If you’ve been reading then I’ve mentioned here and there that I am training to be a school bus driver. Part of this is the dreaded Commercial Drivers License.
I don’t know why, but the mere mention of obtaining a CDL sets my heart a sputter. I do know why. It’s a test. Not the kind of test you can study and sit down and scribble answers for…the kind of test where someone is looking over your shoulder accessing your every move. The kind of test where the simple fact that you are nervous could fail you. Nobody wants to put seventy students in the hands of someone who can’t keep it together under pressure. It’s their job to give that pressure and see if you’ll crack.
I was nervous. I have to say I was more nervous in the days preceding the test, though. That’s my normal, though. Freak out in advance, then when it’s time…it’s time. So here I am…nervous but okay. I put my oldest on the bus at 6:45 a.m. I then high tailed it across the county to my in-laws where I left the twins…then back the other direction to the bus garage. It was an hour fifteen minutes of driving (not considering unloading two sleeping kids…saying hello and thank you to my family, etc…) just to get there and already my adrenaline was pumping. I got behind the slowest of the slow…the kind of people who drive fifty no matter where they are…county roads…high way…it felt like they were just there to frustrate me. I made it on time to the bus garage, early enough that we checked all of our lights and everything before we left. The others in the garage we sort of signalling to each other about my nerves, but honestly, they were wrong! I was just in hyper-drive! I was ready to go and wanted everything in perfect order before I left. I double checked and wrote out part of the directions to the testing facility just to be sure. I asked about a few random things I hadn’t thought of before (how long/high is my bus). I was just focused on what I was about to do…serious…and that threw them. All they know of me is this smiling, joking side that does not exist when there is work to be done.
They lady going with me (just like a normal permit I had to have a licenced driver with me) suggested we go over the air brake test before we go. Let me tell you about the air brake test. It’s simple in its essence. You’re making sure that your compressor works, that your governor works to “cut” or “cause” air pressure production, and that all safety features are functioning properly. There’s a specific set of steps to accomplish this and it’s easy. I know it. “Let’s just get up there,” I said.
So there we went. I wasn’t nervous driving on the interstate. Then I got to our destination and saw “trucks use next entrance”…so I went on, pulled in…a trucker dude directs me to turn around…,”This is the school. You need to go to the testing.” I went back the way I had come, passed up a fuel station and pulled into the next building that said something about trucks, but it was the body shop. That’s when I spotted a CDL testing sign to the back of the building attached to a gas station, so I went back the other direction again and finally stopped the bus. In the midst of this my heart started pounding. Three buildings and I couldn’t find the right one. I wanted to go back home. I wasn’t ready. What was I thinking? Turn around. Turn around. Turn around.
I should have turned around. I spent a hundred dollars and didn’t even pull out of the parking lot. What failed me? That stupid air brake test!! In my defense…cause of course I have one…I passed according to the manual. I didn’t pass according to his instruction. I had already readied my breaks to the starting point when I announced I was ready to start the test. He directed me to release air pressure then begin. I couldn’t figure where I was in the test having done that. Maybe a lower pressure would read better for the first part of the test. Was I supposed to gain pressure back? I shut down. I couldn’t think. I didn’t understand what he was asking me to do. So that was it. Go home and try again next week. So I will.
It was funny because while I was filling out my paper work he was talking to the other lady and told her the government has made the test so much easier to the point that if you fail, it’s one of two things…you have no business driving a bus, or the air brake test gets you. I thought, “Well, good. Then I’ve got this!”
I’m sure it all seems easy to him. But parallel parking a school bus is a daunting task. Un-parallel parking a school bus backwards into and alley sucks. Driving in a town where you’ve never been, following the directions of a stranger whose scrutinizing you’re every move while trying to remember every sign (cause he’s gonna ask you what random ones where), manage every turn (not too wide…don’t hit the curb!) knowing that every time you’re hand leaves that wheel for something other than a function of the vehicle (say, scratching your nose…pushing you’re hair behind your ears while you’re waiting at a light…anything!) you’ve lost another point. That’s what I was worried about. Now I’m just worried. I think this determination will weigh it out-of-the-way, though…I’m mad because I passed that stupid test if they tested according to the manual! Now that I know what he wants I can do it, though.
The worst was knowing I would have to tell everyone. I did not want to disappoint my trainer. He’s really good at what he does and my failing wasn’t a reflection of his teaching. I felt like I was going to do the walk of shame back through the bus garage. I have to apologize to the lady with me. He told her that I blew the inspection out of the water and showed her the sheet…I had gotten 63 out of 66. Again, one I just missed. The other two went with another thing that I was going to do but he said he didn’t need to see. It put me out of sequence. I still did great, though. I guess 35 is passing. She made the comment just moments after pulling out of the parking lot. “You got 63 and there were only 66. Huh. When I took it there were 100 points of inspection and I didn’t miss any.” To which I replied, “Well, good for you. I guess I’m just not that smart.” It was mean-spirited and I feel bad. The fact that I wasn’t proud doesn’t mean that she shouldn’t be. The difference between our tests was that what used to be ten things to do with suspension are now one and you can’t miss any of it for credit. Which, she didn’t anyway…I’m just saying. So maybe next week I’ll post a pic of me sitting in the seat of a school bus…nobody with me…well, maybe only seventy or so kids! But no chaperones.
‘Til next time.