Rudy’s Bus (An Unexpected Business Lesson)

When I was in junior high, my older sister and I would wake up early every morning, shlep our heavy backpacks and trudge down two blocks to wait for the school bus.

We’d hear that big yellow behemoth before we’d ever see it – a low rumble as it bounced its way down the hill, and then the high-pitched squeal of the breaks as it screeched to a halt on the unmarked pavement in front of the corner we stood on.

The door would swing open with a characteristic squeak,  and there would be Rudy, welcoming us with his big, wrinkled grin.

Rudy was our bus driver.

He was older – I’d put him firmly in his seventies – and heavy-set, a robust and unabashed Italian immigrant with hands like sandpaper and a voice that hadn’t faltered with his years.

Rudy was a bit of a firework – at one moment gentle as a spring breeze – and in another, he’d rumble louder than the bus bouncing down the hill. When he got angry, he was the total embodiment of that stereotypical “argue in the streets” Italian temperament (complete with hand waving). 

And boy, did he get angry.

See, Rudy had rules.

Or rather, one rule. It was simple: Respect him and his bus, and he would respect you. Disrespect either and you had one hell of a talking to coming your way.

Rudy absolutely refused to put up with kids’ crap. Shoot spitballs at him, and he’d be on you in a hot minute – in traffic if that’s what it took. Bully another kid, and he’d descend on you like a bear protecting their cub. He heard everything, saw everything – and when he saw something he didn’t like…

“GET OFFA MAH BUS!”

He wouldn’t hesitate to pull that thing over and make you walk the rest of the way. Some kids found it entertaining to push his buttons until he spewed a shower of expletives, threats and Italian colloquialisms. He found it entertaining to watch them haul their ass to school.

But he was no monster. As I mentioned earlier, Rudy could be unbelievably thoughtful and kind. When he learned we lived just up the street, he began dropping us off right at the door (we were the last stop). He gave my sister flowers. He spoke warmly with us. We’d give him Christmas presents; he’d give us a big smile and door-to-door service.  Despite all the thunder and lightening, he was a wonderful soul.

I didn’t know it then, but Rudy was teaching me something important.

Let’s face it – being a bus driver usually isn’t seen as a high position.  Tell people you’re a bus driver at parties and you’ll probably get sympathetic looks. And yet, millions of parents count on bus drivers just like Rudy to get the job done safely and get their kids to school.

Rudy took his job seriously, but he refused to be walked on.

It was his bus, and he commanded that space.

Rudy taught me that no matter what your job was, you ought to have some pride and a little backbone.

Pride doesn’t just mean getting the job done – it means standing up to those who would take advantage of you and throwing them off your bus, while doting on those who make it all worthwhile.

It’s an attitude I’ve carried into my writing.

Many businesses still view writers as disposable assets who can be walked on, pushed around, negotiated down and taken advantage of. I’ve taken flack in the past for my sometimes over-the-top approach to dealing with these people.

I do it because I love what I do and believe it is valuable enough to defend.

“Pull your head out of your ass, you’re not that important”

“Ha! Trouble is, writers are a dime a dozen. If you won’t do it, we’ll find someone who will.”

That’s the kind of feedback I’ve gotten from people who disagree with the apparently lofty pedestal I put writers on. But I’m not about to change.

I won’t stand for being paid extremely late – or never. I can’t sit quietly after the umpteenth e-mail asking me to work for free. I’m not going to undercut myself down to pennies on a service I know can make a business thousands – and yes, I’m offended when you ask me to.

It’s not ego. If I don’t fight for me, nobody will. That doesn’t mean that I get all worked up and mail a box to everyone who pays late – just that I’m not afraid to toss them off my bus. Why waste time?

But on the other side of things, I try to dote on the clients who “get it”. The clients that respect creativity, treat me fairly, look at me like a professional instead of a word-cow to milk… those clients, I aim to delight -whether with consistently strong work, extra revisions, surprise discounts, impossible deadlines…

I’m proud of the positive relationships I have with the “good ones”. I’m thrilled to see their ranks growing.

But a lot of writers are enablers.

They’re unsure how to stand up for themselves, unsure how to build a business instead of scrape together sentences for a few bucks. So when I do things like send non-paying clients a giant box with my invoice in it, it’s those folks whose attention I’m trying to get.

Like, “Hey, what you do is valuable. Don’t get walked on. You have alternatives.”

And that’s who I’m trying to reach now.

Sadly, Rudy passed away awhile back.

I was sad to find his obituary in my morning paper one day. It’s been years since I waited for that rumbling bus , but it’s a lesson I won’t soon forget.

2 Responses to “Rudy’s Bus (An Unexpected Business Lesson)”

  1. Joni B says:

    Joel thanks for sharing!
    I had a few Rudy’s in my life and they made all the difference.
    Respect for yourself & your work, is a practice that becomes a source of joy.
    RIP Rudy and thank goodness for the rare authentic people we meet in our lives!
    Joni

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