September 28, 2018

Big Yellow School Bus

Me in a big yellow school bus

I posted this picture on Facebook on Monday and I thought it might be time to update everyone on the life of a freshly licensed school bus driver.

For my non-U.S. readers, this is pretty much exactly what it sounds like, but the "big yellow" part will likely mean nothing to you. School buses are not unusual in other parts of the world, nor in Britain. The biggest difference is that U.S. school buses are bright yellow (well, technically they are Federal standard "National School Bus Glossy Yellow" and there is an interesting YouTube video here if you want more explanation.)

I've tried a number of other approaches to earning a living that will fit well with being a pastor and this seems like a good fit. Perhaps not what most people might expect me to do after working for more than a quarter of a century as a computer programmer, but corporate computer programming has a pretty long list of reasons why I'll never miss it, so I'm happy to be driving a bus. (I'll rant about being a programmer in Corporate America another time.) My priority is pastoring and living and working in the city that I'm called to, so no more driving into Madison every day if I can help it.

School bus driving has lots of time flexibility. I work a couple of hours in the morning and a couple more in the afternoon and then I'm done if I want to be. There are always extra trips available to sign up for, but I never have to work an evening or weekend trip if I don't want to. That's some awesome flexibility right there and I can use the time during the day to get on with any pastoral activities that I want to.

The local company that I'm driving for are very friendly and seem as family-oriented as their advertised claims. Peter will even be allowed to ride with me on the bus routes if he wants to, which as a five year old boy he absolutely does want to. The company has a very strict Internet policy where their written policy says that you can't mention the company name or that you drive for them. I asked about this and they said that they never police it, but I'm going to stick with my previous policy of referring to employers as Benevolent Employer just in case. I do have my manager's personal approval to use the picture above, so I'll go ahead and use it this time.

The first thing you do when learning to be a school bus driver is start studying for your written portion of the test. This is necessary to be able to get your permit. So no driving until you've passed your "writtens" (learning lots of new lingo too!). Oh, and you need a very specific DOT (Department of Transportation) medical certificate when you apply for your CDL (Commercial Drivers License) permit. I had to take five writtens: general CDL, Air Brakes, Road Signs, School Bus and Passenger Bus. I aced three of them and got over 90% in the other two, so I'm pretty pleased with myself about that. Must not forget to mention the company pre-hire drug test; can't drive until you pass that either.

For my British readers, a CDL is basically like an HGV license, except that I only applied for class B. I would need a class A to drive a big rig. Buses are good for now, I'll worry about anything bigger some other time.

With my permit in my hand, I was now able to start learning to drive, except that before you can drive, you have to learn the intricate art of the pre-trip inspection. These are interesting. The pre-trip inspection that you get tested on takes about 45 minutes. The pre-trip inspection that you normally do before driving your bus takes between 3 to 5 minutes. Yeah, quite a difference. The test has you point at and name numerous parts and then explain how you would test it in a real inspection by a mechanic. There is merit to much of the test, but some parts will never be used in reality.

After a few trips out of the depot in a bus, I was scheduled for my test. My assigned examiner was {name withheld} and everyone told me he was super strict. I spent the next four days trying not to freak out, but when I met him earlier this week on Tuesday, he seemed like a nice guy, with a sense of humor and a love of Star Wars one-liners. He graded me in a fashion I would call tough but fair. He caught a number of my silly mistakes, but didn't hammer me on them, instead explaining carefully what I should have done instead. He graded me a pass, explained which areas I needed to be careful in going forward and then shook my hand.

To give my nerves chance to settle, I did not drive the Tuesday afternoon. Then Wednesday morning, I was shown the Blue Route. I drove it, while {name withheld} gave directions. It's one of the more straight-forward routes, but perfect for a new driver. I then drove the Blue Route unguided yesterday and today and made it through with no real problems. I did need to take a couple of back-up points really slow and careful, because backing a big yellow school bus is nerve-wracking after driving my humble little Jeep Wrangler Short Wheel Base!

With my own assigned route in the mornings (Yay, Blue!), my next priority is to learn several of the afternoon routes so that I can substitute for those drivers if they want to take time off or be sick. I'm learning the Black Route (which I still think sounds like a communicable disease) and this afternoon will get my first introduction to the Red Route.

There are plenty of other observations that I could make about driving a big yellow school bus but this will do for now and will bring folks up to speed on what I'm doing and why. I'll write more after I get settled in and have a few routes under my belt.

Tags: Personal Big Yellow School Bus