Sunday, September 26, 2010

Welcome, Ginger Simpson

Career Choices

Most of you who know me, only know me as Ginger Simpson, the author. I doubt many of you realize that I drove a school bus for five years and many brain cells ago. I thought I might share some of what I learned with you. Every experience in our lives impacts us in some way, and I think driving a bus gave me some insight and inspiration for my upcoming young adult release, Shortcomings.

Driving bus seemed like the perfect job for a working mom…morning rounds, a kindergarten pick-up at noon, and then afternoon rounds. In between I dashed home, cleaned house, grocery shopped, ran errands then returned to the transportation yard to finish up for the day. I actually got to spend time with my son who was only two at the time. But I discovered later how clueless I was.

The bummer part was learning. All the seasoned drivers had the big, fancy crown diesels with dual wheels in the back…the ones that held ninety-one screaming children. The new people had to drive the old conventional ones…the ones with power steering in only one direction, and holes in the seats. I guess I should also mention the one with the spring that fell off the accelerator and stuck full throttle. Luckily I was alone at the time so no one saw me panic. Did you know that even if the engine is running full boar you can still stop by using the brakes, you don’t have to run off into a ditch?
When you’re a newbie, you have to be a substitute for others when they’re out. Boy that was fun. You found out who had rules and who didn’t. Somehow I always got stuck driving for the same driver…the one who evidently wore ear plugs and blinders. We drivers had just been instructed by the Highway Patrol to make sure we pulled as far to the right as possible when we stopped to cross children. Of course, you have to put on your flashing reds and take your little stop sign and walk the little dears across the street. The high school kids really love that!

The first time I subbed for good ol’ twenty-one, I had no idea what I had gotten into. On the first stop, I pulled just as far over as I could, turned on the lights and opened the door. I got up to lead the departees out the door. Ever stood dominos in a line and pushed the rear one forward? Well, to make a long story shorter, everyone was in a hurry. The back of the bus was in the front long before I stopped. So, add in the domino effect, and I went out the door, but not of my own accord.

I probably would have been hurt much more, if I hadn’t pulled close enough to the right, thus allowing me to fall into an irrigation ditch where the water cushioned my landing. I seem to have a thing for ditches. Thank goodness, I had traffic backed in both directions so I didn’t have to share my embarrassing moment alone. So, no one can say I didn’t do the hard knocks to earn my own bus.

Most of the kids are all right. The good thing is they are only on your bus just long enough for you to want to kill them then they get off. You have a cool-down period between pick-ups, so you can get ready for the next bunch. I think bus driving was the impetus behind the hand gun laws.

You learn a lot driving a bus. Things like, they hold off giving inoculations until right before they board the bus for home. Ever had twenty screamers in the vehicle while you drive? I have. When one kid pukes, it can cause a chain reaction. Gag and the world gags with you.

And high school students will try to smoke just to see if they can getaway with it. At least until I stopped the bus and walked to the back with the fire extinguisher. “Would you like me to put that out or would you like to do it?” It worked. No smoking on my bus, buster!

Oh, and let’s not forget the perks of field trips. I got to drive the HS Marching Band to Disneyland for three consecutive years. I can’t explain why I did it for the second two, but I imagined having a romp roaring time in the park with the kids on the first one. WRONG. The drivers didn’t get to go in. They had an all-night coffee and donut stand where most of the old men that drove tour buses gathered to play poker, but unless your school “kicked down” for a room, you got to sleep in the bus. Imagine trying to sleep on a school bus seat. Now imagine it with “It’s a Small World” playing continuously the entire night. I hate that song now!

Sometimes, your own bus had to be serviced and you were forced to revert back to one of the old conventionals. I had a favorite…number eight! Number seven only had power steering in one direction and sometimes not even that, and six just was too dang ugly. Number eight was the only automatic transmission bus we had. On the morning of my appointed service day, I came in and fueled up number eight and got “her” ready. We had a routine: come in early, wash the windshield, gas it up, sweep it out, check out the lights, let it warm up, and go in the lounge and have coffee while you waited.

The busses were parked in a single line in the middle of a big yard, thus allowing you to drive out of your slot, turn left and go behind the line to the gas pump. Number eight was second from the very end, closest to the exit gate, with the fuel pump being at the other end. In order to get back into line after I fueled, I really had to crank hard to make it.

So, now my bus is ready, warming up, and I’m in for coffee and war stories till my pick-up time. In about five minutes, someone stuck their head in the door and asked who was driving number eight.

“Me, I’ve already fueled it and checked it out.” I possessively announced.

Imagine my surprise when she told me that it was just going out the gate. I was ticked. How dare someone take the bus I’d already checked out? I ran outside prepared to do battle. Someone was about to get a piece of my mind. Taking someone else’s ride that’s road ready is not bus etiquette.

Much to my dismay what I saw was my supervisor chasing a driverless bus through the gate. Now, if I hadn’t already believed in God, this would have cinched his existence for me. I forgot to take the bus out of drive—not used to an automatic—and since I had cranked the wheels so hard to get back into line, they were turned just enough to avoid disaster. When the motor warmed up and overrode the parking break, number eight crept out of line, made a perfect left-hand turn, and went right out the gate. Now mind you, it did this while clearing the busses on both sides AND getting through the gate all on its own. Luckily, the furrows in the field across the street eventually stopped it. You ask why I think God intervened? Because, directly in front of where number eight was parked were six brand new driver’s ed cars. So, yes there is a God, and he does drive a school bus.

I’m going to be sharing more stories like these on my own blog, so please drop by and become a regular at Dishin’ It Out. You can find my books listed there, and on my website,


Anita Davison said...

Ginger - We don't have school buses in the UK like you do in the US and I was chuckling away at these stories - loved the one with the fire extinguisher. If you had been running that school, every one of those kids would have graduated with honours - not to mention a few life lessons to take them out into the world. What a loss you are to education - the type that matters!

Karen McGrath said...

Hilarious, Ginger! Love the way you write.

Marva said...

School bus driving: right up there as my worst possible nightmare. I'd be cringing all the time waiting for the spitballs to splat.

Anonymous said...

Ginger - you are too funny. I love your bus stories and look forward to reading more on your blog. Lots of fodder for those stories.
Kay Dee