Honoring School Bus Drivers Dec. 1976

School Bus Rodeo Oct. 1976

SCHOOL BUS DRIVING 101 - TWELVE YEARS

Let me start by saying in our high school we all took drivers education but very few were able to take Drivers Training Class due to class size restrictions.  I did not take Drivers Training so it was up to my parents to teach me to drive.  My mother started out attempting to teach me to drive and soon told my father, “Jack you are going to have to teach her how to drive, I just can’t handle it”……..So daddy took over and all went well.  I turned 16 in late September and in October of the same year (1958), my mother took me to the DMV to take my written and driving test.  An older gentleman came out to the car to give me the driving test.  I immediately told him how excited I was to get my driver’s license, I could hardly wait!  I also told him my parents didn’t think I was ready yet.  Off we went and I did the required driving instructions that he gave me.  When we arrived back to the DMV, he got out of the car and all he told me was…….”Maybe your parents are right”……….I needed a score of 70 to pass and he gave me a 73.  I was thrilled to finally have that driver’s license and to be able to drive that old 1949 Dodge.

 

In October of 1970, we were living in Scotts Valley, CA and I was looking for another option for a job other than the motor vehicle newspaper route that I had previously.  I guess I was bold and brazen because I marched right into the Head of Transportation, Chuck Harris, at the Scotts Valley Union School District office.  I told him I wanted to apply for a job as a school bus driver and his eyes lit up……He said, you have your school bus driver certificate and your medical card?   I told him, “No, but I bet you’ll teach me”……and so it began. 

 

I started training by reading about all the laws and getting in some practice on driving one of the big 60 passenger busses.  Scotts Valley Unified had a brand new Gillig 60 passenger coach type bus (the engine in the back) bus #8.  I was backing the bus up in the crowded parking area one afternoon and did not have a spotter behind me.  I backed the bus right into the roof overhang and it punched a hole in the roof of the bus and tore off the flashing red light attached to the left rear side of the bus on the roof.  All I could think of was, “WOW, that will end my hopes of ever becoming a school bus driver” but alas, I didn’t get fired.  I went on to become a good driver, learning to double clutch when changing gears.  My three children rode my bus in the afternoon after school so they were never on their own at home as latchkey kids. On one occasion, I drove the bus on a fieldtrip to the Nestle Chocolate Factory in Salinas, CA.  You could smell the chocolate a mile away.  As we entered the factory, the tour guide told the children not to pick up any of the pieces of chocolate candy that had dropped on the ground around the machinery because they would all get some candy samples at the end of the tour.  Chocoholic that I am, it was hard for me not to pick up some of those pieces of chocolate off the floor. I drove for Scotts Valley Unified School District for a few years and then we moved on to Pacific Grove, CA.

 

After getting moved and settled in to Pacific Grove, CA, our   neighbor worked in maintenance at the school district.  When he found out I had been a school bus driver he told me there was an opening for a mini bus driver at the school district.  I didn’t feel at the time I wanted to work again but he kept asking me.  I got the job of driving a mini bus in Pacific Grove for the school district.  The school busses were parked at the City Corporation Yard.  Pacific Grove had a couple of guys who were Meter Maids, who rode the old three wheel motorcycles.  One morning I was running late to work and Lynn was driving me.  We got pulled over for speeding by one of these male meter maids.  I jumped out of the car and told him, I was late for work, I was a school bus driver and my bus was parked in the City Corporation yard and he could always find me there.  He took pity on Lynn for having an aggressive wife like me and waved him on without giving him a ticket.  Lynn told me later, he was sure I was going to be arrested.

 

Pacific Grove Unified only had four school bus drivers, Sam, Mike, Sharon and me.  Every two years we had to take classes to renew our School Bus Driving Certificate.  Since we were such a small district, we combined with Monterey Unified School District for our recertification classes. I was driving a mini-bus with mostly pre-school children.  One morning I made my usual stop to pick up a young boy.  I was double parked on a narrow one-way street in Pacific Grove, I tooted the bus horn after a few minutes of waiting and still no boy.  As I took my foot off the brake and slowly moved forward, I looked back over my shoulder one more time only to hear a loud thud.  A woman taxi driver had passed me on the narrow one-way street and had cut back in front of me as I was rolling forward and our bumpers collided.  One little boy sitting in the back of the bus got a bump on his head and that was the extent of any injuries.  I notified my boss and he came along with the Highway Patrol (they are the enforcing agency for school bus drivers).  A report was taken and I was on my way.  That evening was another class in Monterey with the drivers there for our recertification.  Sharon picked me up to drive me over to class and asked if I had seen the evening paper, which I had not.  It seems it was a dull day in the newspaper business since the headline in the paper that night screamed….”Child Hurt As Taxi and School Bus Collide”.  That evening at class was a real eye opener, all the other bus drivers had an opinion and wanted me to hear theirs.  I was told that the CHP would probably suspend me and I would be fined and one of the judges was known as The Hanging Judge.  I got home that night a real bundle of nerves.  We decided to seek some free legal advice and when I stated what had happened, the lawyer said I should plead, “No contest, with an explanation”.

 

In the meantime, the Highway Patrol School Bus Officer had called my boss at the school district and told him this was a serious matter and that they were going to suspend me because of the accident and it was also an automatic court appearance before a judge.  My boss said the wrong thing, he told the CHP officer, “It could have happened to anyone” at which time the CHP officer bellowed into the phone, “School Bus Drivers are NOT just anyone”.  My boss told him there was just two weeks left of school until summer vacation and there was no one to replace me and drive my bus run and it would be a great inconvenience.  The CHP officer agreed not to suspend me but I had to make that court appearance before a judge.

 

The day arrived when I was to go to court and dear, sweet Lynn asked me if I wanted him to go to court with me because he wanted to be there to support me.  I kindly told him, “No, thank you but if I am going to make a fool out of myself, I would rather you weren’t there to watch” but I did appreciate his support.  I arrived at the courtroom and about 5 cases were heard before mine and no matter what the driver had done (no license was the most used excuse), they all demanded a jury trial.  I could see the judge was starting to lose patience with these people and their pleas.  Finally, my name was called and I was asked how did I plead, I said, “No contest with an explanation”.  The judge said, ok, let me hear your explanation.  I told him that I was a safe and cautious driver and I took my job very seriously.  I stated I made a mistake, I was very sorry and I would not let it happen again.  At that point, he said alright I have heard your statement and I do have to fine you for two different funds.  I can’t remember what they were exactly but the first fine was for $15.00 and the second one was for $10.00 for a total fine of $25.00.  The judge asked me if I was prepared to pay that amount that day and I replied that yes, I was.  I waited until I got outside in the hall and wanted to jump up and down with happiness because I had come out far better than I had imagined.  That night was the last night of our class over with the Monterey bus drivers and they were not happy for me.  They wanted the judge to throw the book at me.

 

One of the City Corporation yard employees approached me one day while I was fueling up my bus.  He told me he was single, lived in a four bed room house with a hot tub and loved to party.  He was a real creep, his name was Herve Carrione and he wore a toupee.  I was not interested but did notice that on some of his days off, he would end up in the same area of my bus route just sitting in his truck watching me.  My bus driving time covered 1972 to 1975 and not much was heard about stalkers back then.

 

Lynn’s work would carry us next to Marysville, CA where I would again seek work as a school bus driver for Marysville Joint Unified School District.  Since I had to be retrained to drive the larger busses, I started out driving another mini bus.  My route covered town plus rural areas of Browns Valley and Smartville, CA.  I drove the mentally challenged youngsters, including one young man, John, who was deaf and quite a handful.

 

I liked my supervisor, Sid Jones, he was a kind older man but the School Bus Instructor, Verle Williams, was a different story.  Verle and I had a “love/hate relationship”, I loved to hate him, but it was mostly all in good fun.  There were many drivers and I had no seniority so I was at the bottom of the pile.  My shift was split between morning and afternoon and only 6 to 6 ½ hours long, never 8 hours.  Some years my hours were shorter and I did the cleanup in the bus garage of the bathrooms, the drivers lounge, etc. to add to my hours.  I was very reliable and everyone knew that and respected me. 

 

Verle said it was time for me to be retrained on the bigger busses so I could substitute for other drivers when needed.  The largest busses we had were 91 passengers, while others were 60 and 72 passenger busses.  I started retraining and soon was requalified to drive the bigger busses. Before school started each year, you could pick your bus route, providing you had seniority over someone else who wanted the same route.  I managed to pick a route one year for a 91 passenger bus.  It was simple, first run for high school, second run for junior high and third run for elementary in the morning.  The afternoon was in reverse, elementary, high school and junior high.  I had a parent ask me onetime, “Does your bus have air conditioning on it? To which I replied, “why yes it does, I have 91 kids breathing down the back of my neck.”  I should add that I enjoyed listening to the other drivers complain about a child throwing up on their bus because I had never experienced that.  I had my kids trained well, or so I thought.  One morning as I pulled my 91 passenger bus into the elementary school, a voice from the back of the bus called, “Bus driver, Billy threw up!”  Immediately I could feel my head spinning around like the girl possessed in the movie The Exorcist.  The voice then said, but he threw up in his hands……..to which I said, “Then we’ll let Billy get off first today” Billy came forward holding his hands together tightly so as not to spill the vomit and I told him to have a nice day.  My good record was still intact.

 

Driving high school kids was often a challenge.  I had one boy who bullied a girl and had her crying on the bus one day.  I took down his information and wrote him a citation putting him off the bus for 5 days.  His father protested the citation and wanted to meet with me, my supervisor, Sid Jones and the vice principal at the high school.  When we arrived for the meeting and the reason was explained why the young man had received the citation his father (who was probably 6 feet 6 inches tall and weighed 350 pounds) abruptly told my supervisor, Mr. Jones,  “I don’t care what Mrs. Blaylock says next time, I will believe her, but not this time, I want this citation removed.” At that point, Sid Jones got up and stated, Mrs. Blaylock and I are leaving, this meeting is finished the citation stands, your son is off the bus for 5 days.

 

I had nicknamed the boy’s father, Godzilla, because of his size. At this time, he took his son and enrolled him in Wheatland High School which was a small town about 15 miles southeast of Marysville.  He had to drive his son to school each morning.  Since I passed their house on my bus route, I would find the father sitting out on the front porch each morning with a rifle sitting across his lap as a form of intimidation for me.  I don’t think he could get away with that in today’s world.

 

My best trick I played on Verle was on April Fool’s Day one year.  I came back for my afternoon shift with my hand all bandaged up with a little bit of ketchup showing as “blood”.  He was busy talking on the phone and I was running late on time.  Another driver asked me what happened and I told him I had been washing dishes and had broken a glass and cut my hand and had stitches put in.  He felt sorry for me as I told him I could not drive my run that afternoon and needed to tell Verle.  This gentleman offered to do my run but I declined.  Verle finally got off the phone and I ran in and told him my predicament and I needed someone to drive for me that afternoon.  He got all shook up and said he didn’t have any spare drivers and he would have to drive my run for me.  At that point, I ran out of his office shouting, “April Fool’s”, as he picked up a baseball bat and ran after me.  It was all in good fun and I was laughing hard knowing I had gotten the best of him again.

 

Sometimes we got to drive some good fieldtrips out of town.  In Milpitas, CA a suburb of San Jose was located a great amusement facility.  It was called Marriott’s Great America with rides, live musical entertainment and a great place to visit.  I had a trip there one Saturday morning which meant a drive on the freeway 680/80.  My group that day was from the junior high in Marysville and one of the teacher escorts also had a valid school bus drivers license.  As we were riding along not far from our destination in Milpitas, a loud bang sounded from the bus.  One of the rear dual tires had blown out.  I took the nearest exit off the freeway in search of help in finding a tire repair shop.  I parked accidentally in a No Parking Zone by a fast food place and a motorcycle police office soon showed up.  He advised me that I would have to move and helped me locate a tire repair shop.  At the tire shop, the kids remained on the bus and while the tire service people went to work.  I jokingly said, “Gee, I hope the spare tire is in good shape.”  I was astonished to discover the spare tire was not useable.  I called Verle and explained the situation and told him I would have to buy a new tire.  He grumbled loudly but agreed with me to go ahead and purchase the new tire.  By the time we were back on the road again to our destination, it was getting later in the day.  It was decided we would stay longer at the amusement park and the parents would be notified that we would be returning later than planned.  Everyone had a good time and when it was time to start back home I realized my driving limit time for driving the bus in a 24 hour period would be up before we reached home.  The teacher with the school bus driving license would complete the remaining journey home when my driving time expired.  All went well the rest of the trip.  I am very sure that our school bus garage mechanics were chewed out for sending a bus out with a bad spare tire.  When Verle received the bill for the new tire, he grumbled more.

 

One of the better trips was an overnight trip to Monterey to the Defense Language Institute at the Presidio.  It covered a Friday departure and return later on Saturday, the next day.  I was fortunate to drive this trip two different years since I knew the area from living in Pacific Grove.  The students on this trip were from Marysville High School foreign language students.  The first trip the students stayed at a motel close to the beach in Pacific Grove and the chaperones were not very good at controlling the kids.  They really wreaked havoc on that poor motel.  I guess the second time I took the trip, they didn’t welcome us to come back.  That second trip, we stayed at a motel in Salinas, CA and not my idea of a good place to stay.  In fact, I had to call 911 to complain about the prostitute fighting with her customer in the room next to mine.  So much for a good night’s sleep.  The bus I had for the second trip was a nice new automatic transmission but was gutless when it came to an uphill grade.  Even in the lane for slow trucks, they were all passing me when I had the gas pedal all the way to the floor.   Traveling on the same 680/80 freeway home around Knights Landing and the Glider Port another big bang.  Most of the kids on the bus were napping and this was a big noise that woke them up.  Another rear dual tire had blown out on the bus.  It was a little dicey to pull off out of the way, but a California Highway Patrolman soon arrived and led me off the freeway to a small frontage road leading to the Glider Port.  He called a tire truck service company and a mechanic arrived shortly and this time I had a good spare tire on the bus and we were underway soon to finish our trip home.

 

I have a few pictures to go with this story including some from bus rodeos.  In June of 1982 I retired from driving school busses after 12 years.  The kids were starting to change drastically with no manners and poor discipline.  I decided at that time that I did not take that guff from my own children and I sure was not going to take it from other people’s children.  Most of my kids on the bus could not pronounce my name, Mrs. Blaylock, so I was always called, bus driver.  Another chapter in my life brought to a close.

P.S. I forgot a couple of things pertaining to my wages and the behavior of some of my high school kids on the bus.

First of all, my starting hourly wage in Scotts Valley in 1970 was $2.25 per hour and when I retired in 1982 from Marysville Joint Unified it was $10.42 an hour.  Keep in mind that was not a full 8 hour day and you received no pay when school was out in the summer time.

My high school bus riders were not known for being good riders. One day as I left the school and drove out onto the freeway, a boy at the back of the bus threw a ball of hardened clay at the back of my head.  Fortunately, it hit the top of the back of my seat and not me.  I immediately pulled over and demanded who threw the item at me.  Naturally, someone gave him up and I wrote him a citation and put him off the bus for a week.  After I turned in my paperwork to my boss, he had a conversation with the School Bus Officer with the Highway Patrol.  He told my boss, the boy would no longer be allowed on the bus period!  He was off the bus forever, because if that ball had hit me in the back of the head and knocked me out and I had crashed the bus, people could have been hurt or worse.  Needless to say, I was happy not to have that young man on the bus again.

One morning I had to call in sick and had a man subsitute bus driver for my morning run.  I was concerned how he would manage with the high school kids.  I called in later to check with Verle to see how my replacement managed.  Verle said to me, "What kind of kids do you have on that bus?"  He went on to tell me that they were passing around a bottle of Jack Daniel's Whiskey in the back of the bus.  I asked if the driver called in (we had radio's on the bus to call into the bus garage for assistance) to ask for the principal to meet the bus when it arrived?  Verle said, no, he was too afraid of the kids.  I told Verle that never happened when I was driving because those kids knew who was in charge....me.

Just another fun day in my life!