School Bus drivers are the last true Renaissance men and women of our day and age. They must simultaneously manage multiple states of unrest. Just this fall a driver in Texas was assaulted by 3 students riding his bus. Although I will take routine cheap shots at those behind the wheel I will ALWAYS have a soft spot and a great deal of respect for those who man the yellow and black. When you first are trained as a bus driver you have to do “ride alongs”. Let me share a bit about what a “ride along” might look like to all of you folks who still have a 50’s mindset to how your hair parted, lunch box toting, eager to learn angel children actually ride this hell cage we call the School Bus. This is based on a 100% TRUE experience.
05:30am WAKE UP,
06:00am You’re in college, waking up ain’t so easy, actually wake up.
06:45am Arrive. Yeah that’s right, I WALKED 45 minutes both ways to work. And in case you think I’m trying to be cool, I’m not. I was in college driving a school bus. Can you say BrrrrOKE?
06:46am Greeted by the creepy guy with the same creepy joke. Does he even work here?
06:50am Get a cup of coffee, I hate coffee but everybody else does it and I’m not going to start wearing a fanny pack or clip on sunglasses. I’m picking my spots strategically.
06:52am Random announcement about child left on school bus the night before
06:53am Very aware the driver who left the child on said bus is still here sucking delicious Foldgers down his fanny pack wearing gullet. Pretty sure I could get a speeding ticket in a school zone driving one of these things and still have job security. (Just so you know, there's technology built into busses to MAKE SURE YOU DON'T LEAVE CHILDREN ON THE BUS, so it's pretty impressive he accomplished this)
06:54am It is confirmed. The driver of Bus 7 brags about ACTUALLY getting a speeding ticket in a school zone with kids on board. Are you busin’ kidding me?
06:55am You find out you will be “riding along” with, we’ll call her, Susan. You like Susan. To the ear, Susan reminds you of your grandpa and the rich scent of her tobacco flavored perfume is invigorating.
06:56am Like most drivers, Susan ain’t messing around. We meticulously go over THE CHECKLIST making sure each light, fluid, and mechanism is in perfect harmony with Bus 16 which she affectionally calls “Betsy”.
07:00am Depart “Bus Barn” anxiously awaiting the well groomed, wide eyed smiles sure to great us.
07:05-08:05am THE BEWITCHING HOUR: A potpourri of emotionally stunted mis-bahviors, discontent, disrespect, cursing, foul smells, missing articles of clothing, body odor, flying objects, every type of harassment you can imagine. That’s just the elementary kids. Just add “fear for life” to the proceeding list and you’ll get the idea of what’s it’s like to drive behind the wheel of a vehicle hauling 100 identity searching, sexually charged, hormonally imbalanced teenagers. Should I be sweating? I sense a very strong scent of Old Spice and I know it’s not this chubby faced, two wrong shoes, Power Ranger wearing, hasn’t every seen a comb, still has Rice Krispy Treats Cereal on his sleeve, 8 year old that asked to sit beside me. Kid is a freakin’ genius. Knows I can’t say no and knows ain’t nobody else saying yes. During this time the majority of bus drivers live in a duality of consciousness I will affectionately call, “Resigned Complacency”. Every driver handles this differently but most just pretend to be happy to cover the debilitating fear and anger that resides very close to the surface.
After experiencing what it was like to be the captain of a boat sized yellow vehicle I had one thought in mind; “I’m in!”
So here’s the deal peeps. I knew I didn’t want to run my ship like I’d seen it done. After all, whatever happened to common decency? These children weren’t raised outdoors by wolves like me and my siblings were. These kiddos were raised indoors, glued to televisions, being the focus of attempts like “NFL Play 60” to motivate kids to get outside and play for just a measly 60 minutes a day. I felt up to the task of at least attempting to tame these MindCraft genius babies. My approach was based on a wild hair idea that if students start their day respecting one another and their surroundings, arriving to school in state of disciplined humility, perhaps that will translate into better behavior and performance in their daily lives.
It took some time, but after just a few weeks here’s what the daily experience was like on MY bus, Bus #8, who (that’s right, who) I affectionately called “The Ocho”.
06:59 I’ve got this down to an art. Say a quick hello to my fellow drivers, avoiding all interactions that make me feel like I’m in the twilight zone, down a dixie cup size coffee (do they make smaller styrofoam cups?) and head to The Ocho.
07:00 Quick run down the checklist then I’m cranking up the engine and heading towards stop #1.
07:10 Arrive to stop #1. As I pull up the students are already lining up to get on the bus. I notice they aren’t running around acting like pins to a giant yellow and black bowling ball. I also notice, as instructed, the ladies are lined up in the front while the young fellas are lined up in the back. How gentlemanly! If I were one of these ladies I’d be impressed and considering down grading my Little Debbie for one of these guys’ smashed granola bars.
07:15 As students board the bus I’m greeted by a range of “Good mornings” and “sups”. Not all are smiles but none of these kiddos seem willing to push, pull, grab, throw, curse, scream, etc.
07:25 As we drive students ask if they can hear their favorite NSYNC song over the radio. Because I don’t need a load speaker to scream at non-listening children to sit down I have had one of my engineering friendly create a cable whereby I could bypass the microphone on the bus and connect the speaker system to my iPhone. Students routinely make requests and as long as they pass the “Esther Test” we’re good to go for DJ OCHO 8 to spin the record. FYI: My grandma’s name was Esther and I have to be able to see her jamming out to the track without any reservations to approve the tune.
07:25-08:05 Just like Shampoo baby. Rinse and repeat to the end of the route.
08:06 Arriving to school I notice every student remains sitting, EVEN ONCE WE HAVE STOPPED. As soon as I give a thank you, a head nod, or perhaps a funny joke the ladies stand up and exit the bus while the gentlemen remain seated. Once the ladies have excited the gentlemen exit.
08:07 I might just head on over to the QT and grab a HoneyBun and a Big Gulp. I feel an small sense of accomplishment as I head home to my calico kitten I still can’t get to use the litter box.
You may be asking yourself, okay “Bus Boy Wonder” (nobody has ever actually called me that) what are the steps you used to create this atmosphere of blessed bus bliss? Well, I’m glad you asked. In my next post (Part 2) I’ll give you 10 steps you should take to arrive at what I will call bus nirvana as well as give you some great examples of folks already putting it to practice. I'll also share what it's like to drive a bus into a ditch with Kindergarteners on board. Stay tuned...
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