Motoring with Mitch

or, How to drive a bus (part 10)
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

Most student drivers in my class are in their 20s or 30s, but we have two senior citizens — me, and Mitch.

Mitch is about my age, 60-something, and he's big like me, but in worse physical condition. He's recovering from surgery, and has slight balance issues and difficulty walking. And nobody's said anything about it, but something's going on with his head — he often seems mentally 'foggy', and misunderstands even the simplest instructions.

A teacher might say, "Turn left at the cone, then drive forward and park the bus," and Mitch will immediately say, "Left at the cone, and then turn left."

Even when he gets it right, he's unsure. The teacher says, "Turn right on Rainier Avenue," and Mitch will reply, "Turn right?" Yes. "On Rainier Avenue?" Yes.

♦ ♦ ♦

On our first day driving the bus in traffic, we all made little mistakes, but Mitch made more serious mistakes — riding the yellow line, speeding, weaving in his lane, rough braking, etc — and more mistakes than anyone else.

Wisely, the teachers had all of us avoid the freeways on that first day, but on the second day, we each briefly drove on the interstate. By mid-day, Mitch's turn to drive was next, and the teachers told him he'd be driving half an hour on the streets, and then half an hour on the freeway.

My mind flashed back to one of the first things we were taught on the first day of our training: "If you see a safety-related issue, bring it to management's attention." To me, the idea of Mitch driving our bus on Interstate-5 was a safety-related issue. 

Why? Because every day on the training course, he'd been our number 1 cone-killer, by far. Driving on the street the previous day, he'd gotten twice as many reminders to "Slow down" and "Check your mirrors" as any of the other students. At 25 mph, Mitch tightens my sphincter. At 60 mph, my ass might stay permanently clenched.

I said nothing, though. The teachers teach newbie bus drivers all the time, and if the teachers aren't scared, I shouldn't be scared, right? Right? They must've seen worse drivers, and they survived...

As Mitch settled into the driver's seat, one of the other students made eye contact with me, and the message sent between us was, Nice to have known you.

None of the students said anything, but we're all required to wear seatbelts on the bus, and I tightened mine enough to cut off blood flow to my groin.

Mitch put the bus into gear and turned onto a quiet street, at about double the recommended speed. The teachers scolded him, and he slowed down.

A few minutes later, he drove over a speed bump on a small residential street at twenty miles an hour, launching two students' books and bags into the air and onto the floor. There was more scolding — "Mitch, you have to slow down!"

After that, he drove on an industrial thoroughfare, and went miles with no major problems and only occasional corrections from the teachers. "No rolling stops, Mitch." "Center the bus in our lane, Mitch." "See the sign, Mitch? Railroad crossing ahead, so turn on your hazard lights and stop the bus."

Sometimes, though, he went 2-3 minutes needing no corrections. Maybe Mitch can do this, I thought. Maybe there will be a tomorrow.

The freeway on-ramp was a few blocks away, and our bus was in the inside lane on a four-lane arterial. The teachers gave their next instruction: "Signal and merge into the right lane, when it's safe to do so."

A moment later we heard thump-thump-thump as the bus's wheels rolled over the street's raised-dot lane lines, and the teachers and other students all shouted, "No!" and "Stay in your lane!" as an SUV honked on our right. Mitch had very nearly merged us into that vehicle, but he swerved the bus back into our lane.

A teacher asked him, "Didn't you check your mirror?"

"Yes," he said, "I checked my mirrors, and didn't see anything."

As he answered, he braked, and slowed the bus to almost stopping — in a 35 mph zone, in moving traffic, in the fast lane. The cars behind us honked, we heard brakes squealing, and one of the teachers asked, "Why are you stopping?" while the other teacher shouted, "Please maintain your speed in traffic!"

Mitch accelerated the bus, and for some reason immediately tried again to move into the lane to our right — and again, a car was there, squeezed onto the shoulder, honking, giving us the finger, and missing the bus by inches, while everyone aboard offered "Oh shit!" and "Holy fuck!" as our color commentary.

A sign ahead said, "Freeway entrance," but the teachers told Mitch to pull to the side of the road. There we sat for several minutes, as one of the teachers settled into the driver's seat, and adjusted the mirrors, and as everyone's blood pressure re-stabilized. The teacher drove us back to the bus barn, and our day was over, but Oh shit! and also, Holy fuck!

♦ ♦ ♦

The next morning, though, Mitch was still among us.

♦ ♦ ♦

My biggest concern about driving the bus isn't driving the bus. It's that Mitch is driving the bus, and I'm on it.

He's nervous, certainly. He's new at driving a bus, and with two teachers giving often-different instructions, it's extra difficult. At some point, though, a bus driver has to drive the bus, in traffic, not into traffic.

How bad does Mitch have to do, to flunk out? He's had serious trouble with everything we've done — the classroom sessions, securements and belts, the driving course, and now driving in traffic. I'm all for second and third chances, but not seventy-third chances.

And I wrote this on Thursday — before Mitch's disastrous Friday session, which I'll write about next.


Next: Curbing the bus
or, How to drive a bus (part 11)

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. Mitch drives like Dean cooks, eh?

    1. Well, yesterday I learned that Dean cooks pretty dang good, if you're only eating the food, not watching it be made.

  2. >The next morning, though, Mitch was still among us.

    Jesus fucking christ.

    1. There's been only half a dozen people in my class, but there are dozens of other soon-to-be drivers at different stages of their training, all wandering the bus barn, or driving dilapidated practice buses around the suburbs. I think they're desperate for more drivers. Maybe they're so desperate that the ability to drive isn't really required.

  3. >And I wrote this on Thursday — before Mitch's disastrous Friday session, which I'll write about next.

    Goddamn dude, you're not gonna lose one reader between installments. Gotta leave 'em wantin' more.

    1. I asked one of the teachers on Thursday, has anyone actually crashed the bus during training?

      The answer was nope, but if anyone can do it, it's Double-Curb Mitch.


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