Aug. 19 will be Betty Anderson’s 40th first day of school.
With cabinets filled with yellow trinkets – school bus-shaped key chains, coffee mugs, and even a plush school bus – Anderson hasn’t gotten tired of the color yet.
“When I see yellow, the first thing I think of is a school bus,” she said. “Bus driving has been my life since 1972.”
Back then, she said, bus driving wasn’t a popular profession and Columbia County had only a “precious little handful” of drivers. With little work available for a mother of three, bus driving fit her schedule perfectly.
“My husband would not let me go to work,” she said. “He finally told me, ‘If you can find something to do so you’re here when they leave for school and here when they get home, you can go to work.’ And well, that only left the school system.”
Monday through Friday, nine months out of the year, Anderson starts her day before sunrise and picks up her first rider by 6 a.m. By the time the first school bell rings, Anderson will have hauled nearly 70 children from the end of their driveways to the school doorsteps.
“They were packed in there like sardines,” she said. “Just you and 70 kids.”
A bus of 70 children might sound stressful, but in the beginning, she said, life as a bus driver was all “yes ma’am” and “no ma’am.”
“Imagine three kids on one seat with no air conditioning and rarely any trouble,” she said. “I could go get on my bus and it was like taking a nerve pill.”
Children today are different from back then, she said, which might have to do with a change in culture.
The riders aren’t the only thing that has changed. Today’s school bus not only has a camera for monitoring but a lot of extra perks.
“When I sit down on my bus, it is just like sitting down in a Cadillac,” she said.
“Everything is at my fingertips. You push this button and the automatic door opens. You push this button and the warning lights come on.”
From Bus 72A to Bus 103, Anderson has worn out 11 buses driving four generations of children. On Friday, she and the rest of the county’s 189 bus drivers will test-run their routes in preparation for a new school year.
“A lot of things have gone by in 40 years,” she said. “I would love to know how many children I have transported over the years. I wonder how many miles I have driven?”