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  • Shawn

Why I Drive the Bus

Updated: Mar 13, 2021

It does not seem to make any sense. From afar it is a non sequitur. Where does it fit in? Not with teaching. Not with writing. Not with the apparent life led. But look closer and it begins to make sense. Look closer and a pattern emerges. Looking closer is why I drive the bus.

In the ski town where I live, in Northern Vermont, the bus has been a big part of my family’s life, and that is because my wife and sons have all used the bus to commute to work at Stowe Mountain Resort. The boys worked their way through high school with winter jobs, mostly in food service. My wife has worked up there, too, while we operated our small B&B, also mostly in food service. It wasn’t for the money. It was for the free ski passes, which could cost a family of four almost $2,000 per season.

Each winter the town of Stowe, along with local businesses and the Stowe Mountain Resort, funded a shuttle bus that ran through the village and seven miles up the Mountain Road to the ski area. It ran twice an hour and it stopped right in front of our inn. In addition, my wife and I would often take the bus ourselves to go skiing, which relieved us of parking and schlepping our gear across the lot; the bus dropped us at one of three base area lifts.

In 2017 we sold our inn. One of our sons was in college; the other had just graduated. We stayed in Stowe, and while I continued to teach and write, I found I had lots of extra time available. That same year our fellow innkeepers, Tom and Sue at the Timberholm Inn, sold their place, and Tom took a job as a manager with the bus company that operated the shuttle. It wasn’t long before Tom remembered I had worked for FedEx for ten years and that I had a commercial driver’s license. He called.

I liked the idea of driving the bus in the winter. I like to drive, and this would get me out of the house a few days a week, for a few hours a day. Plus, it would allow me to escape the cat. After we sold the inn, we found a nice place in Stowe to buy, but it was just Chantal and me living there…and the cat. Gone were the boys and the dog, happy diversions for the cat. Jimmy Jazz had nothing to do except sit on my desk and observe me. Hour after hour, sitting two feet from my face. Unblinking. It was maddening.

So I was trained to drive the shuttle bus—big, 35-foot Gilligs that could hold 50 passengers—and I was soon driving people around Stowe on the bus route. Most of the passengers were people who worked at the mountain, and most of them were students from other countries here on J1 visas. They were from South America—Ecuador and Brazil and Peru—and they were college students on their summer break. Ostensibly they were here to improve their language skills and learn about American culture. But mostly they were here to make a few bucks and party.

The other group of workers I drove around in the bus were Jamaicans. They were here on different visas, special 10-month visas. They would work at ski areas during the winter, and at summer resorts—typically Cape Cod—in the summer, before returning home for two months. Most of them worked as housekeepers or in the kitchens, and they were here on a mission: to make money and send it home.

On the busiest ski times—Christmas week, MLK weekend, President’s weekend—I would also fill up with skiers. It was lively and fun and challenging to drive safely in some of the toughest driving conditions imaginable. Heavy snow was a blessing; worse was a quick burst, a squall that laid down a half inch of slippery snow in 30 minutes. Or freezing rain. Or a snow squall followed by freezing rain followed by a fog…at night.

After a while, I began to wonder why I drove the bus. It wasn’t the money. And while the challenge of driving was real, that wasn’t it, either.

One quiet night at the beginning of the ski season of the second winter I was driving the bus, I picked up a lone rider at the Spruce Base stop, and began to head back down to the village. I recognized the rider as one of the Jamaicans who worked in one of the kitchens at Spruce. He was huddled over his phone, and as we drove alone down the dark Mountain Road, I heard him begin to cry. His sobs were damp and irregular. I looked up into the mirror. He lifted his head, his face slick with tears, his eyes red.

“Are you okay?” I asked. “Is there something I can do?”

He shook his head and wiped his eyes. “I just spoke with my family back in Jamaica. I miss them so much. This hurts so much. I just miss my kids.”

I swallowed. “I’m sorry. But it’s going to be all right. And we are going to take care of you while you are here. Make sure you tell you family that. Tell them that the locals are going to take care of you. And that you will be home soon.”

I told him that my wife worked at the Adventure Center, and that she worked with lots of people he probably knew, and that he should go over and say hello. He nodded and thanked me, and I dropped him off in the dark and the cold. I saw him a lot that winter, and he soon looked better, finding a group of friends, finding his place.

The last time I saw him was on the final day of bus service in the spring.

“What’s next?” I asked him.

“I’m going to Cape Cod for the summer. Then home,” he said.

“Will we see you next year?”

He laughed. “You see me all the time. I’m everywhere. We all the same, mon. So thank you!”

That might not be the only reason I drive the bus, but it’s one of them. It’s the reason why we all drive the bus. It’s the reason why we do anything.

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