On my first day I woke up bright and early and I threw on my oldest pair of jeans and an old workout shirt. I made it to the building before six in the morning and it was officially the earliest I had gotten out of bed in years. I struggled to sleep the night before as I was nervous about the big day ahead. I was thinking about the things I would buy with my first paycheck, I was worried about how hard the work was going to be, and I was hoping that I wouldn’t forget to bring something on the first day. When I stepped into the break room I was surprised to see that the table was already surrounded by people. Even more surprising was that it was roughly a fifty-fifty split. Half of the group looked to be around my age, and I would have guessed that the other half was over forty. An Asian guy with tattooed arms welcomed me with, “Swipe your card, it’s almost six!” Luckily I had remembered to bring my time card and I was able to start my first day the same as any other old pro.
I took a seat in the only open chair at the table and did a quick glance around the area. The first person who caught my eye was a man who was sitting in the corner. He had large circular glasses perched on his nose and he was wearing a hat that a fly fisherman would wear. He had a childish smile smeared across his red face and from his awkward stare I concluded that he was probably still in the midst of the descent phase from his morning wood. His pot-belly was covered up by a plaid button-up shirt which was tucked into a pair of faded Levi’s jeans. When the so-called boss-man came into the room he tossed the red-faced pedophile a set of keys and said, “You are driving the bus.” I wasn’t sure whether I should laugh or be terrified.
As I continued my scan I couldn’t help but spend a few extra seconds on a pair of Hispanic women who were in the midst of conversation. “Hey cousin do you want some coffee?” Was answered with, “Yeah cuz!! You know I can’t start out my day without my pick-me-up.” The first cousin had a voice that sounded as if it belonged to a man. Her hair and chest suggested otherwise, and it took a reluctant total body scan for me to come to a conclusion on her gender. The other cousin seemed to lack the ability to grow hair where most people have eyebrows, and it looked as if black sharpie had recently been applied. The smell in the air was a mixture of coffee, dirt, and ink.
Since for most of the people in the room it was our first time interacting with one another, eventually the awkward introductions ensued. It was almost like the start of an AA meeting and instead of alcoholic, people classified themselves as either: a bus driver, a summer crew worker, or a regular maintenance employee. There was a kid with greased blonde hair wearing sunglasses (inside). There was a black kid who looked to be around my age who claimed to play wide receiver for a college football team. There was a short girl with braces who may have been under the influence of cocaine, as she was un-humanly bubbly for six in the morning. The short and fat blonde girl was wearing a soccer sweatshirt and there was another guy who had a mop-like mess of black hair and was trying to talk the boss-man into letting him drive his own truck. The issue was that the kid didn’t have a drivers license.
During the summer of 2008 was when I officially removed bus driver from my priority list of potential future occupations. During the same summer I also reluctantly erased janitor and lawn mower. It was a hot, long, and sweaty summer where we were being paid $10 an hour for forty hours each week. The fifty-five year old was making the same as the twenty year old and the only common ground that could be found within our crew was that none of us had any real skills to offer. Some of us were better at weed-eating than others. The older people could maneuver a bus better than I could, and to use the chainsaw all you had to do was fit the chaps around your thighs and be stronger than when you were twelve. By title we were the Denver Public Schools Summer Grounds crew. However, more appropriately I just called us the short-bus of voluntary clown slaves.
I accepted the gig without having to go through the process known as the job interview. To be honest the only requirements for the job was to have two legs capable of walking and arms that could carry a newborn child. Being fingerprinted was a pre-requisite for the first day of work, and that was only because it was a government position. A criminal would have been well suited for the job, but ethical practices resulted in them mostly hiring bus drivers and students who were on summer vacation.
Even though in many senses being a member of the short-bus crew was miserable, there were quite a few experiences that were well worth the low wage and persistent idiotic atmosphere. So let’s get started.
Mop Headed Mishap
The kid I earlier referred to as the guy with a mess of black mop-like hair turned out to be the main source of my personal entertainment. He was a stoner who chain smoked cigarettes and on more than one occasion consumed booze while on the job. He was still in high school and somehow he hadn’t yet received his driver’s license despite the fact he was older than sixteen. To put it simply, in my eyes he met the criteria for being the candidate for performing all of the dumb and hilarious shit that I came up with. I have a knack for identifying people who can easily be persuaded into living life outside of the societal norms.
On the day of the mishap we were being supervised by the fellow who was given the keys to the bus on day one. His name was Michael Moore. His outer image screamed pedophile while his inner-self suggested that he was constantly on a different brainwave than the rest of the human race. When the two traits were combined it meant that the members of the short-bus crew had little to no supervision.
I had driven most of the tools over in an old white beat-up pickup truck that had a hole in the floorboard. In the truck bed we had enough stuff to mindlessly weed-eat entire fields, chop down dead or intruding trees, demolish bushes, and landscape any area into somewhat presentable shape. The school we happened to be working at had a sizable dirt lot out back and the old truck had a manual transmission. With no supervision, a fun truck to drive, and an open dirt field, it was quite obvious the opportunity that lay before us. After realizing the potential of the situation I approached the mop-head stoner with a proposition, “Hey Suave, think you can rip some doughnuts in this field?”
“Oh shit yeah, I can do some dank doughnuts!”
“Dank? You don’t have a driver’s license right?”
“That doesn’t mean I can’t do doughnuts asshole. Give me the keys bitch.”
As a point of reference, the mop-head stoner actually had quite a few similarities with the character Jesse Pinkman from Breaking Bad. Of course I handed over the keys, hopped in the passenger seat and strapped on the safety belt. I should also mention some of the details of impressive plethora of tools that were in the back of the truck. There were two regular chainsaws, a pole chainsaw, two full canisters of mixed gas, a bucket full of bush trimming clippers, four weed-whackers, a spool of weed-whacker wire, and an axe.
For not having a drivers license I have to give it to the kid that he could drive a manual transmission better than the average grown adult. Within a matter of seconds the tail end of the truck was whipping to the side through the dirt and we were doing an above average job of tearing up the ground. “Hell yeah brah!! And you thought I couldn’t do it!” The roar of the V6 engine changed pitch as the mop-head stoner shifted back and forth between first and second gear. It truly was a fun truck to drive.
Throughout the course of the doughnut event I found myself laughing hysterically in the passenger seat as I watched all of the tools in the back of the truck toss from one side of the bed to the other. It was like a concentrated cluster-fuck of metal and plastic all bashing and mixing together, causing clanking and some nice visuals as chainsaw would collide with the bucket of clippers and the gas tank tipped over and slowly leaked gasoline all over everything in the back. If this doesn’t give you a good enough visual then go into the storage shed in your parent’s backyard and imagine all of the equipment inside mashing together inside of a large toilet. It is fucking hilarious. It should also be noted that Michael Moore was standing on the side of the dirt parking lot watching mop-head stoner’s dust storm with a giant moronic grin on his red face.
With each successful spin came a heightened level of confidence for the mop-head stoner. We gained a little speed, a redlined first gear replaced second, the wheel was cranked a little harder, and the objects in the back had more force in their collisions. It was just as he was verbally assaulting me that there was gigantic crash in the back of the truck. Since we happened to be mid doughnut neither one of us were looking out of the back so initially we missed the descent of the bouncing gas tank, the tumbling chainsaw, the pair of clippers lodged into the dirt, and the breaking in half of the pole chainsaw. The weed-whackers fell out one at a time at roughly ten foot intervals, the heads and handles took turns bouncing back and forth like a see-saw off of the ground. I forgot to mention earlier, but there was also a wheelbarrow in the mix, which was the item Michael Moore ended up running towards as soon as he saw the start of the chaos. There is something wonderful about watching an expensive item like a pole chainsaw break in half. There is harmony in watching an old pedophile wave his arms frantically in the air while running at slow motion pace towards a bouncing wheelbarrow. Prior to the doughnut run we weren’t aware that the truck had a broken tailgate, but I have to admit it was a pretty nice surprise. It was one of those features that money can’t buy you at the dealership.
As mop-head stoner accepted that he had managed to lose the thousands of dollars worth of everything that had previously been in the back of the truck a look of panic came over his face. “Ohh shiiiiit.” I couldn’t help but laugh. One of the gas tanks was still in motion rolling across the ground and Michael Moore was doing his version of running with a wheelbarrow in his hands. “Hey guys, you lost all of the tools!” No shit mike.
What happened next was as expected. The mop-head stoner reversed the truck closer to the trail of tools and then a frantic pickup ensued where he participated in more physical activity than he had since he was a young boy. I sat on the side clenching my stomach from laughing while he and Michael Moore collected the tools. “Good luck coming up with an explanation for that broken pole chainsaw” was answered with “I need a cigarette.”
While still panting he pulled a pack of cigarettes out of his back pocket and proceeded to light one up. I haven’t spent too much time around smokers, but the mop-head stoner is the guy who made me realize that there is more than one way to smoke a cigarette. Due to the heightened level of anxiety it was like he was attempting to suck the inside of the tobacco stick straight into his mouth. Vigorous isn’t a strong enough word, but that is how I would categorize the newly discovered style of smoking.
As he was pacing back and forth and demolishing his cigarette Mike Moore tried to assist the tobacco in easing mop-head’s nerves.
With the same smile he used when the kids stepped onto his bus, “Accidents happen. As a witness I can say that you didn’t mean for that stuff to fall out. Maybe they need to put in a work order for the tailgate.”
The mop-head stoner only seemed more bothered by Mike Moore’s attempt at soothing. “Yeah, Mike Moore, but I am still going to be accountable for that pole chainsaw. That thing probably costs two weeks of my pay.”
I couldn’t stop laughing about the situation, and the mental image of Mike Moore chasing down the bouncing tools just kept running through my head. “Hey mop-head stoner. Do you want to try doing that again? This time I’ll record it on my phone so we can get it on video.”
“Are you fucking nuts? What if more of the tools break? What if boss-man comes out here?”
“Yeah but I think it would be worth it. You could be a YouTube hero. I haven’t laughed that hard in a long time. Mike Moore you aren’t going to see a thing, right?”
“Oh no, I’ll go start weed-eating around these bushes.”
Less than ten minutes later I was sitting in the passenger’s seat in the old truck and mop-head was getting ready to start whipping the vehicle in circles. My body was turned so that it was facing the back window and I hit the record button on my phone. “Go, let’s see what you got.”
I could have been imagining it, but it seemed like the cigarette had calmed him down a bit and he was driving less aggressively than I expected him to. With each doughnut I watched the tools in the back of the truck crash back and forth from one side to the other. Picture a concentrated snow globe where the snow is replaced with landscaping tools. With each doughnut I prayed to the tailgate god that back end would open up and everything would spill out into the dirt once again.
The praying was unsuccessful, and after each spin came feelings of disappointment that compounded with the previous disappointment. It was like a little kid of the nineties waking up one Saturday only to find their cartoons were permanently replaced with a catholic preacher. The video didn’t live up to the events that took place only fifteen minutes earlier, and the attempt was cut short when the crew chief (the Asian with tattoos) came cruising onto the premises while mop-head was still flinging dirt around. When mop-head realized he had company that happened to be authority he quickly pulled the truck up next to where Mike Moore was standing.
The crew leader was outside of his truck by the time we stopped moving, “What the hell Mike Moore, mop-head stoner isn’t supposed to be driving.”
“Oh sorry. We were taking a break and he wanted to learn how to drive.”
“I guess that’s the last time I leave you in charge. What the hell is this? What happened to this chain saw?”
Only a select few ever knew what really happened with the chainsaw. The expense was transferred to the taxpayers and it wasn’t the last time Mike Moore was left in charge. Life for the short-bus clown slaves was like running in place on a treadmill from twenty years ago. Nothing ever changed regardless of the actions of the people. Mike Moore could have crashed the short bus and still have been allowed to drive everyone around.