Faculty + Staff

Q&A: Betsy Metzgar on her 23-year commute with the UCLA Vanpool


Betsy Metzgar is the assistant director for scheduling and information systems in the UCLA Events Office, where she oversees the assignment of some 200 campus spaces for extracurricular events. She is also the administrator of UCLA Events Online, the university-wide system for communicating and coordinating events on the campus. After working at UCLA for more than 30 years and commuting to work via the UCLA Vanpool for the last 23 Metzgar is retiring this month. This story was originally published in UCLA Transportation's Be a Green Commuter blog.

Tell us about your commute on the van.
When I moved to Camarillo 23 years ago, I knew I would be facing a commute of about 100 miles every day. I made sure that there was a vanpool available for that community before we moved, as I really didn't want to drive that distance every day. I have to say, having the vanpool was a godsend for me.

Can you describe the relationships you have with your fellow vanpool riders?
Throughout the years, I have definitely become close to quite a few of them. They become your friends and supporters and they cheer you on. Most of us work at UCLA and know the UCLA system. For example, we encourage each other to go for a promotion and give advice on how to go about it. Some of my fellow vanpoolers coached me on how to be more assertive when looking at my own career development and promotions. I returned the favor. It’s really an advantage when all of you work in the same place.

Are you still in touch with some of the people that were on your vanpool years ago?
Yes, I am. I met some people on the van who became good friends of mine. I remember one guy who had a toddler at home, and my daughter would babysit her. And I remember one day when he asked me, ‘"Do you think we should have a second child?" Well, I had a second child, so my answer was "yes." They had a second child not long after, and I'd like to think I have something to do with it.

How do you feel about "breaking up" with your vanpool next month?
It’ll be hard, as you really get close to these people. This morning, one woman gave me a bag of avocados from her tree. Another woman gave me two packages of raspberries because she knows how much I like them. It’s that kind of friendship where you do things for each other. They are a wonderful group of people and I can count on them.

What do you think you’ll miss the most about your vanpool?
I really like to start my day by watching the sunrise in the morning as we drive in from Camarillo. Coming home in the evening, I like having this transition time between work and family time. Years ago, I was raising two kids, so at home, my ‘"second shift" started. I really enjoyed having some time for myself on the way back to read, think and rest.

What won’t you miss?
Certainly the hours. Our van leaves at 5.45 a.m. every morning. Fortunately, I live very near the Park-and-Ride. However, in the past I sometimes had up to 30 minutes of commute time to reach a Park-and-Ride, so I had to get up at three in the morning. They asked me on my vanpool the other day, what would be the first thing I do when I retire. I said that I’m going to sleep. There’s always a lot that you want to do before you go to sleep in the evening, so I personally don’t get eight hours of sleep.

Are there any particular stories that you remember from your years on the van?
At times, we had really fun people on the van and we would play games on the way home. We loved to play “Name That Tune.” Somebody would hum the theme of a television show and we’d have to guess what it is. We played trivia, and a lot of the questions had to do with old TV shows or old movies. We even played bingo, which is not easy to do in a moving van. We did sing-alongs, and we had some people who were great singers.

We’d also have meals and potlucks on the van. Everybody would contribute something. We’d have to find finger food variations of the dishes we wanted to bring. We once even did a Thanksgiving potluck one year. We switched the turkey for turkey meatballs, the mashed potatoes for tater tots and we had pumpkin bread. That way everyone could eat a Thanksgiving-themed dinner on the van.

Was there ever an exciting event that you witnessed?
There were several life events that I've experienced on the van. During the L.A. Riots, we needed to leave campus in our van while seeing smoke on the horizon. We've also driven by fires; we've seen flames on the side of the 405. I remember really bad flooding, and we actually drove through hail once. There were several earthquakes as well. Once, it rained so badly that it took us several hours to get home. I had a Halloween party planned at my house, and my guests were waiting for me to get home. In these situations, you really feel for the drivers. They’re doing their best to get you home.

I've also been through so many personal life events on the van. Someone tells you that she’s dating, then she's engaged; you see the ring, and a bit later you’re invited to the wedding. Next there's a baby on the way, and we've been through morning sickness together on the van (laughs). We've celebrated new jobs and promotions, and we've dealt with terminations together. I remember one day a woman I've been riding with for a long time turned very quiet one day on the ride home. When we pulled into the parking lot, she looked at me and told me that she got laid off.

The change of technology on the van that I've witnessed throughout the years is also very interesting. At first, many people were reading or talking on the van. Then, audiobooks came out on cassette tapes. I remember that one book was a full shoebox full of tapes. Later, we had iPods and portable DVD players. The devices kept getting smaller, and we find that people don't talk quite as much as they used to. Then we had the first emergency cell phone in the van. It was a huge box on the bottom of the van. It was for van drivers to call in traffic conditions to KNX Newsradio and to report emergencies.

Did you ever calculate how much you save on gas by commuting on the vanpool?
No, I haven’t. But I've only had two cars throughout the past 23 years, which tells you something about how much I've used them. I remember buying a 1981 Dodge Aspen for $1 off a friend just for driving to the Park-and-Ride. I had to warm up the car every morning at 5:45. My neighbor told me that this was her daily signal to turn on the coffee maker for her husband!

To be honest, the biggest benefit for me is that commuting on the van proved to be a total sanity saver for me. If I had to drive to work all these years, I would have become a basket case.

What are your plans for your retirement?
I have a lot of interests, and I’m happy to have more time to pursue them. I’m teaching laughter yoga, and I have a second grandchild on the way. I’m also planning on visiting my other daughter in England, where she’s going to graduate school.

My husband is an anthropologist, and we've lived on the Micronesian Islands in the past. I’m now looking forward to going back with him and doing some field work there.

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