Overheard on a bus ride around Modesto this week:
"Women problems," one male rider bemoaned.
"My bike tire popped," another countered.
Bad days, no doubt, are in the eyes of the beholders. But there is a simple cure, they agreed: Just climb aboard a Modesto Area Express bus when Charlie Chaisayant is behind the wheel. You're bound to feel better.
The right mix of smiles, song and schtick can work wonders, the 47-year-old driver understands. So that's what he offers over the bus speakers.
From "Happy Birthday" to children's songs. He'll belt out Michael Jackson's "The Girl Is Mine" or give his rendition of Elvis Presley singing Hank Williams' "Your Cheatin' Heart."
If someone boards the bus and says, "Take me home," he'll break into John Denver's "Take Me Home, Country Roads."
"I think it's really awesome," first-time rider Bethany Spaulding said after joining in. "More (drivers) should do it."
His encore? He'll do Elvis singing Hank's "Your Cheatin' Heart" -- in Chinese.
Chaisayant has quite a following on his routes. When he pulls up at a stop, riders frequently call him by name and he knows them as well.
"I want people to be happy," he said. "You ask, I'll sing for you. I've had people get on the bus and be looking sad, and say, 'Will you sing for me?' "
It's never just a ride. It's a show that begins with his trademark "Ooh, yeah ... . You're on the VIP bus -- you've got the only one in Modesto, ooh yeah," in his best Vegas lounge-act voice. Then he'll ask the riders, "What's my name?"
They'll answer in unison, "Charlie!"
"Who's the No. 1 bus driver in Modesto?"
"Who's the best-looking?
"Ooh, yeah ..."
He makes a special effort with the groups of special-needs kids who often board his bus, said Austin Gunter, a drug counselor who rides with Chaisayant every Thursday.
"He makes them feel like they're really part of the trip," Gunter said. "It brings joy to my heart to see that, and when he sings, he really gets them going."
Chaisayant has his limits, though, as a 2-year-old girl passenger learned when she asked for a song. "Sing Lady Gaga!" little Kalani Lara said, repeatedly, as only a 2-year-old can.
"I like the oldies," Chaisayant said, knowing he was in deep on this one. After all, you can only do so much without a skimpy outfit, a plumed headdress and troweled-on makeup.
Born in Bangkok, Thailand, Chaisayant came to the United States when he was 12. He spent two decades working for a high-tech company in the Bay Area, working his way up to a certified training specialist. Like so many others who dreamed of homeownership, he moved his family to the valley. Then, like so many others, he lost his job because of downsizing.
He applied for numerous jobs in the valley only to be told he was overqualified. So Chaisayant put in for a driver's position with MAX. Since he'd never driven a bus before, he wasn't overqualified this time. They hired him. He was trained, licensed and began driving buses about seven years ago.
The singing and entertaining started as a whim -- something to liven things up for the riders and himself on what could otherwise be boring circuits of the city.
The regulars on his routes soon noticed a special quality in him.
"He's always in a good mood when you see him," said Arthur King, who has been riding city buses since 1992.
It's infectious, King said.
"You can see when people get on the bus, they like him," he said. "Somebody's having a bad day, but they get on the bus and now they're feeling encouraged. You start off with negative things and now you feel good."
Yes, the right mixture of smiles, song and schtick can do that.
"Let's play a game, here," Chaisayant challenged his riders the other day. "Does everybody watch 'Family Feud?' Name something that will make you happy."
He quickly answered for them.
"Buzzz ... ! Singing with the bus driver. Ooh, yeah."
Jeff Jardine's column appears Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays in Local News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2383.