Sunday, October 14, 2007

The Overnight Trip

A month ago, I received a trip request for an overnight trip. On trip requests, the trip coordinators specify the number of riders, destination, and dates. On this particular request, there was 10 riders specified. I thought, "Hey, Why not take the short bus with the air conditioning instead of a long bus with no airconditioning." It was surmised that the short bus would be too small for 10 people plus overnight gear, so we compromised and I took the longer Special Ed bus with newly installed airconditioning. It also didn't help that this trip was scheduled for the week of vacation. My week of rest from the antics and stresses of the school bus were met with more work.... yay me.

Anyways, I arrive there early enough, 7:30 am for an 8 am departure only to find the school was locked up tightly and the space where we were supposed to convene, was locked. Double checking the paperwork to be sure I had the right date and time, I patiently waited for the trip coordinator to show up and board the bus. She shows up.... at 7:50 am. God help me if we ever get on the road in time. As the students board the bus, one of them yells out loud, "It smells like kitty litter." I roll my eyes and pray this trip gets better. I gently suggest to the trip coordinator, after everyone settles in, that we stop at the motel and check in so that I'm not held responsible for everybody's overnight stuff left on the bus. She agrees.

We are on the road for no longer than an hour into a three hour trip, when the coordinator comes up to me and says, "One of our students has to use the bathroom." Oh joy. Can you hear the excitement in my voice. I navagate my way into a gas station, and lo and behold, everyone has to get off, go get snacks and drinks, and reload the bus. So, naturally about another hour later... someone ELSE has to go to the bathroom. This time we find a Dollar General. Kitty litter girl has exclaimed the smell of kitty litter twice now. We finally roll into town and its just a little after noon. I ask gently about what I should do for food as trip coordinators are supposed to provide bus drivers with a meal, or meal stipend on trips. Her reply, "Eat as cheaply as possible." Well, that doesnt give me much information about how I am going to get fed. We stop for lunch and the coordinator allows the kids to go shopping at the strip mall. (Greaaaatttt.... ....can we plz get to the hotel plzkthx.) Did I mention I came down with a cold the morning we left, but I had chalked it up to allergies, so I didn't bother to bring any medicine. Sleep was also non-existant prior to this trip.

We find the hotel with no problems and then check in. Of course I'm thinking, "Ok check in, bring them over to the fairgrounds (destination) and hear from them sometime around 9 pm when they're ready to go back to the hotel." Instead, I got to cart them over to Walmart, where they went up and down and in every little store in the strip mall adjoining Walmart. Naturally, I thought I might take this opportunity to get in a little shopping at Walmart, and the coordinator wants to know how long I'll take inside Walmart. Wait what?? You asked ME to bring you to Walmart. You also have the audacity to let your hooligans run loose for a good portion of the time at the Walmart Plaza. So honestly, what frigging difference does it make to you?!?! Of course I was polite and said, "Oh I decided I didn't need the items I wanted to get, so time isn't an issue." Anyhow, my patience is running thin, and all I want to do is get back to the hotel and enjoy at least a portion of my vacation.

We head back and I take a shower, not really giving a damn if they needed anything from me at that point. About 2 hours later, they needed a ride over to the fairgrounds. At this point there had been no other instructions as to how to take care of the rest of my meals. My lunch was covered by Chick Fil A under the "bus drivers eat free" card. I assumed breakfast would be provided by the motel under the ever popular "continental breakfast" clause. So, what about dinner and then, lunch the next day. Luckily there was a Cracker Barrell next door to the motel. After I took them to the fairgrounds (kitty litter!!!!!) I went for a swim in the hotel pool. It was overchlorinated and the whirlpool/hottub looked like some kid had peed in it and the water looked yellowish green. Meh. I got an hour swim time and then relaxed on my bed until I felt the pangs of hunger again. I wandered over to Cracker Barrell (CB) - first calling the group to be sure they didn't need me within the next hour because I was going to be decidedly eating, and not about to stop eating to service their needs. I get over to CB and the skies opened up and it poured down. Of course, I half expected a call from them asking me to come get them because of the rain, but I had given them fair warning that I wasn't going to be available between 7 and 8pm. CB dinner was awesome and just as I'm finishing eating, at about 7?45, I receive a call. *Facepalm*. KITTY LITTER!!!!

I drove back to the fairgrounds and picked them up and headed back to the hotel. Enroute back to the hotel, I met the most dense School Bus Driver ever. The driver was signaling to turn left, and had one wheel in the left turn lane. He was waiting for the red arrow to change so that he could turn left, unfortunately, he didn't trigger the light so that it would give him the green arrow. I wait a light cycle and pull forward. I open my door and hollar in the bus drivers window, "I'll trigger the light, when it changes, you go." He nods and we both wait for the light to change. It does, and he doesnt move........I look at him and am about to honk my horn when he looks over at me and I wave him through the light. Idiot. He shouldn't be driving if he can't figure out how to get through a damn intersection without blocking traffic. Back at the hotel, we settle in for the night and the day ends with someone banging loudly on my motel room door... I still have no idea who/what it was.

Early morning the next day, I awoke to go get a peaceful breakfast before the kids woke and decided to act like 5th graders at the breakfast table. I rode down the elevator with others and discovered that one lady was also the second coordinator of the group I'm with. I take the opportunity to ask her for clarity on the meals, and her response is, "Turn in your reciepts to your supervisor." When asking about reembursement from Cracker Barrell, she responds, "You should have driven the bus over there and told them you were a bus driver, they would have fed you for free." My reaction to her was, "But the group wasn't with me." Her response, "They wouldn't have known that." I felt a little taken aback by this lady's disregard for honesty and integrity and her willingness to take advantage of people who are only trying to make an honest living. Anyhow, the trip back was relatively uneventful, aside from the occasional pitstops for bathroom and snacks. KITTY LITTER!

Until next time!!!

The Bus Driver

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

So, Why write about School Bus Drivers?

In my search for the "Perfect" job, I have tried many professions. A great deal of them were similar in nature. They all had a boss, co-workers, annoyances, ups, downs, and any combination of the aforementioned words. Life revolved around punching a clock, getting proper hours, not getting overtime, working hard, and eventually getting stuck in a rut or being fired - neither of which is fun.

In desperate need of a job, I applied to be a School Bus Driver. Initially, I went in believing it would only be temporary until I found a "real" job. One year later and I'm considered to be a full time "floater", recieve benefits (Health, Dental, Vision) and have unusual opportunities presented to me. The pay isn't the best, but the stories that come out of the "opportunities" are ones to last a lifetime. As a "floater", I don't have a route or bus of my own and usually end up filling in for other drivers on their buses.

School Bus Drivers are a unique breed of person. One needs patience, understanding, and a little bit of insanity. Other drivers often look on School Bus Drivers as an inconvinience, annoyance, and in some cases an opportunity to harrass. We get yelled at, honked at, and our stop sign gets bypassed by busy motorists trying to "beat the bus". People often forget that what we carry is THEIR children. As a Bus Driver, I am responsible for every child who gets on and off my bus. Motorists who are impatient and make irrisponsible and often dangerous moves in an attempt to "race the bus" put theirs as well as other peoples childrens lives at stake.

Lets not forget the parents as well. Many parents freak out if their children isn't home at the exact same minute of every day. Parents, please understand that if your child isn't home and you haven't seen the bus pass by its regular stop, its VERY likely the bus just has not gotten to your child's stop yet. Calling the bus shop/transportation department the "nanosecond" your child does come home at the EXACT time your child's bus driver told you, is likely to get you a very harrassed and exhausted secretary telling you exactly what I am about to tell you. Give it 10-15 minutes. Its likely one of 2 scenarios.

1. The driver may be out and your child's bus may have a substitute on it -- These things happen sporadically so please bear with us as substitutes don't know the route as well as the regular driver and sub's often have to rely on students like your child to tell us where to go.

2. The driver or sub may have been kept by traffic. This includes trains, other automobiles, other buses, and any other type of traffic that typically occurs at 2-5 pm on a regular weekday.

If, however, the bus passes by the usual stop, or stops and your child does not get off the bus, please don't freak out. Instead, calmly call the bus shop/transportation department. Please have ready your child's name, the bus number he/she rides, and the school that he/she attends. Chances are good that these 2 scenarios may be in play.

1. Your child fell asleep. ---- It happens.... ALOT. Your child simply missed his/her stop. The bus driver will likely make arrangements to either A. Drop the child at his/her normal stop after the route is finished, or B. Find out where you would like to meet the bus to get your child if you do not want to wait until the end of the route.

2. Your child got on the wrong bus(most likely) or got off at the wrong stop (least likely) -- Most children will tell us if something isn't right, like they dont recognize where they are, or they don't belong on the bus. There are rare cases where a child will get on the bus with a friend and get off with the friend, or just arbitrarily get off the bus. Bus drivers know the names of students getting on their bus regularly, but in the event that the bus has a substitute driver, the sub doesn't always know the names of the children on the bus.

To prevent any of this from happening, I suggest a piece of paper clearly taped/laminated onto your childs backpack with the following information: First and Last name, Grade, Teacher, School, Your Address, and Bus number. ***Please note that you should place this information inside your childs backpack*** Additional information that would be helpful would be a Phone Number. Please make sure the schools have updated phone numbers. There is nothing more discouraging than calling a phone number for a child who is lost and discovering that phone number has been disconnected. Also if your child is old enough or can understand, please teach them that they can go to the bus driver if they have any concerns. It helps us identify a problem early on so that you can be notified of any problems or issues in regards to safely loading and unloading students.