Oh, Bus Driver!

I have been self-employed for almost two-and-a-half years now. In those 30 months or so, I would estimate that there have been about 600 working days of which I would estimate that I have worked maybe half. So that leaves about 300 working days where I have not actually worked unless you want to count things like cooking, vacuuming, doing the dishes, dusting, laundering, etc. as work. In other words, I was starting to become known as the neighbourhood househusband, especially when I began to get invitations to our local ladies Tea and Scones chapter on Tuesday mornings.

Anyway, I knew something was afoot in my household when my wife and our children, apparently tired of all of the “help” I was providing around the house (don’t get me started about what my wife and children consider proper nutrition and cleanliness to be compared to what I think they are), confronted me and asked me about getting a regular job so that I would be less available to cook and clean for them while they are at work and school. No gratitude is what I say!

So I asked them what sort of job they expected me to get that would still provide me with sufficient time to “grow the business” through networking, arranging meetings, sales calls, and drinking vast tubs of Tim Horton’s coffee.

“What sort of job is there that would provide me with the flexibility to do some regular part-time work at the beginning and end of the workday when nobody wants to talk to me anyway, yet leave the middle of the day free? And what sort of job would provide me with the flexibility to make myself unavailable when I have some business contract work to do? What sort of magical mystery job exists out there that meets these requirements?” I challenged my family.

“You could be a part-time school bus driver!” they replied in three point harmony as they thrust the “drivers wanted” ad at me.

Well, I couldn’t dispute their reasoning as they ushered me out the door to apply for the job.

So now I am a part-time school bus driver. Before I proceed any further, I must inform you that the training that a school bus driver receives is second to none. I have never been so thoroughly trained in my life than I have to become a safe school bus driver. I had to unlearn every bad habit that I have acquired over 26 years of driving a car. Bad habits like using my knee to steer while I fasten my seatbelt and sip from my tub of Tim Horton’s coffee.

But the training I received mostly involved driving around in an empty school bus. The training did not really prepare me for driving around with a busload of small children. For instance, the training did not cover any of the following phrases that are yelled out at regular intervals by anywhere from 30 to 600 children on the bus:

“Big bump, big bump!” I checked out my route directions and nowhere on them are there any directions to travel over any sort of bump, big or otherwise.

“Detour, detour!” I don’t think that children in kindergarten up to grade three even know what “detour” means, so I just ignore them.

“Big turn, big turn!” Every turn in a 40-foot long school bus is a big turn!

“Train tracks, train tracks!” Now this is an easy-to-understand and very helpful phrase that the children use. If there is one thing that was drilled into my head concerning school bus safety, it is the rules around crossing a train track. They even made me watch a video where an accident was staged to show what happens when a locomotive train traveling at 30 miles per hour collides with a school bus stalled on the tracks. It made an indelible impression. So much so that if there is one thing that I worried about when I was driving around in an empty bus, it is that I would forget to stop at a railway crossing to check for oncoming trains. But with four thousand children yelling, “train tracks, train tracks” at the top of their lungs, I find that I don’t have to worry about forgetting to stop and check.

The other thing I have learned after my official training is that children on the bus can impart pearls of wisdom that enhance my official training.

For example, there is one little girl on my route who reminds me of those Precious Moments figurines except that she has cuter eyes. She can’t be more than all of six years old, yet can perfectly mimic the same tone of seriousness that my mother used to use on me when I was a bad boy (which was hardly ever I can assure you). Here is a sampling of what I have learned from her in the form of on-the-job training:

“You’re late.”

“Oh, bus driver, you were supposed to go straight.”

“Oh, bus driver, we’re the Walrus Bus and you’re not supposed to let us off here, you’re supposed to let us off over there.”

“Oh, bus driver, you’re not supposed to let us off until a teacher comes out.”

“The other bus driver was fun.”

Now I just had to challenge that last statement and engaged my little instructor in a logical debate on the finer points of being and action and the definition of “fun.” I think I won her over because the next day, as I was letting the students off at school, she stopped, turned to me and said, “Nick, you rock!” The ultimate accolade! In one day I went from not being the driver who was fun to the driver who rocks!!

Words fail me. I guess the only fitting way to close this column is to recount the stirring words from the lyrics of one of the great arias of the modern age: I am the walrus!

Nick Burn is a freelance writer, husband, father of three, engineer, teacher, and webmaster for the Canadian Catholic Information Network. In his spare time (hah!), he enjoys camping, skiing and reading.

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