Finding a big life on the open road

By Michael Ellis Langley

Thursday, April 23, 2020

After 15 years in a part-time job, Brian Olson has some stories

Brian Olson in front of bus
ON THE ROAD AGAIN — Since 2005, Brian Olson has held a part-time job as a bus driver for Storer Coachways on his weekends away from Sandia. (Photos courtesy of Brian Olson)

Brian Olson doesn’t have weekends like everyone else. He spends his days away from Sandia driving people all over the state. From ferrying the elite athletes of the National Football League to and from games to saving the lives of 86 people during a mass shooting, it’s been an interesting trip.

“I’m a logistics technical professional,” Brian said of his work at Sandia. “We manage shipping and receiving, mailroom, fleet, reapplication and disintegration, shredding stuff, moving stuff around site. I supervise the technical parts of Logistics — working on our large contracts, maintaining and enhancing our mobility projects and constantly working on ways to improve our services. And all of this using integrated service delivery as the umbrella, which is a big part of our organization.”

Brian started at Sandia’s Livermore campus in 2000 as a contractor, becoming a full-time employee in 2012. His favorite part of the job is the unknown.

“My normal day? Putting out fires,” he said with a laugh. “What’s going to come across the email when you open it up in the morning? That sometimes could occupy five minutes of your time to fix that, or it could take all day. I love figuring out how to tackle the unknown stuff. That’s the thing that keeps me coming back — the new stuff every day.”

Those impossible-to-predict requests have ranged from moving a case of water to responding to a box containing a live animal.

“It seems like if it doesn’t fit anywhere, it ends up in Logistics. We will figure it out,” he said, smiling at how most people see his department.

If that seems like enough stimulation for a week, you haven’t met Brian.

Weekend warrior

Brian Olson in front of bus
ADVENTURE AWAITS — Sandia logistics technician Brian Olson, who drives for Storer Coachways on weekends, stands by his bus, waiting to take a National Football League team to the airport after a game.

“In 2005, I don’t know if it was out of boredom or stupidity, I went into Storer Coachways (in Modesto, California) and asked, ‘Do you ever hire weekend drivers?’” Brian said. “I thought it would be kind of fun to go places and do things on the weekends.”

The company hired him but said he probably would work two weekends a month driving tour shuttles, casino trips and shopping runs to San Francisco. Brian laughed as he remembered how it really went.

“For the first two years, I worked every weekend. Never a weekend off.”

Brian has spent the past 15 years working four days at Sandia/California, handling the logistics of hundreds of people and dozens of projects, and then two more days behind the wheel of large tour buses, going places he never thought he would see.

“I’ve been to places I know I would have never gone myself,” he said. “There’s museums down in L.A. I never knew existed.”

Hero in the making

He could not have known how his decision all those years ago would affect the lives of dozens of people in July 2019. It was a hot Sunday and the smell of garlic was everywhere as Brian loaded passengers onto his 54-seat bus to ferry them out of the Gilroy Garlic Festival. He had no idea that a short distance away, 19-year-old Santino Legan was about to open fire, killing three people and shooting 17 others before taking his own life.

Heroism award
HERO HONORS — Brian Olson earned an award for his heroic actions, driving people to safety during the mass shooting at the Gilroy Garlic Festival in July 2019.

“The shooter was about 150 yards away,” Brian said. “I heard the shots, and everyone started running out of the festival in pure panic. People ran onto my bus. I loaded 86 passengers onto my 54-passenger bus. There were children and parents covered in dirt from diving on the ground once they heard the shots.”

Brian drove his busload of people out to safety. Then he did something few others would have — he drove back in.

“I took them to a safe area and returned to evacuate more of the festival attendees,” Brian said. “It was one of the most stressful days in my driving career.”

Brian’s actions on a day that was unlike any other in his life earned him a Heroism Award from Storer Coachways. 

Team player

Since 2010, most of Brian’s weekends from September to January are prescheduled. Storer Coachways has a contract with the NFL to drive visiting teams to games at the Bay Area stadiums for the San Francisco 49ers and the former Oakland Raiders.

“The players are really nice,” Brian said, dispelling the myth of bad-behaving millionaires. “I have no bad stories with them. Every one of them, from the top athletes to the guys who just came in, they are all ‘Thank you,’ when you hand them their luggage from under the bus. They usually will pat you on the back.”

Even after a hard-fought game, players are professional.

Brian Olson in front of bus
TEAM SPIRIT — Sporting a Green Bay Packers hat, Brian Olson gets ready to take the NFL team to Levi’s Stadium.

“You don’t see any emotion,” Brian said. “When they come back to the bus, they have their headsets on, maybe talking to family, but very rarely do you hear them say anything. It is dead silent. All you hear is the tick-tock, tick-tock of the flashers going down the highway as the CHP (California Highway Patrol) escort us back to the airport. If they won or they lost, you don’t see any difference. They just want to go home.”

To date, Brian has driven the Indianapolis Colts, Seattle Seahawks, Denver Broncos, Kansas City Chiefs, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, New York Giants, Green Bay Packers, Los Angeles Rams, Tennessee Titans, Dallas Cowboys, New York Jets, Cincinnati Bengals, New England Patriots, Pittsburgh Steelers, Chicago Bears, Los Angeles Chargers and Washington Redskins.

“I had the nice opportunity of driving the Broncos for the Super Bowl in 2016,” Brian said of the championship game played that year at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara. “That was pretty much the highlight of my driving career.”

Though he gets a hat from each team — to wear when he drives them — Brian said that he doesn’t play favorites.

“Who do I root for? Every team that I drive,” he said, with a deep laugh.

Prepared for the unknown

Brian sees a connection between the unexpected things that come up in both his part-time driving job and his career at Sandia.

“I didn’t really think about it before now, but it is about problem-solving the unknown for both,” he said. “It’s sitting in that chair with the problems of Sandia and learning how to solve them, and it’s the anticipation of that trip every weekend and figuring out where I’m going and how I’m going to get there.”

While most people look forward to their weekends at home, relaxing, Brian looks forward to each week and weekend bringing new possibilities.

“On Sunday night when I get home, I’m sometimes like, ‘I don’t want to do this job anymore. I just want a weekend like everyone else,’” he said. “Then by Wednesday, I’m like, ‘I wonder where I’m going this weekend.’ Everyone else plans their trips. I don’t know until I get the work order Friday night. It’s great!”