It’s not just a job, it’s an adventure. At one time, that was a slogan for the US Navy. Well, since they are no longer using that slogan, I would like to adopt the slogan and apply it to school bus driving. It most certainly is an adventure. I can always count on the children to provide me with a daily dose of adventures. Sometimes, however, the adventures stem from unexpected sources and make that days adventure even more memorable. Yesterday, was one of those days.
I received my very first ,brand new school bus, in the beginning of this 2017-2018 school year. Oh, that new bus smell, it’s like new car smell…only bigger! Ooh, what a thrill! I took no time in making my 40 foot long traveling office mine! Up went the magnetic personal photos, dry erase magnetic name plates for the kids, my very own magnetic name plate, oh you name it, I added it. Pimp My Ride’s, got nothing, on my school bus. There she was, all bright, and shiny, and new, and all mine…and then…a light, an unexpected, unwanted engine warning light went off, or rather,turned on.
The engine light on my bus had been intermittently flashing on the dashboard for a couple of days. It came on first thing in the morning, then would go out shortly after and repeated that sequence periodically throughout the entire day. Yesterday, however, the light came on shortly after I left the bus lot, and remained on for the duration of my morning route, with the temperature registering consistently at around 220. The normal range for most busses, will rest at around 190. If the bus engine temp reaches 230, a warning light and buzzer will typically come on.
I wrote the problem up and turned it into the garage, after which, I left and went about my merry way. As I was enjoying my lunch, I noticed that I had a voicemail from work. The message I received, was from my boss. I looked at the written message, a transcript, and was unable to decipher what I was reading. All these technological advances meant to enhance and simplify our lives. Simplify and enhance, hmm…not today. I don’t know about you, but auto correct, voice dictation, and Siri, are not my friends! Siri does not understand me, and I’m pretty sure, auto correct and voice dictation, have a personal vendetta against me…Anyway, I finished my lunch and decided to head into work a little early so I could find out what was going on.
I walked into my bosses office and George informed me that my, brand new bus, had been sent to West Chester….GASP! That’s like being told that your bus just entered a black hole. A great big giant abyss with no way of telling when, or if, it will ever return. Ok, so maybe I’m exaggerating, just a tad. I only know that in the past, when other new busses have gone in for warranty work or problematic issues that cannot be handled at our local garage, they disappear…and are never heard from again…ok, ok…they’re gone, for long periods of time. It just feels like an eternity. I could feel a temper tantrum about to burst forth, without warning…There is no crying in school bus driving…Pushing that urge aside, I plunged forward with what I hoped was a calm, unfazed, professional response, asking which bus would be my replacement bus.
“You’ll be on bus 94. Now, 94 isn’t exactly the, star bus, in this fleet. I might be able to get you bus 19 tomorrow, but as of now, 94 is the only option.” Said George, while struggling to find the right words for how to describe bus 94.
“Well,(gulp)that’s ok, George. I’ve been on 19, and I can’t move the seat up far enough to reach properly, so 94 it is.” I replied, now wondering just how bad 94 could be. There it was again…That damn temper tantrum was itching to work its way out. I battled through that urge and went to see my new, old set of wheels.
As I approached bus 94 it was obvious that bus 94, was most definitely, one of the oldest busses on the lot. Shoot, even someone with failing eyesight could easily see that it was one of the oldest busses on the lot. I’m not sure if it was the faded paint job or the cracked and peeling numbers on the side. Perhaps, it was the scratches, dings and dents, those remnants of battle scars acquired over the years and the many miles of road traveled that made its age so obvious. Though, even if I had missed all of the outside clues as to the type of a gem I was about to venture out on, all doubt was removed when I stepped foot on the bus.
The first and most noticeable change was the smell. Gone was that, crisp new bus smell I loved so much and was replaced with dirty, musty, heated cracked vinyl with a hint of dirty gym socks, and a dash of sweaty kid…there is no crying in school bus driving…there is NO CRYING in school bus driving…
I turned the key dangling from the ignition, only partially hoping that the darn thing would not start, or better yet, that I would wake up from the daymare I seemed to be trapped in. I stepped off the bus to do a general check of the outside of the bus before leaving the lot, only to realize a moment too late ,that the air valve release on the bus had not been engaged. Meaning, that as soon as the air pressure had built to a certain level, the doors of the bus closed, tight, with me on the outside, looking in. Now I was forced to go to the rear of the bus and enter through the emergency exit. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say, it has likely been a very long time, if ever, that any of you have hoisted yourself into the back of a school bus. Well, lemme tell ya, it’s not a pretty sight…at least, not for this girl anyway.
The vision playing through, in my mind, was that of a youthful olympic swimmer launching themselves out of the pool onto a pool deck with strength, grace, and ease. The reality, however, was anything but. What took place instead was something that resembled more of squatty old circus clown, clamoring their way up an elevated platform with all the grace of a bull in a china shop, the strength of a new born fawn, and the ease of seal on land…there is no crying in school bus driving. But…I made it! It may not have been pretty, but this old girl still managed to pull herself up, dusted herself off, and got that beast of a bus moving…if you could call it that.
Aside from the smell, there were some other noticeable differences. Hmm…where do I begin…My digital displays were replaced with analog displays. I didn’t know that the numbers on an odometer reading could go that high. I think the bus went from 0 to 25 in about 25 seconds. Though, that would be difficult to determine, since the speedometer would often get stuck on 25m.p.h. That is, until you purposely hit a manhole cover or pot hole, hoping to unstick the gauge, only to find out that you were speeding…well, kind of. When I was able to really open her up and let her fly, we managed to make it all the way up to our top cruising speed of 45 m.p.h. Of course, that also meant that once I approached that ultimate cruising speed, I also got the steering wheel shimmy. But wait, there’s more. Every time I made a left hand turn, the steering wheel would audibly groan, like turning an old rusty valve that hadn’t been moved in ages.
My elementary students were the first group of students to file onto bus 94. I was greeted to a host of questions and comments from the children. There are always a myriad of comments coming from my younger students. They are never shy on sharing their thoughts…This bus smells. This bus is old. The seats are squishy. I must be getting tall, I can touch the ceiling. Is there a radio? On and on it went. I remember one year, a few years back, when I was driving a spare bus, I received similar comments but after the comments were stated, a conclusion was made by one of my second grade boys, that based on his observations of the bus being old, and the seats being a different color, and the smell being…smelly, he decided that it must be because, that bus, was a high school bus. That still makes me smile. No such deduction was made this time around.
My high school kids, in typical high school fashion, hardly noticed that there was a change. High school students have one interest when it comes to riding a school bus… How to get out of riding the school bus in the first place. The change that had taken place had not phased them in the least. There were no comments, nor, were there any complaints.
Alas, it was time to pick up my middle school students. Not only did they noticed the dinosaur I was driving, they also had plenty to say. Their comments about the bus change left no guess work as how they felt about the bus change. I received many of the same comments the elementary school students shared, but one comment, or rather question, stood out above all others that were aired that day. Hank, one of my eighth grade boys, asked this question.
“Is this the prison bus?”
Just one day later, and now, I have my whole middle school group referring to bus 94 as, the prison bus.
As for me, I wonder if my new bus is in early menopause, with its hot flashes and all… I know its driver certainly can relate.
Oh…and there’s still, no crying in school bus driving 😉