Drivin' a School Bus
By Jim Regan
After thirty years in the US Army, we found ourselves here in Central Kentucky. Close to Lois Ann's Mom and a whole new world open for me as far as; Second/third careers in my life. We struggled along, found a "Home" to buy, got moved in, and I "picked up" jobs as a "Renta Cop," third shift, so as to "Job hunt" during the day. I'd go out and put in applications, and not get too many calls back.
One evening, looking at the TV, an advertisement came across the screen! SCHOOL BUS DRIVERS WANTED!!! It caught my eye and I began to think about that. As I did my duty at the "Renta Cop" job that night, I thought more about that add. Next morning, I went downtown and put in my application. I'd have to take twenty hours of instruction, be road tested, and pass all the security/criminal checks. WOW! Bring it on. The salary rate was good, the benefits were more than I expected.
Now, my work schedule at the Renta Cop job allowed me to go to the training. I showed up in my "Uniform" and caused a couple of comments. The gal doing the training asked if I'd be willing to take a "road test" on a bus. Sure thing! The second day, I show up and a fellow, a Driver Trainer, says that I'm supposed to go with him. Ok, but what about the classes? No sweat, stay with me!
We go down to the school Bus parking garage and end up in front of a "Special Education," short, School bus. He says, climb in and let's take a ride. OKAY!
I have to say this right now. For the first time I ride on a School Bus, I was now going to DRIVE IT!!!
As I looked closely at this "Small Bus," I had some thoughts, questions. I'm now buckled up in the Driver's seat, started the booger up, blow the horn, turn on the lights, and prepare to drive off. Here's where it got scary. This bus was a "Four on the floor" standard shift vehicle!!! I exercised the gearshift through the gears, felt comfortable and told the guy, "Let's go!" He pointed out where to go and I did all the things that I had been doing since; I was sixteen, driving in the civilian & military, throughout the world and just new to Kentucky! We travel through some areas and he puts me through some kind of drill like; backing up, parking, and just keeping it on the road. End of the road test, tells me I done good. Thanks. Back to the class room!
After the hours of instruction, rules of the road et al, I am "qualified" to drive a school bus!!! Look out Lexington, here I come. They give me a "hiring date" and I give my boss at Renta Cop "Notice!"
Now starts a whole new career for this fellow. Because I'm a new driver, I don't have a regular route. I am now the "Number one" Substitute Driver at our garage. New to the area and the county, I knew that I'd need to carry a map with me every day. I'd get one route in the morning; the Dispatcher would almost always "catch me," as I clocked out, and ask if I could drive a Mid-day route. Okey Dokey, I'd do that and sure enough, I'd have another different route to drive in the afternoon. This went on and on and I got to be the "Go to Guy" for driving routes when assigned Drivers were not there There were several benefits from this drill. I "Learned" the routes/city streets," and got to be around lots of super coworkers! Sitting around with these folks, we shared many tales and stories. They wanted to know what in the world was a Retired US Army Command Sergeant Major doing driving a school bus! Told them that, so far, it was one of the best jobs I ever had!
Was hired as a "casual" at the Post Office. Reporting to work at 04:15 and getting home at 6:30 PM Did the Box mail all morning, then drove a truck around to the office parks and picked up bulk mail. If you ever saw some of the containers at the Post Office, there were; the small plastic tubs, and the large, laundry basket types with wheels. The large tubs are what I had in the truck. One day a gal came running out to catch me. She was huffing and puffing. "Oh thanks for waiting!" I had to get these all in alphabetical order." The long tub was full of letters. I asked her if they were "Metered or stamped" mail. Metered, she said. I stood up, leaned out the passenger door, took the tub and "Dumped" the contents in one of my tubs. Thought she would die!!!
About halfway through the summer, the Assistant Post Master comes by and tells me that I have to "Carry" a route. I told him I would not carry a route and he told me again that I had to carry a route. I then told him he was crazy and I aint carrying a route. He walks off in a huff and says "We'll see about that!" My supervisor had watched and we waited for the Post Master. Here he comes, a former paratrooper from the 101st Airborne Division at Ft. Campbell back in 1958-1961. (We were there at the same time and comrades.) He says, Jim, Larry told me he asked you to carry a route and you refused and said he was crazy. "That's not true, I said, he 'TOLD' me that I had to carry a route and then I refused and told him he was crazy!" Bill chuckles and tells me, "I'll take care of Larry; you just keep doing as you've been doing all along. Oh, by the way, I can keep you on as Casual, even over the Christmas period and in the New Year, keep you for another six months. By that time your number should come around for full employment with us." I would later tell Bill that I knew why people at the Post Office got shot! No thanks; I'm going back to driving my school bus.
Summer break and I'm off 'til new school year. Busy at the, Post Office, the house, and also my Mother in law's house. I get a call from the Dispatcher. "Hey Sergeant Major, we have some new busses coming in. Would you be interested in "training" on it?" Of course, says I, and here comes the story for the next eleven years at the School Bus Garage. Bus # 138, a brand new, transit, 61 passenger, forward control (Driver forward of the front wheels,) A sweet, clean looking bus. It would be "Almost" as sweet and clean eleven years as I turned it over to another driver! As it would happen, the last route that I drove, before the end of my first school year, was for a fellow who had a broke leg. He decided not to return to his bus driving. The Dispatcher, probably kinda slick, said that I could take the route and drive the "new Bus!!!" Happy days. No one ever caught on to that particular thing. I never shared it with the drivers either. You see, driver assignments are very territorial/contested, and must be "bid for!!!"
The first year with my REAL route and New Bus starts out with a bang. I've got runs (three schools) in the morning, a Mid-day (Kindergarten/take home,) and afternoon run (three schools.) I'm happy to be doing what I love best; driving; a BIG ol' bus/taking care of kiddos! As time goes by, I have a solid route and the kiddos all "know" Mister Jim! The rules on the bus are easy; Bottom to the bottom, back to the back, no eating, no drinking, no smoking, no hugging and no kissing!!! The kids all knew that they did not want to go beyond the rules on our bus!!!
Time marches on and I get a route in the morning that has a "Three year old (needs a Driver Assistant (DA) to ride with me.) This is my first DA and he is a super fellow. Another Veteran, a bit older than me. He does well with the kiddos and we have a great relationship. I'd look back at Ed and see how he was doing. With some of the trips, he'd reach up and pull out his hearing aids and put them in his pocket. Sometimes it got a "little" noisy, but not too noisy. Then I'd "flick" the interior lights and all the kiddos would tighten up and calm down! Never did holler or shout at children on the bus. A "Look in the rearview mirror, or a flick of the lights," was enough to bring them back in order!!!
Now, in 1992, a new law requires School Bus Drivers to qualify and achieve a Commercial Drivers License (CDL.) We all take the training and must perform a "Skill and Road Test!" Guess who the first guy is for the test? Guess who gives me the test? Same guy who went on the road with me the first time I road/drove a School Bus. ( I still have my CDL!)
The years pass by, the routes change, and I am brought into another area of the School Bus garage. The School District has, what is called, the "Classified Council." Representatives from all the areas of the School District, except the Teachers, are elected to represent their Divisions at Council Meetings with the School Superintendent. Guess who the guys and gals want downtown representing them??? Yep!!! (Kinda like a Shop Steward.) SO… I spend almost eight years as the Rep for the Transportation Division. The meetings are on our own time and after normal school hours. Now, the Superintendent on down knows who Jim Regan is, and what bus he drives!!!
This is not as bad as it may seem. After three years of relentless fighting, we, the council, got a single salary schedule established, (it's still in effect after almost twenty years) so that folks knew what their salary was and what the projected salary was according to years of service.What a person would earn, by the hour, from day one to day/year of retirement! The evenings at the meetings were not always fruitful. Sometimes exasperating, but we, the workers/reps did not give in to the hierarchy!
Driving a School bus is not an easy or simple job. Sometimes, there are issues that overwhelm you, if you let them.One such issue was the announcement by the Superintendent that "MERRY CHRISTMAS" greetings could not be voiced by us. WHOA!!! Got my dander up. I rebelled and even ended up on the front page of the Herald Leader (Local paper,) I was very vocal with the boss and told him flat out, "I'm going to say "Merry Christmas and you can't stop me!!!" Ended up with a meeting of; me, the superintendent, Operations Director, and Transportation Director, in a Diner on a Saturday morning! I refused to back down and told them that they were "Crazy!" Bottom line, they all agreed to allow us to say "Merry Christmas!" I always believed that you had to stick with what you was "brung up" to believe in!!!
Sometime in the fall, I think around 1995, shortly after school opened; I was selected for Jury Duty. I'd check in at the School Bus Garage, then head downtown for the selection process. "First shot out of the bag, I'm excused from the jury pool. It's only about 8:30 so I head to the garage. The Dispatcher, a dear man, asks if I'll go out and finish the route. Seems as if the Sub driver is lost and the kids will be late. Off we go and I link up with the bus. Now you gotta understand, I'm wearing a suit and tie (jury duty.) The kids all greet me and off we go to finish the route. They had all kinds of wild tales to tell me about getting lost and we wonder if so and so will ever get to school today! As I pull up to the last stop, about five Moms are there with their small children. They appear happy to see the bus (we were running late.) As I open the door the kiddos get on the bus, greeting me and the other children. One of the Moms is by the door and points to her throat like "What's with the tie?" I holler out, "I had to see my Probation Officer this morning!" Smiled, closed the door and drove off. I looked back and the Moms were aghast! As soon as I got back I went in to tell the Director what I had done. Oh no, I don't need that, he said. Then we both laughed. Surprisingly, no calls to the Superintendent on me!!!
As the years go by, the routes change for us. I have the opportunity to drive several routes; picking kiddos up or taking them home from school. There were and are sections of our city that I fondly refer to as "THE WAR ZONES!" These are neighborhoods where the kids live, but they are in and amongst the bad folks. Several of the areas were notorious. Most of the housing has been replaced and the "Projects" no longer exist. I'd get routes that took me to and through these neighborhoods. Usually, it took about two days and the kids would be; lined up, ready to board the bus, and greeting me with "Hi Mister Jim!" They knew a couple of things. One, on my bus they were SAFE, two, on my bus I was the BOSS!!!
There was a DA who was really super. Mary belle. Now, she was one of these ol' country gals who "taught" me things like; "That don't blow my skirt up!" Or, "Won't that put your ox in the ditch???!!!" and, "I don't want to take up space in my mind over that!!!" She was, as they say here, a real "Caution!!!" We had three year olds in the morning, and she would do he "magic" with the small kiddos. After the first run, she would move up front, go along for the ride. We had been working together for a while and it had been a particularly bad day, weather-wise and kid wise. As I back the bus into the parking space, Mary Belle was walking, checking for any kids left over, or any other items that may have been left on the bus. I did all the usual stuff, and she sat down, looking very serious. Yeh, Mary belle, what's up, I asked. She hesitated and said she had to tell me something and don't get mad. Ok, says I. She says, "Jim, you got a "Look" that could peel paint!!!" Whoa, is that good or bad, says I? She says, it's good but sometimes when you look in the mirror, you even scare me!!! I'm glad you don't holler like the other bus drivers! She was a real jewel to have for a partner on the bus!
Then there was Netty! Wow, 70 years old and still moving! She and I spent several years taking the children home at mid-day. These were three year olds and kindergarten. Netty was one of the most patient, and caring DAs that I knew. We'd drive through some of the "war Zones" and she'd say "Jim, that's disgraceful, those guys sitting on the steps with their brown bags, drinking!" I'd tell her that those fellows worked "third shift" at the Toyota factory and she'd say, well, then I reckon they deserve a break!" Netty did not know that there was no "Third Shift" at Toyota. One day, while taking the kiddos to a particular trailer park area, one of the little gals was really antsy, and moving around a lot. What's going on back there I asked. "Oh, Mister Jim, my Daddy gets out of jail today!!!" What do you say to a child in that case? We told her to give Dad a hug and we'd see her tomorrow. She skipped and floated up the driveway that day!!! Makes you wonder where these kids live and HOW they live!!!
Every once in a while the routes changed. I got a route, Middle School kids, from the downtown/War Zone area, to the South part of town. It took me about two or three days and then all was fine as far as their behavior. One morning, as I turned a corner and approached the School Bus stop, there were about thirty kids, playing and running crazy at the school yard of an elementary school, near the bus stop. Two older, black women were sitting at the Lextran Bus Stop, hunched over and visibly shaken because of the antics of the kids. As I turned the corner, put on my "Big Yellows" the shout goes out, "Here's the bus!" The kids grab all their backpacks and other stuff, and race down to the spot where these two women sat. As I pulled up, Opened the door and the Red Lights went on; the kiddos were lined up, single file and completely settled down. "Good morning Mister Jim, they would say as they got on the bus, took their seats and talked quietly with each other. The two women looked at me as if to say "How'd you do that?" I wished them a good day, closed the door and drove off to school. As I looked in the side view mirror they were talking and shaking their heads.
On one particular Middle School run in the afternoon, (I had this same run for several years) my two, all time favorite twins are up to their usual antics. They were not bad kids, just very active. Usually the first day of school, they'd sit in the front seat telling me that it would only be a matter of time, anyway, 'til they were put in the front of the bus. While driving home one day, I check the kids in the mirror and the twins have their heads together. "You ask him, no, you ask him!" Finally the twin closest to the aisle asks, "Mister Jim, were you ever in a war?" Whoa, what are these two up to!!!??? Yes, I tell him. What war, he asks. I tell him Vietnam. They put their heads together and then he asks, "Did you ever shoot anyone?" I think for a minute and picture the twins running into their house hollering to their Mom, "Guess what Mister Jim Did!!!" I think a while longer, look in the mirror and both are watching me. "I sure hope I did, say I!!! They laughed and laughed. They had no more questions about me for the rest of their time on the bus. (They both went to Bible College and are Preachers, somewhere in KY.)
My last few years of driving, it seems as if the Transportation Director gave me opportunities to excel. One was a Middle School run and the route had substitute drivers who could not control the children. I get called in, "Jim, I need you to take this route and finish out the year. The kids are out of control." OK, tell whoever takes my route, don't screw up my kids, I've got them well trained!!!" The next day, the busses get to the school and I "hang"around the corner. All busses leave and I get the call, come on in. I drive into the school parking area and instead of stopping at the front door, I continue all the way up the driveway and park. The kids come out, running, shouting, out of control! I step off the bus and they SEE me. Several kids skid to a stop. "Mister Jim!!!" they shout. Well, whole new ball game. You see, I had driven these kids to elementary school several years ago. I line them up, single file and I back into the bus and "Seat" them. "Leave the front seat empty." As I seat them they get rammy and start asking questions, grousing and groaning! "Can't we go to the back of the bus???" NO!!!, says I.!!! I get them seated and tell them the rules on my bus. I recognize lots of the kids and some even say "Hi Mister Jim!"
As we begin to leave the parking area, one of the girls decides that she wants to get up and move around. I just happened to remember her name. I stop the bus, tell her to come up front and sit. Now she's in the dog house! I start out and a young fellow decides to stand up and make noise. Stop again and tell him, "UP FRONT!" He comes up, sits down and asks "How long do I have to sit up front?" "What grade are you in?" I asked. We begin our trip home. For the last several months, the trip was interrupted by calls to the dispatcher for problems on the bus. A fifteen minute ride turned into an hour plus ride. The gal in the front seat asks me, "Mister Jim, are you going to be our driver for the rest of the year?" Yes I am, I answered! She turns to the guy beside her and says "And he don't miss no days!!!" Got them home safe and sound and no unscheduled stops for the rest of the year. I know that all the kiddos did not like me, however, they knew that I was there to move them safely. I think!
This next is about my last months at the Garage, driving for the high school kiddos. I had a pretty solid route and was content to "run" the rest of the time and retire after Christmas Break. Well, the Director calls me in and says that there is a problem with a bus out of a high school in the afternoon, and would I mind trading routes? Man! I get these guys and gals all settled down and then I have to turn them over to another driver. OK! But, whoever gets my route better not screw it up or aggravate the kids! Agreed he says. So the next day, the principal is notified that my bus will not depart with the rest of the busses. We had a particular drill for loading and pulling out of the school area.
The area that these high school students lived in, was, for the most part, a Hispanic part of our town. As I expected, the kids, having been notified about the change in their bus number, "Charged" the bus and rushed to get on! I was standing in the entrance, and called out to them, in my best Spanish. "ALTO, PELIGRO, DESPASIO!!!" Stop, danger, slow down. They stopped and slowly got on the bus as I told them, in halting Spanish, slow down, sit down, and be quiet ("SILENTIA!"). Once they were all seated, I closed the doors and the other busses began to pull out. The kids started to holler and I stood up, all 5'10'', and said "SILENCIA … YO SOY SENOR JEEM …, COMPRENDE? SIT DUN! SILENTIA!" Be quiet, I'm Mister Jim, understand? Sit down and be quiet! (By now I had all their attention, even the BIG BOYS in the back of the bus!) Still standing, I continued… "YO SOY MALIENTE, PARAQUIADISTE (SP)!!! I'm a bad man, hoodlum, gangster, paratrooper!!! We go now! There was dead silence in the bus. I got in my seat, buckled up and we took off. Three stops. First stop, I holler "PARADA! (Bus stop,) then, "Nas Tarde!" (Kinda like 'see ya later') as they left the bus. The kids looked at me and some even smiled. Next stop, same thing. Last stop, all off, and two boys decide to fight outside the bus! "Hasta Mananaa," I hollered as I closed the door and drove off. The next day, as I waited for them to get to the bus, the kids came up, "OLA, SENOR JEEM." "QUE PASO," I would respond. It was smooth sailing and lots more English was spoken on the bus for the rest of our time riding together. The boss could not understand how I did it. Easy, I said, just speak a few words and you let them know you care about them!!!
When I retired/retired it was with a lot of mixed emotions. I truly loved that job. I have told anyone who will listen, it's the best job I ever had. I've had lots of jobs in my life, lots of responsibilities. Driving that School bus for twelve years was one of the greatest!!!
Sorrowfully, all three of my DAs have died &. I sometimes wonder if they were up there "watching over Jim!!!" I had a "blessed" career as a School Bus Driver and I'll not forget what someone told me at the onset "ALL YOUR TROUBLES WILL BE BEHIND YOU!!!"
I wrapped up my years as a Baseball announcer might end a game: "A couple of Hits, a few errors, lots of runs, and nobody left on!!! Bus Number 138, CLEAR!!!"