Sunday, October 9, 2011


by Earl Staggs

Some of you may know I drive a school bus. It’s only a part time job, two hours in the morning and two in the afternoon, but it gets me out of the house every day and keeps me in touch with other members of the human race. I tried full time retirement, but didn’t like it. I like having to get up every morning, go somewhere and do something. It also helps that I like kids. Most of them.

I also like the people I work with. For the most part, they’re in the mature stage of their lives like me, and we have a lot of hanging out fun when we gather in the bus barn. It’s not really a barn. Maybe they used barns back in the early days and the name stuck. We actually have a rather nice terminal building with boss offices and a large lounge area for drivers. The lounge has a kitchen, coffee and vending machines, and rows of conference style tables and chairs for group meetings. There’s a TV area at one end with comfortable nap-inducing furniture. Some drivers go home between the morning and afternoon routes, some sit and crochet or knit, some watch TV, some nap. Many of them like to read mystery books. Mine, for instance. Me, I plug in my laptop, shut out everything around me, and write.

But we take our job seriously. Our job is to get the kids to school and home again safely every day, even if it means extra time and effort. We’re all connected to “Base” via two-way radio and hear everybody’s conversations with our Dispatcher. Here’s a typical one.

“Bus 117 to Base.”

“Base. Go ahead.”

“We’re at Damien’s house, and there’s no one home to receive him. I’ll do some other stops and come back here in case the parents call and want to know where he is.”

“10-4, 117. If they’re still not home, take him back to school.”


Every morning when we leave the lot, we have to report to the Dispatcher with a “ten-eight” code, meaning we’re in service. There’s a long list of:

“141 is 10-8.”

“135 is 10-8.”

And so on.

Me being me, of course, I have to have a little fun with it, so I might toss in something like this:

“117 is 10-8, out the gate, and looking great.”

Sometimes, accidental humor will occur. Here’s one from last year:

“138 calling Base. I have thick black smoke pouring out my rear end.”

It was all I could do not to jump in with, “Jennifer, I’m sorry to hear about your personal problem, but how’s your bus?”

As I said, though, we take our responsibility seriously. Here’s a recent incident.

“122 to Base. Two of my girls got on the bus very upset. They said there’s a man walking around taking pictures of them.”

“122, do you have a visual on the man?”

“Negative. They said he turned east on Brazos Trail.”

“Let me know if you spot him. I’ll call the police, but I need a description.”


“Base, this is 137. I just turned on Brazos Trail and I saw him. He took pictures of three girls, they yelled at him, and he ran off toward the lake.”

“I’m on the phone with the police, 137. Can you describe him?”

“He’s about 30, medium size, wearing a black ball cap, black tee shirt and khaki pants.”

“10-4, 137. Continue with your routes, everyone. The police are on their way.”

“Base, this is 122. I just turned on Lake Drive and the police were there. They loaded him in their car and took him away.”

“10-4. Good job, 122 and 137.”

I never learned who the guy was, what he was up to, or what happened to him. They may have taken him to the nearest tree and hanged him. This is Texas, you know.

If any of you get a little perturbed when you come up on a school bus with red lights flashing and you have to sit and wait for them to load or unload, just remember this. They’re on the job, getting the kids to and from school safely, and watching out for bad guys.


16 Tales of Mystery from Hardboiled to Humor
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Marilyn Meredith a.k.a. F. M. Meredith said...

Loved the story. My daughter was once a school bus driver, but she was young then with her own kids who rode the bus. It was mountain area and she kept the bus at home.


Beth Groundwater said...

It's good to hear that you bus drivers are looking out for the kids!

flash template said...

This article was extremely interesting, especially since I was searching for thoughts on this subject last week.

Morgan Mandel said...

It's good to know the kids are being looked after by conscientious people like you, Earl.

Morgan Mandel

Earl Staggs said...

Marilyn, interesting that your daughter drove a school bus. In more rural areas, I know drivers take their buses home. I have a thirty minute commute. That's okay. It's good "me" time. I think about - what else? - my current writing project as I drive.

Earl Staggs said...

Beth, when I started driving, I was immediately impressed at how drivers felt about the students they were responsible for. They never refer to them as "the" kids. It's always "my kids. I have kids who started riding with me in Kindergarten and now they're in sixth grade. It's fascinating to see them grow and mature.

Earl Staggs said...

Flash, I'm glad my effort was timely for you. If I can provide any info, please holler at me.

Earl Staggs said...

Morgan, when you see the kids every day you can't help but fall in love with them. There's no extra pay for being conscientious and caring, but it results in a lot of priceless hugs.

Kevin R. Tipple said...

Happens a lot here too. Folks forget that bus drivers and aides are always around and watching.

John Floyd said...

Good post, Earl! Enjoyed this. And I like the phrase "mature stage of their lives." I think I'm just in "the old stage of my life"--I'm not at all sure about the mature part.

Keep up the good work, my friend!

Victor J Banis said...

Earl, I think you're the only writer who could make a school bus run into an intriguing story!

Jacqueline Seewald said...

I had bus duty when I taught at the elementary school level. I always thought the bus drivers had a very tough job, but you seem to take it in stride. I'm lifting my glass to toast you with my grapefruit juice, a drink both bitter and sweet.

Jan Christensen said...

Fascinating post, Earl. Keep your eyes and ears open out there. The kids and their parents don't know how lucky they are to have you and the other caring drivers watching out for them.

Randy Rawls said...

Good post, Earl. Nice to know you're out there with the kids' best interest at heart. But, who protects the drivers from the kids? :-)
Also nice to know we have a subject matter expert on kids' language and behavior. What ages do you drive?

jenny milchman said...

That story gave me chills. You guys are unsung heroes and heroines. I am grateful every single day, when my kids mount the stairs or climb down them, to the hands they are in.

Hope Jennifer got rid of her thick black smoke :)

Toni L.P. Kelner said...

My kids have never ridden a school bus, but I remember some of my drivers with fondness and gratitude. There was one who was always grumpy until the day I got a bloody nose on the bus. (Accidentally bonked with one of the metal purses that were the rage then.) Then I realized how nice and kind she could be. She took me to the teachers' lounge to wipe up, got me a cold cloth to hold on my nose on the way home, put me up front with her, and dropped me off at my house rather than at the bus stop. She probably doesn't remember it, but I still do.

J. R. Lindermuth said...

You guys do an important, and often under-appreciated, job. My cousin's husband is a driver and I know it's not as easy as some might imagine.

Kaye George said...

I never knew that job could be so exciting! We kids loved our high school bus driver (I walked before that), but he did take the corners fast. I even remember his name, Chester. He summered in Florida. The driver can be an important person in a kid's life. Glad you're there, Earl.

Sylvia Dickey Smith said...

Earl being Earl, he puts a whole new meaning to the term of bus driver. Knowing him, he can make anything fun--even losing at Wii bowling--to a woman!

Just give him cake though, and he comes to!

Great article, Earl. Enjoyed it!

Earl Staggs said...

John Floyd: Thanks, pal. Don’t worry about the mature part. If you mature, you have to grow up, and that takes all the fun out of life.

Kevin Tipple: I know you’ve had the same experiences I have on a larger scale, but you’ve also felt the rewards. Those are what make it worthwhile.

Victor Banis: Wow! High praise from a writer I respect and admire. Much appreciated.

Jacqueline Seewald: You’ve been there so you know there are headaches and rewards in varying degrees every day, so a bitter sweet toast is perfect. Thank you.

Jan Christensen: Hey, Ant Jan! Our eyes and ears are always open, especially for idiot drivers in their pesky little four-wheelers. They’re enforcing the No Cell Phone Usage in School Zones law now and that helps.

Randy Rawls: My kids go from Kindergarten to Eighth Grade, Randy, so if you need any help with their dialogue, just, like, you know, text me or whatever.

Jenny Milchman: I’m happy to say poor Jennifer got her black smoke problem taken care of. She’ll never live down, however, the way she announced it.

Earl Staggs said...

Toni L. L. Kelner: What a wonderful and heartwarming memory you have of the grumpy driver who stepped up when you needed a hero. There's a wonderful short story there, btw, - for Chicken Soup or Reader's Digest.

John Lindermuth: You're right. There are times when it's not easy. That's when we need those little hugs to keep us going.

Kaye George: I know most drivers share with me the feeling that we're doing something worthwhile. We may never cure cancer or achieve world peace ourselves, but maybe one of the kids we take care of will.

Sylvia Dickey Smith: Lose at Wii bowling to a woman? That sounds like a challenge. Ha! I can beat you blindfolded. Let me blindfold you and I'll prove it.

Earl Staggs said...

My sincere thanks to everyone who joined me in my homage to school bus drivers.

I have more stories, so maybe we'll do it again sometime.

Regards to all.

Jean Henry Mead said...

Great post, Earl. Have you written about your bus driving experiences?

Earl Staggs said...

No, Jean, I haven't. I'd like to, but I can't think of a good plot that would not involve harm or risk to children, and I would not enjoy writing that. Someday, tho, I hope to come up with something. It's a fascinating world with a lot of interesting people.

Kaye George said...

Earl, you could have the kids help solve a crime. Or solve crimes. Maybe?

Earl Staggs said...

Kaye, how'd you get so smart? That's a good idea and might work. I don't
have to put the kids in danger, do I?

Kaye George said...

Funny, Earl. It's easier to think of plots for other people, you know.