In the early dark, the school buses at the bus garage start rumbling through their pre-trip inspections. Drivers must check the lights, horns, tires, and gauges before roaring out into the surrounding neighborhoods and towns to pick up happy, alert children and drop them at their schools.
I am one of them.
No, I don't have my own route yet. Since the end of the school year is fast approaching, I might not even be subbing all that often--though I have been driving nearly every day for the last two weeks. But next school year, there's some hope that I may get my own route.
Being a substitute bus driver is exciting, of course. Sometimes, it's a little too exciting. As a sub, you're just hoping that you'll manage to hit all the right stops on all the right streets in a town or neighborhood you aren't all that familiar with, and you hope you won't neglect to pick up some poor elementary school kid whose parents have already left for work and now the door to their house is locked and they have nowhere to go.
I mean, I don't care about the junior high and high school kids, cuz they can figure it out. They've got phones.
But what wakes me up in the wee hours before a run is my brain deciding to stew and stew over a new route, reminding me every three minutes from 3 A.M. on about what time I need to get to the bus garage (even though I remind my brain that I have set my alarm), and going over all possible negative outcomes.
So far, I haven't made any major mistakes. Minor ones, yes. Major, dangerous ones, no. Knock on wood...
For instance, I ended up sitting on the side of a road with a bus full of junior high school kids while we waited for the mechanics to come and fix my battery box door, which wouldn't stay latched (I didn't kick the battery tray hard enough, it turns out. In my defense, I had no idea I could kick it!).
Because I didn't enunciate my location clearly enough on the radio, the mechanics ended up in the wrong neighborhood and took even longer to find me. Meanwhile, I had to keep the kids from going all Lord of the Flies (which is a very real possibility when children that age don't have access to wi-fi for too long) by playing "School Bus Trivia," a game I made up on the spot. We all had a good laugh, and now they know how drivers get out of the doors after the bus is turned off.
And they STILL made it to school in time, much to their disappointment.
Last week, I was driving a route that takes me into a new street with only one entrance/exit. The street is lined with multiple new houses all under construction at once, so there's always cement trucks and other construction vehicles scattered around. This particular route takes me into this street three times a day in order to pick up or drop off a total of three kids.
On Thursday, I was able to thread my way through in order to turn around at the end of the street and get back out. Barely. On Friday, however, the road was entirely blocked--and even if I had been able to get through to the turnaround at the end, the turnaround was littered with the parked cars of the construction workers, making it impossible for me to get the bus turned around.
So there I am: a load of elementary kids are already on the bus, and two cement trucks pouring a new foundation are completely blocking my way forward. Then, when I look in the mirror, I see a guy double-parking a pickup truck with a trailer, completely blocking my ability to reverse out. What?? Does it seem normal to him that a big yellow school bus full of students is just going to sit and idle in the middle of the road for the indefinite future?
I'm now locked in. Dilemma.
I can't leave the bus to talk to the construction workers (there are kids on board), the construction workers can't hear my air horn over all the noise (not that they can move until the foundation is poured, anyway), and I'm not supposed to reverse--not that I can at the moment.
Obviously, I must reverse or I'm never getting out of there, so I radio the bus garage to let them know what's up. I tell them I'm backing up all the way to the entrance of the street. They are nervous. They request that I at least put an older child in the back window to give me directions. I comply by assigning a sixth grader to tell me if I'm going to hit anyone or anything (not that I can hear anything she says because of the construction noise).
So I put the bus in reverse and watch the pickup truck driver scramble to re-park his vehicle as soon as he hears my reverse alarm (miracle!). Then, dear reader, I backed that big bus straight through all the parked cars, pivoted perfectly into the the dead end to get myself facing out to the highway, and got those kids to school on time and with no other problems. My palms were sweaty, yes, but I felt a certain thrill of triumph.
Substitute bus driving = living on the edge. I'm just a crazy kind of gal!