The wheels on the bus (4:07 p.m.)

Published 5:46 pm Tuesday, February 24, 2009

It’s a few minutes after 4 p.m., and time to wrap up the day. Mayor Theoangelo Perkins of Harpersville sits in the driver seat of his Mercedes Benz filling out paperwork.

He just returned to Vincent Middle/High School after another afternoon bus route.

“I like to tell people I drive a Mercedes,” Perkins laughed about the Shelby County Schools yellow bus.

The routine is the same everyday. Pull into the parking lot across from the gym, park the bus, walk through to make sure no kids or items are left behind and then place the yellow tag in the back emergency door that reads “No students on board.”

The post-drive check is now a quick ritual for Perkins, who has driven a Vincent school bus for the past 12 years — this time around. He began driving as a high school junior in 1986.

“I was part of the last group of students they’d let drive. They needed subs, and they needed drivers,” Perkins said. “Some of the drivers talked to us. Several of us went and got our certification. It’s something I’ve enjoyed doing.”

Vincent went to year-round school shortly after Perkins graduated in 1987. That allowed him to return from time-to-time as a sub in the summers or when he was on break at the University of Alabama.

Now, he has driven a regular route for the past 12 years, starting his mornings at 6:58 a.m. on Shelby County 466. In the afternoons, the 19-stop route reverses and bus 05-19 pulls into the Vincent Middle/High parking lot by 3:45 p.m. It’s a route he enjoys.

“I do like that it stays here in Vincent. We have buses that go from here and go to Sterrett and Vandiver,” Perkins said. “Unfortunately, I go down two dirt roads. I’m probably the only bus in Vincent that has to go down dirt roads. When you go down those dirt roads you have to be mindful that people live down there and you don’t want to dust up their lives, their clothes and cars.”

In the middle of one afternoon route, Perkins experienced something he may never forget.

“One day, I had a man come out of his house in his birthday suit. He went out to his clothes line, and I said ‘Oh, my gosh…’ I don’t know what all of the other kids were doing, because we were half way through the route and not another kid but one saw it. He was sitting behind me, and he said, ‘Mr. Perkins …’ And I said, ‘Be quiet,’” Perkins said with a chuckle.

It’s easy to tell that Perkins’ love of the job comes from his heart for the kids. In addition to asking about their grades at report-card time, he gives the high schoolers a speech every morning.

“Most of the times now, if I start it, they just finish it,” Perkins said.

“’Oh, we know … You’re not here to eat, sleep, socialize or court. You’re here to get an education. Now have a great day.’”

But for Perkins, the time with his kids and interaction with people doesn’t end with the bus route. When he leaves the school, he’s either on his way to Harpersville City Hall to tie up loose ends from the day or going to the family barbecue restaurant, Perks, to help it close by 5 p.m. And sometimes the bus driver hat comes off and he puts on the hat of pastor at Liberty Christian Church.

With all of that going on, some may wonder why Perkins drives a bus also. The answer is simple.

“I love Vincent, and it was great to come back,” Perkins said.