- Edmund Burke
Are your principles for sale? At one time mine absolutely were not, now however I'm less certain. I stood for my principles and discovered it can be financially costly, emotionally draining, and an ultimately crushing experience.
I drive a school bus, well; at least I used to drive a school bus. This is an occupation I enjoyed for over 25 years. The last sentence you just read was written completely without guile, and without tongue in cheek. I really did love my job. There are very few days in my 25 plus years as a contract employee that I didn't enjoy rising well before the sun to go and transport "my kids" to their respective schools. It was very seldom that I felt I was going to "work" rather I was going to do something I enjoyed.
I take pleasure in driving; I especially enjoy and take pride in driving skillfully, and safely. Sometimes I would feel guilty for receiving pay to do a task I was so thoroughly fond of, and as for my employer, well...I felt my employer was exceptional. Oh sure, they didn't pay enough the most universal complaint, in the world, but I think they treated me fairly throughout the years. However one must note that I had not given them any reason for mistreatment. I had zero write ups in 25 years. I was punctual, kept my bus clean, took exceptional care of the children I transported, and during all those years I never had, not even one, a chargeable accident. I owned, and still own the very rare, perfect driving record. My personnel record and driving record were equally spotless.
Then in one day, no actually a single moment - a finger snap really, the honeymoon was over. As I relate the rest of my story I will make an effort to keep the bitterness out of my words.
Let me tell you what happened on October 19, 2010, my last day as a schoolbus driver. My routes completed for the morning, I was driving the bus to my house for a lunch break when I noticed a white pickup in front of me, as traffic slowed for a red light, I was able to read the bumper sticker on the tailgate of the truck. It was extremely vulgar in both language, and the premise of its message.
This sticker should have offended every decent person that saw it, and I'm certain many people did see it as the driver traveled on this busy road through town. I'm reminded, as I type this part of my story, of a line from the book War and Peace "All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing". "Nothing" had been happening while this truck drove through town on a heavily traveled four lane road.
Shortly after I noticed the sticker we came to a traffic light, as we slowed I noticed a corner of the sticker peeling up. In a moment of impulsiveness, fueled by disgust and frustration, as traffic stopped for the red light; I set the brake, exited the bus, removed the sticker, and re-entered the bus throwing the sticker in my garbage can.
The other driver apparently wasn't quite sure how to respond. His bumper sticker tried to portray the image of virility, manliness, the ultimate of masculinity, however, his actions and demeanor showed something quite different. As he exited his truck all I could see was a confused, scared, timid boy who wanted desperately to be a man. He looked as if he wanted the courage to walk back and confront me, but that courage escaped him completely. The real reason he placed the sticker on his truck in the first place became vividly clear to me at that moment.
His response was limited to; getting out of his truck looking confused and scared, and getting back into his truck. That should be the end of the story, but sadly it is not. When I had the opportunity I turned down a side road, and away from the confrontation. I scrapped the idea of going home electing instead to go to my next school and 'calm down' there while waiting for the school dismissal time.
What I didn't know was that after I ended the incident by separating myself from the other vehicle, the pickup driver drove to a parking lot where he stopped, called the police telling them I had chased him into that lot (in a school bus....), threatened him with a pipe, and "the bus driver turned around and left when he saw I was on my phone."
To make a long story longer, my dispatcher contacted me and requested that I pull over at my current location and wait, which I did. The West Valley Police came (five cars), investigated, and cited me with a "Class C Misdemeanor, Disorderly Conduct". The officers also told me it was that person's right to display the sticker.
That afternoon my supervisor contacted me to relay that I was on paid administrative leave until further notice. My fate would now lie in the hands of the top three men who run the school district.
This incident has two sides that need to be addressed;
1 - The civil side, the criminal charges against me.
2 - The job side, the actions my employer would take.
I sought and paid for advice from two attorneys regarding the pertinent issues on both sides. It was at this point when I began to learn two truths;
1 - That in the eyes of the world, being honest is NOT always the best policy.
2 - When dealing with cowards, being "right" is worthless.
I mentioned before that my fate was now in the hands of the men who run the school district. I wasn't worried; I had been told by those in the know that the three men deciding my fate were "good men" who had common sense. I had also been told that all three men agreed with the concept of my action, they were as disgusted by the sticker as I was. Even though I didn't know any of these three personally, through my experience with the district I came to understand they were highly educated. I had heard or read their messages of commitment, duty, loyalty, and honesty in speeches or written communications to employees. I had received a letter from one of them a mere 6 months earlier commending my "...25 years of dedicated service to Granite School District" which "..represents considerable levels of personal commitment..." etc etc.
These are men who as former principals had espoused integrity, 'leading by example', and who are mindful of leaving the proper legacy for the students we serve.
These same men fired me.
My 25 years of employment ended because I removed a publicly displayed vulgar bumper sticker.
They told me they had completed a thorough investigation. That is total B.S. Their "investigation" was to simply read the other persons police report and take what he said as fact. Another part of their "investigation" was that I had "put in writing" the statement that I "would do it again".
I'm puzzled as to where that came from. The only thing I can think of is that the first few days after the incident I had received a lot of contact from fellow employees via face book, emails, and phone calls. Apparently during one of those contacts I made or wrote the statement that, "I would do it again". I'm not certain why I would say that, or what context it was said in, or what question preceded that statement, but I would later come to regret it, as that person, whoever it is, must have taken that information and reported it to the personnel responsible for the investigation (thank you Dear Friend, whoever you are). During my later meetings with district reps they would not tell me where that statement came from, or allow me to retract the statement, if in fact I did make it. I guess they figured it was written in granite....get it? Written in granite, granite school district... Oh well, never mind.
After appealing for job reinstatement and being denied I then requested that my "termination" status be changed to "retirement". The district, in light of my 25 years of service, graciously allowed me that privilege. How wonderfully decent of them.
So the job side of this incident was finished since I was termed. Now I had the civil matter to deal with.
Even though the school district has its own police department and its own attorney to conduct their "investigation", my attorney and I were able to discover two things that the district could not or didn't care to find.
1 - A surveillance tape that proved unequivocally that the other person's story was false.
2 - My "class c misdemeanor" was classified by the city of West Valley as an "infraction" which is equal in severity to, say... a parking ticket.
When I went to court, December 7 no less, the Judge heard my story and evidence with incredulousness as to why I was even there, and said, "Dismissed". No record, no booking, nothing, a non incident.
And so my debt to society was paid. For a "parking ticket" type violation that was dismissed in court, I was terminated, or forced to retire from a job that I enjoyed for over a quarter of a century.
The legacy of the three men who termed me will be forever etched in my mind.
I would like to thank some people who made this speed bump in my life bearable:
- the friends who visited, called, or sent cards with supporting words, if I named them I know I would miss someone, I'm amazed at how much their words lifted me up in a difficult time.
- My defense attorney, Earl Xaiz (Zice). Every year Earl receives top honors from his peers, he truly is a "Super Attorney". Normally I could not have afforded Earl's services, but he got on my bandwagon and saved the day. I can't say enough good things about Earl; his legacy is also etched in my mind.
- Judge Stoney who saw the truth, and was man enough to stand by it.
- Finally and most of all Beverly, she is incredible.
And finally (no really) as for my supposed quote, "I would do it again." Well, would I? Nope. At least not in the same way I did it last time. If I see another vulgarity I will call the police, and when they tell me it is that person's right to express themselves, I will correct them, citing;
Utah code 10-8-50. "Lewd behavior"
(f) using obscene or profane language in a place or under circumstances which could cause a breach of the peace or good order of the city.
And if I need to, I will relate to the good officer what I was told at the start of this incident; 'that they are not paid to write the laws, but they are paid to enforce them.'
And finally, finally to you, if you read this entire story, you deserve a round of applause. :-)