22 Years!

My friend Ida Collins recently celebrated 44 years as a bus driver for AISD.  Ida, I just reached the halfway point. 22 years! I started on the 14th of October, 1998. That was in another century! Before that I never held a job for more than a year. I would get bored and move on. After twenty two years I’m still not bored; kids have a way of keeping it interesting. And this year it all got a lot more interesting.
This is my original school bus guitar. I call it Charlie after the late Charlie Fischer, my hometown neighbor who fisched it out of the trash in 1986 and gave it to me. (It looked a lot nicer back then.) I brought Charlie out of retirement because my second school bus guitar, the baby Taylor is falling apart. Both guitars have many layers of kids’ signatures from the past two decades. It’s an end of school year ritual which, like so many other end of school year rituals, was thwarted by a pandemic.

School shut down on March 13, 2020. I had a field trip on March 12. In addition to my 120 regular route students, I hauled fifty or so kids from another school to a museum where they mingled with hundreds of kids from other schools. It is difficult to comprehend that now. Did that really happen? I’m pretty sure it did. The date is still in my calendar.

After a month or so of isolation, I went back to work driving a wifi bus. The buses are wifi hotspots for students learning online who don’t have internet service. Typically in the summer, we’re out touring to the west coast or east coast playing music. This year I stayed home and drove the wifi bus during which time I changed my name from Mr. Bus Driver Man Sir to Mr. Hot Spot Man Sir. The wifi bus isn’t quite as exciting as driving through the Rockies, visiting with good friends, and performing on the Oregon coast while watching the waves of the Pacific crash against the shore across the street from the venue, but it’s a job that I’m very thankful to have. We lost a lot of gigs like every other musician I know but I’ve had steady income doing something that helps out some kids in these challenging times, even if it felt like I was doing nothing at all. Every so often a parent would come out and thank me from behind a mask, reminding me that it wasn’t nothing.

Last week I started hauling kids once again. It’s a far cry from the past. I wear mask, gloves, and face shield when I point my laser ray gun temperature checker at the students before they board the bus. Then I tell them to sanitize their hands and go to the back of the bus. All 25 windows are open to keep fresh air circulating. I spray the seats down with disinfectant after each route. So far I haven’t had more than eight kids in the bus at one time. And that seems like a lot these days. Sometimes it’s just one student. It’ll change over time but I feel like we’re in a delicate balancing act. I asked my lone middle school student haw many kids were in class with her. She said six. I’ve seen masked teachers with as many masked children going through their lessons under an oak tree in front of the school.

Interesting times. There’s certainly no room for boredom.

Stay safe and be well


Sequestered School Bus News

It’s been a few weeks since I parked the bus and began adapting to the current way of life. I have been catching up on sleep, getting some work done on the house, and writing songs. However, I do miss the kids. I miss being part of their everyday school experience. I miss the sense of purpose as a school bus driver. With lessons moving online, will future demand of bus drivers be reduced? Only time will tell.

Fortunately I have a treasure trove of memories from which to pull.


A kindergartner said, “In two days my friend’s dad had a baby.”

As I was processing his statement, the boy said, ”I have a field trip today. Will you be my bus driver?”

Me: “Sorry, I won’t be driving. Who do you think will be driving today?”

Boy: “Miss Jessica. When I was in college Miss Jessica was the bus driver.”

Me: “Which college did you go to?”

Boy: “Texas College.”


The conversations get a little deeper in middle school.

A middle school girl said, “Mr. Bus Driver Man Sir, can I eat your kidneys?”

I said, “No, I’m still using them.”


One day a six year old boy said, “Do you know The Simpsons? The bus driver looks like you.”

I took this as a compliment. People often compared me to Otto in my early days, before most of the color ran from my hair. One time my employee badge came apart and my picture fell out. I downloaded and printed a picture of Otto from The Simpsons and pasted it onto my badge. No one questioned it until my field trip to Sea World in San Antonio one summer. I dropped off the kids at the entrance, parked the bus and went back to the front gate with my badge. Most places allow the bus drivers to enter with their group, free of charge.

The ticket taker was not impressed. He said, “That’s not you.”

I said, “Yes it is.”

“No, that’s a cartoon. I can’t let you in with that.”

So I explained about the badge and told him I drove 99 miles at 50mph with a bus load of screaming kids. Ultimately he let me in and I had a wonderful day.

As it turns out, I have a real life connection to Otto. My friend Mike Reiss has been writing for The Simpsons for three decades. I asked him if I could claim that Otto was modeled after me, even though Otto was a bus driver long before I was. Mike said it was more likely that I was modeled after Otto. There may be some truth to that.

Time for a shameless plug. Last year Mike and I collaborated on a song and subsequent video. It’s called The Ballad of the Three Bean Salad. You can find it on Youtube.


A third grade girl ran to the bus all excited one afternoon. She said, “My two friends just met for the first time and they decided to get married in school tomorrow!”

The next day the girl said that her teacher found out and told them they couldn’t have a wedding in school.

The following week the girl was giddy again.

She said, “My friends decided to have a video game wedding!”

I said, “What’s a video game wedding?”

She said, “Their avatars are getting married in a video game!”

This was a few months ago. These kids were way ahead of the game with physical distancing!


Stay safe and healthy!


How Old is the Bus Driver?

Over the decades I’ve been asked about my age many times by the kids on the bus. I’ve always asked them to guess. It’s a lot more fun that way. Guesses have ranged from zero to eighty nine million thousand. I always tell them the same thing. “Close!” It keeps them guessing.

Recently a young child asked, “How old are you Mr. Bus Driver Man Sir?”

I said, “I’ll be eleventy-nine on the eleventeenth of Octember, the eve of the crescent blue moon.”

The kids, way too smart for that nonsense, started to pick apart my logic immediately. So, I guess we’re back to the guessing game.


In a previous blog entry I told you about Ray, the five year old ray of sunshine. I haven’t seen Ray in quite some time. I don’t know if he moved away or if his parents drive him to school. I suspect that he travels to in intergalactic school in a space craft of his own design. I’d like to share some of Ray’s wisdom.

Ray: My parents are probably a thousand years old and they drink a LOT of coffee! They don’t eat food. They only eat coffee for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Ray: Let’s drive to Mars today, then Jupiter, my favorite planet. I don’t want to go yesterday, that’s already past.

Me: Okay, how do we get to Mars.

Ray: Turn left, then turn right, turn right again, turn left, go up the hill, down the hill, then turn right, and turn left. (In my head I’m following his directions and they are the exact directions to school) Then at school there’s a portal. We go through the portal and get to Mars.

I try to trip him up on the directions by intentionally asking if we turn left at the next street.

Ray: No, turn right! Why do I have to tell you three times? Tomorrow we’ll go to Haumea. (I had to look that one up.)

Ray was planning our route for the week:

“TLAA614 is the Slime Planet. Watch out for slime asteroids. Cars are sleeping slime asteroids. The Bufepire planet is the danger planet, T-Rex is the hot planet. Let’s skip Bufepire. It’s too dangerous. We’ll go to the sun. We need sunglasses and sun block. Then we go to Mercury and the Chicken Nugget planet.”

Me: What about the Bufepire planet?

Ray: No, it’s too scary! I’m the boss of the planets. We’ll go to Planet HR652199C12.

Me: I don’t know how to get there.

Ray: Just look at a map. (Do 5 yr olds even know what a map is anymore?)


In other school bus news…

I overheard two middle school girls talking about music.

Girl 1: I never thought I’d like Norwegian Death Metal but I love it!

Girl 2: I love Japanese Death Metal even more. It has lots of heart and soul.


The Weather on the Bus goes Round and Round…

Although my bus has no air conditioning, it has a front heater and a separate rear heater that both work very well. I never know how hot or cold it is in the back of the bus until the kids complain, so one day I asked, “How’s the weather in the back of the bus? Is it snowing?”

A little boy replied, “No, there’s a firenado!”

I said, “What’s a firenado? It sounds scary!”

The boy said, “It’s a fire tornado. It’s not scary. It went away.”

Thank goodness for that! They didn’t train me on how to deal with firenadoes on the bus.


One afternoon last week a little girl and her mom were walking past my bus.

The girl stopped and asked, “Why are you always playing your guitar?”

I said, “Because it makes me happy.”

She thought for a second, smiled and said, “I have a play date with Emily today!”

That little girl wanted to share something with me that made her happy and it made my day!


Happy Thanksgiving and stay away from firenadoes!






My Friend Carlos

We lost a good man

at the bus barn.

I want to tell you about my friend Carlos.

Around two years ago I met Diana, a bus driver in training. My friend and coworker, Ida, told me that Diana was a professional singer. I had seen Diana and said hello but we hadn’t met until then. Diana was very sweet and had a kind smile. She said she was from Colombia and had been living in Miami with her husband Carlos. Carlos was managing Diana’s music career. After a few years in Miami they decided to give Austin’s thriving music scene a try. I had seen Carlos around but we had not met. Diana introduced us and we liked each other instantly.

Diana had been working to improve her English and was looking for someone with whom she could sing in English and Spanish. My wife Chrissie had been working very intensely learning to speak Spanish and was doing very well. She was writing songs in Spanish and was actively looking for Spanish speaking musical partners.

I said to Diana, “I have the perfect person for you to meet!”

Chrissie and Diana became fast friends and started working on music together. They sang a bilingual duet in which Diana sang in English while Chrissie sang in Spanish.


Carlos had a plan. They would move to Austin and work as school bus drivers while they got established in the music scene. The schedule would give him time to focus on furthering Diana’s music career.

The end of the school year was just around the bend when my friend Addie at the Westcave Preserve asked me if I would be interested in driving a bus for them that summer. Westcave Preserve is one of my favorite field trip destinations and I loved that she asked me but I had to decline as Chrissie and I would be traveling and touring all summer.

Soon after that, Carlos told me he was looking for part time summer work. He was the new guy and they didn’t have any summer routes available to him.

I said, “I have the perfect job for you!”

I put Carlos in touch with Addie and he got the summer job.

Carlos was very happy to be driving for Westcave Preserve doing nature field trips. He told me that he ran a non-profit nature conservancy organization in the past. It was perfect! I loved how things were falling into place for my new friends.

Then came the bomb shell. About a year ago Carlos was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, the same disease that took my father three years earlier.

Carlos had a remarkably realistic, yet positive outlook.

He said the doctors told him he might have a year or so. Carlos told me that he didn’t necessarily believe them and their numbers. He was going to do his best to stick around and be healthy. He said, “If I am going to die, I’m going to live every day until I do.”

And live he did.

Carlos was out driving the bus whenever his health and chemo treatments allowed.

He and Diana traveled to Miami, France, Greece, and Colombia over the summer.

They spent time with family and friends.

Three days ago Chrissie and I visited Carlos in the hospital. He was weak and in pain but he smiled and welcomed us with open arms when he saw us. I played my guitar for him. He loved Pachelbel’s Canon in D so I played it.

I can’t say enough good things about Carlos. His presence made me feel like everything was going to be okay, even when it was obvious it wasn’t.

I’ll miss you, my friend.

I hope I don’t write another tribute for a long, long time.

Dog Days of Bus Driving

We’re a few weeks into the new school year and it’s been 100 degrees every day. Though the school district has been purchasing air conditioned buses for the past two or three years, I’m still driving an older, naturally ventilated model. Oh, well, it’s cooling off this week. I’m looking forward to the crisp mid-90s. Maybe I can cut back to eight bottles of water and four t-shirts a day. I shouldn’t complain. It only seems worse because I’m driving around seeing other buses with all their windows closed, drivers and students sealed in their own micro climates.

Did I mention that it’s been a hundred degrees every day? I had the pleasure of transporting a varsity football team during the first week of school. The odor was overwhelming. My dashboard fan was worse than inadequate. While driving down the road I spotted a small animal running back and forth in my lane. Too dark to be a squirrel, I thought.

The coach said, “Is that a skunk?”

As I got closer I was able to confirm that it was indeed a skunk. I think the smell of the varsity football players was strong enough to confuse the poor animal.

I swerved to avoid hitting the little stink beast, but I secretly hoped that I got close enough to scare it into spraying the bus. Yes, even skunk spray would’ve been an improvement over varsity sweat on a hundred degree day.

We all managed to survive. The skunk didn’t spray but I sprayed nearly an entire bottle of disinfectant on the seats.
I have the same route that I had last year, other than a few minor differences. One of my students from last year, a six year old boy, asked me to play the island song. The island song includes the names of any and all kids present. I played the island song the first few afternoons. Then on the fourth day, the boy who initially requested the song said, “Stop playing the island song. You play it too much.”

So I played a round of Name that Tune. I played songs like Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, Mary Had a Little Lamb, etc.

One little boy said, “I can play that on piano. Can you play Smoke on the Water?”

So I did, complete with that driving bass line. Then another boy asked me to play some Bach. So I did. Welcome to Austin where the music indoctrination starts early.

There’s a new five year old boy named Ray on my route. Ray is a Ray of sunshine. He’s all smiles. One day he suggested that we drive to the sun. He said, “We can follow the rocket ships to the sun. It’s sixty nine forty thousand degrees!”

I said, “We’ll burn up! We should go to the sun at night.”

Ray said, “But we’ll freeze!”

A few days later on our way to school, Ray said, “Turn the wrong way!”

I said, “Why do you want to turn the wrong way? We might get lost!”

Ray said with his big smile, “That’s okay, we’ll figure it out.”
If I have any advice to offer, it’s this:

Be like Ray. Be willing to take a different path. When you get lost just smile and say, “That’s okay, we’ll figure it out.”

Fly on the Wall

I’m about to complete my twentieth year as a school bus driver this week and I’m still having fun!

It has been a challenging year at the bus barn. We lost our friend Mario the King of Karaoke, and more recently a former coworker by the name of Mac. Other bus driver friends have been dealing with serious health issues but they show up and do the best they can when they can. It’s that kind of job. It grows on you or it doesn’t. If it doesn’t, you probably won’t last long. It’s all about the kids. They keep it alive and fresh. I’ll take fifty little bosses over one big boss looking over my shoulder any day!

Fly on the Wall

Sometimes I get to be the fly on the wall of the school bus. Often, there is such a cacophony of diesel clatter, kid chatter, screaming, shouting, squeaking, etc., that it’s too difficult to discern any details of conversation.

One morning last week I was an attentive fly on the wall, eavesdropping on a seven year old boy telling a fascinating tale.

I wrote about this particular boy a few months ago when he was six. He said that the blue truck in his driveway belonged to him, not his dad. When I asked why he wasn’t driving it to school, he said simply that he had not yet reached the age of ten.

Last week he told a story of riding his bike in the neighborhood. It went something like this:

“I was riding my bike really fast and I went up a ramp and I went higher than that house (pointing to a two-story house) and I landed in the neighbor’s pool! All the oil went in the pool and the water turned black. “

I asked why he spilled so much oil from a bicycle.

He said, “It was a minibike, like a small motorcycle. My mom told me to get some gas so I went to the station. They didn’t have minibike gas so I waited behind the cars and I filled it with car gas. And the car gas made my bike go REALLY FAST!

Me: Fast enough to jump over a house?

Boy: Yeah!

Me: Did you have a ramp?

Boy: Yeah, I built it and I went really fast and went over the house and into the pool!

There you have it. The next Evel Knievel. Actually, his story reminds me of the stupid stuff I did on my bike when I was a kid, like the time I rode my bike up a tree. The ascent was heavenly but the return trip didn’t work out so well.

Words of Wisdom

Anybody who has ever driven a school bus in Austin knows Ida. She’s been at it since the seventies and shows no signs of slowing down. She has seen it all and still wears a big smile to work every day.  When I have an issue on my bus that I can’t figure out on my own I often turn to Ida.

This year I’ve been blessed with a wonderful high school route. I haven’t had any trouble with the kids. No smoking, no fights, no bullying, etc. I had only one little issue I wanted to fix. At one of the bus stops in the afternoon, some of the kids would cross the street behind the bus instead of in front where I can see them. When they cross behind the bus, I might not even know they’re there and neither will oncoming drivers. I had made the announcement several times and each time it would work for a day or two before they reverted to crossing behind the bus.

Finally I went to Ida for advice. She smiled like she always does and said, “I tell them to cross in front of the bus. If you’re going to get hit by a car, I want to see it happen!”

I borrowed her words of wisdom and haven’t had a problem since!

As per tradition, the kids have added another layer of signatures to my old school bus guitar (SBG II. I retired SBG I years ago.)

Happy Summer, y’all! See you in the fall if not sooner!





“School Bus Driver Man”

Mario always managed to put a smile on my face. He was that kind of guy. He was my coworker and friend. He’s been driving for AISD nearly as long as I have. He was crazy for karaoke and sang his heart out. When we have parties at the bus barn, Chrissie and I bring our guitars and PA system to entertain the bus drivers, while Mario brings the karaoke. We would often hook up his system to our PA for a seamless shift between sets. He was a compact man from the Philippines with a big heart and genuine smile that he shared freely.

We effectively swapped bus routes a few times over the years. I once had a route that Mario had the previous year. His last bus route, 1106, was one that I drove a few years ago. It was not long ago when we did our last field trip together.

Mario had a great hat collection. I’ll always remember his smile and his hats.

A coworker told me that Mario’s health had diminished and that he was in hospice care. I wanted to see him but my schedule was so busy. On Tuesday I had a field trip to a nature preserve. The forecast called for rain in the afternoon. In an effort to outrun the storm, the group boarded my bus early. As a result, we returned to the school an hour ahead of schedule. The school happened to be in the neighborhood where Mario was. I called Cindy, my supervisor, and asked if I could drive the bus to visit Mario before I had to be at my next school. Cindy had just returned from visiting Mario and she said, “Yes, please go.”

Mario was not able to talk at this point. His responses were subtle but his family assured me that he could hear me. I played my guitar for him. Then his wife asked me to play School Bus Driver Man because he loved that song. He responded in movement while I sang. He passed from this world a few hours later.

I wrote School Bus Driver Man for my friend Johnny McCarty on Jan 3, 2003, the day that he died.

I sang it for Mario on Apr 23, 2019, the day that he died.

The song fit too well, especially the last lines:

He waits at the high school in mid afternoon

He sits with his friend and they’re singing a tune

The kids stop and listen but it’s over too soon

For that School Bus Driver Man

My Inner Goofball


Did I mention how much fun being a school bus driver can be? I get to nurture my inner goofball every day.

The little kids in the front are often trying so hard to be grown up while their bus driver is being silly. One day the little ones were challenging each other with math equations.

“How much is three plus six?”

“What’s ten times ten?”

I jumped in. “What is eleventeen plus eleventy-five?”

They threw answers at me:


“Twenty six!”


“No,” I said, “the answer is purple.”

One wise young child said, “You can’t mix numbers and colors!”

Another wiser child said, “Those aren’t even real numbers!”

They got me.

The little boy in the seat behind me loves cars. He’s always playing with his toy cars and pointing out the cool cars on the road. He gets particularly excited when he sees a Tesla.

I asked him, “What’s your favorite car?”

He said, “Lamborghini, Ferrari, Bugatti, McLaren, Maserati, Tesla, Mustang, Dodge, and a little thing called BMW.”

My inner goofball said, “How do you spell BMW?”

He said, “Huh? Why are you trying to make me think?!”

Words of wisdom and time travel from a boy on the verge of his fifth birthday: “When I was older I will grow up.”

A pair of second graders were arguing about colors. The girl said, “Pink is a terrible color!”

I said, “Why is pink so terrible?”

She said, “Because it’s bright and colorful!”

The boy said, “Red is also bright and colorful.”

She replied, “Red can be happy or mad or sad. Pink has no feeling!”

And sometimes things just happen that make me feel good about being a bus driver.

The bus I drove last year had a CD player. Remember those things? I used to play Chrissie’s and my cd Playing in the Dirt for the kids.

Recently a fellow bus driver said that she drove my old bus over the summer and noted that I had left my CD in the player. She played it for the kids on the summer route and they loved it!

I was walking through a crowd of people one day when a man I didn’t know noticed my bus driver jacket.

He said, “You’re a school bus driver?

I said, “Yes, I am.”

He said, “Thank you for keeping our kids safe!”

He walked on, making my day brighter.

Happy Holidays!

Greetings and Happy Holidays!

Every afternoon I sit in the bus and wait for the kids to be let out of school. To pass the time I play my Baby Taylor guitar. Sometimes parents will stop by with their little ones to listen, chat about music, or request a song. Sometimes the kids will offer comments. Here are a few from the youngsters:

“You should play rock n roll! You go like this (playing air guitar), na na na nana na na nana. And then you scream!”

Another student walked by, then turned around and said, “Are you a bus driver with a double life?” I LOVE that comment! I said, “Yes, as a matter of fact, I am.”

Last week at the high school I saw a boy who used to ride my bus to middle school. Due to the nature of the schedule, I seldom had time to take out my guitar at the middle school. I’d arrive to meet the mad stampede of tweens as the other buses were getting ready to pull out. This young man didn’t know I was a guitar player.

He stopped to say hello and listened to me play for a bit. Then he said, “Dude, you have mad skills! You should quit your day job and be a professional musician!”

I thanked him for the vote of confidence and said, “I am a professional musician. I’m also a bus driver and I’m not quitting my day job any time soon.”


One of my pre-k or kindergarten students was excited about having a pizza party. He was asking everyone to come to his pizza party, including Mr. Bus Driver Man Sir.

I said, “Thank you for the invitation, but I can’t eat the pizza. Will you have broccoli? I’ll eat the broccoli.”

The child replied, “No! No broccoli! Just pizza!”

Then a little pre-k girl said, “You can come to my broccoli party, Mr. Bus Driver Man Sir!”


A six-year-old boy got on the bus at his stop one morning. As we passed his house he said, “See the blue truck at my house? We don’t use it because my dad got it for me.”

I said, “Wow, your very own truck?! Why don’t YOU drive it?”

He said, “Because I’m not ten yet!”


I was playing some Christmas songs on my guitar one afternoon as the little ones were boarding. I decided to change the words.

I sang, “Frosty the Meatball…”

The kids protested, ”No! It’s Snowman!”

I said, “Oh, Okay. I’ve got it now.” I sang, “Snowman the Meatball…”

More, louder protests, ”No, no, no! It’s Frosty the Snowman!”

Then a little four-year-old boy said, “You’re silly, Mr. Bus Driver Man Sir.”

I was surprised because I had never heard this boy say more than a word or two. He was very loquacious that afternoon.

I said, “You sing it now.”

I played and he sang, “Frosty the Spiderman…”

I said, “Oh, you’re silly too!”

He smiled and nodded in agreement.

I said, “Let’s play some more.”

He sang, “Frosty the Spiderman, is a very sticky man, with a mask on his head…”

Then he paused, trying to come up with the next line.

I added, “…and a handful of web, he’ll catch you if he can.”

Then we sang it together:

Frosty the Spiderman, is a very sticky man

With a mask on his head and a handful of web

He’ll catch you if he can!


A 5th grader in the back of the bus drew a picture of the world on a piece of paper. He held the paper up and crumbled it as he declared, “This is the world and it just goes up into happiness!”


Happy Holidays, and may your world go up into happiness!

Twenty Years!

Twenty years ago, on October 14, in a far-off century, I was hired as a bus driver by the Austin Independent School District.
I had been working part-time as a musician, scrambling to find gigs performing, recording, and writing music. I was also working a myriad of other odd jobs to pay the bills. My thirtieth birthday had passed and I felt a shift inside. I wanted a little more stability in my life (but not too much) in the form of a day job.
I applied for ten jobs in ten different fields; mechanic’s helper, carpenter’s helper, window washer, etc. I was qualified for and had experience in every one of those fields except for one. I had never driven a school bus. It’s also the only one I got excited about. Twenty years later I’m still enjoying the day job.
When I started driving a bus we didn’t have GPS, cameras, cell phones, or air conditioning. Most of the buses didn’t have seat belts for the students. The few belts that did exist were more effective as weapons than as safety devices. They were the old style lap belt, a sling with a metal buckle on the end. In my early days of driving, a six-year-old girl defended herself against an older boy who was bullying her. She whacked him right in the noggin with that buckle. He never bothered her again.
For my entire first year, I didn’t even have a two-way radio. I didn’t know I needed one. I guess I was lucky the bus never broke down because I didn’t have a cell phone back then and neither did the kids.
At the beginning of each school year, we handed out index cards to the kids. They were to have their parents fill out the name, address, phone number, etc., and hand them back. That’s how we knew who was riding the bus. We didn’t get computer printouts. Same goes for the route. We were given a list of stops and it was up to the drivers to figure out how to get to them and to write down the directions.
Now we have directions similar to google maps, but even more convoluted. Go straight 37.6 feet. Veer left 13.2 feet. Turn left .0016 miles. Continue to turn left 117 feet. Go straight .014 miles, when instead, it could have read, “Take a U-turn.”
Some of the routes, instead of listing specific stops, would simply say, “Pick up as needed.” I would drive down the road listed and stop when I saw kids and hope they were the kids I was supposed to pick up.
Today we have specific stops that we have to make. It’s all tracked by GPS. They can see where we are, how fast we’re going, how long the engine is idling, and when and where the door is opened. Cameras are constantly monitoring the driver and students. I didn’t like the idea of all the Big Brother stuff and still don’t but it’s for a good reason. It’s for the safety of the children. The camera and GPS saved me a lot of trouble one time. A kid was bleeding from his head. He claimed that I was going so fast around a corner that he fell out of his seat and hit his head. My supervisor called me in to watch the video. At the time I was supposedly speeding around the corner, I was actually driving in a straight line at 17mph when the boy jumped across the aisle, fell, and hit his head. Somebody lied and it wasn’t the video.
Back in the old days, if I had a problem with a kid on the bus I would get the name and phone number from the card and call the parents when I returned to the base. The effect was immediate and the parents always thanked me for letting them know what was going on. Often, the kid was sitting right there with the parent when I called.
Later on, they added a lot of “middlemen” to the process. I’d write the report and submit it to a coordinator. They would type it into the computer, often incorrectly, and submit it to the school. A school official would talk to the child and parents. Sometimes I would hear about it, most times I wouldn’t. The process could take up to a week. They have it more streamlined now but I miss the direct approach.
A big turning point for me was when I was driving a group of middle school kids home. Two kids were talking about a video game.
“I love that game!”
“Me too!”
“We should hang out after school!”
“Yeah, dude!”
I pulled up to the bus stop. As one boy exited the bus he said to his friend, “See you online!”
The world was never the same after that moment.
The buses have also gone through some changes. All the newer buses are equipped with three-point retractable seat belts for everyone, just like in Mom’s Odyssey minivan. The really new buses have Air Conditioning! I have not had the pleasure of driving an air-conditioned big bus yet.
The vast majority of our buses are still powered by diesel. One year I was given a brand new propane-powered bus to drive. It burned a lot cleaner and quieter and it had plenty of power. The problem was that it used a LOT of propane. I had to fill the tank every day from the specially installed propane fueling station. That bus is now used as a spare.
When firing up those old diesel buses, we had to cycle the glow plugs several times in order to warm up the cylinders enough to start the engines in the winter. The mechanics often drove around with a can of ether and jumper cables to assist with the more stubborn buses. When they did start, the cloud of acrid black smoke was thick enough to obscure the stars.
That’s all in the past now. The buses mostly just start.
The diesel buses have gotten cleaner and more powerful over the years. There were certain hills on my route where the bus would max out at 12mph. I’m taking those same hills now at 25mph.
I guess I have also changed in two decades. I’ve reached the half-century mark, I’m married, have a kid in college, and own a home. My hair has lost most of its dark brown, but I’m still a musician playing old guitars and driving old cars.
Aside from the fact that they often have their faces and attention buried in little screens, kids are still kids. They are still our future and I still feel privileged to be a part of their education.