I am not sure how a lot of people come to drive a school bus. I imagine those personal vectors are as diverse as the drivers themselves. My own path was clearly delineated, with a single guiding objective: I desperately needed a job.
I was living in Calgary, in western Canada. My savings, already slim, were dwindling to nothingness. After a disastrous job interview in which I tried (and failed) to find work as a cafeteria supervisor at a local middle school, I returned home to find a flyer in my mailbox.
SCHOOL BUS DRIVERS WANTED.
If you’d told my 18-year-old self that my 31-year-old self would be contemplating driving a school bus, my younger self may have been appalled. That younger self had anticipated a life of romance, wild adventures and derring-do, each new excitement outdoing the last.
Ah, but isn't that the privilege of youth? To wish for such things?
In truth, and simply, at that point in my life I needed a gig. My eighteen-year-old self would just have to learn to cope with the disappointment.
Here’s the thing, though: I could not have fathomed just how fun, how sometimes shattering, but ultimately how transformative driving a school bus could be.
You hear it said. Life-changing. Your mind immediately directs itself towards the question: What experiences could be so monumental as to alter the course of someone’s life—to challenge them, shape them, and make them think in new ways? Most people assume it those experiences would surely involve galvanic occurrences: climbing Mount Kilimanjaro or running with the bulls in Pamplona or having a child or falling riotously in love.
And while those things most certainly are life-altering—at least, they hold that potential—events that change lives can also happen more gradually and on a smaller scale.
For me, that change happened while driving a bus.
It was not a big bus, but a small one. A bussette, as they’re known. Or a short bus, though I don’t much care for that term. How did it transpire that I drove that particular bus, that route, and those five children? Like so many instances in life, it was pure luck. It was the route closest to my house.
Now, I’ll admit that I thought for a while before accepting the route. I’d never worked with, or had a family member or friend, who fell under the wide and diverse umbrella of having a “special need.” My fear was one that I discovered many people harbor: Am I the right sort of person? Do I have the capabilities and understandings? These are not unfair questions to ask of oneself. But ultimately I decided that, if it turned out I did not have those capabilities—or could not foster them in short order—then I’d ask to be assigned to a different route, as that forecasted to be better for all concerned.
As I discovered (and this was only the first of a great many discoveries that year), the “capabilities” I felt I’d need in order to be a suitable driver for these children were pretty much the same ones required to drive any children. Those being: a sense of humor, forbearance when it was needed, the ability to offer guidance where applicable, and more than anything an openness to circumstances as they may arise. A flexibility of character to deal with the kinds of situations one finds themselves in when around kids. That was all. No more.
And so, yes, the year transformed me. To a great degree, those kids and the time we spent together—first on, and then later off the bus—changed me. All for the better. I could not be more grateful for that experience.
And to think it all started with a flyer randomly dropped in my mailbox.
Craig Davidson, aka Nick Cutter, is the author of more than a dozen novels, including “Precious Cargo: My Year of Driving the Kids on School Bus 3077,” which chronicles his year as a special needs school bus driver. He will deliver a related TSD Conference keynote address on March 20 in Frisco, Texas.