Now that I’m a parent of a sixteen year-old, I shake my head when I think about young Stacia.
At 7am, on the first day of school, August 1984, Stacia was the first passenger to board bus 550 for the trip to Northwood Middle School. She was in 6th or 7th grade. That was my first day on that bus, too. I was a 16 year-old 11th grader. Guess what. I was also the driver.
In the 80’s and earlier, the state of South Carolina allowed 16 and 17 year-old students to drive school buses. After all, not many adults wanted to work the few hours per week and morning/afternoon split schedule for a whopping $3.47/hour. I somehow managed to convince my parents it was a good idea.
After three days of training and passing a drivers test, the school district of Greenville County let me out out on the road. Between the driving school and retrieving the bus from the depot the day before, I had been behind the wheel less than an hour on that first day and probably only 30 minutes of those without adult supervision. I had been driving a car for almost 18 months, but the family 1980 Honda Accord was a bit smaller than the 60 passenger school bus.
At 6:45am that first day, I fired up the bus and drove the 15 minutes to that first stop. It wasn’t terribly far, but I didn’t want to be late and the buses were governed to a maximum speed of 35 miles per hour. One of the precautions of having teen drivers, I suppose.
On arrival, I introduced myself to Stacia and her mom, then we proceeded to the next stop. That was the routine that first day. Drive. Stop. Meet the parents, and, hopefully, instill confidence in them that they weren’t putting their kids on the bus with an ax murderer. Looking back at old photos from that era, those parents must have thought I was 12 years old.
Fortunately, all went well that day and the 359 days of driving that followed those last two years of high school. Despite a fleet of student drivers, I only recall one minor accident among our school’s drivers, and it was not the bus driver’s fault.
After my stint as chauffeur extraordinaire, I went on to other part time jobs before finding my current career, but no job has ever given me same satisfaction. I half jokingly tell people that driving a school bus was the best job I ever had. What was not to love? I didn’t have my own car, so by driving the bus, I had free transportation with free gas. Sure, I just had to pick up a few friends along the way, but I was already going that way! We also had to skip the last class of the day to head to the elementary schools for their earlier dismissal time. Awesome. Finally, for someone who played sports, driving worked out great with practice schedules, unlike most other part-time jobs.
Now as a parent myself, I finally realize what made the job so special. Those parents – Mr. and Mrs. Couch, Mr. and Mrs. Connors, Mr. and Mrs. Bradshaw, and the rest, trusted me with some of the most valuable parts of their lives – their children. And I delivered them safe and sound on my watch. Thinking back, I know I took the job seriously, but as a teenager I obviously didn’t have that parental viewpoint. Now that I do, that perspective keeps the fondness of the bus job growing stronger by the years.
Anybody else have some fond or not so fond early job memories? Share them in the comments below.