Snow Day in Austin!

Snow Day in Austin!


The forecast said 40 degrees and rain with a slight chance of freezing rain/sleet/snow. It was raining when we left the elementary school yesterday afternoon. By the time I dropped the last of the kids off and headed to the middle school I began to notice little white flakes mixed in with the rain.

The kids piled into the bus with great enthusiasm over those little white wet flakes. They opened most of the windows and I had to tell them more than once to keep their hands, heads, feet, knee caps, etc., inside. Their excitement was palpable. Some said it was the second time they had seen snow.

Snow is a rare occurrence in Austin, TX, so even a light flurry can cause quite a stir.

As we left the school, more and more white flakes joined the rain drops. I picked up the microphone and said, “In case you didn’t know, it’s snowing!”

A girl behind me said, “That’s not snow.”

Me: Yes, it is.

Girl: No, that’s not snow. It’s rain.

Me: It’s snow and rain.

Girl: No, it’s just rain.

Me: I grew up in New York and I’ve seen my share of snow. That is definitely snow!

Girl: It’s rain.

Me: Do you see those big white flakes?

Girl: Yes, but there’s more rain than flakes.

Me: So you admit that some of it is snow?

Girl: No, it’s rain.

I stopped when I realized I was arguing with a 12-year-old girl. What was I thinking? She might make a good lawyer some day.


I drove to the high school after the last of the middle school kids erupted from the doors of the bus into Winter Wonderland.  It was cold and half of the seats were wet so I closed all the windows. Middle school kids don’t mind or even notice that but high school kids do. High school kids rarely open windows.

As the high school students were boarding the bus a girl behind me commented on the snow. The boy next to her said, “That’s not snow.”

Here we go again, I thought.

I said to the boy, “Come up here and look at the hood of the bus.”

He said, “Oh, God!” and sat back down.

End of discussion.

I feel sorry for him if he ever gets into an argument with that 12-year-old girl.


I transported the high school students without incident and drove back to the bus barn. That’s when the snow started coming down in earnest.

I got into my van and set off on my 25-mile drive home. Traffic was heavy as expected but moving for the first half of the trip. Then I saw nothing but snow and brake lights and what appeared to be a large truck sitting diagonally across the road up ahead. I made a ten point turn, being careful not to put my tires in the ditch. I rerouted to find more of the same on the next road. People were crazy and stupid out there on the road, probably because they have little or no experience driving in snow.

When I finally did pull into my snowy driveway, two hours had passed. I was grateful to have gotten home safely.

Usually, in a bad weather situation, I’ll get a recorded message in the wee hours of the morning of the next school day that classes have been delayed two hours. Not this time. That evening I got the call that schools would be closed Friday.




A Beautiful Day

I just got back from a wonderful week in the Pacific northwest. Music conference in WA, three gigs in Portland, one show and an anniversary with my better half at a picturesque Inn on the stunning Oregon coast. Topped it off with a very nice song circle with some musical friends.

I did not want to leave.

I left the wonderfully chilly autumn of the northwest for steamy central Texas. I was sweating the moment I stepped outside at the airport in Austin. It was another 90 degree October day.

Fortunately for me the cold front arrived right on my heels. I woke up Sunday morning to a breezy 70 degrees!

There was a chill in the air when I left for work Monday morning. It was time to shift back to school bus driver mode, a challenge after a lovely trip like the one I just had.

I heard “Welcome back!” from a few coworkers. I clocked in, picked up my route sheet and started to slip into my morning routine.

I got back into the groove as I ran the elementary route. After I dropped them off at school I had a few minutes to stop at a park, stretch, and enjoy the cool morning air.

As I turned the corner I was happy to see that familiar sight. The dozen or so kids at the first stop were playing ball in the street. Every one of them. When they saw the bus a boy threw the ball back onto the front lawn where it belonged. They gathered their things and boarded the bus, all smiling and laughing. One boy said, “I’m so happy you’re back!” and gave me a high five.

I asked the girl in the front seat (as I do most days) who won the sportsball game. She said, “The tree did!”

A few weeks ago while the kids were playing, the ball got stuck way up in the tree. Apparently the tree decided to keep it.

It makes me so happy to see these kids playing ball every morning. Not a single one of them is looking at a screen!

After the middle school kids were safely delivered I went to pick up the high school students. I got another high five. They were happy to see me!

I returned to work in the afternoon and it was still in the seventies and breezy!

It was Bus Driver Appreciation Day. I had no idea until I received a couple of small gifts and some words of thanks. A little girl said, “I missed you!” and melted me with her smile.

It was nice to feel appreciated.

I did have to retrain the kids to sit down. They somehow forgot the rules while I was gone. A teacher said they were out of control crazy when I was away.

I like to speak to my elementary kids in the muted trombone voice of the unseen adults in the old Peanuts animations. I picked up the microphone and said, “Wah, wah wah wah, wah wah wah wah wah wah wahhhhh. Do you all remember what that means?”

They said, “Sit down and put your seat belts on!”

Yes! They have no idea where it comes from but they know what it means!

I have a new middle school student. I asked him if he knew where his stop was. He looked it up on his phone. It was a Blackberry. Brave kid, bringing that dinosaur phone to school. Another boy started to explain how people used Blackberry phones in the old days, like in 1979.

I said, “What?!? We didn’t have cell phones in 1979! Not even Blackberrys! I had a Blackberry and it was not 1979!”

It was a beautiful day.



Black Hat Johnny

The boy said, “Hey Mister, did you know there was a man who lived in a school bus at the end of the street?”

“Yes, he was my friend,” I thought.

My route is in an area that has seen steady growth for a while, where old meets new and rich meets poor.

Back around the turn of the century I befriended a fellow bus driver named Johnny. Johnny used to sing in a rock band but he was taking a break from the scene. He wore a custom made black hat that earned him the nickname Black Hat Johnny.

We would sit outside the high school every afternoon playing and singing. Then one day we went inside the school and discovered that the men’s room by the office had the most amazing acoustics and the sweetest natural reverb. So we did what any self-respecting musicians would do. We started jamming out in the men’s room! After a while a man in a suit opened the door and looked in. He said, “I was wondering where that was coming from. Carry on.”

At that time Johnny was my only coworker with whom I had a friendship outside of work.

He lived in a school bus on the edge of town. He had dragged that old bus down from Minnesota and parked it on his little piece of land at the end of the street. He cut the top off and built a higher roof. He cut out the side of the bus and built a living room with a deck. The deck looked out on the hill where Johnny used to hike with his dog. He built a nice little home out of that old bus. Sitting on the deck one day I asked Johnny if the hills would be developed. He said, “Oh yeah. Million-dollar homes.”

He was right, though he never lived to see it. The hills have been filled in. They put up a fence so the McMansions wouldn’t have to see the little old school bus house.

Johnny tried to talk me into buying an old bus and parking it on his land.

He said, “You can build it up and we’ll be neighbors!”

The part about being neighbors sounded good but building a bus into a house was way more work than I was willing to commit to.

Johnny took time off from work because it was getting difficult for him to get around. It was the end of the school year and he figured he had all summer to heal and get back in the saddle when school started in the fall. He had his new route picked out and he was excited about it.

We had our end of the year bus driver party at a local venue. My band Stone Waltz had graciously agreed to perform for the bus drivers free of charge.

During our set I called Johnny up to the stage. He hobbled to the stage leaning on a cane. He grabbed the microphone like a boss and belted out some classic rock tunes. Everyone was blown away including me. I’d only ever heard Johnny sing accompanied by my acoustic guitar. I hadn’t seen him in his element; a rock and roll singer up on the stage. It was to be Johnny’s last stand.

It wasn’t long after that night that Johnny called to tell me he had cancer.

For the next few months I visited Johnny in his school bus home. I would bring my guitar and sing to him when he was too weak to sing.

Johnny left us on Jan 16, 2003. That day I wrote a song called School Bus Driver Man.

Now in 2017, I’m back in the old neighborhood picking up kids on Johnny’s street. There’s a house where the bus once sat. And there’s a legend of a man who lived in that old bus.

Black Hat Johnny

Johnny McCarty20170818_183736photo by google street view

The Last Few Days Are the Longest

We just made it through the penultimate week of the school year with only three days next week before summer vacation.

Earlier this week I discovered a mess of sunflower seed shells on the floor near the back of the bus. I swept them up, making a mental note to find out who had been eating the seeds. The problem with my mental notes is that they self destruct after a few minutes. By the next day that mental note was a puff of smoke on a distant breeze.

The next day I swept up another pile of sunflower seed husks. I made another mental note. I forgot the mental note until after I drove away from the school with a passel of elementary school kids. I picked up the microphone and said to the group, “Hey people! This is a reminder that you are not allowed to eat in the bus. Especially sunflower seeds! Absolutely no sunflower seeds allowed!!!”

At a bus stop a boy told me that there was a huge mess of sunflower seeds on the floor near the back of the bus.

I secured the bus and marched back to the fifth grader with the purple mohawk. I’ll call him Gus.

Gus had a large open bag of sunflower seeds on the seat next to him. He was playing a game on his ipad.


I said, “Gus, is that your mess?”

Gus: Yeah

Me: Did you hear my announcement about eating sunflower seeds?

Gus: Yeah

Me: And then you ate those sunflower seeds?

Gus: Yeah

Me: And dumped the shells on the floor?

Gus: They fell

I looked at him a moment longer. His attention never wavered from the ipad.

I think I breathed a little fire when I said, “START PICKING THEM UP!” He looked up at me for the first time.

“NOW!!!!” I shouted.

It had never occurred to this child that he might have some responsibility in this mess.

Gus said, “You mean the shells?”


I was surprised when Gus bent over and started picking up shells. By the time I got to his stop he had piled them up on his ipad. On his way out he dumped them on the street. One small victory!


It’s Thursday, the last school day this week. It was a long day. I had my last field trip of the year but it wasn’t the fun kind where I visit animals in the zoo or play songs with the kids in the park. It was the kind where I drop off the kids and drive back to the base along with thirty seven other buses and wait for the call to return. Then we drive back and wait some more.

It was also early release day for the high school. They have early release the last four days of school. It sounds good on the surface but the reality is not so great.

In my daily route I pick up the elementary kids first. They’re a lot of fun in the afternoon but they’re also a lot of work. They don’t want to sit down and they take off their seat belts seconds after you get them to fasten them. And they’re loud. Very LOUD!

Next up is middle school. I just fight to keep my sanity.

By the time I get to the high school my nerves are frayed and I need a break. I get that break from my high school kids. I never have trouble with them. They’re quiet and respectful. I can feel my blood pressure go back to normal. It’s a breath of fresh air at the end of the day.


Then there’s early release. We clock in two hours early to pick up high school first. I’ve blown my breath of fresh air before the madness even starts! I end my day dropping off middle-schoolers! Echhkg!

Today I got an unexpected break. Most of the middle school kids stayed for the carnival. I only had nine students to drive home, about a quarter of my usual load. Traffic wasn’t even that bad. I was getting off easy.

I was getting close to the end of the line when a boy came up to the front with a liter container of coconut water. He said that someone left it on the floor with no cap and it was just spilling all over the place.

So much for smooth sailing and getting done early. It’s not easy getting a mop under all those seats.

Three more days!!!



Spring is in the Air (What are the Odds?)

Spring is in the air, the kids are out of control and the school year is winding down. That also means that the Kerrville Folk Festival is right around the corner. Kerrville is an eighteen day festival that starts the Thursday before Memorial Day. It overlaps with the school year by a week or two but in the good old days (5 or 6 years ago) Kerrville started the day after the last day of school. I would drop off the kids, clean out the bus, race home, pack tent, guitar and cooler, and head for the hills.
Every year is like a family reunion with my adopted musical family. We live for the late night song circles and jams in the campgrounds that often go until dawn.

One spring, around the turn of the century, I drove out to the ranch to kick off my summer vacation with some ’round the clock pickin’ and grinnin’. I pulled into the campground to set up camp when I saw two boys from my elementary route with their dad. Shane and Wyatt (names have been changed, not to protect the innocent, but because it was a long time ago and I don’t remember them) were excited to show me their camp. We all walked to their site. They had one of those big stand up tents with two or three rooms. A Suite. We talked for a bit and I went back to set up my own camp.

That night I grabbed my guitar and strolled from camp to camp. If I liked what I heard I sat down and joined the circle for a while. I stopped and played at several camps until I made my way up the hill to Camp Crow’s Nest.
It was around 3am and the vibe had mellowed out considerably. I may have been dozing when a man stumbled into the camp, breathing hard from the trek up the hill. He said, “Excuse me, sorry to bother y’all. I just got here and I’ve never been here before. I know it’s a long shot but I’m trying to find my brother. He’s camping with his two boys.”
Suddenly I was wide awake.
I said, “What are the boys’ names?”
He said, “Shane and Wyatt.”
I stood up and said, “Come with me. You just happened to find their school bus driver and I know exactly where they’re camped!”
I led him down the hill, into the meadow, through a sea of tents until we arrived at the “suite.”
He called his brother’s name and he emerged from the tent. He did a double take when he saw me. I think we were all equally amazed at the serendipity.
What are the odds?

What Makes it Worthwhile

I’m not crazy about waking up at 4:37 every morning.
And sometimes I wish the schools would have a big sleepover so I could drop the kids off in the morning and pick them up in the afternoon of the next day.
Sometimes the kids rip the seats or shove chewing gum in the seat belt buckles.
Occasionally the little munchkins get so wild I have to pull over to regain control of the bus.
The job has its trying moments but it also has experiences like these that make it all worthwhile:

Two girls boarded the bus at 6:43 in the morning. They often ride in the afternoon but this was their first time riding the bus in the morning. They were excited to be the first ones to get picked up.
I was surprised to see them standing out there in the dark.
I said, “Hey, there are two girls who look a lot like you who ride in the afternoon! Their names are Anna and Maya.
The younger of the two said, “My name is Maya!”
Her sister said, “My name is Florence!”
Maya: Florence?!?!?
Anna: Yes, Florence is the other me.
Me: You mean your alter ego?
Anna: My what?
Me: Your evil twin?
Anna: Yes, I’m my evil twin!
Me: What have you done with Anna?
Anna: I boiled her in a pot with little unicorns. Then I ate her up with delicious green goo!
Me: You ate the unicorns?!
Anna: No! I love unicorns. I did not eat them!
The next day Anna/Florence assured me that she did not eat the unicorns and that she was only half Florence.


As mentioned before the buses are tracked by GPS. Back at the office they can see where I am, where I was, how fast I’m going, etc. They can even see where and when I open the door. This feature is useful when a parent calls in to say the bus never showed up. The supervisor can check the GPS and say, “I’m sorry but the bus was at your stop at 7:23,” or they might say, “Gee, you’re right. It looks like Jimmy Joe burned right past your house at 87 mph!” (Hypothetical, of course. I don’t know of any school bus that can go that fast.) It’s a double edged sword and a useful tool in today’s world.
The drivers are encouraged to stop and open the door, even if nobody is there.
On my morning elementary route I always pull up to one particular stop with loading lights on, pop the brake and open the door. I then close the door and drive away.
One morning a child asked me why I always stop there when no one gets on.
I replied, “There’s an invisible boy who gets on at this stop.”
Without missing a beat, an eight year old girl named Sydney said, “His name is Bob. Hi, Bob! You can sit here with me.”
Sydney went on to explain that Bob spilled an entire bottle of potion on himself, hence the invisibility.
Now every morning when I pull up to that stop and open the door, two or three kids will say, “Good morning, Bob!”
We’ve also taken to calling him by his proper name, Invisibob.
I’ve learned from the kids that Bob has a younger sister named Invisabella and a dog called Invisibubba.
One of the students asked me if I knew  Bob’s last name.
I said, “No, it was written in invisible ink.”


A seven year old boy, wise beyond his years boarded the bus one afternoon. He asked me how  I was. I told him I could use a nap.
He put a hand on my shoulder and said, “I feel ya man, I feel ya.”
Then he looked at me as if he had some secret words of wisdom to share and he said, ” Word of advice… Don’t Freeze the Cheese!”

Have a spectabulous day and remember…
Don’t Freeze the Cheese!

Stupid School Bus Tricks

My latest stupid school bus trick:

The minute I depart from the elementary school in the afternoon to take the kids home I pick up the microphone and say, ”Are we there yet? Are we there yet? Are we there yet?…”

The kids often ask me to turn on the air conditioner. I always reply, “I’ll turn it on when we get on the highway. Just keep your windows open!” This is Austin. It’s not like it’s hot… every single day of the year!

Today I was driving a spare bus while the route bus was in the shop for a brake job. The spare bus didn’t have the fancy three point seat belts like the new buses. It had the old simple lap belts. I told the kids to buckle up. A few of them asked for help. I looked around and noticed that the five-year-olds were putting the belt over one shoulder. It occurred to me that these kiddos had never seen a lap belt!  One more item to add to the “Make Jimmy Joe Feel Old” list.

The Good Old Days/There’s an App for That

The Good Old Days/There’s an App for That


I pulled up to the bus stop this morning and saw two figures in the darkness approaching the bus from the side street. As I got close to the stop I could see that it was a mom and daughter running to the bus. While the daughter boarded the bus her mom said, “I love this app!”

I said, “What app?”

She held up her phone and said, “This new app shows me exactly where you are and when you’ll be here.”

I looked at her phone and saw what appeared to be a GPS screen with a dot in the middle that represented my bus. Not only is Big Brother watching but little brother and little sister and their parents are watching now as well. You too can track my progress with a simple download.
My first experience with this was several years ago when I was driving to New Braunfels to pick up a group at Schlitterbahn Water Park. It was a one hour drive in the empty bus so I put the pedal to the metal on I-35. The bus was governed at a top speed of 62 miles per hour, well under the posted speed limit but in excess of the state school bus speed limit which nobody ever pays attention to (or so I thought.)  I was cruising down the highway minding my own business when a voice came over the radio, “Jimmy Joe, slow down!”
Last week I was called out for making an unauthorized stop on my route. On my way to stop #1 I pass stop #5 where a young girl is waiting early every morning with her dad. I saw no harm in picking her up before stop #1 but somebody saw it otherwise. So now I have to pass by the girl and her dad and wave to them to not come to the bus as I proceed to stop number 1,2,3 & 4. Then and only then can I come back around to that same street and pick up the girl at stop #5. Makes a lot of sense right?
Back in the good old days the administrators would say, “Nobody knows the bus routes like the bus drivers so bus drivers please help us out. Give us suggestions on how we can improve the routes since you experience them first hand every day.”

Those days are long gone. Now the routes are all put together on a computer programmed by someone sitting in an office who has no concept of the reality on the streets and no desire to listen to the people driving the routes.
Back in the good old days we would find ways to get to our destinations and write out our own directions. On field trips my friend Patty and I would often get lost trying to find new routes back to the school but we never got in trouble and we always found our way. We had fun.
Way back in the good old days when I was a new bus driver, the old-timers spoke about the good old days. They described their method of cleaning out the bus. They would drive on the highway and the air circulating through the open windows would push the trash to the front of the bus. Then while driving full speed they would open the door and the trash would fly out of the bus onto the side of the highway.
When a student was misbehaving the driver would just pull over on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere (and back then there was a lot more nowhere,) and send the kid on his way for the Long Walk Home.
Well, maybe some good old days are better left in the past.

First Day of School

It’s that time of year again and I am a little concerned about how the new school year began.

It wasn’t the car that was so far over in the lane that I was forced to jump a curb in the median on the way to the middle school (I could jump the curb or leave the tail end of the bus sticking out into the access road).  Nor was it the ‘first day’ traffic that set me back fifteen minutes on my route. It wasn’t even the torrential downpour that drenched my high school students because the bus was running late due to the traffic at the middle school and the car that sat too far over in the lane.

My concern comes from the fact that the driver of a black pickup truck didn’t even slow down when it passed my bus as I opened the door and the flashing lights went from amber to red at my VERY FIRST BUS STOP OF THE YEAR!!!! We can only hope that the cameras are working properly and the owner of the black truck gets a surprise in the mail and starts to notice school buses on the road from now on.

So here’s my public service announcement:

Where there are school buses, there’s a good chance that children are nearby. Please pay attention! When you see a bus with flashing amber lights, slow down and prepare to stop. That’s not the time to speed up to beat the red. Somebody’s kid might be running across the street to catch the bus.

And for the love of all that is everything, STOP when you see a school bus with red flashing lights!!!

Okay, enough of  the soap box.

Chrissie and I recently returned from our west coast tour. It was wonderful! We visited friends and family and made new friends and shared music from the mountains to the beach to the desert and back. We played a lovely little farmers market in Fairfax, CA. Families set blankets down on the grass in front of the band tent. The kids ran around and danced. We performed as The Better Halves and our alter ego Mr. Bus Driver Man Sir & Her. At the end of the market a farmer named Clarence said, “What are you driving? Blue Bird? Thomas? International?”

I said, “Are you a bus driver?”

Clarence said, “Yes, I am. We go back next week. Now help yourself to whatever you want, Mr. Bus Driver Man Sir.”

Clarence hooked me up with a bag full of fresh produce, including some fabulous heirloom tomatoes.

Thank you, Clarence, and have a great school year! I hope they’re stopping for your bus out there in California!

Wildlife in Austin

Austin is teeming with wildlife.
This afternoon I was hauling a bus load of kids (different kind of wildlife) back from a field trip. Up ahead on the side of the road was the carcass of a poor old deer that didn’t quite make it across. Five or six turkey buzzards were circling over and swooping down for the feast. As we passed the party at 50mph, one of the vultures flew out in front of the bus. It was huge and flying level with my head! I slammed on the brakes, the kids screamed, and the buzzard went straight down. I didn’t know if I hit the big beastly bird. I’ve heard that you really don’t want to hit a turkey buzzard. They’re big enough to do some real damage and their innards stink like the dickens, as I’ve been told.
I checked the rear view mirror and saw the bird fly out the side of the bus between the front and rear wheels. A close call.
Later, as I was driving kids home on my afternoon route, I went around a bend and saw a snake slithering across the road right in front of the bus. I couldn’t stop or swerve so I centered the bus the best I could over the snake.
I checked the mirror and I saw the snake slithering away.
Another close call.
A few blocks later a bushy tailed red fox ran across the road. This one wasn’t that close but the coolness factor was off the charts.