Monday and Tuesday

or, How to drive a bus (part 12)
Part 1     Part 2     Part 3     Part 4     Part 5 
Part 6     Part 7     Part 8     Part 9     Part 10
 Part 11     Part 12     Part 13     Part 14     Part 15
On Monday the first of August, our first day of class, there were nine of us student bus drivers. Two didn't come back for the second day, so there were seven for a while. My favorite was a nice black lady who didn't talk much, but when she said something it was usually funny. She quit after the second week of training, though.

Since then there've been six students in my class. Now there are five, but there's a week's worth of bus-driving stories to tell before we get to that.

♦ ♦ ♦

After we graduated from the classroom stuff, Sienna was our teacher for several days, as we learned wheelchair securements and belts. When we started driving buses on the practice course, our teachers were Sienna and Vivian. When we started driving on the streets, Sienna and Vivian rode with us, except for one when day I rode and drove with Juan as my teacher, which, perhaps coincidentally, was the day it all started clicking for me.

This week, I rode and drove with Sienna and several other students on Monday and Tuesday.

Jo-Jo is the best student in our class, because he's driven buses before, but on Monday he had an incident. He was driving in the outside lane on a busy street where tall bushes had grown right up to the curb. The bus is wider than its wheelbase, and he was too close to the edge, and seriously scraped the bus against those bushes — for half a block. He said there'd been a rut in the pavement, and that it was a struggle steering the tires out of the rut, out of the bushes at 25 miles per hour.

One of the other student drivers tried to inch the bus past a bicyclist, which is very, very not allowed. We're supposed to give bikes four feet of clearance, and if there's not four feet of clearance, we stay behind the bike.

One student made a perfectly safe U-turn on a deserted road, but that's forbidden, because U-turns are considered risky by definition.

Two students drove way over the speed limit, and two more were a little over the speed limit. We're not supposed to exceed the speed limit, ever, and if you do, the bus's safety-eye software reports you to management.

One student ran a red light. Two students ran stop signs. Four of us did rolling stops instead of complete stops. Us rookie drivers are out there, so watch out, people!

Me? My biggest recurring mistake was making sharp turns at 7-9 mph, when it's supposed to be 3-5 mph. Slower is better, and in the back of the bus you can really feel the difference, so — my bad.

On the bus (like in life), it's easier for me to see my mistakes than my successes, but it's fair to say that I'm driving the bus successfully. A week earlier, I would've ranked me in the middle of our class of six, but day after day as I continued not screwing up, and other students did, I've gained confidence. My assessment is, I'm the second best, behind only Jo-Jo, and I haven't hit any bushes.

♦ ♦ ♦

The worst of us is Mitch, by far. He weaves in his lane, sometimes hugging the shoulder, other times hugging the yellow line. He drives too fast, and brakes too hard. Most of his stops are rolling stops, unless the teacher reminds him to come to a full stop. 

And Mitch still doesn't understand what bus drivers have to do at every railroad crossing. It's not complicated:

① Hazard lights on.
② Slow the bus.
③ Come to a complete stop at the white line.
④ Look and listen for a train.
⑤ If it's safe to do so, proceed.
⑥ Turn the hazard lights off.

Once, on Tuesday afternoon, Mitch did all the above. It took him three times as long as it should've, but he did it without anyone reminding him what to do, and there was a smattering of applause from the students riding as passengers.

It was just dumb luck, though. The other thirty times he's driven over railroad tracks — even after getting it right that once — Mitch has never followed the procedures without being told what to do, step by step.

♦ ♦ ♦

Beginning this week, our training buses have had safety-eye devices, same as the buses used in actual service. The safety-eye emits a single beep if you're following too closely behind the car in front of you, and a quick burst of beeps if your vehicle isn't centered in its lane.

This might be standard tech on late-model cars, but my car is very old, so the safety-eye is sci-fi to me.

When anyone's driving the bus, you'll hear occasional beeps from the safety-eye. Most of the beeps are single-beeps, meaning another driver has cut into the lane ahead of the bus, so we're suddenly following too close. Ease off the gas, and it won't beep again.

When Mitch drives, it's like listening to a Kraftwerk concert. Beep. Beep. Beepity beepity beepity, goes the safety-eye, because he routinely follows too close, and swims from left to right in his lane.

If I've said this before, sorry, but what keeps popping into my head is: We hear lots of lectures about "Safety first," and "Nothing's more important than the safety of our passengers," and yet Mitch remains among us. He's a living, breathing risk to safety, and I am honestly fearful when he's driving and I'm on the bus.

He's in his late 60s, even older than me, and he's easily and often confused. He asks very basic questions, or simply strange questions. While we were doing the six-point driving test, he asked how the bus's radio works, but we weren't and still aren't using the radio. Right after our morning break, every day, he asks, "When's lunch?" but lunch is always at the same time, every day (and Mitch wears a watch). Five times we've taken buses to the gas station, and every time he's asked, "Which side do we fill the tank from?" It's the driver's side, for every bus in the fleet.

He runs stop signs, drives too fast, forgets to use his turn signals, etc. Mitch is the stereotype of an older driver who shouldn't be driving a car — and he wants to drive a bus?

Well, they're teaching Mitch how to drive a bus, but day after day he's not learning it.

♦ ♦ ♦

On Tuesday, I made no driving mistakes. Zero. My stops were full stops. My turns were 3-5 mph. I moved the bus smoothly into the proper lane trajectory, and it felt so easy I almost shrugged when my turn driving was over. It felt like, I've got this.

Mitch drove much better than he had on Monday, too. He weaved the bus less frequently, made mostly complete stops, and only triggered the safety-eye for lane-drifting once in a while. He still can't fathom railroad crossings, though. It's like me and advanced algebra — just miles over his head.

Still, other than that, Mitch's Tuesday was close to competent, so maybe I've been mistaken. Maybe he can do this. Maybe the teachers were right not to kick him out of bus driver school. Maybe I'm just a dummy who doesn't understand how bus driver training works, and Mitch is finally catching on.

On our way into the building, to clock out at the end of the day, I gave him a high-five.

Next: Wednesday
or, How to drive a bus (part 13)

Part 1     Part 2     Part 3     Part 4     Part 5 
Part 6     Part 7     Part 8     Part 9     Part 10
 Part 11     Part 12     Part 13     Part 14     Part 15


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  1. Are you saying that newer cars have Safety Eyes? Never heard of such a thing. I understand that some cars have backup cameras whose video is routed to a dash display. Never seen one. My car has an AM/FM radio and an electric starter, so I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the Earth earth earth earth.


    1. I've ridden in my brother's car, and it has all sorts of things I don't understand. He talks to it, and it obeys, and it dings sometimes while he's driving, kinda like the safety-eye in the bus.

      Me, I know nothing of car tech. GPS still amazes me.

      Anyone with a genuine 21st century car, tell me please, what amazing tricks can it do?


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