I have been teaching mathematics in an Australian High School since 1982, and I am a contributing author to mathematics text books.
It was my first year of teaching, with my naivety and obsequiousness very much at the forefront. So much so that I volunteered to accompany a group of teenage students to their afternoon activity at an ice rink. I wasn’t too concerned about this because Paul and I were to act as supervisors. We talked often, and we got along well.
But the sword of Damocles was already dangling precariously!
To transport the group to the rink, the school bus was to be used, driven by either Paul or myself. We made an announcement for the students to meet us at the bus shed. So far, so good. As Paul and I walked to the shed, I casually asked, “Paul, how long did it take you to get your bus licence?”
Paul turned his head and calmly replied, “I don’t have one. But that doesn’t matter, right?”
I was feeling nervous. “But how can you drive the bus without a licence?” I put to him.
Paul stopped in his tracks. He gave me a puzzled look.
“But I thought you were driving the bus, Joe” Paul managed to utter.
“No,” I almost yelled. “I don’t have a licence, either.”
“Well, then,” Paul stated flatly, “we’ll just have to cancel the trip.”
I then made a decision I was to regret.
“I’ll do it. How much harder than driving a car can it be?” I asked, with total lack of conviction.
We arrived at the bus shed to see students milling around chatting, happy that they were to spend an afternoon away from the classroom. We opened the doors. The bus was big, a 40-seater, no less.
“Okay, Paul,” I said, “I’ll reverse it out and the kids can get on.”
I climbed into the driver seat, inserted the key and turned on the ignition. The bus engine whirred obediently. I then instinctively went to put it in reverse, but something felt wrong.
I looked down. “Damn!,” I said under my breath. The bus had a manual shift and I could only drive an automatic.
The sword of Damocles dropped further.
Blindly I grabbed and manhandled the gearshift, trying to position it next to R. This made the bus groan in protest, and the engine stopped.
Then I remembered that the clutch pedal must be depressed whilst a gear change is initiated.
I restarted the engine, pressed the clutch pedal with my left foot, (a totally unfamiliar operation) and moved the gearshift to R. Slowly the bus crept out of the shed.
“All aboard,” Paul beckoned. He sat next to me, displaying more confidence in the venture than me.
Now, the school was on a main road, with manic drivers hell bent on getting from A to B. The only way for me to exit the school grounds was to reverse the bus into this highway of hell. This would require quick reflexes. Reverse quickly, put the bus into first gear and drive off before a kamikaze driver rams you up the orifice.
It was 1 pm when I began my exit. Then it was 1:05 pm, 1:10 pm, 1:15 pm. I was still staring at the road, waiting for the break I needed to reverse out.
No go. Students began jeering and laughing. Some were peeved that they will not make it to the rink on time.
Then Paul had an idea. He climbed out and walked behind the bus and continued until he was in the middle of the road. He began gesticulating wildly to approaching vehicles, acting the way someone in distress will do when faced with an emergency. Cars slowed, then stopped. One driver with an expression of concern on his face quickly got out of his car to ask if everything was alright.
“You see,” I heard Paul say in his best acting role yet, “we have a bus full of sick kids. Cafeteria food. We need to get them to hospital ASAP.”
With more drivers caught by this web of lies, I was able to manoeuvre the bus out onto the road. Paul jumped on, waved gratefully to the concerned crowd and we were on our way.
At this point I won’t consume any more of the reader’s time. Suffice to say that we arrived at the rink and we all returned safely back to school on a hired bus.
“A stripped gear box and stuffed differential”, was the mechanic's report when the school bus arrived at the workshop.
If I pay $100 per week, I thought, how many years will it take to pay off the debt?
I’m sure the school principal, between clenched teeth and tight fists, will provide me with a suitable payment plan.
The sword of Damocles was now firmly wedged.