With a welcoming smile, Rydell Honda Courtesy Driver Roy Doerr invites a customer to take a seat in the Honda Pilot van.
"Where would you like to go, sir?" he asks, glancing into his rearview mirror while he and his passenger buckle up.
The passenger gives Doerr the address, noting that the location is near UND, and Doerr pulls out of the Rydell Honda parking lot, onto South Washington Street. He drives carefully down the slippery, snow-covered roadway, noting that he's seen several people sliding through stop lights that morning. He avoids doing the same by gently applying the van's brakes well before the red lights he encounters along the way.
The late Monday morning trip down one of Grand Forks' main thoroughfares is one of many on that street and others across the city and in East Grand Forks that Doerr, a retired school supplies salesman, will make for Rydell Honda during the day.
Doerr, 77, has driven for the Grand Forks dealership since 2012, giving rides to customers who are having repairs or detail work done on their vehicles. He worked as a courtesy driver in Minot before he moved to Grand Forks and before that he sold school supplies, a job in which he was always on the road.
"I love driving," Doerr said, as he steers the courtesy van down South Washington. He knows most of the streets in Grand Forks and, in the rare case he doesn't, he asks his passenger for directions or uses a GPS system.
"Grand Forks is easy to learn," Doerr said, noting the streets are laid out more squarely than those in Minot.
Rydell Honda gives rides to customers to locations anywhere within the city limits, said Jared Langenstein, the store's general sales manager. Rides begin at 7 a.m. and continue to 6 p.m. Doerr is one of several courtesy drivers at Rydell Honda. The drivers are retired and like their part-time work schedule, Langenstein said, noting that job turnover is low.
Doerr's preferred shift is from 7 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. He often gives people rides to work; another popular destination, especially for people who live outside of Grand Forks, are the city's shopping centers. On a busy weekday, he puts as many as 150 miles on the courtesy van and gives rides to a variety of people, from UND professors to professionals working downtown Grand Forks to women buying groceries at big box stores. Whoever they are, Doerr enjoys their company.
"I'm a people person. I like talking to people," Doerr said. Since the death of his wife, Cheryl, last fall, he appreciates the interaction with his passengers and his co-workers at Rydell Honda even more, he said. "It fills my time.
"It's a great gig for me; I think for any retired person. "
Although Doerr enjoys visiting and easily carries on a conversation while at the same maintaining close attention to the road, he is respectful if his passengers don't want to talk.
"I usually will start the conversation and if they reply, I will continue." Otherwise he keeps quiet.
If Doerr's passengers do want to visit, he steers the conversation toward neutral topics and away from politics. That's why he has his radio tuned to soft rock or classic rock stations.
"I'll stay away from the talk shows," he said.
Whether it's passengers attempting to get Doerr to reveal his political views or drivers who don't use turning signals, Doerr remains easygoing. His late wife was at first dubious about his decision to be a courtesy driver because she didn't think he had enough patience to deal with people, Doerr said.
"I learned patience," he noted with a chuckle.