or, How to drive a bus (part 13)
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Mitch and I were waiting by the pool table in the drivers' lobby, when Sienna came up to us and said she wouldn't be our teacher today. Instead we'd be working with Vivian, she said. Mitch and I both sighed, and Sienna apologized.

A day with Vivian is a day with a headache. She talks way too much, and mostly not about driving a bus. She chatters about her family, her past jobs, her house, and her husband, and doesn't pay much attention to the drivers' driving.

She started by saying,  "We've got bus# 1289 for today. Here's the keys. Go out to the lot, Mitch, and start the pre-trip inspection."

She was talking to me, though. She called me Mitch — and she's done that before, several times.

I always say, "I'm Doug," and Vivian laughs and apologizes, but after the first few times I ain't amused.

♦ ♦ ♦

For the second day in a row, I drove the bus damned near exactly as we'd been taught. Nothing but smooth starts, smooth stops, and no rules broken — except when following Vivian's instructions.

"Always change lanes only one lane at a time," we've been told. If you need to get over two lanes, you signal and take the first lane when it's safe to do so, then settle into that lane, and only then do you signal and take the next lane when it's safe to do so.

Vivian's habit, though, is to shout out driving instructions at the last moment, or a little bit after the last moment. Several times, she told me to turn at an intersection, when we were already at the intersection, and the bus was in the wrong lane for the turn she wanted. If traffic allowed, I jumped lanes diagonally, exactly as we've been told never to do.

It pissed me off, so toward the end of my driving day I started saying, "No, I can't do that, legally or safely," and driving straight through the intersection instead. Those were the only times all day when Vivian was quiet for an extended time, and in retrospect doing the right thing — saying no, and driving as we've been taught — was the wrong thing to do.

♦ ♦ ♦

When she had me driving in the Southcenter parking lot, she told me the speed limit was 5 miles per hour, and scolded me for driving at 10 mph, but the posted speed limit is 15 mph — I'd seen a sign, and told her. She insisted, though, that the speed limit was 5 mph, and said even if it wasn't, 5 mph in parking lots is our speed limit, by policy.

That's a rule I'd never heard before, but Vivian seems to make up new rules as she needs them. My head was throbbing and I wanted her to stop talking while I was trying to drive, more than I wanted to win an argument. Anyway, you can't win an argument with a teacher, certainly not this teacher, so I said, "OK, 5 mph in parking lots."

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Have I mentioned that bus drivers aren't allowed to have their cell phones easily available while they're driving? It's one of several rules that have been described to us as Rule #1. Your phone is supposed to be powered off or set to silent, and kept out of reach.

While students are driving the bus, though, Vivian's phone rings, often. She takes calls, answers texts, and has long conversations in her ear — not constantly, but her phone rings a dozen times daily, and it's distracting to the driver.

That's why cell phones are supposed to be set to silent, please, and kept out of reach. That's why it's one of the Rule #1's, except for Vivian.

♦ ♦ ♦

Remember when I wrote about my day of training with Juan as the instructor? He was cordial all day, smiling and supportive, but he never had an extended conversation with anyone about anything except driving the bus.

Vivian is so very much Juan's opposite. After riding with Vivian for a few days last week and again today, it feels like I know everything about her, because she never stops telling us about Vivian. Talking about driving a bus seems like an interruption, an afterthought.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

When Sienna was our instructor, she watched us drive. When Juan was our instructor, he was downright obsessive about watching. He sat perched on the front passenger seat, peering over the driver's shoulder, looking out the windshield, and scribbling notes about everything the driver did right or wrong. I loved it, and it was very helpful.

Vivian is not so keen on watching us drive. Mostly she's talking, about whatever she's talking about. Often she's looking out the window, but it's the side window, not the front window. She likes talking to (and looking at) the students in the back of the bus. She glances at the windshield and dashboard sometimes, but it might be a minute between glances, so there are subtleties of what the driver's doing that she's unaware of.

For example, we were waiting because a disabled, slow-walking pedestrian was in the crosswalk. Student drivers are supposed to say what they're doing and why, so Mitch had announced, "Waiting for a pedestrian." Vivian was talking, though, not listening, so after a while she said, "Why are we stopped?"

And whenever Mitch or I asked, "Left or right at the intersection?" Vivian had to look around and figure out where we were at.

And once, Mitch drove over railroad tracks without noticing, not stopping or even slowing down. Vivian scolded him it, of course, and he deserved it — but she scolded him for doing it again half an hour later, when he hadn't done it again. We'd simply driven over a patch of very bumpy, bouncy pavement, and Vivian assumed it was railroad tracks, because she wasn't watching.

My mind wanders too, sometimes, when someone else is driving the bus, but I'm not the teacher. I wish Vivian was watching us drive instead of talking so much, especially when Mitch is driving.

♦ ♦ ♦

Sure, obviously, Vivian gets on my nerves, but she does know how to drive a bus. In those rare moments when she's not babbling about her family, her life, or how good a bus-driving teacher she is, she has helpful information to impart, and I have learned some worthwhile things about driving a bus from Vivian.

An example: At some railroad tracks near downtown Kent, there's a brief cutaway lane for buses only, right at the tracks. Buses are supposed to do their railroad-slow-and-stop, look-and-listen routine in that lane, so we don't block traffic.

But Vivian explained, if you pull the bus into that short lane for the railroad stop, it can be a long wait before any drivers will let the bus merge back into traffic — and get this: when the special lane ends and you wait to merge, the bus is right on the railroad tracks. Very unsafe. And I hadn't noticed it until Vivian explained it.

The problem is that Vivian's wisdom is delivered under tons of chit-chat and irrelevant stories. You can't say, "Shut up" to a teacher, though. (Well, unless you're Mitch more on that later).

Also, and even more frustrating, when Vivian has good advice, it comes in a cranky tone of voice that implies, This is stuff you should already know. We're late in our training, so by now it probably is stuff we should already know, but she had that tone the first day we met, two weeks ago.

She had that "You should know this already" tone as she was explaining the six-point course, which is one of the most confusing things I've heard since high school algebra. I still don't understand it.

The way Vivian talks to student drivers, it's the difference between hearing...

"You probably don't want to take free right turns, because the bus needs to turn so slow — 3-5 mph — traffic might be clear when you start the turn, but not when you finish..."

or hearing,

"No, no, no, do NOT take free right turns!"

One of those is helpful, and the other is what Vivian said.

♦ ♦ ♦

And with all due respect, she's not listening to herself talk. Here's one example, among many:

She likes to quiz us about stuff we're supposed to have learned, so while the bus was rolling she asked, "What is L.C.?"

"Elsie is a cow," I said, "the mascot of Borden Dairies." Which is true.

"No, the letters L.C. What does it stand for? Come on, you guys should know this. It was taught in your class!"

After a long silence, I said, "No, it wasn't in our class. Never once have I heard anyone here say L.C."

"Not L.C., it's L.L.L.C.," she said — as if she was correcting me, when actually she was correcting herself. "Look ahead. Look around. Leave room. Communicate. That's Rule #1, and you have to know this stuff!"

Well, I did know L.L.L.C., but she hadn't said that. She'd said L.C., and said it twice.

♦ ♦ ♦

"We can never park the bus in an ordinary parking space on the side of the road," we'd been told by other teachers. The bus is too wide, so it's at risk of being sideswiped.

Today, though, Vivian instructed me to park the bus at the side of the road. OK, I parked the bus on the side of the road.

When I asked about the rule against doing exactly that, she said that it didn't apply where we were parked, and then she seemed to say that there was no such rule. It was confusing. The driver's side-mirror was definitely sticking out into traffic, though.

♦ ♦ ♦

When it was Mitch's turn to drive, he curbed the bus again, the first time he made a right turn.

Here's our scorecard: Jo-Jo and I haven't (yet?) curbed a bus, everyone else has done it once, and Mitch has now curbed the bus three times.

He also continued screwing up every railroad crossing, which continues to mystify me. I can't understand what it is that Mitch can't understand about our relatively simple procedures at railroad crossings. It's about as complicated as putting carrots into a vegetable bin, but he just can't get it down.

And also I can't understand why his failure to execute such a basic maneuver hasn't gotten him fired.

The same students don't always ride together, but I've ridden the bus with Mitch four days, and in those drives he's taken us over perhaps 15 railroad crossings, and never once gotten it right.

♦ ♦ ♦

Toward the end of the day, in a scene that was simply cruel, Vivian gave Mitch driving instructions — left here, right there, then left — that took the bus into a large industrial complex. We were circling a big warehouse, in a parking lot bordering streets that were under construction.

When she'd gotten Mitch deep into this twisty maze, Vivian told him to navigate himself out of it, and stopped giving "turn here" orders. "You need to be able to find your way out of sticky situations," she said. "So get us out of here, Mitch, and take us back to the highway."

My sense of direction ain't too good, but to me it felt like we should go left, and I said so. Mitch instead decided to go right, and started turning the bus toward a steel plate that had been laid over a ditch, in a construction zone.

The steel plate was for driving on, and it did lead to a real street, but it was the width of one car — too narrow for the bus — and it was at such an angle, relative to the bus, that the turn Mitch was attempting was impossible by the laws of physics.

Vivian hollered at him to stop the bus, scolded Mitch mercilessly, and then sat behind the wheel and drove us out of the pickle she'd put us into.

It was obvious that Mitch was furious, and also obvious — like it has been for a week — that he really shouldn't be driving a bus.

And perhaps just as obvious, Vivian shouldn't be teaching that skill. She knows how to drive, definitely, but she doesn't know how to teach someone to drive.

♦ ♦ ♦

When she let Mitch drive again, just a few minutes later, he was clearly flustered. He repeatedly set off the safety-eye's drifting alarm, flew over a set of speed bumps at 15 mph, and tried to turn the wrong way down a one-way street.

At one point, Vivian told Mitch to get into the right lane when he already was. "I'm in the right lane," he said.

"Oh, I meant the left lane," she said.

"Shut up," Mitch replied flatly, and just for a moment I fell in love with him. He's a big guy, ex-cop, not accustomed to failing in front of people every day. His driving scares me, but I do respect his tenacity.

And it must be said, that wasn't the first, second, or third time that day that Vivian had confused left and right in her instructions, and it doesn't make driving the bus easier.

I'll give her points for patience, though. Her response to being told to shut up was to laugh, and Mitch laughed too.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

On the long list of ways Vivian has pissed me off, this is almost trivial, but back when we were dodging cones on the driving course, it was Vivian who told us we'd have to pass the six-point test — drive all six points on a crazy course consecutively, without any mistakes, and without any coaching as we drove it — before we could proceed to the next training level.

And you know what? That was simply wrong. What's required is only that each student driver spends a certain amount of time driving the six-point course (an hour and a half each, I think). Even Mitch passed the six-point and moved on, because it's an automatic pass. 

When she told us that everyone had to drive that preposterous course perfectly and without any help from the teachers, Vivian was lying.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

By the end of Wednesday, I had a hell of a headache from listening to Vivian chatter all day, but I'd driven dang well, and I hope she'd noticed.

We never know what's planned in training, but the next step is supposed to be cadeting — that's when you ride along on a bus that's actually in service, carrying passengers, but you're under the tutelage of an experience driver.

For that, I'll need to be in uniform, so after work I ordered the necessary dark slacks, and shirts with collars. Also ordered some work shoes, knee pads for all the bending over involved in securing wheelchairs, and rags for wiping the back and side windows, which get kinda sooty. I even splurged and ordered a fake leather bag for carrying my lunch and any driver-related stuff.

Spent $160 bucks, because it looks like I'm actually going to be a bus driver.

Next: Thursday
or, How to drive a bus (part 14)

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. I am enjoying your bus driving odyssey. There's a Vivian in management where I work, and a Mitch coworker, so its pretty funny. Drive safely!

    1. Why, thank you kindly, and if you've enjoyed my bus driving odyssey ⅔ as much as I, then I've enjoyed it about 1½ times as much as you.


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