“Attention determines destiny.”
I read that line in, of all places, a book my friend wrote about Kabbalah (the ancient Jewish tradition of mystical interpretation of the Bible) and it is The Truth when it comes to driving a school bus.
If you’ve been behind the wheel of the Big Yellow Madhouse for any length of time, you know full well that when your attention wanders, so does your bus, your passengers, you, and your destiny, which could be anywhere or, worse, any thing … like another vehicle, a pedestrian, a tree, a pole, a ditch.
One of the frequent topics in my (hopefully) award-winning Roadside Lecture Series is the overhead (and aptly-nicknamed) “Suicide Mirror.” As I’ve told my precious cargo many, many, many times: When their shenanigans make me look up at the mirror, my eyes are not on the road and anything can happen, none of it good.
(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.)
Of course, none of what I say sinks into their pointed little heads. They just think they can do or ask me for anything at any time. The bus is a playhouse to them and the idea that I’m steering it at 30-plus miles an hour and must be careful is totally foreign. Though they’ve surely been scolded by their parents for making family car trips an ordeal, they’ve never actually driven anything. So what do they know or care?
The more I worry that they’re up to no good back there, the more my eyes wander to the mirror. Wisenheimer, a particularly relentless seventh-grade agitator, likes to stand in the aisle, throw things or stick his arm out the window even though I’ve warned him many times saying, “I assume you value your hand.”
So much stuff competes for your attention: Calls on the two-way radio, kids scuttling about in the aisle and climbing on seats, wrestling, shrieking, making grating animal noises or singing off-key (particularly “Baby Shark”), insults and fights, and asking for stuff.
Phaedra needs a band-aid. Hortense Prunella wants a paper towel because there’s icky stuff on her seat. Ocarina wants her window raised or lowered.
It’s particularly alarming when kids suddenly materialize behind or next to you, especially while you’re dropping someone off or picking them up and need to cross them on a busy street.
“Mr. Bus Driver, can I have a pencil?“
“Mr. Bus Driver Dude, can I sit with Stufflebean?”
And every pilot’s favorite: “Mr. Bus Driver, Ichabod is throwing up!”
It never ends, and neither do the complaints.
“Mr. Bus Driver, Withershins hit me!”
“Mr. Bus Driver, Rollo took my water bottle!”
“Mr. Bus Driver, Jehosaphat isn’t in his seat!”
“Mr. Bus Driver, Josephine called me a doodyhead!”
After one blizzard of cries from the back, I finally grabbed the PA and told them, “Look, I don’t need to hear about it every time someone annoys you! Unless they’re sawing your arm off with a rusty knife, wait until your stop or we get to school to tell me, OK?”
“Do clean knives count?” Brutus asked.
See: The Rat Patrol
And I haven’t even mentioned the friendly chatter such as town crier kids telling you what their dopey brother or sister did while their parents were out or how their uncle just got out of jail. Chatty third-grader Hobbestweedle likes to sit behind me and pepper me with questions like, “How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?” and “What is the most musical part of a chicken?” (Answer: The drumstick.)
I’ve also been bombarded by dramatic readings, such as Hobbestweedle’s performance of Poe’s “The Raven” and Prudence’s presentation of “The Wish Tree.”
“I’ll read the first eight chapters!” she announced as she settled behind me with her copy of the book.
All you can do is go on “Hmm mmmm” autopilot and make ’em think you’re listening. I’ve tried to maximize peace and quiet with assigned seats, but school authorities tell us to keep an eye on the little buggers.
So I keep fighting to keep an eye on the road and my destiny.