The Friendly Bus: Jim Pleasant

Maggie Hicks, Staff Reporter

Hang on for a minute...we're trying to find some more stories you might like.


Email This Story






When I boarded bus O on a rainy Friday afternoon, I wasn’t sure where I would end up. It was the first time I’d been on a school bus since 8th grade and I didn’t recognize any of the middle schoolers or underclassmen who swarmed around me. Some of them laughed loudly while others kept to themselves with pulled up hoodies and headphones in.

For Jim Pleasant, an FCCPS bus driver of almost four years, this is a normal afternoon. Wake up at 5 a.m. and arrive at work by 7:30. If it’s nice out, he’ll drive his Harley Davidson to work. Bus routes to MEH and GM followed by TJ in the mornings and the same in the afternoon. Occasionally, he drives a group of preschoolers to Jesse Thackery or a group of Life Skills children on their weekly field trip. When I boarded the bus, he smiled excitedly and gestured toward the first seat behind him.

A Harley Davidson motorcycle sits parked outside.

Mr. Pleasant’s Harley Davidson motorcycle. After learning to ride in high school, he loves taking this to work on a sunny day. (Photo by Maggie Hicks)

“Hello, Maggie! Take a seat. You’ll be sitting next to Will today. He likes to sit on the inside so he can look out the window.”

At first, I was surprised that he knew the boy’s name and even where he would sit. But soon I realized this was a norm on what Mr. Pleasant referred to as “the friendly bus.” As students climbed up the steps, he echoed a “hello” or “good afternoon” and made sure everyone took a seat. Because of the rain, most kids had to sit three to a seat.

For high schoolers and middle schoolers, Mr. P greets them and flips on classical music. In my experience, if a bus even played music it was pretty much whatever was on the radio at the time. So I made sure to ask Mr. Pleasant about his musical choice.

“I’ve always found that classical music is the only way for me to focus or destress,” he said. “When I see these kids get on the bus after a long day of school, they all look so stressed and focused. I have found that classical music helps calm them after the hectic day they’ve had.”

The fun comes in later in the afternoon for the elementary schoolers with a ride full of mental math games and debates over the best kinds of cookies.

The math games were impressive. Mr. Pleasant told everyone to keep a number in their head. Once they had that number, he told them a series of rules for how to change it such as add 12 or multiply by 8. At the end of the game, he guessed a number and all the kids yelled excitedly that that was the number they all had.

“You must be wondering how I got here huh?” he asked me as we ended the MEH/GM bus run. When I nodded, he adjusted in his seat as if he was about to tell me a lengthy story. “Well, it all started when I was three months from retirement . . .”

On his way to work one morning, Mr. Pleasant ended up getting stuck behind a lift bus on the way to his job at the Pentagon. He fidgeted with the side of his steering wheel as he described his initial annoyance with the bus and the cars that began maneuvering around it.

“As I watched the driver help a boy in a wheelchair into the bus, I realized how much character, patience, and caring personality that must’ve taken. It really requires a special person .”

After that day, Mr. Pleasant got stuck behind the same bus three or four more times.

“I realized it was the perfect retirement plan — I would be able to give back to my community, work and learn from kids, and never have to wear a suit again,” Mr. Pleasant told me as he laughed and referred to his logo-less blue t-shirt and worn jeans.

A man smiles in the driver seat of a school bus.

Mr. Pleasant smiles in his driver seat. Other than the kids, Mr. Pleasant said the best part of his job is having a constantly changing windshield in front of him at all times. (Photo by Maggie Hicks)

From there, Mr. Pleasant began training in Fairfax County where he drove for 7 years before switching to Falls Church. However, after hearing him explain the aide who worked on the lift bus, I asked if he ever had any interest in working with special needs children.

“If I couldn’t work with kids with special needs, I wasn’t sure I wanted to do it at all,” he replied almost immediately.

For the majority of his driving career, Mr. Pleasant has taken Life Skills students to and from school as well as on weekly field trips around the city. In the process, he has built relationships with many of the students as he watches them grow and move through the school system. This year, one student, in particular, stood out for him.

“A lot of things changed for me on February 24th,” Mr. Pleasant said, his voice mellowing slightly as we parked outside TJ. The date was in reference to Jeffrey Bandy, a beloved student and member of the FCCPS community for many years, who passed away in February of this year.

“I drove Jeffery for the last four years of his life,” Mr. Pleasant told me. “That boy taught me more about compassion and patience than I ever thought I’d know. He truly helped me find a type of sensitivity and purpose that would have never found anywhere else,” he recalled with a smile.

Through driving Jeffery, Mr. Pleasant also built a strong relationship with his family and friends and became an incredibly influential part of their lives.

“Jim was constantly showering our son with love, happiness, and compassion and we will forever be grateful to this incredible man who was much more than just a school bus driver to us,” Jeffrey’s mom, Melissa Bandy told me.  

I could tell that Mr. Pleasant showed this same compassion and happiness to all of his passengers and co-workers, no matter who they were or where they came from. As elementary school students excitedly jumped on the bus, Mr. Pleasant told me about his bus aide, Ms. Dee Dee Williams, who I was about to meet. I watched as a woman in a sky blue t-shirt and jeans boarded the bus holding the hand of a young girl with curly red hair.

Two people smile for a selfie in front of a school bus.

Mr. Pleasant and reporter Maggie Hicks pose for a selfie. Hicks spent the afternoon with Mr. Pleasant, going through his bus routes and understanding his role as a driver. (Photo by Maggie Hicks)

“Hello, ladies! How are we doing today?” Mr. Pleasant smiled happily at both of them and introduced me to Ms. Williams.

On the TJ bus route, I was amazed at how well Mr. Pleasant knew every kid on the bus. Whether it was about a family member, a math test, or a soccer game, he had talked to each kid individually while still maintaining eyes on the road and hands on the wheel before the 20-minute ride was up.

“Mr. Pleasant is all around a great person to work with. He cares about every student and wants to make sure they get home safely and happily . . .” Ms. William told me about her coworker, “. . . honestly, that’s what is always on our minds during these rides.”

Mr. Pleasant and Ms. Williams also like to call themselves “team safety.” Before I could ask any more about the name, Mr. Pleasant wiped out the bus microphone yelling “what first?” to which the kids responded, “safety first!”

Just like you, me, or the students on his bus, Mr. Pleasant also does have a life outside of school. For him, it’s baseball and boats. It was a needed reminder for me and for all students that the adults in our school lives go home to their own families, kids, and hobbies. However, he enjoys his time with his students and makes sure there is always a friendly spirit on the bus.

A man and woman smile in front of a baseball field.

Mr. Pleasant and his wife smile at a Nationals game. They both have season tickets for the nationals and make sure to attend as many games as they can. (Photo Courtesy of Jim Pleasant)

“Kids are just so inspiring in the way that they find excitement and enthusiasm in everything they do. I think we stand to learn a lot from the happiness that young people find in parts of life that I may never have noticed as an adult.”

Before ending my time on bus O, I asked Mr. Pleasant what he appreciated most about being a bus driver.

 

He replied with a smile, “You get the opportunity over the course of a lifetime to work with lots of people from all different walks of life,” he said, “and I came to the conclusion a long time ago that you stand to learn so much from people particularly if you just listen to them and their story. I’m blessed to get to do that every day.”

Whether you are lucky enough to see Mr. Pleasant every day or, like me, haven’t thought about a bus in years, anyone who boards bus O is in for a warm welcome and a happy smile from the man behind the wheel. And in case you haven’t realized, yes, he certainly lives up to his name.