The alarm clock buzzes. In desperation, my hand searches through the darkness. Squinting my eyes, the lumpy forms in the bedroom take on identity. Husband. Cat. Bathrobe. Slippers. Yawning, stretching, I scuff my way down the stairs. O dark thirty is not my best time of the day.
The first sip of coffee is a holy thing. Reverently I bring the cup to my lips. I stand at the kitchen window, peering out, wondering what picturesque scene will be revealed upon daybreak. I look harder. The realization that we have snow brings a gasp of delight. It never fails to surprise me, even if it was predicted. Ignoring for the moment that I will soon be required to drive in it, I slip open the sliding glass door and let the sting of icy air greet me.
I live close enough to work to walk and this is serendipitous in snowy weather. It is the school bus I drive that will require careful maneuverings. The main roads will be wet and slushy. The narrow roads winding through housing developments are the trickier parts.
I drive for nearly 20 minutes through rural country side before I depart the highway and meander into the sub-division where my bus route truly begins. Weak light has barely penetrated the morning. The snow is coming down in earnest now, coating the roads with thick powder. White knuckled, I press on.
My students are charged with energy excited by the weather. Without taking my eyes off the road, I remind them numerous times to quiet down. The last stop on my route is at the corner market where I pick up six or seven passengers. I brake and assess my situation as they load the bus.
For I have now reached the crucible of my journey. The Hill. As in Down. As in Covered In Snow.
A small compact pulls out from the driveway to the right of me ready to descend. I watch in horror as the car immediately skids sideways, then fishtails to the main road, barely missing a truck preparing to turn up.
At that precise moment my bus phone rings. It is Sally, the bus garage secretary, calling for an update on weather in my location. I take this opportunity to fill her in on the challenge that lies before me, alerting her to the fact that I will be late as it looks like snow chains are warranted. She admonishes me to be careful and let them know if I need assistance.
Turning the bus engine off gets the children’s attention and I announce there will be a delay as I will need to put on snow chains. I speak calmly and with authority but in reality a knot has formed in my stomach. I know something no one else is aware of.
I have never put on snow chains in my life.
Of course I was taught this in bus driver training. But pretending to put on chains in a dry warm bus garage is a heck of a lot different than kneeling in snow and wrestling with chains while being ever mindful of my charges on the bus. I murmur a prayer.
One of my high schoolers comes to my rescue. Working together we get one side on. Before I can move to the other side, another student yells that my bus phone is ringing. I slip and slide my way back onto the bus, snatching up the phone breathlessly. My boss bellows instructions; the snow is coming down in full force, school is being called off, turn around and take my students home.
I look around my bus. It is empty. While I have struggled with the chains, my students have wandered over to the corner market! When I holler that school has been canceled they take off, shouting with celebration. They are gone before I can finish telling them that I need to drive them home. Even my helper has vanished. I sink down in my bus seat with a groan. This is not going to go over well with my boss. A tap on my bus door snaps me to attention. The smiling face of the store clerk greets me.
"Want some coffee Miss?”
"You bet!” I enthuse.
He asks if I take anything in it.
Whiskey I think. “Cream please.”
I think I will just sit and savor the unexpected treat before I continue my merry journey through this winter-wonderland.
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