Of all the tools available to us pilots of pandemonium, the public address system on the bus is by far my favorite. Sure, using it for the sake of crowd control is often futile, but there’s just something about the way it fills the cabin with my commands that makes me feel like I have some authority.
(This blog is based on actual events, though names, places and some personal details have been changed to protect the innocent as well as the guilty and avoid libel suits.)
OK, I confess that I feel drunk with power whenever I seize that black microphone on the dashboard and make a thundering pronouncement in my best Voice of The Almighty.
“Attention! Will the congregation please be seated!” I intoned to my milling passengers as we were about to leave Bubblefish Middle School. “Please find a pew so we may depart. Bless you.”
Based on my experience driving kids who are between the ages of 8 and 15, it’s best to keep your messages clear and simple. Sarcasm and irony are lost on them.
“Hey, Robespierre! I didn’t know you had a seat allergy,” I declared as the energetic fourth-grader ran amok one afternoon.
“What?” he replied amid a sea of similarly curious faces.
“Do seats give you a rash on your caboose?” I inquired. “You never sit on them!”
“Huh? What?” he asked, looking genuinely mystified like his peers.
Driven to order my middle school hellions to sit down for the hundred-and-umpteenth time, I went on the PA and cheerfully said, “You probably haven’t heard, and I know this will seem hard to believe, but the school district has a rule about leaving your seat while the bus is in motion. Yep, it’s true! And just in case you do leave your seat, I’ve been given some nifty forms to fill out so you can visit the office and have a nice chat about it with your principal.”
Needless to say, they started to tune me out about halfway through this vital public service announcement and were back to cavorting in a jiffy.
My intermediate schoolers were baffled when I told them, “Hey, I just want you to know that the seats are free! We won’t charge you to sit on them. Best of all, they don’t bite. Try one today!”
Naturally, they did not.
On the last day of school, I plan to say: “Hey, I want you all to do something you haven’t done all year. Take a seat. Try it! You may even like it!”
I confess that frustration occasionally gets the better of me and soils my professionalism. After several tries at commanding fifth-graders Ignatz and his pals Stitch and Satch to plant themselves in their assigned seats, I grabbed the mic and demanded, “Will you stooges in the back sit down! Come on!”
Gales of laughter ensued — “The bus driver called them stooges!” (I later nicknamed them: “Ignatz & The Stooges”) — but lo and behold the offenders did park their posteriors … at least for a few minutes.
Not that I condone the use of force, mind you, but I have threatened to seize my heavy duty staple gun and fasten rowdy children to their seats by their pants. I’ve also informed perpetually wandering fourth-grader Jehosaphat that I happen to have a handful of three-penny nails and a sturdy hammer and will be coming forth to affix his wagon, so to speak.
Being a man of immense dignity, I can say it is deeply rewarding to bark orders over the PA, get no reaction, and be told by the kid sitting behind you, “You’re holding the mic backwards.”
Likewise, it inflates the old self esteem to bellow furiously without realizing that the PA’s switch has been flipped to “External.”
One morning while waiting to unload the bus at Helga Poppin Intermediate, I thundered, “Settle down back there! I’m sick and tired of telling you knuckleheads to stop jumping on the seats!” … only to be informed by Principal Diesel that my anguished cry had been trumpeted to the mob of students and teachers outside the school as well as the other drivers.
Sadly, my PA system has died, probably from overuse. Integrated with the AM/FM radio, which also conked, the entire unit must be replaced. While I wait for a new one to be ordered and installed, I’ve been reduced to asking a cooperative student to relay my commands — “Hey! The bus driver says you numbskulls have to stop running around!” — or screaming myself hoarse whenever I see dancing in the aisles, things being thrown, arms sticking out windows, and steel cage wrestling matches.
Of course, miscreants far in the back are out of earshot no matter how loudly I shriek, so I’m thinking about getting a bullhorn … with a siren on it.
By golly, I’m going to make them listen to me one way or another … or expire trying.