According to CNN, pandemic fears and enhanced unemployment benefits have left the nation facing a serious shortage of qualified school bus drivers.

The problem is acute, despite districts implementing recruitment campaigns, offering sign-up bonuses, and even fudging on the standards. (“Question one. Fill in the blank: The wheels on the bus go round and…” “Wait, wait. Don’t tell me. I got this. Round and … covered with sprinkles!”)

I hope the shortage will make society stop taking bus drivers for granted. (I know that I’m right behind the drivers. Especially when I’m in a hurry to get somewhere and it seems like every other house has the whole von Trapp Family Singers crew traipsing out to the bus. “Climb every mountain…miss every appointment…” But I digress.)

Driving a school bus is still a largely thankless job, even in the districts where the school board publicly recognizes the drivers. (“Let’s hear it for our drivers. We can’t get along without them. Next order of business. We have a new low bid on urinal cakes. Urinal cakes: we can’t get along without them.”)

No matter how much newly hired drivers love kids, once they get behind the steering wheel, they flash back to the mantra of childhood: “I scream, you scream, we all scream for…no apparent reason. Hey, why is the driver always singing ’99 Bottles of Tylenol on the Wall’?”

The stressful duties of bus drivers remind me of the Ann Richards quote “Ginger Rogers did everything that Fred Astaire did. She just did it backwards and in high heels.” Similarly, a bus driver does a lot of the things a principal does, only while navigating 10 tons of metal through heavy traffic.

Yes, bus drivers are trapped in a work environment where rubber bands and paper footballs fly freely, where No. 2 pencils are irresistibly drawn toward major arteries, where first-graders are exposed to birds-and-bees lectures by sophomores (“If the bee has dreamy hair and his own car for getting to a hypothetical minimum-wage job, just go for it”) and where more cheese is cut than in a five-star French restaurant.

Back in my day, someone might smuggle a pocketknife or live frog onto the bus. Today, you’re just as likely to hear someone explain, “I don’t mind sitting on the back seat. I have to make sure no one goes out the emergency exit anyway. I don’t know which is worse – gym class or running my human trafficking operation by myself while my brother has mono.”

Ideally, drivers are just a caring adult performing a valuable service. But sometimes they get “thrown under the bus” by passengers. Like when it’s THEIR FAULT they hit a few potholes and little Gavin can’t start and finish his detailed diorama of Shakespeare’s London on the way to school.

Many drivers go above and beyond the call of duty – consoling passengers who fell asleep and missed their stop, collecting Christmas gifts for underprivileged children and reuniting students with backpacks and other items they forgot. (“Thank you for dropping off my life-size model of Henry VIII’s skeleton. Now, tell my parents how it wasn’t my fault that I forgot it.”)

Hug a school bus driver today – unless they’re already playing air guitar to a classic rock station while driving with their feet.

The wheels on the ambulance go round and round…

Danny Tyree welcomes email responses at tyreetyrades@aol.com and visits to his Facebook fan page “Tyree’s Tyrades.”

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