Zen and the Art of Bus-Driving

The great big combustion-powered bus idles in front of Wing-Davis-Wilks; the rear end quietly rumbles while the driver finishes a butt listening to a student strum a miniature guitar. The cavernous interior is lit and inside sits six girls, dressed and twirling their hair. One grooves to the early rock that’s loud overhead. While the bus waits to depart some young entrepreneurs hawk cups of smoothie they’ve blended themselves and are considering marketing. The driver passes. The cigarette comes to an end, sending sparks in whorls into the breezy night and he pockets the filter. There’s a jazzy female belting out music and he breaks into song with her. He invites the bus to sing along. No one accompanies him so he starts talking about his early romance with rock and roll. He was about ten when ‘it all was beginning’. He grew up in Brooklyn. Vermont Public Radio (107.9 FM) takes him back to a piece of this musical upbringing playing old rock & roll every Saturday night, and the bus is glad to journey with him. Much of the transmission is scratchy and he complains about the stereo setup on all the buses. “When I applied I asked specifically about whether the buses had tape players and still four years later, they’ve done nothing about it.” Apparently, driver satisfaction isn’t a “high priority”. Considering he spends his entire workday on one of these buses one would assume the University could provide something so basic as a tape player. At any one time during the day there are three buses running around the loop, less during off-peak hours. The transportation services allot 23 minutes for the buses to complete one lap of campus, Driver Dave, as he introduces himself, says on a late weekend night he can do it in ten to twelve. That’s verging on a Zen of bus conductorship. Dave is a dedicated employee. He doesn’t take the bus on joyrides and has a virtually impeccable driving record. Indeed he drives the buses without which so many of us wouldn’t make it to class, especially in the winter when temperatures are so much more hospitable in the heated buses. He is kind enough to drive around all day just so we can relax our legs on the way to class, that’s sacrifice. All this and yet he says the University “doesn’t even treat its service people like human beings”, saying he feels like “some kind of commodity”. UVM bus driver salaries aren’t even on par with most City of Burlington Liveable Wage salaries or St. Mike’s college. Dave says he’s seen administrative positions receive more money in a raise than many service workers receive as a yearly salary. How often does an Administrator directly help you? More often than not they’re telling you that they are unable to help. Dave, he drives the bus, and in so doing achieves what most people are unable to do throughout their entire careers: affect positive change in student’s everyday lives. Trying to right these wrongs the employees of the service departments at the University have organized with the help of UE Vermont, “an independent, national union which represents 35,000 workers in many sectors of the economy, including manufacturing, health care, public service and many educational and non-profit institutions”. So far they’ve garnered over 1,200 signatures and delivered them to President Fogel himself. For more on the contract negotiations see the Front Page. Trying to support his cause Dave passed around petitions on his bus and many students were eager to sign onto this crusade for decent working conditions. He was soon told by his superiors not to pass around petitions on “company time”. Asked why none of the proposition UE Local 267 has been mentioned on the UVM website, he replied, “that stuff’s not posted, the website’s totally biased. If you want to know what’s going on you have to visit UE Vermont.” They can be found at www.UEVermont.org. The bus dips into a sharp turn before he brings it to a smooth stop behind the library. “The student body is great, for the most part everyone is very nice and cheerful.” He says that the kids are the best part of the job; he enjoys chatting with the riders and with the waiters. Later he reiterates this sentiment in stark contrast with the feelings he has for the administration saying, “I feel like the students really appreciate the bus drivers.” Except in the winter when, he says, he “freezes his ass off smoking outside alone”. Meet a bus driver, make a friend.