When I heard that Craig Davidson was coming out with a memoir about his year of driving a school bus, I was intrigued. Partly because I’ve been sending my own precious cargo to school on a school bus for the past 10 years, and partly because, from what I hear, his other books are dark, violent, and scary. I’ve read The Troop, a horror novel written under the name Nick Cutter.
Besides his books, I knew very little about the author himself before reading Precious Cargo. Now I know quite a lot about him, and he’s not violent or scary at all, unless you count the time he threatened to punch someone’s father in the face. He describes himself as a goofy kind of a guy; class clown material, and is able to make fun of his failings and his poor judgement (like the time he threatened to punch someone’s dad in the face).
Precious Cargo is about the year he drove a school bus out of pure desperation, but ends up loving it. It was the kids he loved, and everything they taught him.
Here’s the thing: everyday was the best day, even the crappiest ones. Every single day I spent with those kids. And I was grateful, so incredibly grateful, because I knew I’d done nothing to deserve it.
The bus Davidson ends up being assigned to is a special needs bus, adding a whole other dimension to his story. Davidson had no prior experience with children with special needs, so off he went to do his research on Autism, Fragile X syndrome, and Cerebral Palsy.
What I realized now, looking back, is that many of us became really uncomfortable around individuals with disabilities. Including me. Such encounters had felt like a door opening onto a vast realm where I had no foothold, no understanding. It had been best to simply avoid stepping through. This is what made me hesitate for a beat before agreeing to the special needs route. It is also what made me say yes.
The book takes us through the seasons of the school year on the day-to-day bus route. And, in the course of the year we get to know Craig, and we get to know the kids. Where this book really shines is in the interactions and conversations between the kids on the bus; they’re funny, sensitive, and unique. And, despite the fact that their special needs and personalities vary widely, they are kind and respectful to each other, which is beautiful to read.
In parts, this book is enlightening, entertaining, and touching. Much of it is written in a jokey kind of tone for which I’m not the right audience – it’s a lot easier to make me cry than to make me laugh. I’m thinking Davidson’s other books – the dark, violent ones – are probably more my thing. But, I think this book has a lot to offer; Craig is not the only one who has misguided perceptions or expectations about the way life should be for these kids (or any kids); he’s not the only one who would feel overly protective of them with mixed results.
… the problem was one of perspective. I wished for an inclusivity most of these kids didn’t necessarily crave… I fell into the trap of wanting to engineer their existence to match my own expectations…
Most importantly, though, the kids that rode on bus 3077 that year are well worth getting to know. In the end, I think what I liked most about this book is not that he’s telling his story, but that he’s telling their story.
We tell ourselves stories in order to live. Another, wiser writer said that. But after hearing these kids’ stories, I was left thinking: do we not also tell stories to live vicariously in ways we cannot?
Nadja’s tales of never-ending dinner parties were those of a young girl who lived in a modest condominium complex and yearned for a taste of the glamour glimpsed in the fashion magazines she toted in her Hannah Montana backpack.
Or consider Oliver’s best friend Joey: erstwhile protector, he-man, namer of biceps. Not a boy with a condition typified by low muscle tone, a boy who crouched in the bus to avoid the attention of neighbourhood bullies.
Vincent’s heroes were blessed with superior intellects and chiselled musculatures. None were awkward hormonal teenagers with cumbersome physiques.
Jake’s hero – who could move objects with the power of his exceptional mind – was breathed into life by a boy trapped inside his own diminishing body.
28 thoughts on “Precious Cargo: My Year Driving the Kids on Bus 3077 by Craig Davidson”
I couldn’t help being amused by your comment that it’s a lot easier to make you cry than laugh followed by telling us that dark, violent books are more your thing. I’ve always been surprised that several of the gentlest people I know are committed crime readers of the darkest kind – one of them is a keen wrestling and boxing fan, too!
Not so much crime as dark literary fiction. It’s true what you say, though – I find the same thing with people I know. I like to think that it’s because my life is a happy one. If I was miserable all the time, maybe I’d be more drawn to light and funny books. 🙂
I’m sure that’s true. Happy lives and endings rarely make for interesting fiction, either.
Sounds like a lovely read, though like you not my normal kind of thing. I must say, as a dedicated ‘I hate kids’ person, the years I spent working with kids with behavioural difficulties, many of which were caused by autism to some degree or another, were the most fun of my working life. But don’t tell anyone – it would ruin my reputation… *goes off to stick another kid in the oven* 😉
Ha! Your secret is out!
I do get curious about other people’s lives, so go out on a limb every once in a while to read about them. A feel-good memoir was a nice change for me – normally I’d choose one of those memoirs that I’ve heard being described as misery-porn.
Your job with the kids sounds like it must have been rewarding. 🙂
What a lovely review! This sounds like great reading.
It *was* an enjoyable read, and a nice change of pace for me.
This review is interesting because the stereotype of bus drivers, at least in the U.S., is that they are miserable, angry folks who can’t wait to retire!
Near the beginning, when he is applying for the job and doing the training, he does talk about all the types of people who are there to learn how to drive a bus. But, in the end, he is surprised by the fact that his stereotypical idea of a bus driver is not at all accurate.
I remember my elementary school bus driver being a lively and kind man full of live. All the kids loved him!
This seems like a fun and lighthearted book. I’m generally open to that kind of story, but usually consume it on Television. I much prefer the books I read to be serious or discuss important issues. Every now and then I do appreciate some humor, but I’m not a very funny person! hah.
It does address some serious issues, but in a light-hearted kind of way. But, mostly, I think it is a feel-good memoir.
You’ve made me think about my own bus driver from many years ago, back in the days when most of the bus drivers seemed to be older men, serious and even kind of scary. But my bus driver had a nice grin and liked to be funny every once in while. I considered myself lucky!
This sounds like a really good book, and an important one. Thanks so much for sharing.
Thanks for reading!
This sounds like a great memoir! I’m completely unfamiliar with the author, but how great that he gets to stretch his writing under different names in various genres. I didn’t have this school bus experience over here but I think it’ll be nice to read about it and how he represents special needs kids.
He seems to be a versatile writer, that’s for sure. Horror, literary fiction, memoir. What will he write next?
Why did he threaten to punch another father in the face? I am fascinated. It’s always neat to read books about what it’s like to have jobs I’ll never have. I love hearing about what other people’s day-to-day lives are like.
I love that about it, too. He includes details like having to report in and out at the end of the day, and what happens when he has bus trouble, etc. Things you don’t think about when you’re not a bus driver.
The answer to your question: The said father’s son was making fun of the kids on his bus, and this was one of his poor judgement calls – he got out of the bus and attempted to ‘avenge’ his kids. I like that he felt so protective of them, but his decisions were not always the best (which he knows very well even as he was in the middle of making them). 🙂
I had read his long read on this subject, over a year ago. It was so well crafted and insightful. I did not realize that this was going to be a book!
Thanks for sharing your thoughts.
Hi Carole! Yes, he first wrote an article about it – I should have included it in my review. Thanks for the reminder, and I’m glad you liked it. Maybe you would also enjoy the book!
I totally want to read the book 🙂
I think you’ll like it!
This sounds so nice! A friend has lent me The Troop and I haven’t gotten round to it yet (no surprise there!) – is it worth a read?
I thought it was good fun, because I never read horror, so I would say yes when you’re in the mood to be a bit grossed-out. 🙂
I also liked the scout troop aspect of it, because my husband and 2 of my kids were in scouting at the time.
at first I thought U.S. School buses must be more civilised than the UK ones if he managed to have conversations with anyone on the trip but then began to realise if the children had all special needs maybe the vehicle was smaller and had fewer passengers so there was a chance to get to know them?
Yes, much smaller. And he only had 5 passengers. It does seem more civilized that way, doesn’t it?
It seems like an uplifting story – both for the bus driver & the kids. Though you seem to suggest it’s more about the kids than the driver’s life, right? A feel-good story
I’d say it’s more about the bus driver’s life, and how his outlook changed during his year driving the bus. But, it’s the kids that make the story, if that makes sense?