August 10, 2016, was the first day of school for the district I drive for. This is the earliest start to a school year, in all my years of driving. I love the first day of school. Yes, you read that correctly, I love the first day of school. As a matter of fact, I am not sure who likes the first day more, me, or the kids, for whom I drive. I think I’ll go out on a limb and tell you that it is likely me who receives more enjoyment on the first day. This year was particularly exciting for me.
This year, not only did I bid and receive, a nearly new bus, I took things a step further, I opted to take a different route during the route selection process, as well. I shocked a number of coworkers when I left my former route, schools, and children, whom I have transported for the past seven years. I knew I would, and do, miss my former students. For seven years I enjoyed the many adventures we shared together. It is amazing how quickly you get attached to these young people. So, as you can imagine, after seven years with them, making the move was bitter sweet, but my memories of them, will remain with me always.
My anticipation and excitement were clearly palpable. Sleeping, the night before was, on the other hand, somewhat elusive, though, I must say that 4:30 alarm, was a tad on the early side, even for me. Yes, I’m one of “those people”. Not just a morning person, but a happy morning person, who requires no coffee to function, even at that ridiculous hour of the day. Step away from the hate-o-rade, all you night owl, leave me alone till I’ve had my morning pot of coffee, I can’t stand morning people, type persons. Mornings are awesome…just saying. Whoops, sidetracked.
I was on my way to work, when I turned down one of the streets adjacent to the development where I live. As I did, I saw a large owl sitting on the side of the road. I am not sure which of us was more startled to see the other. I swear, I may have even seen a shocked expression on the owl’s face. He clearly was not expecting anyone to come around the corner at that hour of the…day? I couldn’t believe how fortunate I was to see such a beautiful creature at such an ungodly hour. Unbeknownst to me, however, my National Geographic moment was not over. I continued down the road, traveling a tad over the speed limit on a curvy, dark, country road, when, directly in front of me, three sets of eyes, glowed eerily from the light emanating from my headlights. I slammed on the brakes and avoided the family of three raccoons, scurrying across the road. I really was not up for being responsible for squishing, a momma raccoon and her two little ones and was glad they did not hesitate or change directions midway across the road. Thankfully the three critters made their journey across the road safely and we both continued on our way.
I arrived early, reviewed my route, and was ready to face the first day of the new school year. Wow, what a change! For the past seven years, I had been accustomed to transporting roughly 15 high school students, in the morning. On this route, I had roughly four times the riders. Almost more surprising than the sheer number of high school students I was transporting, was the fact that they were awake. Not only were they awake, but they were actually, conversing with one another! This was yet another change that I would have to get used to. I had become fluent in, head nods and grunts with my previous group, who tended to be a, barely awake, too early to function or speak, type of group, who probably uttered their first words of the day after first period. Could it be that I found an entire busload of students who were morning people?!? For the second time that morning, a look of shock swept over my face.
The morning routes were completed with only minor delays, mainly do to parents photographing their children as they boarded the bus, documenting their child’s first day back at school, and children unsure where to sit once they boarded the bus. I should have waited to start congratulating myself on such a successful start to the new school year. I ended up with two stowaways and four leftovers. Doh…I hate when that happens.
My first stowaway, was a delightful little second grade girl, whose teacher accidentally put her on the wrong bus. It was an easy mistake to make considering the child does ride my bus in the morning, though not in the afternoon. The two way radio traffic on the first day, was wicked busy, which made communicating with base, challenging, to say the least. I managed to connect with base and informed them of my little tagalong. Base dispatched a van to meet me at the high school to retrieve my extra passenger and bring the child home. Jenna was such a trooper through the whole ordeal. Not a single tear was shed, not even by me. My additional elementary passenger delayed my arrival to the high school by roughly 15 minutes.
My high school kids were eagerly awaiting my arrival and I could see their annoyance in my tardiness as I pulled up to retrieve them. The large herd of students clamored aboard the bus, jockeying for their favorite seat or looking for a certain someone to sit with. The steady stream of students eventually came to and end. Once again, I was amazed at the sheer number of students behind me. Once they were all seated, we were on our way.
Do you know what happens when you stuff 55 high school students on a bus, with no AC, when it is 90 degrees, 100+ heat index, with 87% humidity? Can you say, easy bake bus? It gives, slow roast, a whole new meaning.
About three quarters of the way through my high school route, I came to a stop where one student was listed to depart but two students came meandering to the front of the bus. I recognized one of the students from the morning route, but had to ask the young man following her, where his stop was. Instead of answering my question, he stated in return, that he was getting off with his friend. I asked him again where his stop was and he repeated what he said just moments before. The third time, I rephrased my question and asked him specifically where he lived. Finally, he told me that he had missed his bus and hopped on my bus to get to his friends’ home. From there, my stowaway planned to have his mother retrieve him from his friends home.
This is a perfectly logical, reasonable, and well thought out solution to my stowaway’s problem. In a perfect world, I would agree whole heartedly. Unfortunately, we live in a very litigious society, so sadly, Andy’s logical solution to finding alternative transportation would not be an option.
I informed Andy that he would have to get back on the bus and I would return him to the high school or to his home depending on which of those options base preferred. This whole scenario played out on a very busy two lane road, in the northeastern portion of the school district. The string of cars traveling in both directions was building with each passing moment. Meanwhile, my frustration level was escalating, my patience level was plummeting, and irritation could be seen on my face,as well as heard in my voice. I was, however, making progress. I managed to obtain the name of my stowaway and the street on which Andy lived. As it turned out, Andy’s home was located only a mere…EIGHT miles from our current location.
Andy phoned his mother and proceeded to share his rendition of the whole scenario, making no effort to hide his displeasure with me. When he finished speaking with her, I informed Andy, in the most pleasant tone I could muster, that I would be happy to let him get off at any of the stops along my route, as long as the request to do so was documented in writing, by a parent or guardian, prior to him boarding the bus in the afternoon. The rules for alternate stop locations, have not changed since I started driving for Centerville.
I still had one more scheduled stop to make. It was then, that I realized, somewhere along my route, I had missed a turn and still had two additional stops to make. Oh, the afternoon was just getting better by the minute. Once I delivered the remaining passengers on the bus. I turned my attention back to Andy. I pulled into a church parking lot, which just happened to be directly across the street from Andy’s friends home, to wait for Andy’s mother to retrieve him. Customarily, I would have returned Andy to the high school, but since Andy’s mother was enroute to pick him up, the decision was made to meet her at the nearby church parking lot. When I pulled into the church parking lot, Andy was under the impression that I would just let him off the bus and be on my merry way…ehh…wrong again, Andy. Andy actually believed I was going to just let him off the bus to wait for his parent/guardian to come and retrieve him and when that did not happen, was quick to share his irritation with me. There we sat, on the hot blacktop, roasting and waiting for Andy’s mother to come pick him up. I’m not sure who was more irritated at that point, Andy or me.
I waited for Andy’s mom for about eleven minutes. When she arrived to retrieve her son, she rolled down the window of her vehicle, leaned over, apologizing for the inconvenience her son had caused, and assured me that it would never happen again. It was a response I had not been expecting, which made me realize that Andy’s mother was as unaware of Andy’s plans as I had been. I’m thinking that it must have been one very long ride home for Andy.
I had already contacted base and informed them of what was happening. Thankfully, they had another driver complete my middle school route, what a relief! I would have arrived at the middle school approximately forty minutes later than expected.
Whew! Do I know how to start off the school year, or what? I cannot wait to see how the rest of the school year will unfold.