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?