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Field-trip specialist

The Baltimore Sun

Linda Witmer

School bus driver

Harford County public schools

Salary --$17.90 an hour

Age --60

Years on the job --19

How she got started --Witmer first took the job as a school bus driver at the age of 21. At the time, she had two young children and she found the flexible schedule a good fit. After her children were older, she moved on to work at an electronics plant for 12 years. When the company went out of business, she went back to driving buses.

Typical day --Witmer takes Harford County students on field trips or drives them to sporting events, competitions and other activities. Although her hours are never the same, she typically works Monday through Saturday. An average field trip would run from about 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. while a sporting event would start in the afternoon and end in the evening. It is unusual for her to do both a field trip and sporting event.

Saturday events run the gamut, with Witmer recently finding herself on the Eastern Shore for sports events three Saturdays in a row.

She gets her schedule one month in advance. She's guaranteed at least six hours a day, but she said it usually adds up to more than 40 hours in a week.

"I did a regular run for nine years, and you go in the same neighborhoods, pick up the same kids, and drive the same route. After a while I decided I liked going some place different every day."

Most important rule --Sit down and face forward. "The seats are designed to protect [passengers] in an emergency, but they have to be sitting in the seats correctly."

Waiting --Can mean a lot of sitting around. For instance, if Witmer takes a group to the Maryland Science Center, she must wait nearby until they finish - even if that's several hours later. "We always have to be available in case some emergency occurs."

The good --"The opportunity to meet different students, different teachers and the other [bus] drivers."

The bad --Fellow motorists. "You have to watch every vehicle out there. You never know what they are going to do. So you have to be alert and aware at all times."

The bus --Witmer drives the same bus every day and has added a few items to make it more comfortable, which include something to read, food, a flashlight, a broom and puzzle books. During the winter she also keeps a blanket to stay warm because she's not allowed to leave the bus running.

A long trip --She took a group of students from Joppatowne High School to an environmental competition 204 miles away in Garrett County. She also has taken students to Washington, Delaware, Pennsylvania and Virginia.

On driving --"I don't mind driving anywhere. I'm so used to it. It just comes naturally to me."

Philosophy on the job --Stay calm. "I have to keep myself very organized and on an even keel, because you can't do this job and be upset or angry. Other people's lives are on the line."

Nancy Jones-Bonbrest Special to The Sun

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