FAIRFIELD — It’s midday at the school district bus yard, the buses just got washed and drivers are back in the break room preparing for their afternoon routes.
The portable near the county animal shelter and Claybank jail, while unremarkable on the exterior, is warm and friendly inside.
It’s the kind of place where co-workers solve puzzles together, trust each other enough to have a snack bar with an honor policy payment system, and swap stories. Some of them are doozies: students throwing eggs and fruit at buses, grabbing on to the bumpers of moving buses and unable to control their bladder or bowels.
At the center of it all is Allison Smith. Smith, a veteran driver, takes a motherly approach to her job, organizing potlucks and shopping for the snack bar on lunch breaks or off days.
Smith is a children’s pastor at a church in Vallejo and plans to open an after-school program when she retires. But that’s four years away.
She has learned a thing or two in her 16 years. Her first two years, she drove a bus with 84 passengers, carting up to 250 children a day. But she discovered she preferred to drive special-needs children. Now she drives about 50 children a day.
“Kids that need an extra touch,” she said. Also, “you get paid by the hour, not by the student.”
This particular day is a lighter load for Smith. It’s the day before the holiday break, but the high school and middle school students are already out. So in the afternoon she has one route to Root Elementary School instead of three. Smith circles the bus, tapping on each tire to make sure none are flat. In the morning, she opens the hood to inspect the engine. At about 1:45 p.m., bus No. 62 takes off.
Four children board at Root and Smith knows each by name. She quizzes one about whether or not he has candy in his backpack as she buckles him in. She gives a toy store advertising book to one girl and asks how her day went. One child, whom Smith drove when she was in preschool, is unusually quiet on this day, Smith said.
Smith, dressed in a Christmas sweater with a dog in a Santa hat and candy canes, puts on Christmas music by the Chipmunks to lighten the mood.
Each child is dropped off at his or her home. The route takes about an hour start to finish. After the last child, Smith shuts off the Chipmunks. She steps out at the bus yard to tap the tires again, searches the bus to make sure no children are inside and then — she is officially on holiday.
Reach David DeBolt at 427-6935 or firstname.lastname@example.org.