Tour driver is more than the man at the wheel

Neither Lou Perry nor his boss knew precisely what was to come nearly four years ago when Perry agre

Lou Perry, a tour bus driver for Tacoma Metro Parks’ Fifty and Better outings, breaks up long drives by making stops along the way and giving their “five-minute histories.”

ed to drive for Metro Parks Tacoma’s Fifty and Better program.

“I thought I’d be taking older people to and from appointments,” he said recently. He was thrilled when he learned he’d actually escort tour groups to some of the Pacific Northwest’s most iconic attractions.

Janet Bissell, Fifty and Better (FAB) recreation supervisor, got Perry’s name from his sister-in-law, who is a regular in Bissell’s FAB exercise classes at Jefferson Park. Bissell figured Perry would be a reliable addition to the program, which until then had no regular driver. She had no idea that the man she’d hired would do double duty as a tour guide, a raconteur and concierge of the road.

“He’s a gift,” Bissell said. “I don’t think we would have such a successful program without the benefit of Lou.”

Three or four times a month, and sometimes more frequently in summer, Perry drives a 28-passenger bus and squires FAB travelers – average age 75 – to and from outings and overnights at places such as Olympic National Park, Port Townsend, La Conner and Lake Chelan.

Although he wouldn’t want to drive a transit bus, he said he finds driving relaxing.

He’s a New York Times crossword puzzle addict and a lifelong history and culture buff. Before each trip, he researches each locale, paying particular attention to its history, geology and geography. Among his regular sources is “It’s just chockablock full of essays on history and geology,” he said.

While driving to or from an attraction, he takes breaks. “I find places to pull off,” he said. “There are always places to stop. Then I give my passengers a five-minute nutshell history.”

Bissell says she and the passengers are always impressed.

“He tells so many great stories,” Bissell said. “I’ve learned more on trips I’ve gone on than I ever learned in state history class.

Earlier in life, Perry, 59, traveled extensively in western Europe, where he visited every major art museum and was particularly enamored with Switzerland and the Alps. But until he moved to Tacoma, which wasn’t long before he accepted the FAB job, he hadn’t seen much of Washington.

“When I saw the mountains and water and went to Mount Rainier, I said this is as close to Switzerland as I’m going to get,” he recalled.

When he’s not working for Metro Parks – he also drives participants to and from other Metro Parks recreation programs – he’s on-call as a driver for the City of Tacoma’s senior centers.

“I relate to older people. I just love them,” he said. “They’re my history books.”

He knows most of FAB’s regular travelers by their first names.

Last summer, he began shuttling fishermen to and from the Point Defiance Marina boat launch on weekends. (Ongoing waterfront construction has temporarily curtailed parking options.) This Metro Parks gig was something of a role reversal for Perry, who loves to talk. Instead of telling stories, he enjoyed quizzing the fishermen about the ones that got away. “Just listening to fishermen talk was fun. They’re all liars,” he joked.  

The marina’s Gene Anderson, who is familiar with Perry’s work, calls him a great asset: “a real team player willing to do whatever is needed to meet the needs of participants and customers.”


Perry’s favorite routine is driving for FAB. Asked about his preferred destinations, he hesitated a bit, then said, “There’s such incredible natural beauty no matter where you’re going around here.”

But he does find some attractions more intriguing than others, in large part because of the history behind them. For example, he is fascinated by the story of Ross Lake and the construction of its three Seattle City Light dams and the energy produced. And, if he could design a future FAB overnight, he’d retrace the route of President Franklin Roosevelt and his family who in 1937 toured the Olympic Peninsula. The following year, Roosevelt established Olympic National Park.

Perry loves exploring. If he had a choice, he’d take a FAB tour daily.

“It’s different every time and I’m learning something new every day,” he said.