It's the frigid mornings that I remember most. Trudging down our rural road to my friend's house and shivering at the end of his gravel driveway. The rumble of a diesel engine in the distance. Headlights piercing the winter fog.
The yellow school bus would roll to a stop in front of us, red lights flashing, and the door would fold open. Diane would be peering down from the driver's seat and greet us.
I rode Diane's bus through most of high school in Bend, Ore. She was reliable, safe and friendly — but stern when needed. I usually sat near the back of the bus and never really got to know Diane over those few years.
Little did I know that our paths would cross again some 14 years later, halfway across the country.
At the Transporting Students With Disabilities & Preschoolers conference earlier this year, I met a Head Start transportation coordinator who had won the American Logistics Co. scholarship to attend the Kansas City, Mo., event. She was from Bend, but I didn't think I knew her.
Soon after I told her that I had lived in Bend, we fi gured out that she, Diane Clinkscales, was in fact my former bus driver. Here we were, nearly a decade and a half after I last descended the steps of her school bus, both in jobs that led us to this same pupil transportation conference in a faraway state.
A while after the conference, I got back in touch with Diane to catch up a bit more. I was particularly interested to hear about how her career had progressed over the years.
Diane started as a substitute bus driver at Bend-La Pine Schools in 1989 and was soon hired as a regular driver. About eight years later, she became a behind-the-wheel trainer.
While Diane was still with the school district, she began also working for the local Head Start agency. After about two years, she went full time to the Head Start operation, which at the time was run by the local community college but was later taken over by NeighborImpact.
At NeighborImpact, Diane's current position is transportation and facilities coordinator. She handles a variety of duties, from supervising the bus drivers to dispatching to setting up children in their classrooms. She also oversees the playgrounds, making sure they're safe and stimulating for the kids, who range in age from 3 to 5 years.
The agency has a fleet of 14 school buses, which carry no more than 20 children at a time, always with a bus monitor on board. Diane still gets out to drive a route from time to time.
When I asked Diane what she liked most about her days as a school bus driver, she said it was the independence and the time spent with the kids, although she acknowledges that she may have "made some of them crazy."
Really, it was just the troublemakers who had to worry. Diane recounted — and I can remember this happening — how when a student got out of hand, she parked the bus, pulled out the keys and sat down next to the rabble rouser (it wasn't me) to kindly straighten him out.
In the various roles she's held during her career, Diane has maintained a passion for school bus transportation.
"I bleed yellow," she told me. And now I know what that means.