'You didn't say please, sir'

Randy Mazie
Posted on September 1, 2003

Herman Humbol stood before me in my office, hat held respectfully in front of him.

“Afternoon sir,” he said. “You called me?”

I have been the director of the transportation facility for the past five years and have never had to call Herman into my office. But that day I needed to speak with him about a call I had received from a school administrator.

Herman is a school bus driver — an older gentleman, no more than 5-foot-5, who probably wouldn’t tip the scale over 100 pounds. He came to work early, signed in, did his route, returned his keys and went home. I had never received a complaint about him. He would nod when he passed anyone, saying, “Morning” or “Afternoon.” When anyone did ask him a question, his response was “Yes sir,” “no sir,” “yes ma’am” or “no ma’am.” That’s all I remember hearing him say since I have been here.

You can imagine how surprised I was to have to call him into my office to address a complaint. But there he stood, hat in hand, repeating his respectful and endearing litany, “Afternoon sir. You called me?”

“Please sit down.” I pointed to a chair.

“Rather stand, sir,” Herman replied. “Been driving all day.”

I went through the preliminary small talk. How are you? How’s the route going?

“The route’s all right, sir,” he said.

“You know, since I’ve been here, I have never had to call you into my office.”

“I know sir,” he said, “I wondered why I’m here.”

I had received the telephone call in the late afternoon of the day before. When the administrator related the story of what had happened and informed me that the driver was Herman, my first reaction was, “Are you sure of this?” The administrator was upset and took my response as a challenge to his credibility.

I recouped by telling him that I was very surprised. Then I described Herman’s character to him. I assured him nevertheless that I would have Herman in to speak with me.

Here is the story of what Herman did.

It was the afternoon run that day. Herman pulled into the loading zone as he had been doing for the past several weeks of summer. The only difference this day was that construction had begun at the edge of the loading area. Herman parked his bus early and waited for the dismissal bell to ring.

A construction truck pulled up to the back of his bus and began honking the horn. Herman looked through his rear view and side mirrors to see what the commotion was about. He saw the driver of the truck waving his arms and yelling at him. It took him a few moments to realize that the driver wanted him to move, but what he didn’t understand was why. From Herman’s perspective, there was enough room for the truck to pull around the bus.

It took a few moments for Herman to realize that, regardless of what he thought, the truck driver had already decided that there was not enough room. Herman, I’m sure, was processing information patiently. Unfortunately, the driver of the construction truck was processing data at the speed of light.

Well, that construction worker jumped out of his truck, ran over to Herman’s bus and began shouting some pretty nasty words and demanding that Herman move his “so and so” bus immediately.

Herman just sat in his driver’s seat and calmly said, “You didn’t say please, sir.”

You can imagine the reaction of that construction worker. He said a few more choice words and ran off to get the school administrator.

A few minutes later, the administrator came out wanting to know why Herman had refused to move his bus. Herman, the rock that he is, said without blinking, “He didn’t say please, sir.”

The administrator, already fired up by the construction worker said, “By state statute, I am in charge of this loading zone, and I am directing you to move this bus now.”

Herman looked at the principal and slowly said, “You didn’t say please, sir.”

Soon after, the affronted administrator placed a call to report Herman as being insubordinate. I received the call.

I will not bore you with the definition of insubordination, the difference between insubordination and willful refusal to follow directives or even the meaning of stubbornness. I will tell you, however, that I told my children the whole story when I got home that night.

They loved it. Every time I got to a confrontation point in the story, my kids sang out, “You didn’t say please, sir!” — and we all laughed heartily. In fact, any time anyone in the family asked for or demanded something that night, the rest of the family joined in a chorus of, “You didn’t say please, sir!”

So I found myself sitting in front of the culprit who only wanted someone to say please. He asked respectfully if he could tell me his side of the story. I had never heard Herman speak as much as I did that afternoon. He spoke slowly and methodically. He wanted me to know that he did move the bus and was willing to move it when the administrator was there, but Herman’s actions were a tad slower than the administrator’s reaction. Herman said he never meant any disrespect to either the administrator or the construction worker. He explained that the principal had not introduced himself, and Herman had never met him before, though he surmised who he was.

He said he had been thinking about the situation and felt poorly about it, especially as the administrator said he had been insubordinate. He said he never intended to appear uncooperative. Herman realized it would have been better if he had just said, “I’ll move the bus, but I wish you had just said please.” Looking down, he slowly added that he could see he was wrong for not doing that.

Herman then looked up at me and said that he simply felt people needed to understand that school bus drivers were people, too, and a little “please” and “thank you” were just common courtesy.

I said I understood and suggested that he talk to the administrator about it. It wouldn’t surprise me, I said, if the administrator apologized to him, too.

Herman said he might stop by the administrator’s office later that day. I smiled, stood up and shook Herman’s hand. I said, “Thank you, Herman. Let me know how it goes.”

Herman nodded and, hat in hand, left my office.

My kids still sing, “You didn’t say please, sir!”

Randy Mazie is director of the central-east regional transportation center at Miami-Dade County Public Schools.

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