Bus driver keeps close tabs on kids and his surroundings
Each day is a different adventure and a trip down memory lane for the bus driver of 15 years.
For example, this Monday afternoon when he pulled the bus onto North Foxview Drive, a dirt road off of Peterson Park Road, Bell mentions his first cherry picking job was on the farm of the young student he drops off at the end of the road.
“This is the same place his father, grandfather and great-grandfather lived,” said Bell, a life-long resident of Northport or Leelanau Township.
Bell grew up in the Raft’s Camp area north of Northport, then way out by the Grand Traverse Lighthouse.
“When we were by Raft’s, all five kids were in one room,” he said. “In 1951, when electricity came to our house, dad moved us all out by the lighthouse and we didn’t get electricity unit 1953.”
“Some of the kids are staying over for the after school program, plus there is a ball game tonight, so they’ll stay until the game starts,” he said.
Ava Kellogg is one of the 15, she’s a first grader.
“I can’t hardly wait to get home,” said Kellogg, sitting in the second seat closest to the front.
Next to her is fellow first grader Luiz Roman. The two have a remarkable amount of energy after a long day of schooling.
When asked if they like their bus driver Mr. Bell, their responses are enthusiastic “YES!” shouts Kellogg, with Roman echoing the sentiment.
Kellogg is equally ebullient about riding the bus. “Yes, I REALLY like riding the bus. It’s a lot of fun,” she said.
Roman is little more laid back with his answer.
“We get to do nothing, it’s great,” he said.
Bell offers a little insight as to why these two characters are so happy about their bus ride.
“She,” he said, pointing at her which elicits a smile from the young girl, “is my first stop in the afternoon.” Roman is the second or third, depending on how full the bus is.
Both children live in the Village of Northport, so they are some of the early stops in Bell’s afternoon run. He covers the pick-ups and drop-offs of each school from Sixth Street north all the way out to the Cherry Home subdivisions and beyond.
“Each day is a little different,” Bell said. “Depending on who is on the bus for the afternoon drop-offs, you’ll change the route to go over the least miles you can.”
One thing is guaranteed each day, the morning commute is a lot quieter even though more students regularly hitch a ride to school than end up going home on the bus.
“There are times in the morning where I’ll have 45 kids, but you wouldn’t know it because they are so quiet,” Bell said.
On Friday afternoons, Bell will have between 40-45 kids taking the bus home.
“It gets kind of noisy, but overall we have good kids up here,” he said. “There are not a lot of trouble makers.
“I’ve never had to write anyone up. I’ve escorted a couple to the school office, but never had to write them up.”
Bus driving is a part-time job for the owner/ operator of Bell’s of Christmas, a seasonal business that sells Christmas trees and hand-made wreaths among other things.
“It’s something I can fit into my work day with ease, and it keeps me in contact with the school kids,” said Bell, who takes his bus home at the end of the day. It’s a cost-saving measure for the district, which has a depot at Kachik’s in Omena.
“If we had to drive down there every day to get our buses, that would add a lot of time to our routes,” he said.
Bell is up and moving out the door by 6:30 a.m. every day and is picking up his first student by around 7 a.m. He gets back home around 8:30 a.m., then heads back to the school around 3 p.m. and is generally first in line. student by around 7 a.m. He gets back home around 8:30 a.m., then heads back to the school around 3 p.m. and is generally first in line.
Bell has had no trouble keeping his bus on schedule, even in the dead of winter. And he’s never had a bus stuck in the snow.
“These buses do really well in snow,” said Bell, who recalls being late to school just twice. “Both times were under icy conditions and you just have to slow way down on ice.”
While paying attention to road conditions is important, keeping a close tab on the kids is also a requirement.
During the afternoon ride home Monday, Bell pulled up to a house on Melkild Road for an older student to get off. A younger student was standing in the aisle talking to a friend and didn’t move when the other student approached.
“You have to stay out of the aisle and sit in your seat,” Bell said, looking at the young student via his rear view mirror. The student quickly sat down, but when the bus started moving again, stood back up.
“No, you have sit down in your seat, you can’t be in the aisle,” Bell said. The young man did so, but looked puzzled.
“He’s new to the bus,” he said. “He doesn’t know to sit down and stay out of the aisle. He’s a good kid, though, he’ll learn.”