Monthly Archives: July 2014

The Bus Driver

school bus

The other day I saw one of the kids that used to be on my route when I was a bus driver.  Yup, I was a school bus driver.  I didn’t recognize him, but he said “Hey, you used to be my bus driver!”  I was glad he recognized me, since I look nothing like I did back in those days. 

I may have mentioned this before in random facebook posts, but when I was a kid, I was intrigued with school busses and wanted to drive one.  In fact, I was quite convinced by the age of 9 or 10 that I could.  So, when I graduated from high school, I went out to the bus garage and told them I wanted to be a bus driver.  They knew me since I was in kindergarten and so, no questions asked they sent me home with some videos, told me to watch them and then come back and I could start my training.  I was so excited, I’m pretty sure I went home, watched them all and came back the very next day.  Back in “those days”, you didn’t need a CDL, just a school bus license and it was relatively easy to get.  One of the mechanics took me out for my first training session.  I even got to pick the bus that I wanted to drive!  I knew the fleet well and there were a few that I liked, but I picked #206.  I had ridden on that bus many times throughout my school days and had watched every move the bus driver made.  I knew it was fast and it sounded cool.  The busses back in those days were gas, not diesel and they were standard 4 speeds (with an additional low gear for climbing hills)……..and they sounded cool……. like a truck with a glass pack exhaust system.  So, after the “pre-check” inspection, on the road we went.  We went around the big country block, stopping at the railroad crossings, making “mock” pick-ups with the lights flashing, etc.  After one trip around the block, the mechanic looked at me and laughed, saying, “you know what you’re doing, I got work to do, you’re on your own.  “Come out anytime and practice.”  I was in heaven.  I really was.  I came out EVERY day and practiced, driving wherever I wanted and for as long as I wanted.  When I was ready I went to the DMV and took my written and road test.  When I pulled out of the DMV parking lot for my road test with the bus, I swung too wide and almost ran into one of the islands.  I had to back up and do it over.  The instructor told me to settle down and try again.  I was EXCITED!!…… like a kid who forgot to take his “meds”.  But, I did finally settle down and passed with flying colors.

When school started I was ready to go.  I would drive my route in the morning, then go to work at the funeral home until noon or so and then drive my route in the afternoon.  You know the scene in the beginning of the movie “Sixteen Candles”?  The one where the kids are on the school bus?  If you don’t…..YouTube it.  That was pretty much my bus.  I wasn’t the nerdy bus driver, but the kids in that scene were pretty much how the kids on my bus acted.  I was safe….but easy.  Hell, I was 18!  Some of the kids that rode on my bus were my friends!  *Disclaimer:  At no time was anybody in danger (there, got that covered).  Anybody, who rode my bus, knows what I mean.  I was the bus driver everybody wanted.  If you went to Shattuck Jr. High School and rode the bus, you remember how it went.  You got on the bus at Shattuck and then went across town to Neenah High School and you either transferred to another bus or stayed on the same one.  Well, it got to the point where my bus got overloaded at Shattuck because some of the kids were jumping on my bus instead of their own, knowing they could catch their transfer bus at the high school.  So, I literally had to start checking names as the kids got on. 

There were quite a few veteran bus drivers that I worked with and while I usually don’t like to mention names, I have to mention Lorna DeBroux.  Lorna knew me since I started riding the bus as a little kid.  She was the driver on my fateful first day of kindergarten, where I screamed, cried and kicked my mom because I didn’t want to get on the bus.  I remember Lorna looking in the rear view bus mirror, with her bee hive hairdo and her 1960’s “cat glasses” telling my mom, “Just put him in the seat and walk off, I’ll shut the door and there won’t be anything he can do about it”!  Okay, back to my story……Well, every once in a while Lorna’s bus would get behind my bus and she would see kids horsing around, standing up, whatever.  She would get on the two way radio and say, “206 YOU MAKE THOSE KIDS SET DOWN! (set, not sit).  Lorna had “poetic justice” on the radio, meaning she could pretty much say what she wanted to whomever she wanted if she caught you doing something wrong……..and you had better listen. 

I was a good driver,  I just didn’t have much discipline when it came to the kids, since I was still a kid myself.  There was only one time that I had an accident.  There were no kids on the bus.  I had actually given out a “ticket” (a disciplinary notice) to a kid and I was in a hurry because I had to bring it back to Shattuck and give it to the principal.  I cut a corner too close jumping the curb and scraped the side of the bus on a telephone pole.  Oh, and I think I broke a window or two.  My punishment was that I got “my” bus taken away from me and had to drive the “junker” #197.  This was no punishment at all!  I loved #197! (but of course I didn’t tell them that). This was the oldest bus on the fleet. It was an old 1960’s International.   It was rough driving and looking and the kids didn’t like it because it smelled, but what bus didn’t?  I had to drive it for a couple of weeks before I got my bus back.   While my bus was being fixed, I bought a new radio for it with a cassette player and asked if it could be put in.  There were a few busses that had cassette player radios (otherwise it was a.m. only) and as long as the driver bought it, they would put it in. Back then it was Metallica all the way for me.  The little kids thought the music was weird, but the high school kids loved it. 

Well, needless to say, bus driving today is a lot different and a lot more strict.  This is a good thing.  I gave up my bus driving career to pursue funeral directing, but I always said, one day I will be back in the bus driving seat.  That time may not be too far off.  I wonder if I can get #206 back?   

bus jacket - back bus jacket - front

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The Linden Tree

If you have never smelled the fragrance of a Linden tree, then I encourage you to stop out at W5123 Natures Way Dr. in Sherwood (Forrest Run Pet Cemetery) sometime within the next couple of weeks. You will find five of them in full bloom.  I usually take some time on a hot summer day to lay on my back underneath one of them and listen to the humming of the pollinating  bees inside them.  The flowers in the Linden trees that the bees are pollinating have one of the most intoxicating, pleasant and peaceful fragrances you will ever experience.  I promise.  Of course I might be a little biased.

Fragrances have a way of bringing back memories.  Hopefully, most of them pleasant, like Grandma’s kitchen or Grandpa’s garage. The fragrance of the Linden tree while in full bloom, will always bring me back to July 1, 2005.  That was the day I bought my house in Sherwood, right next to the Pet Cemetery where all the Linden trees were in full bloom.  It was a time of mixed emotions for me.  I had just left my very secure job at Laemmrich Funeral Home in Menasha the day before,  on June 30th.  I had spent 11 years of my life there, the last 8 as the General Manager.  Anybody that knows me, knows that this is considered a long time!  The new company that bought the funeral home told me I had to sell Forrest Run because it was a conflict of interest.   I told them to go fly a kite and out the door I went….. to “fly my own kite”.

July 1, 2005 was a Friday, so needless to say, it was the 4th of July all weekend.  I remember sitting in my new house that night watching some dumb movie, listening to the fireworks booming, and……… smelling the fragrance of the Linden trees.  The smell brought me a sense of comfort and security at the beginning of a new stage of life for me.  Here I was in this little community called Sherwood that I really knew nothing about except that it had High Cliff State Park and the Pet Cemetery I had bought.  I now lived on “the other side of the lake”.  The side of the lake that I used to look at when I was a kid, fishing with my brother by the Lighthouse at Riverside Park in Neenah, wondering what and where those “Mountains” were.  I felt like I was on the other side of the world rather than just the lake.  Away from everything that had become familiar for me.   Fear? Check.  Excitement?  Check.  A little loneliness?  Check. Vodka? Check. Dog? Check.  I had just quit my job and bought my first house!   Who does that?  Most people GET a job and buy a house!  I did have a part time job secured at Wichmann Funeral Home, but I was taking the summer to do some things at Forrest Run and not starting at the funeral home until fall.   I figured the money I made there working part time would pay my mortgage and I would figure out where the rest of the money would come from.  Talk about a leap of faith for someone who doesn’t have much of it!

As I look back now, I realize that it might have been just……. a little crazy?  But with a little luck and hard, but enjoyable work, it all worked out. Sherwood is a great community, and a great place to call home.  My kite is still flying high since July 1, 2005.  Right in between the Linden trees.