Climb aboard Peter Stephenson's bus and you'll find him strumming a happy-go-lucky chord from the ukulele balanced on his knees.
Sightings of the affable Halifax Transit driver have been popping up on social media for about three years. He's been playing the ukulele, however, for nearly a decade.
"This is something that I can do that relaxes me," he said recently, the notes rising above the gruffness of the engine. "You check your email when you're at a stop.… You don't always get a great email or a text message. So some of those things add more anxiety to your day, but if you're just playing a little bit of music, it quiets my brain down and allows me to just relax a little bit."
He never plays and drives, of course. The ukulele gets tucked just out of reach of the steering wheel.
But whenever Stephenson arrives at a stop a little early or has a large group of passengers walking on, he strums a little song.
'It relaxes people'
"It relaxes people and it makes them smile," he said. "It helps them maybe understand that I'm relaxed and easygoing."
He picked up the instrument himself after he bought one for his daughter. Stephenson had taught himself to play guitar, but liked the portability of its cousin — especially when he saw how people were responding to his impromptu performances.
'It's creative [and] it brings a little bit of happiness and beauty into what could be … just a stressful job. - Peter Stephenson, Halifax bus driver
The charm of the ukulele won Becca Guilderson over, even on a day when she was fighting a sore throat and trekking across the city in the early days of winter.
"You don't ever expect to see that, so it's like, 'Who's this weird guy' and then you sit down and you're like, 'Oh, that's kind of charming, that's a nice thing,'" she said. "And you warm up to it, which is really nice … when you're having a terrible day to have somebody just doing something that's randomly lovely."
Other passengers sometimes take over for Stephenson when he has to drive, passing the ukulele up and down the bus. In a job that has a higher risk of exposure to violence or harassment, music acts as a preventative measure, he said.
"Even if you play a sad chord" — he plucks out a slightly less upbeat twang — "it is still kind of happy. It's creative [and] it brings a little bit of happiness and beauty into what could be … just a stressful job."
And while there are many rules governing that job, Stephenson said his bosses are supportive of his hobby.
So for the foreseeable future, he'll keep on strumming.