Friday, October 13, 2006

Nerves of Steel

Well, maybe not.

Somewhere, whether in my profile or some other post, I am sure I mentioned the fact that I am a BTW trainer. BTW is just bus-speak for a Behind The Wheel trainer. What that means is that I get to take regular folks just like you and throw them behind the wheel of a 40 foot bus and teach them how to maneuver the thing down city streets without killing themselves, me, or any innocent bystanders along the way.

Right now we have a class of five people who need hours behind the wheel so that they can go pass their DMV test and get out there and start earning a real living drivinig a bus for our system. What that means for me personally is that I have been putting in almost 14 hour days for the past week! I get to work at 420 AM and drive my commuter bus to the Bay Area and back. I take a shrot break and at 9AM I take a trainee or two and spend the next 8 hours trying to teach them everything I know about driving a bus.

It is exhausting, exhilerating, frustrating, and scary as hell some days!! Each day is a challenge, and each day I never know what is going to happen when I put them behind the wheel. Are we going to have a good day or are we going to crash and burn? The other day I took a trainee out in a 40 foot bus for the first time and we went down the freeway. As we are cruising along at 60 MPH I suddenly have this moment where I realize that I could die doing this! I mean, here we are--he's never driven anything this big, we are on the freaking FREEWAY, and if he panics or loses control I am going to be tumbling all over this big ol' bus as we careen off of the highway and burst into flames...... I almost lost my nerve. Almost.

A lot of fellow drivers ask me why I do it. Why do I put myself through the stress and fear and craziness? It's not like I am getting paid a lot of money to do it--I think we make $.50 more an hour when we are training--so why do it?

I do it because I love it. Simple as that. Yes, it is stressful and it can be downright terrifying some days. But it is also immensely gratifying when I show somehow how to do a maneuver and they go out and try it and finally nail it. The look on their face when they accomplish something they are convinced they can't do--it is the most amazing feeling in the world! It's that "aha" moment when a concept you have been trying to get across for three days suddenly resonates with them and you see the light come on and they just "get it". I live for that!

I know this sounds crazy, but my favorite part of training is when I get to be the trainer who takes a newbie out for the first time. That first time that the rubber hits the pavement and they FINALLY are actually driving the bus down the road--it is SO awesome! Probably the scariest day also, but it is so much fun! It's the day I watch them and get to know them and figure out how I am going to train them. Some are scared to death and grip the steering wheel so tightly that their knuckles are white. Some just go down the road and I can see that driving something so large is like a second nature to them--they aren't intimidated at all by the size of the vehicle, even if they have never driven something so big before. I watch and observe and give minimal instruction as I let them settle into the whole experience, and I find out what kind of person they are. Each person is different and learns differently so I have to adjust MY training agenda to fit their personality.

I guess mostly I just love to take these newbies and help them become a professional driver that is safe, confident, courteous, and responsible. I want them to feel that they can come to me, even after training is over and they are out on their own, if they have a question or a concern. I feel like they are my children and I have to raise them right! When one fails--and it does happen--I feel as if I let them down somehow and so I just have to work harder with the next one. We invest a lot of ourselves into each trainee--it is hard on the whole team if someone we put so much time and effort into ends up doing something stupid and loses their job because of it.

Being a bus driver is a great job. I wish everyone could have the opportunity to go through a professional driver's class. I guarantee you there would be a LOT less accidents on the road if they did. Maybe DMV should start requirinig ongoing education for ALL drivers as a requirment to maintain a drivers license of ANY class. It'll never happen, but it's a nice idea!

Anyway. So that has been my life for the past week--14 hour days, driving my commuter bus in the early mornings and coming back and training for 8 hours the rest of the day. My mind is kind of mush right now--I'm fighting off a cold also so I have hardly any voice--it's been interesting! Today I get a break and just get to drive a bus all day. Sweet! Then tomorrow it's back to training, and I hear that we have another clas of about SEVEN people starting up next week! No rest for the weary, eh?! But it's all good... Gotta go make a living now, drivng people in cirlces.