The first time Tasha Clavo was invited along on her grandma’s daily walk, she learned firsthand how much energy and patience go into a life of public service. Clavo, 12 years old at the time, agreed to tag along, unaware that she had signed up for a 10-mile trek from Platte Park to Colorado Boulevard and back. It turned out that this was her grandma’s regular route, checking in on her neighbors, both housed and unhoused, and making sure everyone was surviving the day.
"Are we going to stop? Are we going to get something to eat?" she would wonder as they walked block after block, but her grandma wouldn’t stray from her mission. "It wasn’t about us," she remembers.
Today, Clavo looks back on that time and understands why she feels so at home being an RTD bus operator. “I was born to do this,” she said. “To take care of people like my grandma took care of people just for the enjoyment of it.”
Even before her memorable journey across Denver and back, Clavo used to push her siblings around the neighborhood in a shopping cart, stopping at bus stops, real and imaginary. “I would say, ‘I’ll let you off here.’ ‘You stay there and I’ll come back and pick you up.’ I always knew I was going to be a bus operator,” she recalled.
Decades later, when RTD called to follow up on her application, she knew the timing was finally right. Clavo had been thinking about getting her commercial driver’s license, and she knew RTD would give her the training she needed to fulfill a lifelong goal. “I look forward to going to work every day,” she said. “Each person I come in contact with, each individual, helps me with my purpose.”
As Clavo talks about purpose, it doesn’t take long to realize what she’s referring to – her calling to share compassion and kindness with everyone she encounters. “I know what it's like to struggle,” she said. “This is a give-and-take thing.”
Coming up on her fifth year with RTD, Clavo sees her relationship to her customers as a give and take. By putting each other first, everyone wins. “My job is safety over everything,” she explained. “My safety is your safety. So, if you're safe and I'm safe, we’re all better off.”
Clavo’s philosophy is there's no “I” in “team”: “We’ve got to make this a team, basically. If someone’s headphones are too loud or they’re talking on their phone, I simply ask them to be mindful. When you put it that way, people become more considerate of each other.”
Having started at RTD before the beginning of the pandemic, Clavo has watched as the number of customers fell, then slowly rose again. Through regular work and varied routes, she has come to understand how every person experiences public transportation in a different way.
“At the end of the day, it's about the passengers,” she said. “You never know what a person might be going through. I might make that day better by saying, ‘Hey, let's get to where you got to go.’”
“People work; they have appointments. It's not about me. It's about everybody behind me.”
Recently, Clavo was able to make a big difference for a local couple who boarded her bus trying to go to some shops on Christmas Day. When she realized they could not speak English, Clavo pulled out her phone and opened a translation app to communicate with them. She was able to tell them that their destination would be closed, and they should save their money and try again the next day.
“It feels good when you can help people with giving the knowledge that they need,” she said, looking back on that day.
Not surprisingly, in her home life, Clavo places a strong emphasis on fostering the same kind of resourcefulness and self-sufficiency in her children. In direct contrast to using technology to quickly resolve on-the-job challenges, she teaches them to not rely solely on technology, and encourages a balanced use of analog skills. She keeps a dictionary and other reference books on hand – and carries on the tradition of playing gin rummy that started with her mom and grandma.
Clavo is also an avid baker, from Mississippi mud pie to her mom’s favorite red velvet cake. She is carrying on her family’s matriarchal penchant for filling up the people around her with love.
“Motivation is key. My job motivates me,” Clavo said. “My kids. My husband. I’m driven by them. And the more I get pushed, the more I want to do.”
Whether she is baking something sweet or simply showing up to be a familiar and friendly face in the community, Clavo rises to every occasion to help the people around her as best she can.
“I know I can make somebody else smile when I open the bus door and say, ‘Good morning,’” she said. Repeating one of her mantras, Clavo notes, “You don’t get as many wrinkles when you smile as you do when you frown.”