The bus came by and Oceanside’s Nove Te’i got on it.
“You get food and drink on the way and there’s always a good tailgate party at the game,” Te’i said. “It’s just a lot of fun.”
Te’i speaks of the 5 North Bolt, a transportation service which takes Chargers fans to their home games in Carson. There’s two pick up points for the journey which starts at San Diego’s Old Town Transit Center and stops at the Oceanside park-and-ride lot on northwest corner of the I-5 and Highway 78 interchange.
“It’s still fun for me to go the games and everyone knows each other on the bus,” Te’i said. “When the season starts you see people again, like my friend Ryan of Del Mar. I don’t know his last name, but it really doesn’t matter.”
Same goes for which team one leans toward. Chargers backers dominate the passenger list but there’s followers of the opposing squad as well. Everyone gets along on a ride where nearly everyone knows your name — first name, anyway.
“It is amazing, and I love every single bit of it,” said Patty Gutierrez.
While Gutierrez doesn’t drive either of the two buses, her hands are firmly on the endeavor’s steering wheel. She operates the business which was started in 2017, the first season after the Chargers stiff-armed their San Diego County fan base of 56 seasons and moved to Los Angeles.
When the original owner, Shawn Grace, left for Florida before this season, Gutierrez brought her sunshine-state-of-mind to this unique undertaking.
The pair had met through a Chargers booster club and the idea of running the bus rides put a charge in Gutierrez. When Grace told her he was moving east, Gutierrez was determined those fun Sunday football rides would continue to go north.
“My eyes got wide,” she said. “I told him I was very, very sad that he had to leave but what are you going to do with the Five North Bolt?”
Negotiations followed and soon after a woman with 26 years in the dental business was putting smiles on football fans. For a $125 fee, one gets roundtrip fare, food, drink and a spot in the Thunder Alley tailgate area at the Dignity Health Center Stadium.
Considering it can be $100 just to park, not to mention the cost of wrestling with the freeway traffic in both directions, the 5 North Bolt has proved to be a hit.
It’s a raucous, but not rowdy, bunch heading to and from the games. There are raffles which help Gutierrez’s charity fund-raising efforts and a general uplifting vibe that’s positive.
“I usually take my sons but for the Denver game, I’m taking a couple of Broncos fans from work,” said Te’i, a consultant with the Navy, after he served our nation for 26 years.
Peeling back the years and Te’i, 50, tells a story few can: He was a center on an Oceanside youth football team and hiked the ball to Junior Seau.
“He was such a big hero in Oceanside,” Te’i said of the late, great Chargers linebacker. “But who knew he was going to be a Hall of Famer. He was so special.”
Gutierrez is a star in the eyes of those riding the bus. She brings to the treks a burst of energy and enthusiasm that can’t be ignored.
“Football is my passion and I wanted to keep the bus going,” she said.
Coming and going it’s a party on wheels with the rides home a bit more lively after a Chargers win.
“On the way back, we whoop it up and everyone talks about how this could be the year we go back to the Super Bowl,” Te’i said.
And after a loss?
“It’s a lot more quiet,” he said.
But it’s never dull.
“Even when we lose,” Te’i said, “we have a good time.”
Contact Jay Paris at email@example.com. Follow him @jparis_sports.
Sportswriter Jay Paris has written his “Sports Talk” column since joining the Coast News in 2013.
Paris, a Cardiff resident, is a longtime Southern California writer, getting his start with the Orange County Register before coming to San Diego in 1992 to cover the Chargers.
He had the Chargers beat for more than two decades with Oceanside Blade-Citizen, the North County Times and the San Diego Union-Tribune, before being named a sports columnist with the San Diego Union-Tribune.
Paris has won numerous awards voted on by his peers in the Pro Football Writers of America. He has also been a staple on countless media platforms, everything from the KPBS to MLB Network and various radio outlets.
Paris is also the author of three books, with his latest one being, “Shohei Ohtani: The Amazing Story Of Baseball’s Two-Way Japanese Superstar.” He has also written “Game Of My Life Chargers” and “Game Of My Life Rams.”
He currently covers the NFL in Los Angeles for Forbes. com and is a contributor to USA Today Sports Weekly. Follow Jay on Twitter @jparis_sports