Thank You.

Every time I get off the bus I tell the driver “Thank you.” I never leave through the side door, even if it’s closer to where I’m sitting when the bus stops, and if the side door is closer I hurry to the front so I don’t hold up anybody just so I can offer a nice parting word to the driver. It’s Labor Day today which got me thinking about that, and about bus drivers I’ve known.
If you rode a bus to school do you remember your first day? I distinctly remember that a few blocks from my house a kid came running out into his yard. I’d seen this kid around the neighborhood–he looked like a miniature Harpo Marx, minus the trench coat and the horn, and I never heard him talk either. I just knew he was younger than me. The driver stopped opened the door just as Harpo Jr.’s mother ran out to grab him.
“Does he ride this bus?” the driver asked.
His mother shook his head and we drove on.
That bus driver was Ms. Owens, who always wore sunglasses and a bright pink shirt and jeans, and who had a frizzy mane of bright red hair. You’d think this would make her stand out but there was at least one other driver who looked just like her, which is why, that first week of school, I got on the wrong bus. One by one, or sometimes in clusters, other kids got off until I was the last one and the poor bus driver had to drive around asking people if they knew where I lived until we passed my mother who was driving around the neighborhood asking people if they’d seen me. I don’t think I ever thanked that driver; I still appreciate all her effort and I don’t mind that she kept insisting I was a girl, but that’s another story.
A few years later Mrs. Owens was still my regular bus driver when a major snowstorm hit and she did her best to get us all home, creeping along through snow and darkness at inches per hour at times. She made all of us give her our home phone numbers as we got off and once she got home she called every one of our parents to make sure we’d gotten home safely.
In high school my regular bus driver was a funny little gnome named Russ who could barely see over the steering wheel and who I’m pretty sure had checked out the school library’s copy of Moby Dick so he could sit on it. We always said “Thanks, Russ” when we got off the bus, and he always said, “Y’all have a nice day.” He never said anything else. We even made a game of trying to get him to say something different, because we were teenagers and therefore jerks.
“Thanks for the ride, Russ.”
“Y’all have a nice day.”
“Have a nice day, Russ.”
“Y’all have a nice day.”
“Have they found the white whale yet, Russ?”
“Y’all have a nice day.”
Even now I thank bus drivers, even when it’s the only thing I say to them, although it’s the chatty ones I remember. There was the older woman who liked talking to passengers, and who one day asked me what my name was. Then she told me I’d never forget her name: “Loretta Lynn.” She was right, and I thanked her for also recording Coal Miner’s Daughter.
There was also the driver who I saw every day for a couple of weeks, then my schedule changed so I took a different bus for about a week, and then it changed back, and the first day as I was getting on the driver grinned and said, “Where you been?” It was nice to know someone was looking out for me.
I even thank the bus drivers who annoy me, like the one who kept pulling over every few blocks, frequently between stops, to check his phone, even though bus drivers are supposed to put their phones in a box while they’re driving. As frustrating as it was I know I shouldn’t make hasty judgments about people, and I had plenty of time to make a slow judgment about him. Maybe someone in his family was having a baby, or major surgery, and he couldn’t get someone else to take his shift so he had to keep checking his phone for news. Maybe there was something else big going on in his life, like an offer for a different job.
Anyway I’ve got the day off from work today so I won’t be riding the bus, but tomorrow if I do I’ll thank the driver.

16 Comments

  1. Red

    I always thank bus drivers, too, but I’m not as diligent at ensuring I leave out the front. If it’s crowded and hard to get to the front, in the US I would never push my way to the front. Actually, in Beijing I never thanked the driver. But those drivers have a lot more going on on their buses than any American bus I’ve been on.

    When I lived in Chicago I bused to and from work, and my morning driver was always the same guy. It wasn’t a popular route, so there were usually few others on the bus. I’d finish my makeup if I was running late, or read, but we had short conversations regularly.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      Public transportation is so underused around here it’s never a problem to get from the back of the bus to the front of the bus, which is kind of a sad thing even if it means I can always thank the driver on my way out. I wonder if in Beijing the driver would think it was weird to be thanked.
      Anyway it is always nice to have a regular driver and short conversations, especially going to or from work.

      Reply
  2. mydangblog

    The train is very similar: I had to leave my car overnight a while ago and was telling the conductor that I was worried about it. A few days later I saw her again, and she asked if it had turned out OK. These little connections are so important when you’re commuting:-)

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      The little connections when commuting really are important. Miss your connection and you might be late for work. The personal connections mean a lot too. It still always surprises me when a bus driver recognizes or remembers me, especially after a few days.

      Reply
  3. Rakkelle

    I don’t ride the bus too often but when I do I always, always thank the bus driver. It makes them smile and that makes me happy. I recently noticed that my son thank the bus driver too. That also made me happy.

    I am curious as to why Mrs. Owens look-alike thought you were a girl. I bet it’s a funny story.

    God bless Mrs. Owens for making sure you all got home safely during that snow storm.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      I’m not sure why the Mrs. Owens look-alike thought I was a girl, but it might have been because I was small and I think I had longish hair at the time, and was wearing a red-striped shirt. I also had kind of a high voice when I was young.
      Anyway Mrs. Owens was amazing. I sometimes think I should try to look her up and see what became of her and, if I can, thank her for being so great, but, not knowing her first name, that’s a bit difficult.

      Reply
  4. Kristine Laco

    I like to thank the driver as I enter so I don’t have to hustle through the crowd when I exit. I rarely ride the bus though so I should probably make the effort.
    Our son rode the bus to school for several years even though we live across the street from a school. His driver was amazing until he wasn’t and was terminated. The driver left work in a rush one day and forgot to check if all the kids had vacated. The sleeping boy on the backbench finally got cold and scared and wandered the school bus yard until he found someone to help.
    Be thankful your drivers are looking out for you.
    Kristine Laco recently posted…Five Days Before Our Eldest Heads to UniversityMy Profile

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      I’m slightly surprised that the sleeping boy on the back bench didn’t wake up to find rude symbols drawn on his face. Or maybe he did. That seems like what the kids I went to school with would have done if anyone had fallen asleep on the bus.
      I think we can all count ourselves lucky when there are bus drivers looking out for us, and I’ve noticed that city bus drivers are never in a rush. It can be frustrating at times but there are advantages to their “get there when we get there” attitude.

      Reply
  5. Allison

    We had Edna. I liked Edna. Before her, I vaguely remember a mean old lady who yelled at us to “Quieten it down back thar!”

    In fact, in early episodes of South Park, I feel certain they modeled the kids’ driver after Mrs. Quieten It Down.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      I can’t believe I’d forgotten the South Park bus driver. I had to go and look up her name–Veronica Crabtree, which sounds so much like a real name I wonder if that’s what the mean old lady who was briefly your bus driver was named.

      Reply
  6. Ann Koplow

    I try to thank everybody who makes my life better, including you, Chris. THANK YOU.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      Since you also make my life better the gratitude is definitely mutual.

      Reply
  7. Arionis

    Where I grew up as a kid they didn’t provide bus services to those who lived in the city limits (which I did), only to those outside the limits. So I didn’t ride a bus except for occasionally when I stayed overnight at my cousin’s house that was outside the city limits. The bus was a foreign world to me and a hostile one at that. It was almost like a gang. The regulars were not kind to outsiders. I hated it!
    Arionis recently posted…Stephen King Jr? Not So Much.My Profile

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      That sounds pretty awful. And there were times that I absolutely hated riding the bus, especially in high school. Those stories are for another time, but I know what you mean about it being a hostile place. The only really good thing about middle school was I lived close enough to the school that I could walk home.

      Reply
  8. Bryce Warden

    In high school (Central NJ) we had a bus driver that would blast Quiet Riot on the way to school. I’ve often wondered if he was the inspiration for The Simpson’s Otto Mann character.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      That’s brilliant and I wish we’d had a bus driver like that. We never had a bus driver who played music at all.

      Reply

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