School Bus Driving 101: The Dreaded Road Test

Oh, the queasy anticipation.

I felt fairly confident despite knowing that parallel parking would still be a crapshoot. There was also constant unsettling talk among us trainees about an infamous road test examiner who barked commands and insulting criticism with the intent of rattling all who took the wheel under his curdled gaze. Most of those poor souls failed the test. 

“Pray you don’t get him!” I was told.

(This blog is based on actual events, though some names, places and personal details have been changed to protect the innocent as well as the guilty and avoid libel suits.)

The night before my hour of judgment, my wise trainer offered some advice: Do some touch-up studying. Get a good night’s sleep. Eat a good breakfast. Beseech the deity of your choice.

On a cloudy June morning outside Dutchess Stadium in aptly-named Fishkill, I sighed with relief when I was directed to two pleasant female examiners. After duly impressing them with my knowledge of the hamster wheels and other stuff under the hood, they cut short my soliloquy on the rest of the bus and told me to conduct the air brake test. 

Taking the driver’s seat, I turned the key to the right without starting the engine, saw that the pressure gauge on the dashboard read 120 PSI, held it for a minute to see if it dropped more than four, started pumping the brake pedal to lower the pressure to 60, pushed the parking brake knob in to disengage it … and was horrified when it refused to stick.

I stabbed at it again. And again. It kept popping out.

“Do you know what you did wrong?” one of the examiners asked as I sat flummoxed.

“Uhh … um …ahm” was all I could stammer.

“If you don’t disengage the parking brake before you start pumping the brakes down, how will you know if there’s a leak in the system?” asked the other.

Fair question.

“You need to disengage the parking brake before you test the air brakes,” I was gently reminded.

Somehow, I’d managed to do this test successfully but incorrectly all along without alerting my trainer. The brake knob had picked a fine time to finally betray me. So I was sent away to schedule another $40 road test. 

See: School Bus Driving 101: The Training Process

My trainer was gobsmacked. “This has never happened before!” she said.

Taking consolation in having made district history, I went back to the bus yard feeling much shame. The news of my epic failure preceded me.

“What happened?” I was repeatedly asked.

“Brain cramp,” was all I could say.

The rest of the day was fraught with anxiety. The end of the school year was three weeks away. If there were no open test dates until summer, I’d have to wait until fall with no way to practice. Fortunately, there was one date left, across the Hudson River in Kingston.

Two weeks later, in the bright sun outside Dietz Stadium, my examiner turned out to be a grumpy geezer but not the legendary scourge who, rumor had it, had been remanded to sensitivity training.  

I got through the inspections and brake tests without a hitch, but made a heavenly hash of parallel parking. The cones were much smaller and arrayed in a slightly different configuration on an uphill slope, which disoriented me. When I backed into the box, the examiner immediately shouted “Stop!” and threw up his hands in disgust. 

Clambering out of the bus, I saw I’d gone over the side line of cones, but was stunned when he told me to try again. And again. 

Invariably, my back bumper grazed or crossed the side line as I cut into the box. My third attempt left the bus somewhat askew in the box. I climbed out and resigned myself to more ignominy only to be shocked (shocked!) when the examiner groused, “OK, that’s good enough. Let’s go on the road.”

By then, my trainer couldn’t bear to watch anymore and had ducked into a nearby Rite-Aid for a sedative only to be stunned upon emerging to see my bus passing by on the way to the highways and byways of Kingston. 

I was instructed where to go and had to call out everything I saw (such as nearby vehicles, signs and signals, pedestrians and other potential hazards). All went well until I failed to call out an overpass. After an agonizingly long wait back at the test site, the examiner returned to the bus and informed me that I would be unleashed upon the public. I very nearly gave him a tearful hug.

I was qualified at last to enjoy all the wonders and aggravations of this noble profession.

See: Five Days That Made Me What I Am