Her name was Ellie. She was a trainer and had driven school bus for a number of years. In this school district, trainers were often used in substitute or relief driving situations because of their knowledge and experience.
This day was like most others. A driver had called in sick, and Ellie had to make the run. It was after morning routes in the middle of the day. She went to the vocational school to pick up five high school students and drop them off at three different high schools.
As the students boarded the bus, she noticed one girl in particular, who was wearing excessive makeup accompanied by an “in-your-face-dude” attitude. Ellie commented to her, “Why do you wear so much makeup? You’re a very beautiful girl.”
The girl, a bit surprised, looked back at Ellie and snapped, “What do you care, bitch?” Then she retreated to the back of the bus.
Ellie dropped off the students at their respective high schools. When she arrived at the last school, there was only one student on the bus. It was this girl. As she exited the bus, she stopped at the front and in a subdued voice asked Ellie, “Why do you think I’m beautiful?”
Ellie pointed to the big rear-view mirror above and said, “Look at your hair. You have beautiful hair. I know women who spend $70 a week trying to get what you have naturally.” Nothing more was said. The girl left the bus.
Two years later, Ellie and her husband were shopping at Wal-Mart when an attractive young lady came bouncing up to greet them.
“Do you remember me?” she asked.
Pausing to remember, Ellie said, “No, I don’t believe I do.”
The girl then recounted this story, and went on to say, “I just wanted you to know that what you said made a difference in my life. I went home that night and began thinking that if you cared, then maybe I should. So, I made a decision to change my friends and my goals. I had been thinking of dropping out of school, but instead I graduated. Now I’m attending a junior college and planning a career for myself. I just wanted to thank you!”
She vanished as quickly as she had appeared, leaving Ellie and her husband fixed for a moment in amazement.
Many people think school bus drivers enter the tiger cage every day. We do. And occasionally, we tame one of them.
Author John R. Horton is a former driver trainer at Douglas County (Colo.) School District. He lives in Aurora, Colo.