As the bus rumbled through the streets of East Baltimore, Dana Seibert proudly displayed his handcrafted creation of bright green and orange paper. It read: "My homemade Christmas card to a very special mom."
Seibert, a downtown resident who was taking the No. 35 bus on the way to see his mother, was one of many Baltimoreans whose Christmas activities were made possible by the Maryland Transit Administration — whose employees were working on a morning when many Marylanders were home opening presents under the tree.
"I gave myself plenty of time," said Seibert, who wore a Santa cap on one of his rare days off from his job helping patients get around at Johns Hopkins Hospital. Tucked into his card was a $100 gift card and a message telling his mother: "No matter how bad it got, you never gave up on me. You always told me, keep your chin up and be patient."
Seibert was not the only rider headed for Christmas Day celebrations on the No. 35, a busy crosstown route that winds from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, to White Marsh Mall via downtown.
On most days, the bus is primarily a way to get to work, but on Christmas Day, the No. 35 appeared to serve mainly as a lifeline connecting Baltimoreans who don't have vehicles of their own with their families and friends.
And on Christmas, no one on MTA driver Teresa Robinson's bus was treating the ride as an ordeal.
Maybe it was the balmy, sun-soaked weather and the light traffic. Maybe it was the passengers wishing their fellow riders a merry Christmas. Or maybe it was the winning smile that Robinson flashed at every passenger — as if she were personally trying to dispel a stereotype of grouchy bus drivers.
On board was a diverse group of Baltimore riders. There were people on their way to services at the Abundant Light Church in East Baltimore, including Raymond Nichols in his festive Ravens hat, and Stacey Smallwood, who said she was not really enthusiastic about the holiday. There were blacks and whites, elderly people and children, and several Hispanics, who said in Spanish that they had to work the holiday.
CeeCee Hackett, resplendent in a fur coat despite temperatures creeping toward 50, was riding to White Marsh for a seafood feast at his sister's house.
"I'm just going to talk later with a lot of people I haven't seen in a long time," the retail worker said.
Justine Studivant took the bus all the way from her West Baltimore home to deliver one of her trademark 7UP poundcakes to an elderly family friend in Essex. Then she was back on the bus to join a family breakfast-brunch at her Aunt Mildred's house on Mount Street.
"I'm going to make some more cake when I get to my auntie's house," she said.
It was a bittersweet Christmas for Tina Roberts of Rosedale. On the bright side, she was going to see her fiance. The bad news was that she would have to visit him at the city correctional complex, where a probation problem had landed him for the holiday.
Sitting with a laptop computer was Sean Ziegler, also of Rosedale, who generally travels by Mercedes-Benz, not city bus. In fact, he was on his way to pick up his car, which had just been repaired by a friend in Govans. After that, he would be on his way, using his own wheels, to visit family in Reisterstown.
Ziegler was impressed by the ease of using the MTA, whose website he consulted to find out which buses to take.
"I rarely use it, but it's nice to have," he said. "I wouldn't get to see my daughter [today] without it."
Robinson, who has been a full-fledged MTA driver only since May, said during her 10-minute layover break that her holiday work schedule was in part a matter of seniority — or lack of it. But she said she didn't mind working Christmas, and her friendly greeting to passengers seemed to bear that out.
"I get off early, and I don't have to come in tomorrow," she said. She can also look forward to holiday pay — an extra eight hours — in her paycheck.
As she guided the elderly New Flyer bus over the bumpy streets, Robinson's smile could be seen in the mirror over the steering wheel.
"I always smile," she said. "It just makes the rides better."