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Nod and say nothing.

At Fred Meyer for overpriced bread and Buddig, I almost literally bumped into my talkative flatmate Dean. He's hard to miss — always overdressed, with a silk shirt, usually a tie and a 1950s-style gentleman's hat.

August 14, 2022

Of course, he wanted to talk. He always wants to talk, so he said hello amidst the mayonnaise and mustard, and started talkity-talk-talking.

Ah, jeez.

I was in no mood for a surprise one-way conversation from Dean, and certainly not at the grocery store. I smiled and nodded but said nothing, just kept walking, same as I usually do when he wants to talkity-talk-talk at me in the kitchen at home.

Onward to the cash register, where again as always I asked for a loyalty card application. I'll never fill one out, but asking for a card gets the prices discounted to merely high instead of ridiculously high.

Then I drove home, and felt something unfamiliar as I turned my key, walked into the house.

You know that nagging feeling, when something is wrong but you're not sure what? This was the opposite of that. Something was right, but what? For a moment I didn't understand, until I walked into the kitchen, set down my groceries, and — there was no apprehension, no need to rush.

Dean wasn't home. And I knew it. Which means, just this once, there was no chance he'd emerge from his room to tell stories about his long and illustrious career as a chef in four-star restaurants

It was such a splendid moment that I had to pause, and simply stand in front of the sink for a few minutes, looking out the kitchen window and feeling fine.

You know, two other men live in this house, and neither of them ever bother me with stupid conversation about stupid things. I even kinda like one of them, Robert. We usually nod and say nothing, but sometimes we talk about the weather, the Mariners — and then we say toodles, and he never keeps talking to stop me from walking away.

Just now, Robert and I had the perfect flatmates' conversation. I'd pooped and flushed and even washed my hands, and then I emerged from the bathroom and found him sitting in the kitchen chair, where you wait for your tun in the bathroom.

"Sorry to keep you waiting," said I.

"Not a problem," said he, and then I turned and walked into my room, with nary another word between us.

That's what life in a shared house is supposed to be like. It's not supposed to always be talkity-talk-talk, like it is with Dean.

With neither air conditioning nor screens on the windows, this house has always had flies circling in every room, all spring and summer, maybe in winter too. Last week, the landlord actually spent some money on the house — first instance in recorded history, says Robert — and installed cheap but workable screens on the kitchen window.

Now the flies can't get in via those windows, but they can still get in via the bedroom, living room, and laundry room windows, and via the doors, which are often propped open for a breeze. All the incoming flies are still drawn to the kitchen by its smells and grease and garbage, but now they can't get out, so they circle in the air and die on the floor pr on the stove top.

There are 37 fly corpses are on the kitchen floor at the moment. Been there for days, because none of us care enough to sweep them away. There are also several in the bathroom and hallway. 

My room always has at least half a dozen flies flying around, and my plan was to put up with it because who cares. But one of them flew into my mouth this morning as I was yawning, so I've mail-ordered the same brand of screens for both my windows, too.

And now, the news you need, whether you know it or not… 

♦ ♦ ♦  

Historians privately warn Biden that America's democracy is teetering 

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Nursing homes sue residents’ friends, family to collect unpaid debt 

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Walgreens played 'substantial' role in San Francisco opioid crisis, judge finds 

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Vos fires Gableman, ending scandal-plagued 2020 election investigation in Wisconsin 

After spending more than $1 million in taxpayer dollars to investigate election conspiracy theories over the last 14 months, threatening to jail the mayors of Madison and Green Bay for refusing to comply with his order that they give secret testimony, and being held in contempt by Wisconsin courts for failing to produce public records related to the investigation, Gableman had, according to one of the judges who sanctioned him, found no evidence of fraud.

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Howard Carter stole Tutankhamun’s treasure, new evidence suggests 

Of course he stole it. Did anyone think he owned that stuff? How is this even news? 

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Miniature micro-cars can serve a niche in cities. 

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Swarms of mini robots could dig the tunnels of the future 

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Life on the Internet is a 1996 TV documentary from PBS, all about the marvels of the internet. By now the show is a quaint antique, but enjoyable, and only slightly marred by the annoying narration of NPR's Scott Simon.

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Climate activists fill golf holes with cement after water ban exemption 

Oh, yeah, baby. Excellent.

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In rare move, school librarian fights back in court against conservative activists 

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'Taste of his own medicine': Plane flies "Ha Ha Ha" banner over Trump's Mar-a-Lago home 

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List of people who have been considered deities 

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List of sexually active popes

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One-word newscast, because it's the same news every time...
copscopscopscopscopscopscopscopscopscopscopscopscopscopscopscopscopscopscops • copscopscopscopscopscopscopscops

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The End
Raymond Briggs
Paul Coker
Anne Heche
Dee Hock
David McCullough
Roger Mosley
Leon Rosenberg

Cranky Old Fart is annoyed and complains and very occasionally offers a kindness, along with anything off the internet that's made me smile or snarl. All opinions fresh from my ass. Top illustration by Jeff Meyer. Click any image to enlarge. Comments & conversations invited.
Tip 'o the hat to Linden Arden, ye olde AVA, BoingBoing, Breakfast at Ralf's, Captain Hampockets, CaptCreate's Log, John the Basket, LiarTownUSA, Meme City, National Zero, Ran Prieur, Voenix Rising, and anyone else whose work I've stolen without saying thanks.
Extra special thanks to Becky Jo, Name Withheld, Dave S, Wynn Bruce, and always Stephanie...

Cranky Old Fart
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Something rash

It's been hotter than a jalapeno's groin all summer. Or maybe it's that I'm usually an indoor boy, and selling fish on Telegraph makes this is my first summer with significant outdoor time. Either way it's too dang hot.

Even changing my underwear every third day like usual, I still get a sweaty itchy rash after a couple of particularly hot days. It makes me cranky, too, day after day. Feels like I've been in a bad mood for a month, like everywhere I go there's someone else who needs to be yelled at.

And then today, I was stuck selling fish on the wrong side of the street — in the sweltering sunshine, all day long. I was sauteed in sweat before I'd finished setting up the table. 

All the other vendors, though, and everyone walking by, and indeed everyone on Earth except me seemed to be in the shade.

My booth was hot hot hot, and far from the maddening customers. That's bad for business, yes, and bad for my recurring rash, but at least I didn't have anyone to argue with. Nothing much to do at all, except sit there wishing I wasn't sitting there, while scissoring out more fish.

Came home dead tired from the heat, said a few words to Judith, and she made me smile. It felt like my first smile of the day. She can do that — make people smile, even me. She has a knack for being human.

Then I came into my room, closed the door, and banged out this grumpy soliloquy. Now I'm going to grumpily read a book, and then grumpily go to sleep.

From Pathetic Life #15
Sunday, August 13, 1995

This is an entry retyped from an on-paper zine I wrote many years ago, called Pathetic Life. The opinions stated were my opinions then, but might not be my opinions now. Also, I said and did some disgusting things, so parental guidance is advised.

Pathetic Life
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How to drive a bus (part 2)

Like part 1, this will be of little interest unless you care about learning to drive a bus. I care — it's my new job.

Wednesday afternoon was the first time we were allowed to drive a bus, but our wheel time has been frustrating so far.

In a class that's basically Bus Driving 101, I would've appreciated a quick overview of the bus's dashboard and instrument panels, but we were driving old GMC buses that are no longer in service. One of our teachers said (and it makes sense, to be honest) there's no point teaching us the GMC dash and instrument panels, since all the buses we'll be driving are newer Fords with a very different layout.

Soon as I slipped behind the wheel, though, another instructor asked me to open the bus's passenger door, so she could climb up and get some paperwork she'd left aboard. It took me a long moment to find the 'open-door' button, and the instructor asked, "Why don't you know the instrument panel?"

I answered, "Hey, this is the first moment my butt has been behind the wheel of a bus. I need a minute to look around the dashboard."

She laughed and gave me more than a minute, thankfully. It's not the military — all three teachers are nice, knowledgeable, and they want us to pass.

For driving, our instructors are Sienna again, and two other ladies who are also good teachers. The way the lessons are organized, though, seems strange.

♦ ♦ ♦

We started at the serpentine track, where you're supposed to navigate around several orange traffic cones set up to make the bus swerve like a snake — and then you navigate the same cones in reverse.

When I say "we started" at the serpentine track, that means it was the very first time we'd driven a bus. Seems to me, a better start might be to let us spend a few minutes simply motoring around the lot, working our way around some free-standing cones, to learn how the bus handles, get a feel for its width and turning radius, etc.

Nope. We started with the serpentine dance, and it felt like stunt driving — swerving between cones, and in reverse, and being graded on it.

Unsurprisingly, all the new drivers ran over cones, or at least nipped the base of the cones. We're told to imagine the cones are people, so the recurring line was, "You killed my father!" and "You ran over my sister!"

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Then we did a second test, called the six-point course, where many more cones gave their lives.

The six-point course is conducted all across a vast, empty parking lot dotted with many, many orange cones. I can't find a video on-line to show you how the six-point works, sorry, but that only means you'll be as confused as we were (very). All the following was explained only once, and far too quickly:

① Maneuver your bus from a parking space delineated by cones, to Point One, another set of cones located at the 3:00 position from your starting point. Bear in mind, though, that due to the bus's large turning radius, Point One cannot be reached unless you swing the bus's wheels 25 degrees to the left before turning right. Also, the switch from left to right must be done at exactly the right moment.

If you miscalculate, make either turn two seconds too early or too late, you'll miss the target, kill a cone, and must start over. Simply pulling the bus a few feet forward and back to make a correction? That's not allowed.

② From Point One, back up the bus, to some cones marking a space to your left — Point Two. This destination also cannot be reached without bumping or crushing cones, unless you pulled into Point One perfectly straight, and with the bus aligned closer to the left cones than the right cones, but not too close, and unless you crank the wheel all the way on your way out, and at exactly the right moment.

③ From Point Two, your trip to Point Three is a straight line across the length of the lot. Pretty easy.

④ Point Four is another almost-impossible target, though. You need to back the bus out of Point Three, turn the wheels a bit to miss a cone, and then turn hard to the right to back into the space.

And everything on this course has been laid out mercilessly by someone with a tape measure. If either turn is six inches early or late, you'll crush another cone, and fail.

⑤ Point Five is a fairly simple left turn from where you landed for Point Four, into a parking space across the lot. Anyone could do it (but Mitch somehow screwed it up).

⑥ Point Six is backing up from Point Five, all across the lot, studying your mirrors all the way, and stopping half way across the distance for a second walkaround.

What's a walkaround? There's very poor rear-visibility from the driver's seat, so any time you shift into reverse, you're required to step outside and walk all around the bus, to look for anything you couldn't see from inside or in the mirrors. And, if you're backing up more than a certain distance, you're required to stop the bus a second or third time, for another walkaround as you proceed.

That's the six-point course, and if you don't quite understand it, you and I are on the same bus, so to speak.

At least you have the advantage of having it explained in writing, so you can pause and re-read a sentence that makes no sense. We were given nothing to look at except a parking lot full of orange cones, and jeez, a diagram or a map sure would've been helpful. It was explained once, and then, Ladies and gentlemen, start your engines.

Predictably, the six-point test is where cones go to die. We've spent hours driving the six-point, and standing on hot asphalt watching the other student drivers kill cones, all with lots of coaching (shouting) from the teachers. It's not 'mean' shouting, though — the teachers need to shout, because it's a parking lot, and for their own safety they're keeping their distance from the moving buses. By Friday, Sienna was hoarse.

Driving any one of these six points would be doable, especially with practice, but to pass the six-point track we're required to do all six points in one extended drive, all without any coaching yelled from the sidelines.

One student is a former bus driver from L.A., so he passed the six-point course without coaching, on his second try — and yet, he still has to keep driving the six-point course. He's hit cones every time, after his one lucky run. Nobody else has come close to passing.

We'll keep trying next week, and I'm not looking forward to it.

Sure, I'm a rookie, know nothing about driving a bus, and even less about teaching people to drive a bus, so my perspective is worthless. But — dang, this seems like a counter-intuitive way to start with raw newbies.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Meanwhile, Mitch is still Mitch. He always asks odd or irrelevant questions, and misunderstands the teacher's instructions, even immediately:

"Pull forward slowly, turning your wheels slightly to the left, and then hard to the right," says the teacher.

"Wheels slightly to the left," says Mitch, "and then hard to the left."

No, no, no. All day. And yet, Mitch always volunteers to go first on everything. Gotta admire that, I guess.

Doing the serpentine, Mitch twice cranked his wheels all the way in the wrong direction, and would've hit a fence — twice — if the teacher hadn't stopped him.

At his first try on the six-point course, he killed 12 cones; nobody else has killed more than a few on a single drive. When Mitch backed his bus into Point Six, he continued backing up even past the cones, crushing four. The teacher shouted and banged on the side of Mitch's bus to stop him, had him get out of the bus, and we conducted a brief memorial service for those four flattened cones.

Sorry to say it, cuz I like the guy and he's told me he needs this job, but Mitch is a worrisome driver. I'd feel safer on the streets if they'd drum him out of training. Whether I can respect the organization hangs in the balance, to be honest.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Coming back from lunch on Friday, I got a laugh from my classmates and a frown from a teacher, when I said, "Let's get to it. Those cones aren't gonna kill themselves."

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Office work — my career until now — is usually air conditioned and requires no physical exertion. This is very different.

With six student drivers, and nobody's allowed onto the bus when a student is driving, we're spending 5/6 of our time standing on hot pavement in the hot sun. I am tanned and tuckered at the end of every day, but I've never slept better — ten straight hours, Wednesday night and again Thursday.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

We're supposed to wear dark blue or black pants, leather shoes, and a shirt with buttons — the official bus drivers' uniform — but I don't own such stuff. One of the teachers mentioned that I was out of uniform, and I told her what I'll tell you:

"You can't be a bus driver until you pass the six-point course, which still feels impossible. And after that, who knows what the next requirement might be? So I ain't buying squat until I've passed the entire dang course. Till then, I'll be the rookie wearing tie-dyed sweatpants and a t-shirt."

She laughed, and didn't push it.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Training continues to be exhausting, often frustrating, perplexing, and sometimes it feels downright counterproductive, but it's paid training so I'll stick it out until the end, pass or fail.

We've completed two weeks of this. They originally told us it was a three-week course, but rumor has it that's flexible, so maybe there'll be a fourth week before we're out there endangering the general public. I hope so. I want to be a safe and competent bus driver, and know that I need more time and more training.

The extra week, though, hasn't been decided yet. Each day's training seems unplanned, until it happens. Someone asked Sienna first thing on Friday morning, What are we doing today? and that was her answer: "We haven't decided yet."

I haven't decided yet, either, whether I'll be a bus driver. I want to be, and they're grading me, of course, but I'm also grading the organization. We'll both need to pass.


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The new Crusades

Today a family of street preachers set up their mission from God across the street from my fish stand, at Telegraph Ave & Haste Street. Some vendors were complaining, because these particular Christians are well-known for their electronically cranked-up volume.

It's very difficult to conduct business when the gospel is being broadcast at fifty decibels. Amplified street preachers cut into sales by maybe 25%.

Free speech, though, is especially for the most obnoxious among us, so I tried to be patient, and even said that to one of the vendors complaining near me.

As if on cue, a homeless green-haired street kid suddenly started shouting at the Christians and passers-by, things like, "Fuck your Christianity" and "Satan is a better choice," and I knew a bad day was about to get worse.

Some of the vendors were cheering the heckler on, hoping he'd drive the super-loud Christians away, but weirdly, just this once, I was rooting for the Christians. They didn't deserve to be heckled, at least not yet.

Later, yeah, but not yet. At first they seemed to be Christians in the good sense of the word, and yeah, there is a good sense. They weren't threatening the crowd with hellfire and damnation, or yelling insults like the Christians a few weeks ago (7/29). They weren't even preaching, mostly just singing Christian folk songs. It was nauseating, sure, but so am I. So are you.

When the street kid ripped down a banner the Christians had tied to a fence, and cussed 'em out, and called the Christians cocksucking buttlicking motherfucking assholes, there was no doubt who the asshole was, and this time it wasn't the Christians.

I briefly heckled the kid, even tried to get some of my neighbor vendors and others to join in the heckling. It was just me, though, so after hollering a few insults, I shut up and worked my stand, just watching and waiting to see what would happen next.

Jesus, some of the things that stupid skinhead said and did. He screamed at the Christians, pounded on a garbage can to drown out their music, flipped 'em off a thousand times, raspberried them, did a swivel-hips 'fuck you' dance, echoed them, and did everything short of dropping his shorts to give them a bare-ass salute.

And you know what? The Christians never screamed back at him. They talked to people, off-microphone, quietly sharing their dingbat gospel, and they politely talked to the obnoxious teenager, which only made him shriek even louder. After a few minutes, the punk got bored and walked away.

After that, though, the Christians turned their microphones over to their children. One-by-one, each well-scrubbed rosy-cheeked preacher's kid sang a solo, and — Holy Mary, mother of God. Hearing "Jesus Loves Me" sung by a 5-year-old who can't carry a tune, at top volume through jumbo-size speakers, is not an experience that brings anyone closer to God. It brought me close to insanity.

Then the 5-year-old handed the mike to a 4-year-old, who made it through about three bars of "Jesus Loves the Little Children" before forgetting the lyrics, which gave Telegraph Avenue ten seconds of blessed silence — until she started the song over again, for Christ's sake.

The third and last kid was the kicker, and I wanted to kick her. She might've been all of three years old, and by the diaper bulge over her butt you could tell she wasn't even potty-trained. She could barely stand, and she couldn't sing, and yet her parents had ordered her to belt out, "I've Got the Joy Joy Joy Joy Down in My Heart."

God, it was depressing, and more than I could tolerate. I asked my neighbor-vendor to watch my stand, ran across the street, and cornered one of the grown-up Christians I thought might be the father of one or more of these abused children. "What have we done to deserve this torture?" I yelled in his face.

"I think it's beautiful," he answered, all calm and Christ-like. Is it live, I wondered, or is it Thorazine?

"She's making my ears bleed," I said, pointing at the kid, "and how can you be so damned cruel to these children?"

"She wants to sing," he said, still pleasantly, "and isn't she cute?"

"Cute?" I asked, unbelieving. "It ought to be illegal what you're doing to these kids, it's hell on earth hearing it, and don't you lie to me—" and at that the man opened his eyes a little wider, showing some human reaction at last "—that 'she wants to sing'."

"She does!" he said earnestly. "She's my daughter, and I should know." He still wasn't angry, so I had to try harder.

"Yeah, damned right you should know," I said. "You should know that's a load of horseshit. She didn't want to play in the park? She didn't want to stay home and watch Mr Magoo? No, she frickin' wanted to stand on the corner and sing a song she doesn't know the tune for, let alone the meaning? My ass."

Then came the finest moment of my day. Just when I thought I'd made a fool of myself, and was ready to give up and go back to selling fish, a voice interrupted from behind. "While I wouldn't put it quite so emphatically as Doug, I must say, I do agree."

I turned to see who was taking my side, and it was Midget, another vendor. Midget is a giant man, hence the nickname, and he sells intricate metal-works on the Ave. A few days ago he'd said something kind about the fish, and we'd briefly chatted, so I knew he was all right, but until then I hadn't known he was All Right.

For a few minutes we argued together against that Christian, Midget without my increasing vulgarities, and me without his even, measured tone of voice. It was pointless, though. What, we're going to talk a Christian out of Christianity?

When the kid had finished screeching her song, a cop approached, so it seemed like a good idea for me to go back to hawking fish. After I'd walked away, Midget talked to the cop, and asked him to enforce some little-known and seldom-used city law that regulates the max volume of amplified sound on the street. To my pleasant surprise, the cop spoke to the Christians, and they pumped down the volume.

As Midget passed my table on his way to his, I shook his hand and gave him his choice of any fish on my table. He took LSD (the fish, not the drug).

♦ ♦ ♦

As I wheeled my cart away at the end of the day, a woman selling jewelry at the corner smiled at me and said hi. Wasn't sure who she was, but I'm never sure. She looked sorta-kinda-maybe familiar, but I'm lousy with names and faces. Lousy with humans, really. Knew I'd seen her before, so I smiled and waved as I walked by. 

It was a hundred footsteps until the realization — she was one of the censorship queens who'd tried to have Jay's poetry banned in Berkeley. Why would that woman say hello to me?

People are such peculiar things. After what she'd tried, now she wants to be on decent terms with me? In what world, bitch? I wanted to backtrack to her table, withdraw my wave and smile and trade 'em for a well-earned hand gesture.

She was half a block behind me, though. I was walking away, and 'away' felt like the place to be.

From Pathetic Life #15
Saturday, August 12, 1995

This is an entry retyped from an on-paper zine I wrote many years ago, called Pathetic Life. The opinions stated were my opinions then, but might not be my opinions now. Also, I said and did some disgusting things, so parental guidance is advised.

How to drive a bus (part 1)

Some rushed and jumbled notes & complaints about being trained to drive the bus, though I'm unsure it's of interest to anyone who doesn't drive a bus. Your odometer reading may vary.

A one-sentence summary: The training has been frustrating so far, and I'm still not sure I can do this job.

It started with one week of classroom lectures and videos, and I give that part of the training a good grade. The CPR session was a farce, but the rest of the week was OK. 

All the teachers used to be drivers, and the woman who taught the classroom session was a good teacher. She teaches only the classroom sessions, though, to a new crop of rookies every week, so we'll never see her again, except in the building's hallways.

Our next teacher was a woman named Sienna, and she also knows what she's teaching, and knows it well. For three days, she taught us how to deal with disabled passengers, which was mostly about working the wheelchair lift, and securements and belts.

Sienna, though, is young, pretty, and perhaps too sociable. She knows everybody at the bus barn, and will interrupt the class to talk with just about anyone who's walking past. 

While we're in the yard, buses come in and leave constantly, and Sienna stops to look at every bus, to wave at or chat with the driver.

On the rare occasions when she doesn't recognize the driver, she says, "Who's that?" and the class freeze-frames while she peers across the lot, trying to decide if the driver is cute. (That's not a joke; it's what she says: "I don't know that driver, but he's cute.")

She's always running late, too. At the start of the day, and after lunch, and after every break, we return to where she's told us to be, and wait for Sienna. Maybe the wait is ten minutes, maybe it's twenty, always it's frustrating. Often we can see her in the distance across the bus parking lot, talking to someone. The wait isn't 'sometimes', it's every time, and sometimes she leaves us during a session to go talk to someone else.

If I thought I could say it without being fired, I'd say... 

Sienna, you're a good teacher, but please spend more time teaching us, and less time 'everything else-ing'. We are here, where and when we're supposed to be. We are taking this seriously, wanting to learn how to drive a bus. Please teach us.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Well, most of us are taking the training seriously.

A couple of the students quickly became best buddies, and they're often whispering during the demonstrations. Others are checking their text messages every time there's a moment's lull, despite the very strict edict issued at the start of training:

"If you're driving with a cell phone that's on or within easy reach, that's an immediate termination," we were told. And yet, phones ring and are sometimes ignored, sometimes answered during these classes. "It's my doctor's office, so I have to take this call," etc.

The phones are tolerated, with only occasional reprimands from the teachers, reminding us to shut off and put away our phones. Sienna is a good teacher when she's teaching, but she scrolls through her messages, too, almost any time the students are doing a task. 

(Me, I hate cell phones, so mine is very stowed — I leave it at home.)

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Everything is taught to the entire class, and then done by each student — six of us, one by one — so the days go very slowly.

For example, Sienna demonstrates a 50-step physical task, like securements and belts, while one student sits in the wheelchair, to be secured and belted down. Then someone else sits in the wheelchair, and a different student does the securements and belts. It might take a few minutes per student if it's going well, 10 minutes if the student has difficulties with the task, 15 minutes if Sienna is extra chatty, and half an hour if it's Mitch, because Mitch does everything slowly, and always asks the zaniest off-topic questions.

Factor in all of that, and over the two days of securements and belts, I only did the belts three times — and the last two times were only after I'd asked for more practice on belts. After the securements and belts section, Sienna asked us all, what do you feel you need more practice on? I answered, "Securements and belts."

♦ ♦ ♦ 

At this point, I am absolutely not ready to secure and belt real-live wheelchair riders, but that section of training is over, and I've officially 'passed'. We've moved on, and now we're driving the buses.

Next week I'm going to ask for some remedial time working on belts. 

Next: Actually driving a bus.


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