William Cimillo, The Runaway Bus Driver

“He was tired of driving the bus and throwing the change in the changer and the monotony every single day.” —Richard Cimillo, on his father’s impromptu adventure

In A Nutshell

William Cimillo was a New York City bus driver back in the 1940s. He was a hard-working guy, never complained, and was even recognized for his exemplary work ethic. But eventually, the daily grind was just a little too much for Mr. Cimillo, and in 1947, he left his route and drove south, heading straight for Florida in his bus.

The Whole Bushel

It was 1947, and William Cimillo had been picking up passengers in the Bronx for 17 years. Cimillo was a family man who worked for the NYC Surface Transportation System, and every day was the same. “Up and down, every day,” he once told a TV interviewer, “the same people, the same stops, nickels, dimes, transfers, and—well, this morning, I thought I’d try something different.”

Tired of the same old routine, fed up with New York traffic, and probably feeling pressure to pay off some gambling debts, Cimillo decided he’d had enough. Instead of sticking with his daily routine, he headed his bus south, going nowhere in particular. He stopped in New Jersey for a bite to eat, and parked in front of the White House and took a look around D.C. He even picked up a hitchhiking sailor along the way.

Three days later, he was in Hollywood, Florida, where he stopped for a nighttime swim. Cimillo was totally free . . . and strapped for cash. Hoping to make a few bucks, he wandered into a nearby racetrack, but when that didn’t pan out, he telegrammed his boss in New York, asking for $50. And that’s when the cops showed up. William Cimillo was under arrest for stealing a bus.

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Two New York detectives and a mechanic were sent to fetch the runaway driver and his bright red bus (similar to the one pictured above), but according to Cimillo, the mechanic couldn’t really drive the darn thing. Worried they’d end up in a ditch, the officers decided Cimillo should drive them back to New York. And when they arrived, William Cimillo discovered he’d become a legend. People across the country sent him fan mail, newspapers portrayed him as a working-class hero, and his bus-driving buddies raised enough cash to cover his legal expenses.

Realizing they were the bad guys here, the Surface Transportation System decided not to prosecute. In fact, they gave Cimillo his job back, and when he showed up for work, everybody in the Bronx wanted to ride his route. On one occasion, over 300 high school girls mobbed his bus, demanding an autograph. And Hollywood almost turned his story into a movie, starring Elizabeth Taylor as a totally fictional beauty queen who joined Cimillo on his wacky roadtrip. For some reason, the movie was never made.

For the rest of his life, Cimillo was something of a superstar, but he never pulled any more wild stunts. Instead, he kept on driving that bus for 16 more years before finally passing away in 1975. Those three crazy days in 1947 were more than enough adventure for William Cimillo.

Show Me The Proof

Featured photo credit: Gryffindor
Radio Diaries: Busman’s Holiday
NY Times: Leaving a Job With a Bus, Not a Slide

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