The other day I was at my mailbox when I heard the familiar low rumble of a school bus. I stood watching it drive past. A young female driver sat behind the wheel, map in hand, learning her route before school begins. I waved and she waved back, giving a bright smile.
I’ve always had a soft spot for bus drivers. Maybe it’s their having to navigate those huge, cumbersome machines on these twisty Connecticut roads. Maybe because of the winter that lies ahead with sudden storms that blanket streets in snow and ice.
Maybe because I can’t imagine doing a job with screaming third graders behind me or middle school kids mooning each other, or God knows what in the back seats of the high school buses. I can’t imagine the responsibility.
Everyone has a bus story. Mine occurred when I was a freshman in high school. Our bus engine failed while climbing a steep hill.
We were at the top and even the cool kids grew silent as the bus started sliding backwards with the driver frantically pumping brakes which didn’t work. We were picking up speed, heading toward a busy intersection behind us when the driver jack-knifed the rear-end into bushes on the side of the road. We rocked from side to side, but the bus stayed upright.
Before that day, I hadn’t taken much notice of who drove us around. But that morning I really looked at her. She was heavy-set and middle-aged with frosted blond hair. She could’ve been anyone’s mother or even grandmother.
Her face was red and blotchy from fright. She struggled to open the door since it was caught in branches and finally said in a quaking voice, “Everyone please get off.” We filed away, quiet and shaken, dispersed to find other ways to get to school.
Today at the mailbox, I watch that yellow bus rumble by and think of that woman so long ago whose fast thinking probably saved us.
I think of all the drivers who brought me, and later my children, home safe in pouring rain and ice and snow. Most were pleasant people who did their job well, without much fanfare except for annual, home-baked holiday cookies.
Today if I’m on the road and a bus passes, I always wave, my way of saying thank you. And most of the time, they give a friendly wave back.