Tuesday, April 23, 2019

The Tight Route

Drivers dread tight routes.  A tight route is one that is known to "run down" which means taking more time than allotted to complete.  A route can be tight for several reasons. The most obvious reasons are traffic, a great distance to travel, detours, passenger volume, or difficult passengers.

Though it was a beautiful spring day I reported shyly and more than a bit nervous for my first notoriously tight route. As a cadet making a good first impression with the senior driver was important to me. The senior driver for this tight route had the swagger and bravado of someone who revels in a challenge. I quietly consoled myself with the thought that on a weekend maybe I as a cadet could keep the route on time. Before we start the bus he quips, "This route has gotten heavy, even Saturdays." My face betrayed my concern.

He smiles and says, "I talks junk to everbody."   I grinned the rest of the day as his dry wit and obvious joy in interacting with passengers, which kept me entertained even when we were running down.  He is a tall, broad-shouldered black man who lights up when engaged in a verbal tussle.  I wanted him to like me but I came to find out he likes everybody.  It is the secret to his success.  A survival skill on a tight route that can easily frustrate passengers and drivers alike.

At 8am he drove the first run so I could see the stops and turns.  We started the route way far north of the city and had 30 minutes to get downtown on busy thoroughfares.   I took the wheel at 9am with trepidation about the demands of the day ahead.   That second run was the only run I completed on time that day.  Being a rookie is hard on my ego.  Luckily I had a good-natured and seasoned driver to help me keep things in perspective.  He at least enjoyed my anguish.

At 10am on the third run, he says "You smell something? It stinks in here."   I had yet to catch a whiff of what he was picking up on.   Not 15 minutes later a warning light comes on about the buses exhaust system.  He radios for a replacement bus.  Switching buses gets us behind just as traffic is about to pick up.  The tight run had just gotten trickier due to the bus change.  That was the first time that "P1" had to help us get back on time.  P1 is a minibus that plugs routes that are running down.

Now it is noon, we are back on time thanks to P1 and driving a new bus.  I wonder about a break and getting something to eat as the traffic builds.  This route has a left turn across a busy 2 lane thoroughfare.   The senior driver is almost jubilant to share the pain of waiting for what feels like an eternity for the traffic to clear enough for us to safely make that left turn.  Just as I think my opportunity has come, "watch those cars jumpin' or' that hill," he says as he accurately describes the traffic pattern.  We finally turn but have lost precious time.  I marvel at how well he knows this route and I am humbled by his ability to keep it on time.

At 2 o'clock I am so far behind that P1 needs to catch us up again.  This time we sit for 15 minutes while P1 works.  We sit so the schedule for our inbound trip will be correct.  While we wait I realize I finally have a chance to go to the bathroom.   I run over to a fast food place to use the facilities.  It strikes me that I am not the only hungry person on the bus so I buy 4 cheeseburgers.  The senior driver and the 2 passengers who are waylayed with us are amazed.   The food lightens the mood as we finally get underway. 

When 4:30 finally arrives I am exhausted and stunned by the difference in skill and experience between me, the cadet, and he, the senior driver.   His composure and willingness to teach impress upon me a desire to master driving skills in spite of the stress of a tight run.  It left me wondering about how easy it is to misjudge the abilities of others because of the temptation to look down on their work.   


  1. This is a great narrative, Phillip.

  2. I didn't know there was this much pressure when it came to driving buses. I give props to you Phillip, good job.

  3. Wow interesting, let me guess route 89, it gave it away bout the left turn. U didn't a great job. Here is a tip don't try to make an impression jus be yourself