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Welcome to America By Sherry Cannon

Recently, five friends and I booked a trip to Cancun, through Peoria Charter Coach Tours.  In all, 21 of us traveled by charter bus to O’Hare Airport to fly to Cancun.

Our time in Cancun was wonderful. We dodged any effects from Hurricane Nate. The Caribbean Sea was bright blue, the beaches were beautiful white sand, the food was delicious and the libations plentiful. More than anything the Mexican people were friendly, gracious and very hospitable.

All in all, we had a wonderful time. The vacation could not have gone better, that was until we got to O’Hare to board the Peoria Charter Bus for home.  At customs our tour coordinator informed us where our bus would be parked. She also suggested we grab sandwiches, so we wouldn’t have to stop on the way home.  

I managed to get through Customs quickly, buy a sandwich and was one of the first to get to our bus.  Others had skipped the sandwich and were already on the bus or boarded right before me. One of my friends reached the bus around the same time as I did.

I acknowledged the driver by saying this is our bus to Peoria, right?  The driver response was, “you can’t get on this bus, because it is for a private party.”  Mind you we had already observed the other people in from the tour board the bus.   

I thought the driver was joking, so I left my luggage and boarded the bus, as did my friend.  Before boarding, she asked the driver, why he wasn’t loading her luggage on the bus as he had the people in front of us? He told her to place it to the side.

After finding a seat, and putting my sandwich down, I decided to go back into the airport to wash my hands.  The driver boarded the bus as I was leaving, and said she had to leave too.  Still thinking he was teasing us, I bantered back & forth with him. After a couple of minutes, it was clear that he wasn’t.   He repeated this is a private party and his insurance didn’t cover us traveling on the bus, but we could call the company.  He also said we were not on his list.  I asked him how could he know that since he didn’t know my name.  

I again reiterated this was our bus headed for Peoria, and he lied and said no this bus was going to Pontiac.  There were two people from Pontiac that had been picked up. I told him, you are dropping two people off in Pontiac and going on to Peoria.  By this time, I’m frustrated and tell him to talk to Amanda, the tour coordinator. Upon hearing her name, he asked me, why hadn’t I said that earlier?  I asked him, why hadn’t he asked the white people who boarded the bus prior to us, for “papers”?

To make matters worse, he never loaded our luggage. It would have been left, if another friend, who was last to board the bus hadn’t noticed it.  It took the tour coordinator, Amanda to get him to do it. He claimed he wasn’t aware our luggage belonged to anyone on the bus.

A day after returning home, I called to lodge a complaint about the treatment we had been given by this driver. The president of Peoria Charter Coach, Bill Winkler Jr. returned my call.  In between apologizing, he continued to defend his driver. He said it was simply a mistake, and he couldn’t believe it had really happened as I outlined it.

After going back and forth, I told him that his drivers treated two African-American women differently, then he had the white passengers that boarded the bus ahead of us.  Mr. Winkler responded, that he could not judge his driver’s heart and neither should I.  I responded I was judging his driver’s actions and treatment of two of his customers that paid money the same as every other customer on that bus.

I stated that his driver had several options he could have taken; (1) he could have let us board like he did every other paying customer. (2) He could have allowed the tour coordinator to get to the bus and confirm our legitimacy to be on the bus. (3) He could have just looked at our luggage tag that showed we had traveled from Cancun.

The conversation with Mr. Winkler deteriorated quickly as he continued to defend his driver, and put the responsibility on my friend and me to prove we belonged there.  His driver had claimed he asked us if we were with the Cancun group and we had responded that we were going to Peoria. This was a blatant lie! 

I ended the call by challenging the driver’s racist action, as well as Mr. Winkler’s ignorance or indifference in being unable to understand how we felt. I had also shared with him the number of years I’ve contracted his company, for fundraising trips, to which he responded by asking under what name had I contracted services.

The other interesting fact about all of this is that not one of the other people on the bus during this whole debacle ever spoke up and said, that we belonged on the bus.

Traveling home, we were told by one of our friends, “Welcome to America.”