WHEN LITTLE FEAT’S LOWELL GEORGE wrote his classic road song “Willin’?” (“I’ve driven ev’ry kinda rig that’s ever been made”), he could have been writing about Dennis Justice, a 59-year-old professional bus driver who can measure his life in real miles. “Both of my sons are in the bus business,” he says. “A few years back they sat down and averaged out that I had driven about 75,000 miles a year, which was a good minimum figure. When I was about 50, they figured it was about 3 million miles.”
Justice has been behind the wheel since he was 14, when he first chauffeured his mother, a costume-jewelry saleswoman, around Southern California on her various meets-and-greets. At 20, he landed a job washing buses for a local company that shuttled the bands of Ray Charles, Johnny Otis, Lionel Hampton and Les Brown on cross-country tours, eventually talking his way into driving bandleader Stan Kenton’s orchestra. By 24, he had already driven most of the continental United States, Canada and Mexico.
“The wonderful thing about my wanderlust was that it was fulfilled by my employment,” he says. But it was grueling work. “With Kenton, I used to do 600 to 800 miles at a stretch. There was one trip when I was awake for five days straight. Then I’d see Jesus hitchhiking and think, ‘Maybe I’d better pull over and get some rest.’?”
The Kenton gig led to a 16-year career in the music industry as a booker and manager, a job Justice refers to as “high-priced baby-sitting” (duties included informing Dizzy Gillespie he was in the wrong city). In 1986, Justice returned to his first love of driving bus tours and now is the co-owner of American Transportation Systems, a private charter company.
“One doesn’t spend that much time on the road and not learn how to sleep whenever and wherever you can for as much or as little time as you get,” says Justice, who devised different sleeping positions that corresponded to how long his passengers would be away noshing or snapping pictures.
“One of my favorites is the Sitting Bull. It’s sort of like a half-lotus position, but one that only lasts 10 minutes before your legs start to cramp and you wake up. If you kick your feet up on the seat, that’s about a 30-minute nap. If you get too comfortable, like laying down across the seats, it could be 45 minutes to four days.”