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A tall and yellow point of view

“Don’t worry about having to repeat the fourth grade little dude! Look at me. I failed the fourth grade two times and now I drive the bus!” (From the stoned school bus driver on “The Simpsons,” the Bart fails-the-fourth-grade episode.) No, we’re really not stoners, grouches or morons up there in that big yellow truck. Mostly, we’re moms, helping out the family with a little extra income or retired guys like me looking for something to do.I was a computer engineer. Why did I leave corporate life for bus driving? The words of Monty Python are perfect: “And now for something completely different!” I like kids, and the jobs actually do have some similarities. Big library computer customers could sometimes act like children, and hey, both jobs come with company cars! Besides, our kids are in college now and the house feels awfully empty. Until grandchildren come, I guess I’ll have to borrow yours.No one wants to get caught behind a bus. Yes, I know that school buses don’t accelerate, they gather momentum. My old bus has a stick shift. The light turns green: Rmmm, Rmmm! Firrrrrst… Seconnnnd… Thirrrrd… OK, I’m across the intersection now! Fourrrrrth … I drive a car, too, and completely understand folks not wanting to be stuck behind a bus. We’re slow. We stop everywhere. I do try and wait for traffic to pass before I pop out my stop sign. Indeed, I have told dawdling kids to hurry up; those people in cars waiting behind us are trying to get to work to pay the taxes that buy your education. I feel your pain, drivers.But what’s with the bozos out there? To the woman in the green Saturn on an icy morning who waited by the ranch supply until I got close and then squirted out right in front of me onto U.S. 24 – what were you thinking? I jammed on the brake and the back end of our 40-foot bus started coming around. I let off, and, while pumping the brake, sounded the horn as you puttered along; the rear of your car disappearing from view under my hood before you began to pull away. Hey, who needs caffeine in the morning when I’ve got you?Then, there are the folks who swarm around me and crowd in front of me like frantic schooling fish. They see that nice cushion of space and dive right in. That space has a name. Remember way back when somebody was trying to teach you how to drive? That space is called “following distance” and big trucks need more of it than you do, to stop safely. Try and keep that in mind when you shave by my front bumper while cutting in front, eh?Most bad drivers are more selfish than dangerous. The people who run a red light or stop sign to get ahead of me, and then drive 10 to 15 below the speed limit come to mind. If you’re going to break the law to get ahead, get on it. Then, there are those who really must pass me and then slow down. And sometimes when I signal to change lanes, it’s as though I’ve tipped my hand in poker. You know who you are. You look straight ahead and accelerate, blocking my lane change. You don’t see the huge yellow truck, festooned with lights, three flashing turn signals along the side – trying desperately to get over. Are you the same people who “don’t see” my flashing red stop sign and blow on by? I almost lost a kid to one of you once.Oh, I could go on, and I think I will – about the kind folks out there. To those who wave at me with all your fingers, keep waving. Mostly I wave back, but if I don’t it’s because of the distraction of some tumbling chimps in the back or maybe a skateboard just rolled under my feet. (Yes, that has happened.)To the truckers who sound their air horn because the boys in the back of the bus are jerking their arms up and down, you scare the crap out of me. But I smile. Keep it up, we all like to be noticed and the kids just love it. To those of you who see my turn signal and slow down, sometimes even flashing your lights to let me in – thank you, thank you, thank you. If I knew you, I’d remember you in my will. Come warmer weather, a large collection of abandoned odd mittens and child-sized knit caps could be yours, if only I knew your names.Then, there are the kids themselves. To all the little ones who need their shoe tied, their coat zipped, their tears dried and their stories listened to – thank you, too. I’d never admit it to you, but it makes me happy to replace your lost or forgotten lunch money so I know you’ll have a warm tummy full of food that afternoon. You let me still be a dad. Your innocent, optimistic and unmasked humanity is the reason I get up in the mornings.At last, to my cynical fellow adults who think my desire for courtesy and manners on the highway is futile, truly, there is hope. I see kindness out there every day. Often I am quite pleased with people. I’ll let you in on a school bus driver’s observation. Sometimes, I drive a trip to the zoo or the Pioneer’s Museum. Even in these modern, over-cooked, over-stimulated times; little round-headed, pig-tailed or burr-headed kids, eyes wide as a lemur’s, still look up at the world with wonder. Well, they do seem to look up at absolutely everything when they’re that small.One of the really great things about having children is that, with every new generation, we humans get a do-over – a fresh chance to get it right and raise them with kindness, love, manners and respect. And even now, in these often rushed modern times, when the kindergartners make a trip out to the zoo or the post office and they stump around on short legs with knees they’ve only recently learned how to bend, they still hold hands. Just like we did when we were very young.– Tom Preble

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