The Next Chapter

Craig Davidson on driving a school bus for students with special needs

Before Craig was a writer, he drove a school bus — and he learned more from the kids than they would ever learn from him.

The experience is the basis for his new memoir, Precious Cargo

Craig Davidson says he wouldn't trade his experience as a school bus driver for anything.

Before his writing career took off, Craig Davidson went through a rough patch. To make ends meet, he took a job driving a school bus of special needs kids, and he spent a year getting to know the five high school kids he drove every day. He's written a book about that time, called Precious Cargo: My Year of Driving the Kids on School Bus 3077.

On a job that unexpectedly transformed his life

I thought I was going to be driving a big bus. I thought I was going to have encounters like, I open the door, they come on, maybe they smile, maybe they don't. They are as faceless to me as I am to them. But I ended up driving a special needs route, which is always smaller. I discovered that I was into all the things that the kids were into. They were into The Simpsons, they were into wrestling, they were into books and movies. A lot of our conversations on the bus were very nerdy. I ended up forming friendships with all of them, and it was completely surprising to me. I was not expecting it, and it was really transformative. You never know what you need until that thing comes out of the blue and finds you. That time with those kids, it came along and plucked me up when I needed it the most. I wouldn't trade the worst day on the road with those kids for any other day I could have possibly had.

On the responsibility of writing about real people

Up until then I'd been a fiction writer. Even if you love your fictional characters, you don't owe them anything. You're not dealing with families or emotions. When you're dealing with memoir or nonfiction, you recognize that at the end of your pen or on the other side of the keyboard, there are real people who have feelings and who are still going to exist when the book comes out. Everyone got a copy of the book, well before it was out. Everyone was cool. But did it play through my mind every single keystroke? Yes.

Craig Davidson's comments have been edited and condensed.