The best 50 cents spent in Ashland is a ride on the Rogue Valley Transportation District No. 10 bus with Herman Carvahlo, RVTD's most vocal driver.
Carvahlo performs about three times a day and his audience is Ashland's regular bus passengers.
A native of Hilo, Hawaii, and a resident of Medford for the past nine years by way of Stockton, Calif., Carvahlo has been an RVTD driver for six years. A bus ride with him is a mix of colorful stop calling, wisecracks and the all-around familiarity that goes with being a local fixture in many people's daily lives.
"I know my regulars — the times they ride and their destinations," Carvahlo said. "I look out for them and remind them of their stops."
As the bus cruises down Ashland Street, approaching Allstate Insurance, NAPA Auto Parts and Puff's Magazine & Tobacco, Carvahlo sings to the tune of Peter, Paul and Mary's "Puff the Magic Dragon."
"Puff the Magic Dragon lives in Ashland," Carvahlo sings.
"He does?" a passenger replies, "I haven't seen him."
"I started doing 'Puff' about three or four weeks ago," Carvahlo said. "Then someone told me that I was singing it wrong."
Continuing down Ashland Street, past the cemetery, the crown jewel of the Ashland run gets called.
"It's fun to stop at the Y-M-C-A!" Carvahlo sings in his best Village People impersonation, complete with hand gestures spelling out the letters.
"Stop singing and keep driving," a passenger yells to Carvahlo with an air of familiarity.
Carvahlo gets comments on his stop-calling on a regular basis.
"I've been told so many things," said Carvahlo. "One time someone told me that I should be on 'The Price Is Right' with Bob Barker."
"Shop 'n Kaaart, Biii-Maaart!" is the halfway stop on the Ashland route, where Carvahlo steps out to stretch and prepare for the second leg of the journey, which will ultimately stop at Medford's Front Street station.
As Carvahlo enters the bus, he stops at a young boy with a heavy backpack and gives him change from the dollar he had given him earlier.
"Thank you," the boy tells him quietly.
As the bus leaves Bi-Mart, heading toward Siskiyou Boulevard, the boy pulls the stop cord early and says, "Not this one, the next one."
Carvahlo laughs and asks, "Are you in a hurry?"
As the boy exits, Carvahlo says that a lot of school kids ride the bus, a fact that keeps him on the lookout, ensuring that they make it to their regular stops and to help them with change, a regular issue when riding the bus.
"If they paid a dollar the day before and I have no change, I'll give them a free ride the next day," he said.
On this ride, a passenger named Alex gives Carvahlo a dollar bill.
"Alex, when I call your name," Carvahlo says, "come on up and I'll have change for you."
Alex gets his change on two separate occasions, one quarter at a time.
Carvahlo said that "at certain times of the day, people just don't have change."
"I try to help everybody out, if I can," he added.
Carvahlo describes himself as a "people-liker," enjoying the different personalities and stories of the passengers, although, at times, Carvahlo said, "I'm too much of a people-liker."
Carvahlo maintains enthusiasm on all his routes, which he said can be difficult.
"If you don't show enthusiasm, it's going to be a boring ride," he said. "When you show you care, people respond."
In Carvahlo's six years as a bus driver, he has told passengers to leave the bus only once, and that was due to a fight in the back of the bus.
"I always give a warning to people who are getting loud," said Carvahlo. "The time with the fight, the passengers backed me up, and it made the situation a lot easier."
A woman with a young boy boards the bus and they grab a seat up front, right behind Carvahlo.
While the bus moves on, the boy asks the woman, "What are the 10 best holidays?"
The woman answers, "Easter, Christmas, your birthday"¦"
Carvahlo jumps right in: "Don't forget Valentine's Day."
"Whenever I think about Valentine's Day, I think about the massacre," said the woman.
"Where's yoouur head at?" the driver says with a laugh.
The next stop comes quickly.
"ESSS-OOOHH-YOOUU, you can stop here if you want TOOO!" Carvahlo shouts as he pulls over. Several passengers get off as more get on.
"Merry Christmas to everyone, and to you grandmothers: Don't drink and drive," he says as the passengers exit.
"That's why we ride with you," the woman with the boy says as they step off.
As the bus leaves, a young man on the sidewalk holds a beverage up to toast the bus and gives Carvahlo a thumbs-up.
Carvahlo is a slightly husky man, with grey hair and goatee that hides an occasionally silver tongue. He has a build that can carry the voice, although it is slightly higher pitched than you would expect.
"Oh no, here comes trouble," Carvahlo says to a woman boarding the bus.
"Hi Herman, good to see you too," replies the woman. "He's my favorite bus driver."
The stops come and go, as passengers board and exit at each. "SAAAFE-WAAAY!" "LITHIA WAY!" "YOOO-NITED STATES POST OFFICE!"
Carvahlo personally thanks every one who exits, and, more often than not, is thanked in return.
"Thank you and pleeeaase follow the woman," Carvahlo says as the passengers get off.
"Keep up the good spirits," a passenger says. "Thank you, bus driver."
The No. 10 Ashland bus drives down the hill leaving Ashland, but not before some of the prime stops are called: "BIIIIG AAAAL'S!" "THE BREEEAD-BOOAARD!"
As the bus leaves Ashland, Carvahlo drives north. Destination: Medford.