Posted by: Marie | January 29, 2011

(503) Serpentines and alarm clocks

Post #503

Stories from the Bus Barn

So, dear blog buddies . . . because I haven’t been willing to disclose that I’ve been driving a school bus until now, I haven’t been able to share that part of my life with you. But, I can now. (Yippee!)

Working as a school bus driver has been an experience! I got hired on at the bus barn in September of 2008. We had to go through several weeks of training in order to get the CDL endorsement for driving school bus on our drivers license. Each day, we would arrive between 6:00 and 6:30am to ride along on the morning bus routes. Then, we would spend the day in training until it was time for the afternoon routes.

Five of us were hired together – two former long-haul truckers, one former school bus driver, one local policeman who is currently also the police academy’s driving instructor . . . and me. Even though I have had plenty of experience driving tractors, combines, grain trucks, school buses, ambulances and fire trucks, I didn’t have the formal, documented experience the other four had. When they hired me, they indicated they were concerned that I might not be able to pick up the needed skills quickly enough in the short training cycle the budget allowed. I assured them I could – so the “heat was on” to prove that I could hang with the rest.

One day, as part of our training, we had to drive in reverse for about ½ mile (0.8 km) on an S-shaped stretch of country road using only our mirrors. Now, for you “city folk”, let me point out that it is a really bad thing to get a heavy bus (or any vehicle) too close to the edge of a dirt road – the edge collapses and you slide off or roll over into the ditch. So, we were all very nervous about this exercise – including the trainer.

The first two drivers-in-training did just fine. Then, it was my turn. Right off the bat, I discovered the right flat side-mirror did not tilt down far enough for me to see the road behind me. Now, I am only 5’3″ tall (160cm), so I’m doing good to see over the dashboard, LOL! The mirror’s angle only allowed me to see the stuff well above the ground (like barn roofs and trees).

The left flat side-mirror did tilt far enough, so I could see well on the left side. And, I could see the road on the right side through the convex side-mirror (the bubble-shaped mirror). However, the problem with convex mirrors is they distort straight lines so they look curved and they make things look farther away than they really are. Can you see the problem with using a convex mirror to back down a serpentine path? Yeah . . . not good. Oh, and rear view mirror on buses aren’t any good for backing – they are only good for watching what the kids inside the bus are doing.

When I mentioned this mirror issue to the trainer, she said, “Tough – this is real life – figure it out!”

Well, to make a long story short – my turn to the left was beautiful – and my turn to the right was anything but graceful. But, I didn’t go in the ditch. Part of my success is due to the frantic yelling coming from the trainer standing in the back of the bus. Oh well – all is well that ends well. I figure if I run into that real life situation again, I’ll just post one of the older kids in the back of the bus so he or she can do the frantic yelling thing for me.

Anyway . . . our training schedule was pretty intense. I wasn’t used to going to bed that early or getting up that early. And, I was having trouble getting used to the new time schedule. But, I didn’t complain . . . I really wanted to prove to my boss that he had made a good choice in hiring me.

One morning, about two weeks into the training, I woke up to sunshine and birds chirping. You may not be aware of this, but school bus routes start well before the birds start chirping. If a school-bus-driver-in-training wakes up to sunshine and bird chirps, it had better be Sunday morning.

So, of course, my first thought that fine morning was, “Please, let it be Sunday!” But, no, it was Tuesday. I guess I forgot to turn on my alarm.

I sheepishly called my boss to beg for forgiveness, to convince him of my horror and to convince him I was not a flake – and to swear it would never happen again. I’m just glad he has a soft heart . . . he didn’t give me too much grief. But, he did impress upon me how important it is that we show up everyday. “I know, I know . . . I promise this is not my usual modus operandi . . . I swear!”

That day, I acquired a second alarm clock . . . and I asked my roommates to check on me if they noticed I wasn’t up and moving at my usual time (they get up very early).

I had a number of nightmares in the weeks following in which the scenario was repeated. I’m just glad they were only nightmares and not real life! Whew! I’m happy to report that I never pulled that stunt again!

Oh . . . and . . . just for the record . . . I was the first of the five trainees to obtain my CDL endorsement and start driving as a sub driver! Hah!


  1. Getting up that early would be a VERY big stretch for me. Did you find that you adjusted to it?

    • Hey, Evan –

      It seems my body doesn’t have a set time it prefers to get up . . . as long as I get enough sleep, I can get up whenever. In fact, I have never had very regular sleep patterns so I’m often inclined to be awake or asleep at very odd times.

      So . . . nope, I don’t care, either way!

      – Marie

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