Published on Wednesday, 30 November -0001 00:00
Essay reprinted with permission from the Minnesota School Bus Operator's Association (MSBOA).
It's five o'clock in the morning; the smell of fresh brewed coffee is strong in the air. Pleasant conversation and gentle laughter fills the room. A rhythmic roar of nine bus engines is background music to the morning. It's a school bus garage in September. It's a place where I have learned many life lessons, a place where I can call home.
I started working at Hendricks Bus Service in Kimball my junior year in high school. I was hired to answer the phones and do some secretary work. I figured it would be an easy job. I was wrong. I never thought much about school buses, other than they brought me to and from school for many years. The bus drivers were always a pain with their many rules: stay seated, no eating, feet out of the isle. I assumed that all the bus drivers would be old and crabby. I was nervous about coming to work with them. Would they think I was some sort of punk kid?
I was surprised to meet all of the drivers. There are 12 of them employed with Hendricks, and each of them has their own unique story. They weren't crabby at all. They were actually fun, and didn't think I was a young punk at all. They were glad to have someone to help out, and quickly took me under their wing.
They left for their routes and I was left to man the phones. I was given a binder of all the routes with everybody's names and numbers. The phones didn't ring that first day. I came to realize that the phones rarely rang here. I kept busy by cleaning the office and waiting for the drivers to come in with their stories of the day. I came to realize that driving a bus was very stressful. All the rules aren't silly, they are necessary. I learned that kids are crazy!
Soon the phones began to ring. I was shocked at how many times parents would call just screaming. It was usually about nothing. Their kids were a few minutes late, or they left their boots on the bus. The driver missed their house. Many times I wanted to cry. I didn't do anything wrong, so why did they yell at me? Many of the drivers comforted me. "You need a thick skin to be in this business," they often told me. I heard horror stories of the first years of bus driving. One driver has driven bus for 50 years and has taught me a lot about dealing with crabby parents.
The worst days were the winter days. I had many calls when the roads were bad. It was torture waiting for all the buses to make it safely back. Once they did, the drivers would come in, their shoulders hunched and their knuckles white from stress. They retold their many stories of kids asking them silly questions like, "What day is it today?" I never thought of how what kids did on the bus would affect the drivers so much.
While working at the bus garage, I've gained a new respect for all the people with "easy" jobs. They are not easy. In fact, I've learned that driving a bus is probably one of the most stressful jobs there is. Working fact-to-face everyday with these wonderful drivers has made me a better person. They've all taught me life lessons that you can't learn anywhere other than a school bus garage. The major thing I've learned is to be kind. You don't know what people have dealt with in their lives, or why they act the way they do, so just be kind.
It's four o'clock in the afternoon. The coffee is set up for tomorrow and the drivers have taken their laughter home. The buses are all tucked in for the night as I close the door to the place I've come to call home.