Driving with Mister Reuben…
It’s nothing for Reuben Parahi to change his personality many times in one day. He doesn’t have a problem, rather he’s got that uncanny knock of being able to relate to all sorts of different people with ease. This “hard case” chap has been driving business for Nimon’s for just over half of his life and chances are if you’ve been on a charter bus, concert connection coach or school bus trip over the last 31 years, Reuben’s been your driver. He’s a man with a big heart and a real zest for life and he cherishes and respects the Nimon name…
Born and bred in Hastings, Reuben started his working life driving trucks here in the Bay. When Mr John Nimon offered him a job driving buses in 1964, Reuben jumped as it and says there was a huge difference in attitude when driving coaches as opposed to “rigs”.
“It’s a big responsibility driving people around as opposed to freight…”
When he started at Nimons, there were only eight buses – now there are 75, but the important things have never changed.
“Mr Nimon has been both a boss and a friend to me. He has played a big part in our family life as I was away a lot and my wife Pat had four children to bring up. Mr Nimon kept an eye on things at home for me,” says Reuben, who says the family feeling at Nimons has continued with Bill Nimon at the helm.
“I have watched the Nimon children grow up and it’s hard to believe that I’ve worked there for 31 years…”
His job has taken him from one end of New Zealand to the other and there’s barely a road he doesn’t know. The role of the bus driver in a tourist’s life cannot be overlooked and Reuben says they have to be, in effect, a servant.
“A bus driver has to look after his tourists – they might only be in the district for a day or two and you have to make a good impression.”
Getting Hawkes Bay on the tourist map is often difficult, but once they visit here Reuben says tourists are impressed.
“I like to take them up Te Mata Peak so they can view the whole of the Bay. I pinpoint the main areas and then drive them around these places once we get down off the Peak.”
Reuben is “famous” for his commentaries when driving and says he does his bit to promote New Zealand and our people.
“I tell overseas visitors that whilst there are a few disagreements between the Maori and Pakeha in this country, overall we get on very well. This is of interest especially to those people who come from a place where there is racial tension. I like to boast to them about living here – I feel very proud of New Zealand!”
Most tourists seem to know a bit about New Zealand, although Reuben says a lot of Americans still think that Maori women wear grass shirts…
Singing bus driver
No trip with Reuben at the wheel would be truly complete without a sing-along! The “oldies” especially appreciate the chance to croon with Reuben, and his repertoire is extensive.
He’s had plenty of opportunity to hone his singing skills as he’s been lucky enough to get to see some great concerts over the years as a bus driver. If the trip is an “overnighter” Reuben will get entry to concerts and he rates amongst his favourites the Rolling Stones, Rod Stewart, and Elton John. He’s seen some amazing stage shows too and looks forward each year to the Mission Concert.
If you’ve ever taken a bus to the Mission shows, then you’ll know that leaving the venue is a spectacle in itself! Reuben says he “bullies” his way out, but in the nicest possible way!
Getting out of Auckland after a big concert also requires a whole lot of “nous” and Reuben has it down to a fine art.
“Other drivers say to me ‘we’re never going to get out of here!?’ – I say ‘just watch me!’ There are ways and means…”
Act like a child
The concept of changing his personality to suit the passengers is something that Reuben has fine-tuned over the years.
“It’s all in the mind – I can act like a child if I have a bus full of kindy kids. Primary school children need a firmer approach and high school pupils are different again. A rugby team needs keeping an eye on and “oldies” just like a friendly chat and a couple of favourite songs.”
Reuben is often recognised in the street by school kids who remember being on “his bus”. He used to drive for a lot of school camps, in particular taking groups to Waikaremoana.
“It used to be my second home and boy we got up to some tricks!” laughs Reuben, recalling the times when he’d put thistles and blackberries into the parents beds…
He’d take his guitar along and every night before bed, the kids would sing songs with him. Reuben found himself in a number of other roles on school camps – far and beyond the normal duties of a bus driver.
“I was an ‘all-in-one’ – a teacher, a consultant, a cook!”
Reuben used to say to the parents “you go off and explore with the kids – I’ll get the tea on.” The group would arrive back to mugs of steaming soup and toast on a cold day and pikelets for supper were a special treat.
There are many yarns to be told about the life of a bus driver, but Reuben says we’ll have to wait until he writes his book! However, one day does stick in his mind…
“I’d taken the tote workers from Hastings up to the Wairoa races and when it was time to leave I couldn’t find my keys. The word went out over the loud speakers and everyone was looking for them. The wife of the racecourse’s secretary said ‘have you looked in your bag?’ I told her I had – many times. Eventually I found that they’d slipped under the cardboard base of the bag. Everyone cheered! It was so silly to think that I only needed one little thing to start the bus and I couldn’t find it!”
Reuben’s fears that he’d receive the local radio station’s “Wally of the Week” award were not realised, but he still feels like a “nong” when he thinks about the episode…
Driving for Nimon’s has become such a large part of Reuben’s life that he finds it hard to imagine what he’ll do with himself when he retires. There’s been no time for hobbies or sport – what little spare time he has had has been invested in his family.
“Families are forever and even though I’ve spent a lot of time away from my kids, I’d like to think that I’ve been there when it’s really mattered.
When he does retire, it’ll be interesting to see how much bus travel Reuben does! Mind you, his wife reckons he’s “blink’ useless’ at driving a car – “he’s so used to driving a big coach, you’d think he has huge trailers behind him when he gets into our car…”