The wheels on the bus went round and round (for 38 years)

J. H. Osborne • May 25, 2018 at 6:00 PM

BLOUNTVILLE — Back in 1980, Phyllis Manis had her daughters in school, a husband working shift work and a desire to get a job that would allow her to contribute to the family income — but take nothing away from her role as wife and mother. Driving a school bus hadn’t crossed her mind, until a family friend mentioned one evening that his father needed a driver for the fall semester that was a few days from starting.

“He said, ‘Why don’t you do it for him?’”

Her initial reaction: “Oh, my gosh, I can’t drive a bus!”

Thirty-eight years later, Manis drove her bus (#465) through its routes for the last time on Thursday.

How did it all happen? Well, after the friend first suggested she take up bus driving, Manis talked it over with her husband, Waymond, and gave it a couple days’ thought. Then she called bus company owner Clark Cox. He invited her to meet him at Sullivan South High School and said he’d bring a bus.

The first time she saw the bus, she couldn’t stop looking at how long it was. Cox read her mind. “He said, ‘Now don’t think about the length of it, just look at your outside mirrors.’ You have to have your outside mirrors set.  And when you look at your outside mirrors, it doesn’t look long at all. It just looks like you’re driving a truck. So I told him, ‘This is not bad at all.’ “

Cox told her to come back the next evening and they’d drive the route, which included Hemlock Park Drive.

“When we got to the end ... it was a cul-de-sac,” Manis said. “And I said, ‘Where in the world do we turn around?’ And he told me, he said, ‘Just nose down in that driveway.’ And I looked and I said, ‘But that is the lake.’  He said, ‘It’s OK.’ My bus was a stick shift. So I just went down in there, put it in reverse, and came right back out of there. If I had to do that today (for the first time), I’d probably sit there and look at it. But I was young then.”

She went to work a few days later and worked until Christmas break came — and went. On the last day of break, Manis wondered aloud to her husband if she was supposed to drive the bus the next morning. He told her she’d better call Clark.

“I called him and I said, ‘Do I have a job, am I going to drive the bus?’ And he said, ‘Well, I reckon you are, who do you think is going to drive it?’ I said, ‘You said that gentleman would be back.’ “

Clark said he hadn’t heard from the former employee in awhile.

“So I’ve been driving ever since. Started out as six months. And I didn’t have a dream I’d ever do anything like that. That was not my goal. But it met my need. ... I was with my children at Christmas, spring break, all summer, and didn’t need a babysitter. So it worked out really well.”

Driving a school bus might not have been a goal, but Manis said the joy of dealing with children has kept her coming back year after year. Manis also credited Clark and county school administrators she’s dealt with with maintaining a supportive, pleasant work environment. On top of that, she’s gotten to go on scores of field trips and made a lot of friends — and treasured memories of all those children.

“I’ve heard a lot of amazing stories,” Manis said. “When the kids get on the bus, I hear what is on their mind that morning.”

One of the best stories: “One morning, this little girl got on and she said, ‘Guess what happened at my house this weekend!’ I thought, do I dare guess? and said, ‘What, honey?’ And she said, My mom got married and my cat had kittens!’ “

Manis said she always enjoys running into the children she had on her bus route as they’ve grown into adults and is interested to find out what they’ve done and what they’re doing.

She has driven the route long enough to have served at least two generations of some families, Manis said she saw a father waiting with his two children one morning and he called her by name and asked if she remembered him.

She told him yes. And that what she remembered most was that he once mooned her after he got off the bus.

Why retire now?

“The kids keep saying ‘How old are you Miss Phyllis?’ How long have you been driving this bus?’ “ Manis said with a laugh. “Well, I’ve decided I am old enough to retire.”

So, what’s a typical day been like driving a school bus?

4:30 a.m. — rise and shine.

6 a.m. — arrive at the bus company’s parking area.

6:15 a.m. — hit the road and run the route for middle school students.

8:15 a.m. — return the bus to the company lot, after having completed the route for middle school students and running it a second time for elementary students. (Manis drove a route that served students of Colonial Heights Middle School and Rock Springs Elementary School).

Repeat each afternoon to take the students home.



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