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Story pick: The bus doctor

What would summer in Washington be without frequent sightings of mammoth motor coaches parked along the Mall or trundling down narrow city streets? Anyone could be sitting behind all that tinted glass: a Kiwanis Club from Cleveland, tourists from China, or a church choir from Charlottesville.

Most days, though, those of us who live here don't much care, and the feeling is mutual. Sightseers only have eyes for tall white obelisks and men made of marble.

The guy who fixes the buses when they break, however, is totally fascinating.

Style writer Monica Hesse brings us a profile of Bryan Cebula, whom she dubs The Bus Doctor.

This is how she introduces him:

Here is a man of great wisdom. Here is a trim man with a prickly mustache, graying buzz cut and a pleasant twang. He wears navy work pants. He has a shirt with an embroidered name tag. On a recent sizzling morning, he pilots his repair truck across the 14th Street Bridge, bumper-to-bumper traffic, a cinnamon-scented air freshener and a box of toothpicks on the dash.

This man knows about what can go wrong with buses, and why, and how long it's going to take to get them fixed. He knows the migratory patterns of the nation's tourists -- how June means school kids in matching T-shirts, how August is Canadians, how seniors roll through in September, and October brings the Southerners passing through on their way to Vermont foliage.

This is my favorite kind of profile, the kind that places more importance on how interesting the subject is than on how famous the subject is or how fancy their job title is.

Finding the right subject for a story such as this is something of an art. Call it profile of a fascinating non-famous person. Ideally, the subject is interesting not only as an individual, but also for what he or she can tell us about our lives.

A master of this genre is Susan Orleans. I recommend her profile of a Manhattan real estate agent, and a 10 year old male.


By Annys Shin  | July 8, 2010; 10:08 AM ET
Categories:  Story Picks  
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