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Tales from the bus driver’s seat
Harris Blackwood
Harris Blackwood

I am a bus driver. A Hall County school bus driver, to be exact.

Bus driving is an honorable profession. Jackie Gleason’s character in “The Honeymooners,” Ralph Kramden, was a bus driver. Sandra Bullock’s character, Annie Porter, was not intended to be a bus driver but became one by chance in the 1994 movie, “Speed.”

I did not intend to become a bus driver. It just sort of happened.

For eight years, I was highway safety director for the state of Georgia. One of the causes I championed was bus safety, particularly from the perspective of cars on the road.

A little over a year ago, I was not invited by the new governor for a second dance. I looked at several options and decided to try my hand at being the kind of bus driver I advocated for.

Being a bus driver is not for everyone. First, you have to pass an extensive background check, including fingerprints, and then you have to pass a training course, followed by a written and driving test for a commercial drivers license.

You also have to learn to drive a bus.

Think about this, a typical car is about 14 feet long.  Many of our school buses are around 50 feet long. That additional footage also gives you a great deal of what is called “tail-swing.” You don’t just turn a corner, you have to bring the extra footage with you and not hit a car, a sign or any other object and especially not a person. 

You also don’t just hang a U-turn in a school bus.  Turning a bus around can involve a trip around a block, in some cases. 

The people who drive buses are special. They have to guide a massive vehicle that is sometimes filled with your children. Children, in many cases, hold their bus driver in high esteem. He or she is “their” bus driver. When you are in elementary grades, this person can take on heroic status.

There are folks in Hall County who have been driving buses for decades. They are the pioneers that you want to emulate. They can make that bus move quickly and exactly. It is due to both skill and experience.

You may not know it but around 5:30 every school morning, a network of people begin cranking diesel engines on buses, getting them warm for your children, clearing windows, checking safety equipment and making sure they are ready before they hit the road. Sometimes, pesky diesel engines won’t crank and a team of mechanics has fanned out across the county to perform service on the spot.

There are folks in an office who take calls about a student missing a bus. This often happens after no lights are on the house and no one is waiting at the bus stop. But these good folks will find a safe place to turn around and come and get your child.

My current route is on some of the poorest places in this county. I’ve driven the nicer parts of the county, too, but there are folks who are earnest about getting their kids to school everyday. I have mamas who wait with their little ones and they never fail to say “thank you” before I close the door.

Some of you folks are knuckleheads and try to get around my yellow lights before they switch to red at the bus stop. There is nothing in your already rushed day that should go before the safety of a child.

There are a few hundred professionals out there every morning, who get your children safely to school, give a hug, pat them on the back or bump knuckles with them as the go out the bus door to some more unsung heroes, teachers.

I’m proud to be a junior member of the bus driving team. Please know that I’m working every day to be the best I can.

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