All throughout primary school I lived fairly close to the particular institution upon where I received my education. However as I made the transition from primary to high school, I was introduced to the school bus. The days of walking home and getting into mischief were now behind me and had been replaced with boarding a bus and getting into mischief. Along with the introduction of the school bus naturally came the introduction of the school bus driver.
The school bus drivers were like characters in our life. We got to know them. We talked to them. We constantly referenced them. Sure they were grumpy old pricks that yelled at us and told us to shut up. Sure we watched them swear at pedestrians and cyclists from the window. But they were also our heroes.
Today I am going to write about the men who drove my school bus...
Winston was the school bus driver when I started high school, and was the driver we had the longest. I was instantly fond of this man purely due to his name... Winston. The only other Winston I knew of was Winston Zedmore, and I didn't even really know him. I was just really into the idea that I knew a guy named Winston. Winston was a bloke in his sixties and spoke in a real "rough as guts" kind of way. He kinda sounded like the character Bobo from the fairly lackluster Australian comedy programme "Fat Pizza", always telling everybody to shut up. He referred to all males as "trouble" often using phrases like "shut up, trouble", "good morning, trouble" and "here comes trouble". To me his gruff persona didn't really match up with the fact that he was always neatly dressed, cleanly shaven, and just generally well presented.
One day I was getting the bus somewhere during the school holidays and he was driving. I was waiting to get on and heard him speaking to other people riding the bus, elderly ladies, single mothers and such, and his voice was totally different. When it was my turn to pay my fare he looks me in the eye and says "what are you up to, trouble" in his gruff voice. It was then obvious that Winston was just putting on an act so the unruly teenagers would not get the best of him.
John Parry was Winston's back-up driver. When Winston was sick or on holidays we'd get John Parry. John Parry was an old, gaunt looking man who looked to have walked straight out of an anti-smoking ad campaign. He was fairly grumpy and old, but sometimes got a bit silly and would tell dirty jokes. Often he would overhear someone quoting something from the previous nights Simpsons episode and he'd recognise it and get up from his seat and start yelling out to us about how funny it was.
At the beginning of one school year the lists for roll call had not been printed yet, and our PE teacher asked us to write our names down on a sheet of paper that was passed around. In this situation other kids write in obviously fake names like "Homer Simpson" and "Jason Voohrees" but teachers are onto this shit and they never make it onto the rolls. I wrote the name "John Parry" onto the list and completely forgot about it. Later that week in our next PE lesson the teacher was marking the roll and proceeds to call out the name "John Parry!" and laughter erupts from the five or so kids in the room who caught our bus, while everyone else looks on confused as fuck. One kid yells out "Miss, John Parry is a bus driver, he's not meant to be here!" and everyone laughed some more.
Scott was only our bus driver for a few terms. Scott was aged somewhere in his late twenties or early thirties. He wasn't a particularly hip guy, but he was young enough to be able to talk shit and joke around with the high school aged students, and in comparison to the normal old fogies we got, this was enough to make him almost some sort of teen idol. At the time he was the coolest guy alive, however in retrospect some of his antics were fairly irresponsible and a little bit sleazy.
Scott was always up for a laugh, and would always go along with ideas we came up with. Sometimes it was just making other kids run for the bus in the morning. He'd do that thing where we drove past a bus stop leaving all the kids staring as we slowly went past, stopping up the road a little bit, waiting for them to catch up, and then driving off up the road a bit more and then stopping again, over and over. Sometimes he'd stop at McDonalds on the way home so kids could run in and grab something to eat, most of the time placing an order with one of the students for himself. He would take massive detours to drop people off right at their front door, occasionally even waiting for them to get changed and return to the bus where they would head to a friends house or to work.
At some point Scott started buying alcohol for some of the girls who would have been around sixteen. They started out just asking him, offering him some money to duck in the bottle-o but he would always decline. Then they'd start flirting with him and inviting him to their parties... and you could tell that he was starting to consider it. Then one Friday morning when me and another girl got on the bus he tells her to check up the back. We walked up there and in the space between the back seat and window, he'd stuck a couple of bottles of vodka. And then he did it a few more times.
Malcolm was kind of vacant and didn't say much. Occasionally he'd tell everyone to shut up. He looked a little bit like a monkey the way his lips sat, with his small amount of hair combed over, sitting there hunched over at the wheel.
Our school was in an area that was known for flooding. There were two roads out of the area and once one was under water, it meant that the other was not far behind it and we had to be evacuated. On days when one of the roads was under water, shit would get real hectic with people at the school and local residents rushing about trying to get out of the area. One time it had been raining heavily for days, and we all thought an evacuation was certain. It didn't happen, but the first road had been flooded and closed. At 2:30 when we were leaving, the bus was stuck in traffic on the way out. It gets to the point where the bus should be taking a detour and turning to the right to take the alternative road out, but Malcolm takes a left like we do every day. Everyone is kind of looking at each other asking if we should let him know what's up, but we just wait it out.
Malcolm stops at the causeway, where the road is completely under water. We're thinking that he's obviously going to now turn the bus around and take the other road. But that's not what happened. Maybe he didn't know he was supposed to take another road, maybe he just couldn't be fucked waiting in traffic, I don't know... But he floors it and launches the bus toward the large body of water now that was blocking the road, flowing over it at ridiculous speeds. As soon as we hit the water the bus bounces back and the engine stops. Water starts pouring in the door, quickly covering the floor. The bus starts sliding on the road, slowly rotating. It then starts tipping, and was pretty much up on two wheels. Everybody was standing up on the seats as water was still pouring in. Malcolm is still calmly trying to get the bus started. One might think he'd be giving it a bit of "it'll be okay kids!" but nah, he was chill. Eventually the bus started again, and he somehow managed to slowly get it out of the water. As we drove up the hill all the water rushed toward the back and was deep enough to be covering the seats up there. On the way down the hill it all rushed towards the front emptying out the door. For the whole ride home Malcolm would stop at hills where the front left of the bus was angling down so he could drain the bus some more.
Ian was the last bus driver we had when I was at school, and he was an absolutely pleasant man. He was bald. He kind of looked like Mr Anderson. He had a perfectly straight, immaculately trimmed strip of hair that wrapped around the back half of his head. When saying goodbye to the guy of an afternoon he would just keep going and going until the person had left and the bus door was closed. "Yep, okay, not a problem, seeya, righty-o, yep, bye, okay, seeya!" over and over again until the person was out of earshot.