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Kirby: Navigating school bus is worst distracted driving

By Robert Kirby

| Tribune Columnist

First Published Mar 11 2014 01:01 am • Last Updated Mar 31 2014 03:25 pm

I passed a school bus on the freeway last week. In the back the kids were carrying on and hanging from the ceiling. When I got to the front of the bus, the driver looked catatonic.

On my Top 10 Jobs I Couldn’t Get Paid Enough to Do list, school bus driver is No. 8, right after road construction flagger and just before food server.

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The rest of the list includes school teacher (1), law enforcement (2), flight attendant (3), elected official (4), executive assistant (5), customer support (6) and newspaper editor (10).

Keep in mind that this is based on years of personal introspection and social observation. Also, it’s my list. Make your own.

I’m not saying school bus drivers aren’t important. I’m not even saying it’s an overly complicated job. I’m saying that I’d go to jail if I tried it. Probably the first day. Before lunch.

It’s a question of temperament rather than capability. I could figure out my assigned route, how to stop at railroad crossings and even open and close the door. It doesn’t seem that hard.

But I couldn’t drive a load of capering, loud, defiant show-offs anywhere for longer than a minute. Thirty seconds if they’ve already developed even a subconscious interest in the opposite sex.

I know this because I used to be one of those kids. By seventh grade I had driven two bus drivers insane and a third to the point of homicide.

Her real name is lost to time, but we affectionately called her Bluto. At the beginning of the year she was a kind and likeable woman with an unfortunate resemblance to Popeye’s arch nemesis.

By the end of the first semester she was an overweight werewolf and could blister your face with just a glance in the rearview mirror.

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Bluto’s initial mistake was believing she could manage a busload of junior high students by appealing to our better nature. That was a laugh. We didn’t have one.

My mistake was believing she couldn’t do anything about our/my behavior. It was my first serious lesson in the vast difference between "can’t" and "shouldn’t."

The ride home was the worst. Freed at last from the confines of school and not yet under the control of our parents, 50-plus kids made the most of it. Screaming. Punching. Throwing stuff. We were letting off steam in joyous riot.

On this particular day, Bluto was building up a head of steam. Had we been making less noise, we might have noticed the teapot sound coming from her ears.

Midway through the journey, I did something that I don’t completely recall but readily admit was egregious. If I had to guess, it had something to do with mooning passing traffic.

In the space of half a second, the bus stopped, I was seized by the collarbone and hurled in the direction of the door. Another half a second later, I was alone on the side of the road in a cloud of exhaust.

This was a long time ago, back when parents were generally on the side of whatever authority a kid happened to run afoul of. I trudged home and wisely kept my mouth shut about it.

If a school bus driver tried that today, they would lose their job and spend the rest of their life wandering the land as a social outcast.

Whatever that lady driving the bus last week is getting paid, it isn’t enough.

Robert Kirby can be reached at rkirby@sltrib.com or facebook.com/stillnotpatbagley.

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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