11 Secrets of School Bus Drivers

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In many school districts, the face that parents and guardians see most frequently doesn’t belong to the principal, the teacher, or even other students—it’s the school bus driver, the man or woman charged with the awesome responsibility of getting dozens of children from their homes to their classroom in a safe and efficient manner.

It’s a serious and often thankless job. Districts fear there may even be a shortage of drivers for the 2017-18 school year, thanks to an improving economy and more career options. To better understand their duties, Mental Floss asked several school bus drivers about their experiences on and off the road. Here’s a glimpse of what goes on before, during, and after your kid hops on board.

1. THEY ASSIGN SEATS TO AVOID TROUBLE.

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As kids get older, their on-bus behavior can start to become a distraction. To help curb tiny trouble, drivers can plan seat assignments that offer a better chance of cooperation. “Seating arrangement is really left up to the driver,” says Cindy, a former driver in Tennessee. “You find [most] children work best with having assigned seats. Middle and high school kids work best by separating the sexes—boys on one side, girls on the other. Front seats are best left open so students causing issues or with behavior problems can be assigned to sit on the driver’s right to be better monitored.”

2. THEY MIGHT TAKE IN A MOVIE DURING THE DAY.

School bus drivers usually have a staggered schedule, driving kids in different grades throughout the morning and then doing it in reverse later in the day. While that eats up more time than one might think, drivers who live close to the bus garage can drop off their wheels and do whatever they like for a good portion of the day. “I got done around 9 a.m. and didn’t have to be back to work until 1:30,” says Mike, a retired driver in Central New York. “Sometimes drivers will do a field trip or something, but I had a chunk of time to myself.”

Sounds breezy, but Mike and most other drivers are paid by the number of hours worked. “During the summer,” Mike says, “you don’t get paid.”

3. PARENTS CAN BE A BIGGER PROBLEM THAN THE KIDS.

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It’s not always the kids that misbehave. “I think it would surprise people how often parents tell their children they don't have to obey a driver,” Cindy says. “And because of that, very simple safety rule enforcement is a battle. It was more important for little Sally to have the right side and lean on her window than for her to be seated safely and facing forward.”

4. THERE’S A BENEFIT TO DRIVER SENIORITY.

Drivers who have been in the hot seat long enough to earn seniority can earn more money, but there are other perks. “In my district, drivers with the highest seniority got to drive the smaller, van-type buses,” Mike says. In addition to having fewer students on board, those drivers usually benefit from having a bus monitor riding along to ensure cooperation without having to take their eyes off the road.

5. KIDS (AND PARENTS) CAN GIVE THEM BRIBES.

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Not all of the little hellraisers are out for blood. Some actually come on board bearing gifts or treats for drivers, especially around the holidays. “Some children will bring you things of their own volition such as a flower or candy bar,” Cindy says. And parents can sometimes let a little money change hands in exchange for a few perks. “Honking the horn for students, allowing things brought on the bus that aren't allowed [are examples],” she says. Such contraband might include chewing gum and open drinks. “Most drivers that received gifts from parents are the drivers that broke the rules for those parents. I've seen actual cash change hands.”

6. THEY PERFORM A LITTLE RITUAL AFTER EVERY ROUTE.

Once every kid has de-boarded, drivers usually have to walk the length of the bus to make sure there are no stragglers. “There’s a magnetic sign at the front of the bus, and at the end of the route you have to walk down the aisle and stick it up so it shows out of the back window,” Mike says. “More than once, I’ve found a kid sleeping or engrossed on their phone.”

7. THE EMERGENCY EXITS MAKE FOR A GOOD PRANK.

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Ever wonder how a bus driver closes the pneumatic door if he or she is the last one to leave? They actually can’t—not all the way, anyway. Depending on the make and model of bus, drivers might have to settle for closing it most of the way, but if it’s shut completely, the driver will have to enter via one of the emergency exits. “We used that as a prank every once in a while,” Mike says. “We’d get in the bus and shut the door tight, then leave via the emergency exit so the [next] driver would have to get in the same way.”

8. THEY CAN GET FREE FIELD TRIP ADMISSION.

Unlike limo drivers, bus drivers aren’t expected to hang out in the background while their tiny wards are off having fun at a destination. “During field trips, we are supposed to have free admission to wherever the students are visiting,” Cindy says. “If it was a trip over lunch, it's common for all drivers to take one bus to a restaurant together.”

9. REGULAR DRIVERS ARE THE WORST.

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School buses aren’t made to stop quickly, which makes bad drivers the single biggest bane of a bus driver's existence. “The most stressful [thing] was other drivers being reckless while students are loading or unloading,” Cindy says. “Like running my stop sign, which resulted in at least one close call.”

10. THEY CAN FIND OUT WHO MADE A MESS.

Drivers are usually tasked with clean-up duty at the end of the day, finding everything from food to textbooks to things that are best left unmentioned. But Mike says they can often pinpoint the culprit. “Since we assigned seats, I know which kid was sitting where and who made what mess.”

11. THERE’S A REASON THEY KEEP KIDS SO SAFE.

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Careful and skilled driving remains the best preventative measure for keeping school kids safe during their commute, but the overall layout of the bus matters too. The American School Bus Council (ASBC) calls it “compartmentalization,” the term for the kind of high-backed and padded seating arrangement that can distribute energy in the event of a crash. That, coupled with extensive driver instruction, makes it the safest ride around. “I think people would be surprised how much continuous education there is,” Mike says. He trained for 40 hours before making his first official departure. “It’s not just some old guy driving a truck.”

Amazon's Under-the-Radar Coupon Page Features Deals on Home Goods, Electronics, and Groceries

Stock Catalog, Flickr // CC BY 2.0
Stock Catalog, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

Now that Prime Day is over, and with Black Friday and Cyber Monday still a few weeks away, online deals may seem harder to come by. And while it can be a hassle to scour the internet for promo codes, buy-one-get-one deals, and flash sales, Amazon actually has an extensive coupon page you might not know about that features deals to look through every day.

As pointed out by People, the coupon page breaks deals down by categories, like electronics, home & kitchen, and groceries (the coupons even work with SNAP benefits). Since most of the deals revolve around the essentials, it's easy to stock up on items like Cottonelle toilet paper, Tide Pods, Cascade dishwasher detergent, and a 50 pack of surgical masks whenever you're running low.

But the low prices don't just stop at necessities. If you’re looking for the best deal on headphones, all you have to do is go to the electronics coupon page and it will bring up a deal on these COWIN E7 PRO noise-canceling headphones, which are now $80, thanks to a $10 coupon you could have missed.

Alternatively, if you are looking for deals on specific brands, you can search for their coupons from the page. So if you've had your eye on the Homall S-Racer gaming chair, you’ll find there's currently a coupon that saves you 5 percent, thanks to a simple search.

To discover all the deals you have been missing out on, head over to the Amazon Coupons page.

Sign Up Today: Get exclusive deals, product news, reviews, and more with the Mental Floss Smart Shopping newsletter!

12 Secrets of Spirit Halloween Employees

Spirit Halloween stores are a sign Halloween has arrived.
Spirit Halloween stores are a sign Halloween has arrived.
Mike Mozart, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

When Joe Marver founded Spirit Halloween in 1983, he probably didn’t have any idea his seasonal Halloween store would eventually grow to over 1300 locations in the United States and Canada. But now, seeing a Spirit pop-up materialize in a vacant building has become as much of a Halloween tradition as pumpkin carving.

In order to assist shoppers with Halloween costumes, decorations, and animatronic creatures, Spirit employs a small army of seasonal workers. To get a better feel for what goes into this spooky vocation, Mental Floss reached out to several current Spirit Halloween team members. Here’s what they had to say about everything from customers making a mess to the hazards of trying on a mask during this pandemic-heavy Halloween.

1. Most Spirit Halloween employees really, really love Halloween.

Why take on a seasonal job with no potential for year-round work? If you love Halloween and the macabre, it’s a dream job. “I've never once worked with an employee that didn't love Halloween,” Kota, a five-year veteran of Spirit Halloween in Kentucky, tells Mental Floss. “It's something that all employees have in common from my experience … It's a perfect place to meet people with the same interests.”

2. Spirit Halloween employees are supposed to open costume packages for customers.

Spirit Halloween employees are happy to help with your costume selection.Courtesy of Spirit Halloween

If a Spirit Halloween employee is eyeing you with a little bit of consternation, it might be because you ripped open a costume package. Owing to issues of loss prevention and hygiene—even before COVID-19 struck—Spirit’s policy is to let employees open items and then package them back up. But not every customer is willing to wait.

“Our employees are supposed to deal with opening and closing each and every package,” Kota says. “This way we don't have to worry about things coming out or going into the packages that aren't supposed to. Although we try hard to make it as easy and friendly as possible, some customers would rather do it themselves wherever they may be standing in the store.”

3. Spirit Halloween employees can’t keep astronaut helmets in stock.

Every season brings a different phenomenon to Halloween shopping. In 2018, it was the popular video game Fortnite. This year, it’s an astronaut helmet. Not the suit, just the helmet. The trend is due to the popularity of a smartphone game titled Among Us, which puts the player in the role of a space explorer.

“Despite what you might think, the suits themselves seem significantly less popular than the helmets themselves for reasons beyond my comprehension,” Derek, a Spirit Halloween employee in New Jersey for the past three years, tells Mental Floss. “It's still just a bit too early to say, but if the helmets keep shipping out at the rate they are, in-store stock will probably remain at a near-constant zero. If I'm recalling it right, all of the stores in my area currently have one helmet if any, and no more than five are being shipped to each store.”

4. Spirit Halloween employees can’t believe customers are still trying on masks.

It's probably not a good idea to try on Halloween masks this year.Mike Mozart, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Despite newfound concerns over touching surfaces or being exposed to infectious particles, customers are still willing to try on masks in the store, even though someone else may have already been wearing it. “Ultimately the pandemic hasn't affected my store, aside from everyone needing to wear face masks while they're inside,” Jayme, a Spirit Halloween employee in Florida who’s worked there for four years, tells Mental Floss. “But people still ask to try things on and … they do still put masks on despite orange signs everywhere saying not to.”

Derek agrees. “If you've bought a mask from Spirit in any of the past seasons, there's a very high chance you're one of at least five people who’s worn that mask, and that's a conservative estimate for some of the masks. Despite the rule, I think I've seen that many people trying on [fictional creepypasta internet character] Jeff the Killer masks just in this past week.”

5. Spirit Halloween employees have seen some spooky things.

While a store full of scary costumes and props is a Halloween lover’s dream, some Spirit Halloween employees say it can also be the site of some spooky events. “An associate and I have both seen things swaying on the shelves as if someone walked by it, though nobody else is in the store,” Jayme says. “We've seen a few shadow movements as if people were hiding behind [a] corner. The funniest one [was] at closing time. One of my associates yelled ‘whoo’ and we heard a guy's voice say something in response. It totally freaked him out. It was one of our sound-activated hanging [animatronics].”

But not all employees get creeped out. “As much as I want to say that I've experienced anything creepy or paranormal, the store's about as creepy as a former Circuit City can be,” Derek says. Still, he's seen some strange things. “The lights used to turn off at the exact same time every day for about a month, there's always been the occasional inexplicable bang or creak, and some of the aisles do get messy a bit too quickly. One time, I was working at the fitting room. I sent a kid back with a previously unopened, dry Morphsuit costume [a full-body spandex outfit] and it came back warm and moist.”

Wet costumes aside, Derek won’t declare any paranormal activity just yet. “If I see a kid go flying across the store, I'll let you know.”

6. Spirit Halloween employees wish customers would stop making a huge mess.

Spirit Halloween employees like to keep stores neat.Courtesy of Spirit Halloween

Owing to the nature of pop-up stores or the excitement over the holiday, customers at Spirit Halloween stores tend to make messes. Big ones. “You could've just finished putting every mask neatly back on the racks, and half of them will be back on the floor before you've caught your breath,” Derek says. “It seems like everyone takes a little pride in the sections they helped set up and the animatronics they built, and that definitely manifests in how we feel about customers messing with those things.”

7. Spirit Halloween employees would prefer you not use the aisle as a dressing room.

Some customers like to try on outfits in the aisle instead of the dressing room, a habit that predated the current pandemic. (Spirit Halloween fitting rooms are closed this season.) Employees would still prefer you not try to dress—or undress—in the middle of the store. “It's very common to find people, mostly kids, trying on costumes in aisles,” Kota says. “We [did] have multiple fitting rooms to try to stop this from happening, but once again, people would rather do things themselves sometimes.”

8. Spirit Halloween employees move a lot of licensed animatronics.

Animatronics are a popular item at Spirit Halloween.Courtesy of Spirit Halloween

Among the most popular items in Spirit Halloween locations are the life-sized animatronics that provide a scary atmosphere for homes or parties. “Animatronics are one of our largest-selling items,” Kota says. “There's a certain group of people that love them and look forward to them annually. Some of our buyers buy them and use them for their haunted attractions. It's always nice to go to one and see a familiar face.”

While Spirit offers a number of original animatronic concepts—the Harvester of Souls being among the more popular—Kota says that customers usually gravitate toward licensed characters. “I've noticed that the most popular animatronics are our licensed ones. Pennywise [from 2017's It] and Sam [from 2007's Trick 'r Treat] have been huge sellers this year as was Michael Myers a few years ago. I've also noticed the ones that stay behind at the end of the season are almost always the swinging animatronics. I think they're interesting, but they don't sell as often as the others do.”

9. Spirit Halloween employees might sell you a used animatronic, but you need to get lucky.

Come the end of the season, Spirit Halloween locations often unload animatronics that were on display and no longer being manufactured. “Older animatronics, if I recall correctly, will stop being manufactured and then sold until it runs out,” Jayme says. “As for the displays, we do sell those at the end of the season. It's just a matter of putting your info on a waiting list.”

10. Spirit Halloween employees meet a lot of cosplayers.

Cosplayers are frequent shoppers at Spirit Halloween.Mike Mozart, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

It’s not just Halloween customers that Spirit Halloween stores service. According to Kota, cosplayers looking for that perfect accessory sometimes show up. “Spirit actually gets quite a bit of cosplayers and I personally think it's a great place to go for more specific items,” Kota says. “I'm sure we get even more cosplayers than I'm aware of since some customers like to talk about it and others don't say much about it.”

11. Spirit Halloween employees get a steep, steep discount once Halloween is over.

Between the standard employee discount and the after-Halloween fire sale available to customers, Derek says that he can go shopping in November and save a considerable amount of money. It’s one reason he keeps coming back. “It's hard to say no to an 80-percent discount during the November clearance sale,” he says. (The regular discount is 50 percent, and employees get an additional 30 percent.) “There's nothing like rewarding yourself after a busy season by spending $150 on, like, five or six things.”

12. Spirit Halloween employees sometimes get holiday shoppers.

Halloween means holiday shopping for some people.JJBers, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

For some customers, a Spirit Halloween store is a perfect place to start their holiday gift shopping. “I made a friend last year with a kid who comes in weekly to see if we have anything new in yet,” Kota says. “He's maybe about 7 years old and [he] and I go around the store almost every time he comes in and talk about new things and animatronics we have. His parents then secretly go around and buy him animatronics and props as Christmas presents. It's so nice to see his love for Halloween all year round. It reminds me of myself when I was his age.”