Correct me if I’m wrong, but school is supposed to be a place of learning. And I am told that a school bus is an extension of the classroom. I drive a school bus. So I assume that makes me a teacher … of sorts.
For the past four-plus years I have been trying to impart a few simple lessons to my passengers, the main one being that actions have consequences. Some of those consequences ain’t always 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.)
Case in point: I frequently tell my precious cargo not to stick their hands out the bus windows while the bus is in motion. “If you value your hand or arm, you might want to know that kids have lost theirs when the bus passed too close to a tree or a pole or another vehicle,” I have said more times than I care to say.
Now, you would think this alarming prospect would make the children think twice.
You would be wrong.
Likewise, I tell them not to throw things out the bus windows because, one, littering is illegal and a crummy thing to do and, two, cars around us may swerve to avoid being hit by thrown objects and cause an accident. If you think that alarming prospect would make children think twice, I have a nice suspension bridge that connects Brooklyn (NY) to Manhattan Island that I would love to sell you at cost.
All this brings us to the case of Smedley, a rather rebellious eighth-grader who the other day hit an exacta of sorts. Glancing up into my overhead mirror (where we drivers see so many fascinating things), I noticed Smedley in the back of the bus waving his cell phone near the open window. A glance into one of my side mirrors then revealed a hand holding the phone outside. While stopped to discharge several students, I heard a cry from the back.
“Wait! He dropped his phone in the street!”
Naturally, Smedley and his friends expected me to go fetch the phone or let them off the bus to get it.
They were wrong. Terribly wrong. And horrified when I closed the door and drove off saying over the PA, “There’s are reasons why I’ve been telling you not to stick your hands out the windows! There’s one.”
Of course I had to explain that there were these pesty things called rules, regulations and laws that forbid me from letting students out into traffic or to leave them unattended on a bus. But there was also a principle at work: Actions have consequences.
Several other groups of students have been learning this, the hard way, of late. I am now driving after school activity runs. My route is set but it deposits kids at intersections nearest their homes rather than at their doors. I am not given names and addresses. Therefore, it is up to the kids to tell me when I am getting close to their stops so that I can actually stop and let them off.
You would think that, after a long day, they would be eager to get home.
You would be wrong.
Not a trip has gone by where most of my passengers did not remain silent despite my constant pleas…except, or course, to cry out after I missed their stop. Please note that these cries almost always arose about 20 minutes after I’d sailed by it. They were almost always followed by phone calls to parents with complaints such as, “I’m still on the bus! Yeah! This is longest bus ride ever!”
“The reason this is the longest bus ride ever is because you won’t tell me where you live so I can take you there!” I have replied, many times, over the PA. “I am not a mind reader. If you won’t help me, you will just have to stay on for as long as it takes.”
This does not seem to matter.
One pair of middle school girls was too busy dropping F Bombs and making saucy talk to listen to my announcement that I was on their street. Another time, I was left with one silent lad in the very back of the bus.
“And where are you going?” I asked. “Are we playing Guess The Student’s Destination?”
“Hokum Street,” he finally replied.
“It would have been nice if you’d said something while we were on it 20 minutes ago…”
Turns out, he was deliberately trying to stay on the bus. “I don’t want to go home,” he told me. “I did something dumb and got in trouble at school today.”
I didn’t have the stomach to ask what “dumb” meant.
In one epic case, we departed Bubblefish Middle School at 4 p.m. and a journey that should have taken an hour to complete did not end until almost 7 p.m. because two Sphinxes in the back allowed me to pass through their neighborhood and continue for 15 or 20 miles before they finally told me why they were still in the back of the bus after everyone else had gotten off.
And even then all they did at first was mumble.
“What?!” I bellowed in exasperated astonishment. “I can’t hear you! Come up here and tell me where you live!”
And even with that they only came halfway up before taking seats in the middle of the bus and mumbling again.
Thanks to the grace and guidance of the Almighty, I got them home before sunrise. But even using those kids as a cautionary tale has not convinced others that their right to remain silent can and will be used against them.
“If you won’t speak up, I’ll just drive all night,” I say now. “I get paid by the hour. You are going to make me a wealthy man!”
That’s something I’ve learned.