On the Buses

So you might recall that I have some experience driving school bus. Yes that was me, at the wheel of a forty-foot rolling petri dish full of human cargo, belting out the Beatles classic, “We all live in a yellow submarine”.

I did that job for about two years. To be clear, I thoroughly enjoyed it. The kids were great (for the most part), and operating and being responsible for a great big bus and lots of peoples’ hopes and dreams was really quite satisfying. I wasn’t all that keen on getting up at 5am to do pre-trips in -30°C cold and giving up an entire day to work a split shift for astonishingly low money, but on balance I’m very glad I did it. I’m quite certain that if it weren’t for COVID I would still be there, slogging away, yakking in the driver’s room with other drivers awaiting shifts, sitting on instructions, listening to the kids prattle on, and not necessarily in that order. It was fun. It was social. It was affirmative. And it gave me a whole gold mine of inspiration for the KerDoodles.

So I’d be terribly remiss if I didn’t include a few of the bus drawings I did either for my fellow drivers, or with them in mind.

I got my bus driver’s license in May of 2018 – about six months after I started to draw the KerDoodles. The first assignment they gave me was to take up a route for the last two weeks of the school year. I was told by the Principal of that school, who welcomed me wholeheartedly, that the kids on my route had been through about six different drivers the year before, so they weren’t really all that good at the bus thing. Well, I’m good with kids, so I took that into account as they loaded, and started fooling around. Once the kids were on board and the doors were closed, I stood in the aisle and addressed them. It was wonderful. I had all the answers. In my mind I had a vision of kids who would listen when I spoke, who would respect the almighty power of the driver of the bus. I believed they would understand what I was saying, and that they would obey without question. Boy, was I wrong! Let’s just say that the first two weeks of my bus driving gig were exhausting and frustrating. I can’t count the number of times I had to pull over to the side of the road with the flashers on to give the little darlings yet another lecture. Now, some might use that as a reason to quit, or to switch routes, or to file complaints, but not me. I used it as an impetus. I recognized, you see, that the kids were acting up because of inconsistency. If they had indeed been through six drivers in the past year then they had not been given clear and steady expectations to live up to. It’s hard to do the right thing if you don’t know what that is, and it was all but guaranteed that if those kids had had different levels of caring that you will inevitably get from six different drivers then they really didn’t have a clue what was expected. How could I punish them for that? The impetus was there for me to be sure to return in the fall and give these kids a chance to learn that lesson, to figure out by steady application of knowledge how they were supposed to behave on the bus.

That’s a lot of words to say that I decided to go back and give them a whole year of dedicated, determined inculcation – just to see if they could be taught. On the final school day I assured them that I would be back in the fall so they should spend their summer doing absolutely nothing but contemplating what they had learned about behaving on the bus, and of course I’m completely sure that happened.

I then spent the summer working charters to get some experience driving the bus. I had a blast. It’s hot as hell in one of those old buses on a summer day, but I didn’t care. I was learning, and socializing, and establishing practices and procedures, and keeping my bus clean, and I was having a great deal of fun with all that.

When the fall came, I was ready. I observed closely as the yard’s operations ramped up, and when I was told that my assigned unit was out for inspection it occurred to me that there was a whole world of activity going on behind the scenes which the kids never see, and it inspired me to draw something to suggest it.

This is what I came up with.

Yes, that’s the actual bus we used for route 293 that year. In reality, the bus was out for mechanical inspection, to ensure it was safe for use. But in my mind I saw it being cleaned and tightened and twiddled and scrubbed and mopped and painted to within an inch of its own existence in order to be ready for the kidoodles who would depend on it for their very lives. The part of this one that I like the most is the two guys on the hood. One is painting the SCHOOL banner above the windshield, but he’s misspelled it and his supervisor is shaking his head in disappointment. Maybe someone needs to go back to school.

You can tell this is an early drawing. The KerDoodles still have awkwardness to them – stray lines, extra lines. They aren’t yet wearing any pants – they’re all apparently male, too – there are no pink ones around, not even in the office. From my memory, it’s from about August 2018 – so, eight months after The First KerDoodle.

The A-frame sign on the right being painted by the KerDoodle rather inexpertly perched on his knees is an actual representation of the sign I drew for the bus window – the one that denoted the route information that must legally be in every school bus in service. Kids of 293, St Benedict, I was effectively saying, all this work is being done for you.

I drew a number of things to hang inside the bus, too – important information the kids needed – since they were the only ones allowed inside. By policy, the kids had to have an assigned seat, though it was up to me, the driver, whether they had to actually sit in it or not. Other drivers scribbled on magnets, or stuck little pieces of paper on the wall/ceiling above the seats. I, of course, represented the kids in KerDoodle form, with their name, to show they owned the seat. With the kids of 293 the assigned seats were used as a kind of carrot. If you behave, you can sit where you like. If you don’t behave, you’ll sit in your assigned seats. Grrrrr. And by the way, big kids were assigned seats with little kids, friends away from friends, so I really was trying to get them to voluntarily behave. It worked. And it didn’t. Kids will be kids, and those kids were particularly good at it.

Anyway, I hung this drawing by the front door of the bus.

The photo in the background was taken by me, in the actual spot where I parked the bus to await the afternoon pick up. The sign’s message is obvious: use the handrail. The steps are steeper than you think. I don’t need you falling backwards and bonking your little noggin on the ground outside!

The next one I drew as a matter of course as soon as I took the bus over in my first spring.

It’s a simple Dos and Don’ts for the kids’ benefit. The left image was based on fact: things I had actually seen, with perhaps a soupçon of hyperbole for effect versus the superlative, the utopian – the highly unlikely, at least for the 293 group. Somewhere in between the two extremes would have been satisfactory, had we ever quite gotten there. In that first year, we didn’t. We did make some progress – some kids learned to do it right – but most did not. I remember one troublesome boy with whom I had butted proverbial heads a few times over his inability to stay in his seat. About a week from the end of school he stopped by my seat on his way off the bus. I said, “Goodnight, Matthew.” He replied, “you know, I’m going to be very happy never to have to get on this bus again.” I didn’t take this personally, and I didn’t take it as a defeat. I took it as an acknowledgment that we had been at loggerheads – and that he had noted my role as an educator figure in his life. He was one who had improved very slightly during the year. I told him, “Give it time, Matthew. Everyone has stuff to work on. I will miss you even if you don’t miss me.” I don’t think he expected me to say that.

Following up on these informative posters I started focusing on drawing the bus. To begin with the buses were somewhat realistic in appearance. I would take a photograph in the yard, trace the outline of the bus, and fill in some of the details manually. Then, of course, I would add KerDoodles. This image of a flat-nosed KL (KerDoodle Lines) bus garnered a certain appreciation around the yard. It shows a simple bus, waiting to take an early morning group of holiday-goers and their luggage to their destination. I mentioned earlier that the bulk of my experience that first summer was in charters – well, this is what I was talking about: getting up very early to get the bus woken, to get it ready and to get to the pickup location. Yup, that’s me, behind the wheel.

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