Aspen school bus driver Joy Brooks retiring after 30 safe years
“Miss Joy” is retiring Friday after 30 years of making sure kids get safely transported between their homes and Aspen schools.
Joy Brooks started driving for the district in July 1990 when her husband, former transportation director Fred Brooks, needed someone to drive a van for special needs students. She was so good at it that he urged her after a year or so to get her commercial drivers license so she could drive a standard-sized school bus. That launched a career of not only driving school buses but also snowplows to help clear the school campus’ roads.
“I drove the big dump truck called Jaws,” Brooks recalled recently. “I loved it.”
For 23 years, Joy said she had the pleasure of driving the Castle Creek Road route. She would head up the spectacular valley early in the morning and catch scenes in dawn’s early light, then see the landscape in a completely different light in late afternoon.
“I always said I had the best office with the best view,” she said. “It was like the ocean — the view was always changing.”
Small snow slides swept down on the road a couple of times while Brooks was driving, but she heeded her husband’s advice to keep the wheels moving to avoid getting stuck.
“I didn’t want to call in and say I got stuck,” she said.
Occasional rockslides were a hazard. She also had to plow snow with the bus bumper on a few occasions when fast-striking blizzards came in.
She has been fortunate enough to see deer, elk, turkey, foxes and what she believes was a wolf across the road from Toklat Lodge.
“I’m not saying this because she was my wife,” Fred Brooks said. “She is the best bus driver with the kids, student management, who I’ve ever seen. So many drivers just want to get in the bus and drive.”
Over the years, she’s driven all of the school district’s 17 bus routes. She took not only the safety but also the well-being of her charges very seriously. Fully loaded buses can have 70-plus kids, she said. She devised a system where high school students sit in the back, middle schoolers in the middle and elementary youngsters in front where she could keep better track of them.
“I have a saying, ‘When you put your kids on the bus, they’re my babies,’” Brooks said.
The responsibility for transporting the kids safely was stressful and “the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life,” she said.
With that many kids over that many years, there were inevitably some behavioral problems that needed to be addressed. But Brooks feels good about developing great relationships with nearly all the students and many of the parents.
“If I show them courtesy and respect, I get it back,” she said. She was fondly called “Miss Joy” by many of her students over the years. Brooks said it is always endearing to have some of the younger students tell her they love her.
Parents of young children felt particularly relieved because they sensed Joy was looking out for them. That’s the ultimate compliment, Brooks said, having the trust of parents.
“I’m going to miss the kids and the crews that I worked with,” Brooks said.
She won’t miss the drive. She makes two round trips from the midvalley to Aspen per day.
It’s a split shift, which always made filling driving positions difficult, Fred Brooks said. There are a couple hours of work in the early mornings and a couple more hours in the afternoons, with a big layoff in between.
“I’m really burned out on the commute,” Joy Brooks said. “There are a lot more cars, and people are in a hurry.”
The behavior of other drivers made the safety aspect more challenging.
Impatient drivers ignore the flashing red lights and extended stop sign off the driver’s side of the school bus. Brooks said she once had to grab a child by the hood to prevent the student from exiting when Brooks saw a car passing the stopped bus on the right.
The worst excuses, when law enforcement officers were able to nab the violators, were, “I couldn’t see you.”
The buses are a 42-foot-long, 8-foot-wide, 12-foot-high yellow banana with red flashing lights, Brooks noted.
Despite the challenges, she went 30 years without an accident.
She was different because she wanted to interact with the kids, find out how they are doing and offer support.
“Every kids matters,” Joy said.