I finally scored my very first-out-of-district field trip. Another new bus driver from my class last summer got the same trip, too, so the day before the trip I picked her up in my car and we drove the route together, then had lunch.
The day of the trip we decided I'd be lead bus, but it turned into "the blind leading the blind." First, we waited in the bus zone at the high school, only to be told by dispatch when the group failed to show, that they were waiting for us behind the school instead. By the time we got out of the bus zone, back on the street, and up and around the back of the school, we were 10 minutes late loading and the teacher was mad.
Once on the road a reroute directive came over the radio because of an accident on the freeway -- no problem, I was prepared for that -- but it would add more time. Then, as I turned toward our destination the teacher exclaimed, "Where are you going?"
I handed her my routing paperwork, and she said it was "wrong," she had called to change it over a month ago, and we were supposed to go somewhere else (where I had never been and did not know how to get to). I called dispatch over the radio and got the OK to go to the different location, and by the time we got there we were half an hour late.
Oh, but the fun didn't end when I offloaded the students and teacher. Not only did I not have proper directions from dispatch on where I was going, but I didn't have instruction on where to offload and park either. The teacher told me to pull up to the front of the church to drop them, and then I discovered myself locked in, with the only way out being through a parking lot.
Had I arrived earlier I could have used the bus loop off to the side (which wasn't recognizable as such as it was now clogged with illegally parked cars), or parked at the auxiliary lot and made the kids walk to the entrance.
Somehow I had to get myself through the parking lot (designed for cars, not 40 foot buses) and over to the auxiliary lot where the other buses were. As you can see in the photo above, I wasn't very successful. I managed to get myself wedged between a tree, and on the other side of the bus which you can't see, a row of parked cars. Luckily I found some other bus drivers to help me back up and see-saw my way out of there. I was embarrassed, until I learned that I wasn't the only bus driver caught there. Before I arrived there was apparently quite the back-up of similarly wedged buses.
On the way back to the high school we had a "meal stop" and got to go into a retail parking lot to park and wait while the students got fast food. I navigated this parking lot OK, but let me just say that I dislike picking my way through parking lots of parked cars in a vehicle with a long wheelbase and a crappy turning radius.
I must have lost my mind, because a month later the same field trip came up for bid, and I signed for it. This time I'd be transporting middle schoolers instead of high schoolers. AND, I'd be transporting my own daughter. AND my husband, who signed up to chaperone just for the opportunity to watch me drive. At least this time I knew where I was going, and where to park my bus. Once parked, I went into the church and sat in the balcony doing embroidery while watching the choirs perform.
I got more subbing as Spring emerged. Typical was a route with 4 different schools, 3 different runs, 29+ stops, several different circuitous subdivisions to navigate, 150+ students in all, a road named "roller coaster" with a dicey backing turn-around on a hairpin turn, and an impossibly short amount of time to accomplish it in. Whew!
One leg of a 3 school route. That's 26 stops for an elementary school. There is also a high/middle run, and a second elementary, each going to different areas. Miss a turn or a stop and you call dispacth for direction on how to turn around (where?) and get back to that missed stop, meanwhile you'll be late arriving to the next school.
My least favorite (not that any of them are) turn-around in the district. See that turn off which is a driveway to secluded estates? Turning a 40 foot bus around on the shoulder there is a real test of character, especially when it is pitch dark. It's a back & forth see-saw maneuver to get yourself positioned to get back on the road going the opposite direction -- without getting your tires in the ditch, scraping an overhead tree, or getting your nose into the roadway as you do it. Once poised to get back on the road, you have to wait for an opening in the traffic which whizzes by at 50 mph (speed limit is 40, but few obey). I think it is an accident waiting to happen.
Our district is notorious for steep, narrow roads with sharp turns. Above is one of our buses that slid into the ditch on a sharply curving road. An experienced driver on his own assigned route did this, not a sub driver! The only way to navigate this turn with such a long wheelbase is to nudge your nose into the lane of oncoming traffic, and hope no one is coming. This morning there was an oncoming car, and as the driver tried to avoid a head-on collision, the bus went into ditch. Look, there is NO SHOULDER at all! Mental note to self: never sign on for this route.
As if subbing unfamiliar routes and going on field trips to unknown destinations wasn't stressful enough, I decided to sign on for the School Bus Roadeo competition. First there was the Regional competition, then State, and then National. I had no intention of going further than the Regional, since the date of the State competition was the same as our daughter's upcoming wedding, so I wouldn't have been able to go if I qualified. I wasn't in it for the competition, but for the practice, so that I would be a better bus driver (and not get wedged in parking lots).
Practice began in March and happened 3 days a week after work (usually until 7 or 8pm), and Saturdays and Sundays a few hours at a time.
What fun things did I learn? Parallel parking a 40 foot bus in a 46 foot space! The first time I accomplished that (pictured above) I about lost my mind trying to figure out how I did it. Then I had to make sure I did it accurately every time.
Then there was driving my bus through 5 sets of tennis balls balanced on little tubes, with only 1.5" clearance on each side of the rear tires. Amazingly I did consistently well in this event, but again, I have no idea how I did it. Steady hand, and good depth perception, I suppose.
The event I struggled most with was the right turn. There are these two mats that you have to hit exactly on the black stripe with the rear tires. Hitting the one going into the turn is no problem, but pulling in the rear of the bus at the end of the turn to hit that mat perfectly is harder than it looks.
The competition is coming up at the end of May. We'll see how I do.
And to further expand my mind, I signed on for a shift of "Oiling," which is a midday job drivers can do to earn a little extra hours/money. Basically it is a detailed check of every bus engine, looking at fluid levels, belts, hoses, etc.
Two drivers go through the bus yard between AM and PM runs and examine each bus, topping fluids where needed, and making notes for the mechanics on which buses need attention (worn belts, leaks, etc). The goal is to inspect each bus in the yard (150 or so), though some are out on midday runs or field trips. Buses we miss are checked later. "Oiling" inspections are done daily so our buses are kept in top condition, and potential problems are spotted before buses go out on the road.
Not a job I'd want to do every day, but it was fun, and I'd do it again if asked.