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Veteran driver takes pride in her 'Cadillac'

October 28, 2002|by PEPPER BALLARD

pepperb@herald-mail.com

It was a priest who first asked Nancy Gordon to get behind the wheel of a school bus.

It was the taxi service she was already providing to her five school-aged children that persuaded her to look back through the wide rearview mirror of an empty church bus for the first time.

"I thought, 'what am I doing here?'" the 62-year-old woman reflected, while perched behind the wheel of a Washington County Public Schools bus.

Gordon wears rose-colored prescription sunglasses and has her ear pierced by a stud with a dangly gold star.

A now 32-year bus driving veteran, Gordon is a senior employee among 240 certified drivers for schools who transport 16,000 students to and from school each day. Last week she and others marked National School Bus Safety Week.

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Bus 325, her "Cadillac", carts students to and from Western Heights Middle, North Hagerstown High, Washington County Technical High and Hickory Elementary schools. She said her routes are a mix of town and country, which is her preference.

Gordon, a Marlowe, W.Va., resident, said her own car seems foreign to her now. "You feel a lot safer in this in bad weather than you do in your car," she said. "It handles better."

She said she's probably just as excited as the students are when school's canceled for bad weather.

"There are some days I think I could use a snow day," she said.

When she first started a route she remembered, "You worked every muscle when you drove."

Now the buses have automatic transmissions and have other special features like telescopic steering. For safety reasons, each bus now has a phone and the seats have higher backs and less leg room to better protect students, she said.

Gordon said watching her bouncy passengers mature, change hairstyles and settle down are the best parts of her job.

The students respect her, Gordon said. Once she drove a celebratory basketball team back from Catoctin High School in Thurmont, Md., in freezing rain over steep mountain hills. The students were silent, she said.

As many times as she's crossed over the railroad tracks near City Park, where rarely trains cross, children still ask why she needs to stop each time. The students know, though, she said, that it has to be done.

Gordon has a whistle she uses maybe once a year to calm kids down. She admitted she has eyes in more places than the back of her head, but wouldn't tell where.

She said she hears all their conversations, too.

Even after 32 years of driving buses, she said she attends mandatory safety classes annually to pick up on new driving techniques and safety measures.

Gordon recently learned a better way to back up the school bus.

"I think I'm a good driver and I have control of my students, but I don't think there's never something I can't improve upon," she said.

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