I turned the corner and activated the loading lights as I do every day. This morning something was different. I opened the door as the student approached. I got the sense I was seeing something I shouldn’t be seeing.
Her face! I had never seen her face below her eyes before. I said, “Where is your mask?”
She looked up at me, waiting for me to check her temperature. I started to repeat myself but thought better of it. She can’t hear me talking through a three layer cotton mask and a plastic face shield. I lifted the shield and pointed to my own mask. She had a moment of shock and embarrassment as she patted her pockets.
I raised a finger in a “Wait a second” gesture. I pulled a box of masks from my PPE kit and handed one to her with gloved hand. She put the mask on. Her temperature was fine. She boarded the bus and all was well.
That moment of seeing something I shouldn’t see sparked a memory from several years ago.
I had just left the school in the afternoon with a busload of middle school students. We were stopped at a red light next to a minivan. I looked up at the mirror when I heard a ruckus in the bus. The boys were hootin’ and hollerin’ and getting out of their seats to get a good look at something outside the bus. I looked out the window to see what captured their attention. In the back seat of the minivan was a girl of about 11 or 12, apparently one of their schoolmates, taking off her shirt to change into her soccer uniform. I turned my attention back to the boys, trying in vain to get them to sit down. They were too busy giving themselves whiplash as they worked at getting a better look at the topless girl before she pulled her jersey on.
The girl got dressed, the boys settled back into their seats, and the light turned green. We drove on. For the next mile or two I could hear them saying, “Did you see that?!”
Stay safe and healthy this holiday season so we can celebrate together next year.
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.