“No one grows up wanting to be a bus driver.”
Not true. I did.
This throwaway comment, appearing in a recent bus drivers’ union newsletter, took me back to when I was eight years old. I would drag all the chairs out of our kitchen and the dining room and line then up — like passenger seats in a bus. Then I’d sit out front in a single chair and make the appropriate roars and rumbles of the engine and the pssh-t-t-t of the brakes. I’d open and close the imaginary doors and greet all my passengers. They were all cheerful passengers, delighted to be able to ride my bus. I’d take them downtown shopping, to visit their relatives across town, to a picnic at Stanley Park, and then take them all back home again at the end of the day. They never grumbled that that the bus was late or that service was slow. They were never rude and not on a single occasion did any one of them leave garbage strewn all over the bus. They loved coming for a ride on my wonderful bus. No wonder I loved the work.
To add a more authentic touch, I convinced my mother to buy me a metal tackle box and a paper punch, so I could carry my change (yes, you could get change on a bus in those days) and punch my transfers. Just like on the real buses. But I never could get that most esoteric bus driver accessory: a coin changer.
I was in my fifties when I actually became a bus driver and I’ve been doing it for about four years now. Boy, have things changed. I haven’t thought much about my early bus driving days in the living room with the lined-up chairs, but those childhood memories of piloting a bus came back to me last weekend when a good friend of mine came over and presented me with a genuine Paragon Changer. No cheap overseas knockoff, this baby was made in the USA by McGill and distributed exclusively by J.L. Galef & Son of New York City. It even had change in it and worked so slick and smooth. I didn’t need any practice. A few flicks of the levers and coins flew into the palm of my hand and memories flew out from my past.
I guess I’ve come full circle now. And on those bad days with irritating passengers, grid-locked traffic, and hopelessly delayed schedules, I can let out a deep breath and relax as I think back to those early days of public transit perfection.
No matter what the job, I think there are kids out there who grow up wanting to do it. Perhaps only for a little while and most certainly in a magical, idealized version. Maybe even accounting.