Faye Gibson doesn't stand out in the crowd of 150 bus drivers spending the morning drinking coffee and heckling each other in the North Clackamas School District bus barn at 6:30 am.
But Gibson, 44, is a champion preparing to defend her title this Saturday, May 16, at Hillsboro High School.
Last year, the school-bus driver beat about 70 competitors to win the regional safety exercise contest put on by the Oregon Pupil Transportation Association. In its 34th year, the competition measures drivers in 15 categories such as parallel parking and serpentine driving.
"Last year I was so nervous," Gibson says. "But this year I know what I am in for and I'm just going to have fun."
As a substitute driver in North Clackamas, Gibson drives all ages, from pre-schoolers to high-schoolers. So before she drove her morning route on Monday, May 11, Gibson answered WW's questions about what makes a good bus driver—from safety to refereeing a battlefield on wheels of adolescents jockeying for social acceptance.
WW: How did you decide to be a bus driver?
Faye Gibson: I have always wanted to drive big rigs since I was little, just always had that dream of driving cross-country. So with my kids, this is the closest thing I can do.
What do you drive when you're not in a school bus?
A '65 Chevy truck.
What's the hardest maneuver in the contest?
You have an alley. You have to approach the alley and back up into it without touching any of the obstacles they have up, and come within just so close to the back and also be completely centered.
Wouldn't it be a lot harder if there were a busload of screaming kids in the back?
Um…yes. But you have to learn to tune them out. I can tune out quite a lot. I have two already grown kids and I have two young ones, so I have that advantage, I guess.
Were you naughty when you rode the bus?
I was nice. I didn't get in trouble. I still remember the bus driver. His name was Larry. He had retired from something else and went to bus driving. He was just a good person, a positive person in my life.
I was banned for life from the bus when I was 12—for jumping seats while we were moving.
Ohh, skipping seats while moving? I would have wrote you up bigtime. I would have spoken to you first. But if you kept doing it, I'm sure the same thing would have happened.
In my defense, I had a mean, irrational bus driver—not like you. But forget about me. What's your process for disciplining rowdy kids?
There are protocols. You have them move up to the front...not necessarily in front of the other kids. You'll say, "Hey, the behavior which you presented today is not acceptable," and then the worst would be writing them up, which means it goes to the principal and they get in trouble.
What's it take to get kicked off your bus?
That just depends on the principal and the situation. Defiance is a major issue, and defying the common safety rules of the bus and just being out of control.
What behavior irritates you the most?
Screeching. The squealing. Also the roughhousing and then the tattletaling. You know how little kids do that? They start horse-playing, and then one hits the other a little too hard, and then the other one tattles and I just think, well, if you weren't roughhousing in the first place!
Ever wanted to kill a kid?
I can't answer that!
Who rides in the back?
I'm starting to think the most rowdy kids don't sit all the way in the back. They sit sorta in the middle-back. I think it's because if you're in the middle you can get along with all kinds of people. It's like a social scale; the kids in the middle seem more comfortable with who they are. They can get along with kids who aren't so socially perfect. Kids in the middle can get along with the more quiet ones and the more rowdy ones.
What's the worst thing someone has left behind on your bus?
Of course you have garbage—but probably a tampon.
A used one?
No, no no no no…no!
So, I've got to ask: Have you seen the movie Speed?
What would you do if you had to keep your bus above 50 mph or it would explode?
I guess I would be going 50 mph and 1 down the highway until someone figured out something to do or I ran out of gas.