DanvilleSanRamon.com

Living - July 6, 2007

Christa at the wheel

Volunteer shares her car and her zest for life with those who need a lift

by Dolores Fox Ciardelli

Need a ride? Ask Christa.

Christa Brezier, volunteer driver for the Town of Danville, has a hard time saying 'no' to folks who need a ride. Because of this - and her engaging personality - she again was recognized by the County Senior Coalition as a volunteer extraordinaire.

Christa, 63, has been volunteer driving through the town of Danville for seven years. She originally visited the town offices with her husband Jim because he had the idea to help out with computers. Then she got the urge to volunteer herself.

"They said, 'What can you do?' And I said, 'I'm good at driving,'" she recalled.

"I like to drive elderly people," she noted. "My mom is gone and sometimes I take them out to lunch and pretend they're my mom."

She also drives children, and is currently giving a ride to a 15-year-old to work at a restaurant in Walnut Creek twice a week.

"I drove 6,400 miles last year, in 2006," Christa said.

She bought a new car because her passengers were complaining that her 19-year-old yellow Camaro, which she loved, was too low to the ground plus it was hard to climb into the back seat of the two-door vehicle. Now she drives a Toyota Avalon.

"My husband said, 'This is your hobby: You need a new car,'" Christa said.

"This is a very expensive hobby," she added. But she won't accept money for gasoline because she doesn't need it. She tells her passengers to instead do a good deed for someone else.

Her other hobby, which is even more expensive, is traveling, and she's currently planning a trip to Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. She's been to Europe 56 times, sometimes while on the way to Africa. And she just returned from a trip to the Mideast.

"I'm trying to see the world," she said. "I'm always either planning a trip, on a trip, or glowing from returning from a trip."

Christa was reared in Los Angeles, the child of a German scientist brought over by the United States after World War II. Her father worked on solar energy.

"He worked for the Navy for seven years as a physicist, then died," she said. "We were wild teenagers, my brother, sister and I, and my mother sent me to boarding school in southern Germany."

She was 18 when she met her husband-to-be, who was in the American Army in southern Germany doing long-range reconnaissance on the Czech border. She liked to frequent a bar called the Cracker Box in Munich, where GIs and other young people gathered to enjoy the bands.

"He'd heard about this American girl hanging out in this sleazy bar and one day he came down to the Cracker Box," she remembered.

He walked up just as she was being kicked out for not buying another drink.

"It was love at first sight," she said.

After a few years they returned to the United States and lived with her brother in Palo Alto until they found jobs and a place of their own in the Concord and Pleasant Hill area. After saving money, they sold everything and bought a Volkswagen camper and traveled around California and Mexico.

"I didn't like that lifestyle," said Christa. "Partying is fun on weekends only."

Eventually they settled in Danville and they now live in Greenbrook, where Christa swims two to three times a day between her driving duties. She retired at age 40 from Pacific Telephone because she was suffering from rheumatoid arthritis.

Christa is also unusual because she likes to give her phone number to those she drives, instead of going through the town.

"I say, 'Here's my personal phone number, call me day or night,'" she said.

Sometimes her husband wants her to say no when someone requests a ride but she says she can't because they need her. She befriended one Jewish German client she spoke to in German. The woman's daughter would beg her to visit saying, "Mom won't eat unless you're there," Christa said.

She finally made a rule that she will not go out to lunch with the people she drives because it was getting out of hand.

"I wouldn't go out with my husband, it wasn't fair," she said.

She said she used to drive a man who was 93, who was a big flirt.

"If someone else sat in the front seat next to me, he'd kick them out," she recalled with a laugh.

Christa noted there are other ways to help people, such as making phone calls.

"I drove a lady from Rossmoor to the doctor and she said, 'Do you know what I'd really, really like? If you'd call me.'"

For a long time, Christa called her twice a day, even when she was traveling in Alaska. Once she had to alert Rossmoor security when there was no answer to her phone call but it turned out the woman had been online with a dial-up connection.

One of her favorite current passengers is June Pass, who spent most of her life in the theater world in Hollywood but moved to Danville in 1990 to be near her daughter. She still has a car but occasionally will need a ride.

"I called the town and they told me about Christa and it's been Christa ever since," said June. "She's very interesting, delightful."

"She's a great lady," said Jen Overmoe, program coordinator for Senior Services for Danville, who nominated Christa for the Central Contra Costa County Senior Coalition's Mary Shockley Award. "She has a kind of following of seniors who rely on her. And she's available whenever I'm in a jam."

Need a ride?

For more information about the volunteer driver program with the Town of Danville, call Jen Overmoe, program coordinator for Senior Services, at 314-3476. Drivers need to fill out a volunteer application and provide proof of driver's license, insurance and a DMV printout of their driving record.

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