy said.
The ticket office has moved from Route 66 to the downtown area and in the early 1990s to its present location.
“I just kind of fell into the job” as a bookkeeper, said Szaloy, adding that she has always enjoyed working with numbers.
Szaloy, who used to tally her numbers with an adding machine, said she likes working with computers and “loves working with Xcel,” Microsoft’s spreadsheet program.
Her only vice, Szaloy said, also involves numbers: The kind that you hear at bingo. She said she manages to go several nights a week.
Originally from Oklahoma, Szaloy made her way to New Mexico by way of Texas as her father moved and stepped up the family’s farming operations with each move, she said.
Szlaoy’s children are both in New Mexico. A daughter Sharon and her husband Jim Franks live in Lovington and her son Gary and Peggy Szaloy live in Tucumcari.
Szaloy recalled that when when she started working, Greyhound stopped at numerous small villages, such as San Jon and others. But today, Tucumcari is the only stop between Amarillo and Abuquerque. And when she started in 1976, a bus ticket to Albuquerque was $9 compared to $36.23 today, Szaloy said.
There are local businesses that depend on the bus service for daily pacakge deliveries and Szaloy said they are her regulars who she knows by first name.
And even though she’s been working with Greyhound all these years, she said she only takes the bus occasionally.
Szaloy said she enjoys visiting with the bus drivers when they stop in Tucumcari for passengers and a break. There are five buses that make a daily stop, and over the years, she said she’s grown to think of the drivers as her family.
“I’ve been here since a lot of them started,” she said. “They treat me very well. Some of them think of me as their mother or their grandmother. One of them calls me his ‘step-grandmother.’”