Larry Jose never takes for granted how precious the cargo is that he hauls each day. As a Clawson Public Schools bus driver, he is in the company of anywhere from a handful of special needs children to up to 60 regular elementary education kids en route to school or home every weekday. It's a job he considers rewarding and takes very seriously.
"It's not just me in that vehicle," he says. "I think and rethink everything. I have cargo in the back that is living and breathing."
He also makes a point of connecting with the kids he transports to and fro.
"For the past few years, I've primarily been driving a special education bus," he says. "Most of these kids are in wheelchairs; many are severely challenged."
Not sure of exactly how much some of his young special needs charges hear or understand, Jose does his best to elicit the universal form of communication -– a smile.
"Simple things like rocking the bus or popping out from behind my seat to say 'boo' make them giggle and smile," he says. "I know I did something right when I see that. I do my best to treat the kids as well as I can and make their experience on the bus as enjoyable as possible."
For one young man on Jose's current bus route, that means listening only to one radio station: 104.3 FM WOMC.
"This boy loves the oldies," Jose explains. "If I don't have his oldies station on, he will let me know!"
Jose acknowledges that for very young kids, taking the bus can be one big exciting adventure – or one terrifying prospect.
"I've had very young kids new to school who did not want to get on the bus," he says. "When you're 4 or 5 years old and leaving mom to get on a bus with an old-looking stranger, it can be scary."
To help some of the more reticent children get comfortable, Jose has taken special trips to their house before the start of school, so the kids can explore the bus on their own terms and time, get comfortable with him and generally become more at ease.
It is far more common, though, for kids to be in awe of the bus than to be in fear of it, Jose notes.
"Buses can be exciting," he says. "Depending on when a child gets on, the bus can be completely full or completely empty. Kids get to watch the bus fill up with different people.
"They get to interact with people with whom they might not normally interact, and they cover territory they might not usually cover near their home. Riding the bus is an interesting way for them to start and end their day."