Learning to Drive a Big Yellow Bus
by Robert Lovenheim
Has this past year left you unemployed or seeking a career change? Every time I pass Smithfield Elementary and see the sign “Bus Drivers Wanted,” I think, could this be me? Years ago, in another life, I produced a TV movie called, “Long Journey Back” starring Cloris Leachman. It was based on the true story of a girl who lost her leg when her school bus was hit by a train. To shoot the shot of the school bus being hit by the train and have the bus actually collapse and get destroyed, my crew worked for weeks removing steal supports from the bus. School buses are built like brick…excuse me, like tanks.
I’ve always been curious about getting behind the wheel of a bus. Signing up for East Stroudsburg School District bus driving class was easy. Within days I got a call asking if I could start the class the following week. There I met a dozen fellow students and our instructors, Ed and Lorraine. The first phase is 14 hours of classroom instruction including a few hours of in-bus training. For 3.5 hours every night for four nights, we went over safety, and safety, and safety — interrupted only by DVDs about safety.
Next, I must pass a physical and then take the written DMV test for my CDL-B driver’s license permit. After that, it is at least six hours of one-on-one driving instruction, and then back to the DMV for a test. On an evening when we rode the buses with Ed and Lorraine, we practiced school bus pick up stops and railroad crossings. I always thought the extension bar that comes out on the front was to hold back traffic. Its actual purpose is to keep kids from crossing too close in front of the bus where the driver can’t see them over the hood.
The last video of our class was a montage of terrible crashes between school buses and trains. I kept looking for a segment stolen from my film. But these were not staged Hollywood crashes, these were all real. It was sobering. The program’s message is clear: we don’t want you driving our kids unless we are sure you can do it safely. If you think this may be a career for you, give the training course a try. My physical exam is in a few weeks. Will I pass?