April 23, 2001
On the road of life
By Poul Olson
Charmayne Johnson has five tattoos, each symbolizing a defining moment in her life.
A peace dove recalls her years as a hippie, when she was an avid Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin fan. A spider and mouse remind her of personalities from former relationships. A butterfly corresponds to a period of awakening, while a sun reflects her sanguine view on life.
While the road of life has had many turns for Johnson, Yerkes first
shuttle driver has maintained an enduring commitment to learning and self-improvement.
On any given day, shell ferry as many as 100 people from the Main
Station to the Emory campus, often engaging passengers about the meaning
of life or sharing insight recently gleaned from the half-dozen self-help
and horror books that she reads each month.
I get to talk a lot with people in this job, said Johnson,
whose latest reading interests have been Maya Angelous Even the
Stars Get Lonesome and A Spiritual Guide for the 21st Century. I
love to share my experiences and opinions with others and learn theirs
An Atlanta native, Johnson has led a life that mirrors her spirited personality.
She helped found a womens support group called EPOCHEmbracing
Positive Opportunities Creating Hopethat focuses on life-changing
issues. The 47-year-old Johnson also has held a litany of jobs over the
years, including spending 10 years as an insulation installer and other
stints as a teacher, EKG technician and sales clerk.
She reluctantly admitted, however, that her best job was her two years
at Zoo Atlanta, where she drove the visitor train and worked with savannah
animals. I wanted to stay, but the money just
Recently experiencing a spiritual awakening, Johnson took
an inventory of her interests and has been considering a career change,
possibly into primate enrichment. Right now, Im content where
I am, she said, but at some point, Id like to do something
different with my life.
She said her dream job would be to work at a wildlife sanctuary. I
generally prefer animals to people, she quipped.
In fact, her long-standing love of animals originally attracted her to
Zoo Atlanta and ultimately to Yerkes. She spent a year as an animal care
trainee before becoming the shuttle driver. For her own part, she has
a cat, turtle, two hamsters, three gerbils and a raft of fish.
The hectic pace of driving the shuttle can be at times stressful. Johnson
finds it particularly challenging and trying to get people to meetings
on time and negotiate the Universitys traffic
The job has done a lot for my driving skills and my personal growth,
she said. Ive had to learn patience and tolerance.
Fortunately, the radio provides a welcome divergence and helps to create
a festive atmosphere in the van. Someone recently suggested that
I install a disco ball in the van and serve snacks, she said, noting
her particular affinity for world party music. I love to see people
get in the van and really like the music. They can always pick up on my
mood from what Im listening to.
Fate likely honed Johnsons love of music. She takes her name from the famous theme song Charmaine, written for the 1926 silent movie What Price Glory. People who share the unusual name even have their own web site at www.bischel.com/charclub.html. The musics upbeat sounds capture the consummate optimism of Yerkes very own Charmayne.