Bus drivers can sometimes catch a bad rap.
But this Zephyrhills bus driver did just the opposite in creating a catchy rap of his own — a remix to the hit song ‘Old Town Road’ that shows the daily joys and struggles of being a public school bus driver.
Jay Heilman, 38, says he created the song to sing with his elementary school riders, which he does with different songs most days, as well as to give a glimpse into what it’s like driving hundreds of students to and from school each day.
The video, which uses other bus drivers and assistants as actors, provides countless funny lines throughout. It also shows the mirror of Heilman’s bus falling off while on Zephyrhills’ Richland Road — something he says actually happened twice last school year.
While mostly filled with jokes and fun, the video also shows a van blowing by his school bus while stopped — a scary and dangerous occurrence that happens to his bus at least once a day, Heilman said, and something he wants drivers to be more cognisant of.
“If you’re gonna be late, that’s your problem,” Heilman said. “Don’t take away my kids safety. They get on and off quick. Their safety is more important than your drive being 30 seconds quicker.”
While the job can become monotonous at times, Heilman says he loves what he does for a living. Part of his joy each day comes from finding different ways to make student’s days better (such as singing Justin Timberlake’s Can’t Stop The Feeling) — especially his elementary riders, who he quickly gets to know by name, and who know him as ‘Mr. Jay.’
“I really like engaging with the kids," Heilman said. “I always remind people kids are in school for six or seven hours a day, and yes it’s important to get them to school and home safely, but we’re also the last and first face they see. That’s important ... If you see a kid get on the bus with a bad mood, it is partly my job to make them smile.”
The group of students — and infamous road — that inspired ‘Washboard Road’ came from Heilman’s 2018-19 bus route, which served Woodland Elementary, Centennial Middle and Zephyrhills High School.
Heilman says his route this year, however, will be Wesley Chapel based since routes are assigned based on seniority, and he has only been a bus driver for four years. While he says losing his students from a previous year is one of the hardest parts of the job, he’s still happy with his decision to leave Rent-A-Center in Dade City to become a driver.
“The hardest thing is the end of the school year,” he said. “I get really attached to the kids, they get attached to me and when it’s the end of the school year, there’s no guarantee I’ll be able to do their route again next year. But there’s always the next group.”
Heilman, who is a father of five and Pasco High School graduate himself, says he works shifts from 6 to 10 a.m., and then from 1 to 5 p.m. in the afternoon. On some nights he works late, driving sports teams to away games and students to and from far away field trips.
"Becoming a bus driver really started with me wanting to do something different for work,” Heilman said. “And I knew I loved kids and driving ... Now I feel connected with each student that rides. Those are my buddies.”