Thursday, October 16, 2008

A Foolish Incident

In response to "That Blue Yak's" "writing assignment," here is my story:

When I was in college, back in the dark ages of the prior century, I had a part-time job driving the bus for the University's transportation (bus) system. There were 80-plus part-time student drivers, a few full-time drivers, and a Transportation Manager (the "Trans Man") and Assistant Manager. We drove buses on a couple of different routes through the campus and out to various fraternity and sorority houses, dorms, and apartments where mostly students lived, as well as to a shopping center with a grocery, post office, bank, and other stores so students could buy things and take the bus back to their apartment. Buses ran every 10 minutes during weekdays, and every 20 minutes evenings and weekends. Shifts were approximately 2 to 4 hours long, and could begin as early as 5:15 a.m. and end as late as 1:00 a.m. For reasons I can't completely explain, it is my all-time favorite former job.

Here are some things that partially, but not completely, explain my love for this job.

** It had very flexible hours -- I could pick up or dump shifts almost at will, as there were always other drivers looking to dump and/or pick up shifts.

** We could bring our "boom boxes" and play our cassettes or radio while we drove the bus around campus and talked to all of our friends and classmates who rode the bus. (This was obviously in the primitive times before CD's made cassettes obsolete).

** The student drivers were a large enough group to be diverse and fun, but small enough to feel like a club or perhaps a sort of blue-collar fraternity / sorority. (It was literally a "blue collar" job -- we had to wear pale blue uniform shirts to drive the bus.) There were always student drivers just "hanging out" at the transit office. We went to Friday night happy hours together. We played practical jokes on each other. We celebrated birthdays and engagements and graduations together. We bowled together weekly during the slow summer months.

** It was the highest-paid student job on campus at the time. Back when minimum wage and most student jobs paid $3.35 per hour, it paid $5.15, which at the time seemed like a lot of money.

** They hired me even though at the time I applied for the job my personal auto insurance had just been suspended because I had been in two wrecks and received two speeding tickets within the prior 12 months. I was in the process of obtaining new and more expensive insurance. The Trans Man stated he was not worried about my prior driving record because they would teach all of the new hires defensive driving, the transit system was self-insured (which meant no rate increases for hiring pathetically bad drivers), and the buses were slow anyway so speeding tickets were not a real problem. My roommate thought he just liked the way I looked.

** The passengers provided no end of hilarious insight into human nature, which we shared with each other on the "Sup's pad." (Short for "supervisor's pad," this pad of paper found on each bus was supposed to be for writing up any problems with the bus or the route, suggestions for beneficial changes, etc., but in those pre-computer days, it served mostly as a sort of aggregate bus-drivers' blog about entitled, drunken, clueless, and otherwise annoying and/or hilarious passengers).

** Did I mention the practical jokes?

One of my "regulars" was a visiting law student from the U.K. who rode the bus every day from the law school, where he was a student, to the apartments where he lived. He liked the American tradition (or perhaps it was a tradition in the U.K., too? I really don't know....) of playing practical jokes on April Fools' Day, and he came up with a great idea for an April Fools joke. All he needed was a piece of letterhead from the transit system and someone to distribute the memo he had written.... I hooked him up, so to speak, with someone who could help him out with those two items.

And on April 1, each driver found, in his / her company mailbox, a memorandum that stated the following (paraphrased to the best of my ability to remember, as I no longer have a copy of the infamous memorandum):

April 1, 19xx

Due to new Federal regulations, the [University's Bus System] is now required to test each driver to screen for the use of illegal drugs. We will implement this requirement through testing of urine samples. There will be an initial test of each driver, followed by random testing of a portion of the workforce every three months hereafter. The urine will be analyzed for the presence of specific drugs, including but not limited to alcohol, marijuana, and cocaine. The test can detect the use of these substances for up to three months after the time they were last used.

The initial test will take place this week. Please provide a sample of your urine in a plastic cup with your name on it, and leave it on [Trans Man's] desk by 5 p.m. on April 1. The urine will be sent to a lab, and results will be received sometime within the next week.

If you are unable or unwilling to comply with this requirement, or if drugs are detected in your urine sample, you may be terminated for cause.

Thank you for your cooperation in complying with these new Federal requirements.


Transportation Manager


Keep in mind (and I know this is hard to fathom for you young-uns that have been raised in an era of decreasing privacy rights and rampant drug testing as a requirement to hold almost any position) that this memo was distributed years before such drug testing actually was required for bus drivers. It was distributed back in the dark ages, when many people were actually appalled at the thought that an employer would "invade the privacy of employees" by requiring drug testing before allowing them to drive a ten ton bus around the city while carrying anywhere from 30 to 100 passengers at a time. Thus, the idea of drug testing bus drivers actually was fairly shocking and controversial, at the time.

Also, however, please note the "APR/fls" at the bottom. If you are familiar with standard office procedures, you will know that this notation represents the initials of the person who dictated or wrote the memo (in capital letters) and the secretary who typed and distributed the memo (in lower case letters). No one in the office had these initials. It was obviously shorthand for "April Fools" -- i.e., "this is a joke, stupid!"

Most people were initially surprised and/or shocked but then read through to the end and, between the April 1 date at the top and in the body of the letter, and the APR/fls at the end, they picked up on the joke and began laughing.

But several persons were completely fooled. One fellow walked in to get his mail, read the memo, and immediately freaked out and then opened his mouth and inserted his foot and even his leg all the way up to his knee: "Oh, shit! Shit! Shit! Shit! No way!!! Drug testing?!? Oh, I am so hosed! I can't believe this!! I'll get fired! Oh, shit ... I have to quit. That's it -- I'm done, I quit!!!" And with that he took off his uniform shirt and stomped out of the office.

I guess we know what he was doing on his off hours. At least we hope it was only on his off hours....

Others asked, "where do I get a plastic cup for the test?" and were met with gales of laughter until they re-read the memo and realized it was all a joke.

And one went so far as to sneak a plastic cup filled with urine onto the Trans Man's desk -- much to the surprise and chagrin of the Trans Man, who was as taken aback by the drug testing memo as the rest of the crew and was disgusted to find a cup of pee on his desk after lunch.

We never did find out whether the person whose name was on the cup was the one who actually filled the cup and left it there, or if it was a "subsidiary joke" played on that person and the Trans Man, by someone who had figured out the gag. In the tradition of Ollie North, no one was admitting to remembering anything at all that day.


Green said...

Seriously this sounds like the most awesome job. I'd totally love to have had that position!

LegalMist said...

I was on the "five year plan" in college, partly because I was just having too darn much fun driving buses and playing with my pals, and I just didn't want to leave.

Fancy Schmancy said...

I love practical jokes, as long as they aren't being played on me! That was really funny.

Dr Zibbs said...

I tried to leave a comment earlier but it wasn't letting me. FYI, I put a link to this story on my blog. Thanks.

Ms. Florida Transplant said...

That is an awesome story!

LegalMist said...

Dr. Zibbs -- thanks for the link. :) I'll look forward to the next "writing assignment."

Ms. Florida Transplant -- glad you enjoyed it. Check back occasionally for more true tales from the dark ages.