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.
SHORT STORIES OF EARL STAGGS