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Mike Tasos: Hearing the beautiful sound of the quittin’ time whistle
Mike Tasos

We are sometimes afforded a glance behind the curtain, or in this case, the windshield. 

Every time this happens, when granted a glimpse into this mystical world, the thought is: “Who in the name of Room 222 would ever take that job?”

I’m referring to bus drivers. Not the Ralph Cramden ilk, but those poor souls who climb upon their respective yellow-tinted steeds five days a week, ferrying youngsters to and from Forsyth County schools.

What a dedicated lot. Can you imagine the living hell that comes from performing this service? Same routes. Same kids. Pass me the box of rat poison.

It is apparently a pretty good gig. There are ads on billboards touting starting pay of $18.02 an hour. That’s not too shabby. But I don’t think I could keep from going postal the first time I was pelted with a well-aimed spit wad.

I could see myself morphing into the late Chris Farley, the hilarious driver in “Billy Madison.” His aggravation was a Twinkie away from losing it.

We’ve all been involved in being a less-than-willing member of a workforce where we knew we weren’t going to last.

In 1970, as a box boy at my stepdad, Otis Campbell’s grocery store, I was paid $1.35 an hour, even though the minimum wage was $1.65. 

Now I can relate to how those poor souls in Haitian sweat shops must feel. I worked an entire weekend and received $20.24. It was all the money in the world to me because I earned it.

I wasn’t cut out for the grocery business, though. It was too easy to ply my acerbic wit on customers who didn’t find a 14-year-old Don Rickles all that amusing. It was a blast aggravating certain customers.

“Don’t break my eggs! Don’t squish those strawberries! Don’t dent my Alpo!” 

Well, maybe the old hag didn’t say the last one, but she sure could bark. 

She yelped one final request: “Young man, will you call me a cab?” 

I couldn’t resist this perfect setup, granting her what she’d asked.

“Sure, you’re a cab.”

Then the heavily made-up biddy went for an Oscar, nearly breaking down, boo-hooing: “Well I’ve never been insulted like that in my life.”

Couldn’t resist my early ba-dum-dum-dum rimshot: “Stick around. I’ve got plenty more. I’ll be here all week. Try the veal.”

Otis was not quite as amused. I’m pretty sure I had to hide out until the Beefeaters Gin worked its magic and sent my stepdad’s willingness to hand out a beating into the land of nighty-night.

I worked at an oil refinery one summer, even becoming a card-carrying member of the Operating Engineers union. 

It was an enjoyable experience that inspired me to stay in school. Those guys were lifers and made me laugh all summer. 

I’ve often wonder what became of the lot of them. Most smoked way too much and drank even more.

But like a good boxer, they answered the bell when the whistle blew most mornings. 

The Bakersfield desert-like heat was spent outside raking dirt, riding around in a beat-up company pickup truck, having rock fights and raking dirt. 

I can honestly attest that I have never raked any dirt since that summer. 

There was some “inside” work, however. 

I can’t look at a massive steel tank and not remember the project that consisted of cleaning out two feet of sludge. 

Clothed in flimsy overalls, it was akin to being part of a moon landing, gingerly maneuvering through the gunk and watching the “suck truck” make the tank’s floor sparkle. 

My memory of the endeavor might be tainted. 

When initially going into that tank, I’m pretty sure it was time to catch a good buzz from the fumes. OSHA might have cast a disapproving eye.

So, while the folks on the outside dealt with the 100-degree temperatures, me and my posse got high from the surely toxic tank air. 

Every day, the quittin’ time whistle was music to my ears.

Mike Tasos can be reached at Y’all are some amazing folks. My brother Marty is on the mend, improving daily. Keep those prayers coming. They’re working.