First Day

I arrived at the bus barn at about six a.m. We’d already been practicing our runs in the previous weeks. They said they’d start me when school got out rather than in the morning, so I went home.

My wife was standing in the kitchen. “What’s wrong?” she said.

“Nothing,” I said.

She looked worried. “What happened?”

“Nothing,” I said. “They just had too many drivers today.”

“Something’s up,” she said. “They’re against you. Just like before.”

“No, you’re just being paranoid,” I said.

She looked at me suspiciously. “I keep thinking they’re against you or something. That they’re coming after you.”

“No, it’s not like that at all,” I said.

“You don’t need to drive school busses. I could go back to work. You could stay at home. Maybe some people should just stay at home. You’re better at home.”

I just looked at her. “I’m fine.”

My first run was a bunch of junior high kids. They did not like me, and I did not like them. Their behavior got worse and worse as we drove away from the school (Dwight D. Eisenhower Middle School).

One kid in back, the tough guy, threw a small football. It hit a girl two rows behind me. I turned on the PA. “Do not throw things on the bus. It is an extreme safety hazard. I’ll let you out right here.”

The tough guy started laughing, which inspired the hoods around him to start banging on the seats. They want me to crash. It’s not the people who run the bus barn who are against me; it’s the students who are against me.

I found myself becoming angrier that these kids were so against me that they wanted me to crash on my first day. I thought about how incredibly stupid I was at their age. I was dumb as dirt. I knew they couldn’t get through the day without doing something stupid and nearly killing themselves.

More sporting equipment flew through the air, but I wasn’t going to take the bait. I just sat there driving and thinking about my hobbies. I particularly enjoyed gardening, computers, and the Internet.

The girl who had been hit by the football was crying and saying, “Why isn’t he doing anything?” I made eye contact with her in the mirror. “Why aren’t you doing anything?” she repeated.

I couldn’t do anything now. Some dumb kid told me to do something. It would look bad if I suddenly did something. The kids would lose any respect they had for me. I should have pulled the bus over and walked down the aisle all tough and scary, but I knew I couldn’t pull it off. They’d just laugh at me. Someone would shove me.

I wish I had some sort of weapon, like a rubber club. That’d scare them. Knock them around a little, shake them up. I read on the Internet that such a thing wouldn’t leave bruises. It’d hurt but would leave no mark. I told myself that wasn’t a productive thought. There would be too many witnesses.

I remember reading about how at the jail downtown, one of the inmates threw feces out the window and it hit someone on the sidewalk down below. That just gave me another reason not to go back there.

A shoe hit the front windshield and ended up in my lap. I was pissed off now. “Give me back my shoe,” a boy said. I was tired of their bull. When a shoe enters the driver’s command and control area, it becomes a monumental safety concern.

“It’s mine, but I didn’t throw it,” the kid said.

“Liar,” another kid said.

I looked at the shoe in my lap. It was pink and had a lot of homemade decorations on it. Lots of floofy, girly stuff.

We were near Mark Twain Elementary School, so I pulled in.

“Everyone off the bus. You’ll need to call your parents to get rides,” I said over the PA. “Your behavior is unacceptable.” I set the parking brake, turned off the ignition, and opened the door.

“That’s not fair. I didn’t do anything,” the football victim said. “They threw a football at me. They hit me.”

“Sorry, district rules,” I said. They weren’t district rules. That’s just what we said.

“Can I have my shoe?” a boy said. He pointed at the pink shoe on the dash. He was a small boy wearing makeup. “I didn’t throw it. I would never throw my shoe. I spent a long time making it. My sister helped me, but I came up with the design.” He showed me the shoe on the other foot. It had a similar design.

“I know you didn’t throw it. It’s OK,” I said. I handed him his shoe. I wanted to pat him on the back, but district rules prevented any sort of physical contact with the students. I nodded. “You’re pretty talented.”

“Thanks,” he said. He took the shoe, put it on, and got off the bus.

The police showed up and “helped out.” They mostly told me I was at fault, that I let things get out of hand. It was the usual cop-control-freak stuff. One cop, Officer Twalksel, gave me tips for maintaining control of a situation. “If it escalates, you have to bring it back down.” I wasn’t sure what that meant. It’s probably easier to maintain control if you have weapons or know chokeholds.

Someone from the bus barn arrived while I was learning about maintaining control. I didn’t know him, but I’d seen him around.

“Hey, they want me to take the bus back,” he said.

“I can do it,” I said.

“No, they told me to.”

“OK. I guess I’m out of a job.” I handed him the keys.

“Sorry,” he said.

I started walking toward my house. It was about a mile.

The people at the bus barn decided to let me go. I told my wife that the kids were working with the people at the bus barn against me. She nodded.

“I guess you can cross school bus driver off your list,” she said.

[April 2008]

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