An Alarm Clock That Holds 77 Kids

ONE OF THOSE blasted school buses is out here again, parked under my bedroom window, idling away at 7:30 a.m. There is no school bus stop on my corner. The drivers simply like parking here while they read the paper and eat their doughnuts. Maybe the scenery is conducive to good digestion. But the idling is not conducive to good sleep.

I guess I could use the orange-and-black-77-passenger-alarm-system and just get up at 7:30 a.m. but I don’t want to wake up at 7:30 a.m. My poor husband, who works nights, really doesn’t want to wake up at 7:30 a.m. Never mind, the bus drivers have made that choice for us. And, in case we fall back to sleep once they leave at 8:15, they’re back at 9:30 to wake us up all over again. Apparently, turning off the engine involves something unbelievably complex and baffling because the drivers never do it.

I sound like a whiny wimp, don’t I? Well, you should take an unabated, hour-long listen to one of these vehicles. It’s not the sound of an SUV parked on red waiting for the light to turn. If car idling were akin to stomach gurgling, school buses would be classified as louder than the belches of sperm whales and in the same ballpark as a euphonium quartet tuning up. There is chugging and clunking and vrooming involved, and it goes on, nonstop, for 45 minutes or so. Inside my house, with windows closed, I can hear it well enough that I could tap dance along with the engine beat, should I be so inclined.

I don’t sit here passive-aggressively whining, mind you. I go out and talk to the drivers. I point up to my bedroom window, I carefully explain that the engine is noisy, the driver cups his hand to his ear and yells “What?”—and that, more or less, is that. If I can discern which school the bus serves, I call the office and beg them to ask their drivers to park in the Kmart lot a few blocks away, in the school parking lot, in front of the school, in front of the driver’s own house, anywhere, anywhere, anywhere else, but in the middle of a residential neighborhood early in the morning.

The Minneapolis School Transportation Department folks report that they have no way of communicating with the people who drive their buses. Huh. How the heck does that business model work?

One city bus employee told me that drivers are discouraged from idling near the school because the fumes are unpleasant and possibly unhealthy. Spread the smog around to other residents is apparently the wisdom here.

In a new proposal approved in early February, the City Council has stepped in to prohibit truck drivers—and bus drivers, bless the Council’s hearts—from idling their engines between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. It’s a thoughtful measure with the welfare and comfort of city citizens at heart, and deserves support. The only change I’d recommend would be scootch that time up 90 minutes or so. To 7:30 a.m.

A version of this first appeared in the Southwest Journal February 21, 2005.

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