Route From Hell  

If someone had told me a year ago I would be driving a school bus I would have told them that they were crazy. For the last twenty years, I have been working as a chef.  

The day I was laid off was one of the most humiliating experiences of my life. I came home that afternoon, sat in front of the Gohonzon, and chanted for hours. At first I was angry; then my anger turned toward compassion and I prayed that I would never humiliate anyone the way I was humiliated.  
The next day there was an ad in the paper about training school bus drivers for Lodi Unified School District. My life partner and I had discussed that before, when a friend of his from work had decided to do it months earlier. But I hadn't given it much thought at the time. Well, this time I was unemployed, so I thought "What the heck." The next day I applied.  

In the meantime, I kept looking for work.  

About a week later I received a call that a class would be starting the first week of November. At first I did not think that driving a school bus would be very challenging, so I was not all that excited about it. I attended the class anyway and I realized how wrong I was.  

To be a school bus driver you had to take a two-week course and be fingerprinted. Then you had to take a rules-of-the-road test given by the CHP. Also, you had to pass a first aid test. Then you had to pass a very physical, physical. After that you went to DMV to take four more tests; then you received a permit to drive. Once that happened you had to wait for an opening to get behind-the-wheel training. After behind-the-wheel training you take your final driving test with a CHP officer. The whole time you're doing this you do not receive any pay and you still have to put money out for the fingerprinting, the test, etc. Luckily for me I had a little extra money in my savings.  

While I was taking the class, I received a job offer from Smart Foods working in the deli. It was a great opportunity. I really had to sit down and chant about this one. After a lot of daimoku, I decided that the job was too much like food service and I really wanted a change. Even though I didn't know if I would pass all the tests in front of me, I decided not to take that job.  

I passed all the tests and began driving the end of January. But I still would not receive my first paycheck until March.  

All drivers have to start out as substitute drivers until a contract comes open. As a sub you do not receive any benefits. So my goal was to become contracted as soon as possible.  

In March a contract opened, so I applied and began chanting for my goal. But I did not get it. I was not discouraged because I know there is a good reason.  

In April I decided to really challenge myself and began getting up at 3:00 AM instead of 3:30 AM to chant more in the morning. Two days later, I was assigned Route 60 the "Route from Hell" is what all the bus drivers called it. Remembering President Ikeda's guidance that we should always be willing to do the jobs that no one else wanted, I thanked my supervisors for giving me this route. The other drivers thought I was crazy.  

The day before I started this route, the sub assigned to it had such a bad time that he had to pull the bus over and stop. It was so bad they had to come and pull the children off the bus.  

On my first day on the "Route From Hell," I was determined to give these children compassionate discipline no matter what, and also to remember to always bow to their Buddha natures.  

The next day, two kids got into a fight, so I called their parents and suspended them from riding for three days.  

The third day, I caught a girl hitting another, so I called her parent and told her she would receive a citation. The next day, the parent met my bus to sign the citation.  

While she was waiting, she observed how I handled the children. She was so impressed that she called my boss to compliment me.  

In the meantime, another contract came open so I applied once again. When you apply for a contract you go before a panel made up of two supervisors, the head of transportation, and the union representative. They go around the room asking various questions and scoring you on your answers. The person receiving the highest score is awarded the contract.  

This time, four people applied. The day after the interview, I heard through the grapevine that I had tied with another person for first place.  

That morning had a long break in between runs so I came home and chanted for two hours. When I first began chanting, I was thinking how much I wanted to be contracted. But as time passed, I began thinking about the one who tied with me and how much he wanted to be contracted. So I began chanting for both of us to get contracted somehow, even though they had never contracted more than one at a time.  

After a few days of waiting, to my amazement, they announced that they were going to award three contracts. I could not believe it. They had never done that before. Also, each one of us got the route we wanted. I was awarded Route 60, the "Route From Hell". The biggest benefit was that Route 60 is an 8-hour contract. Usually, a sub driver is not contracted into an 8-hour route. They have to start with five or six hours and work their way up. But because Route 60 was a route no one wanted, it was opened for contracting. And because I have an 8-hour route, I get full benefits without paying any portion of them.  

Now I am very happy with what I do. And I'm making even more money and dealing with less stress. Also I'm learning to have a new appreciation for children, our future. I love my new job and look forward to going to work each and every day. And the "Route From Hell" has now become the "Route of the Buddha."  

Michael Collum, Stockton, California  

To read this experience in Spanish, go here.