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In the driver's seat
Holly Brownfield has a lot to say.
The pint-sized fifth-grader climbs aboard Kathy Yada's school bus with a stack of newspapers under her arm, carefully carrying an unseen object wrapped in yards of paper towels.
"I found this when I was camping in Brinnon this weekend," Brownfield explained to Yada, unwrapping the towels to reveal fossilized teeth. "My aunt and uncle thought it could belong to a dog, but dog's teeth are not curved!"
In the 15 minutes from the school to her bus stop, Brownfield seemingly does not take a breath as she smoothly maneuvers the conversation from the teeth to her dog to her family's history in Sequim: "My papa built Brownfield Road!" she proudly announces.
She finally disembarks the bus into the golf cart her "Papa," grandfather Jerry, is waiting in.
"Holly is just a riot," Yada laughed, explaining that she has been the girl's bus driver since she was in kindergarten.
Like Brownfield, all the 40-odd children - ranging from preschoolers to high-school seniors - on Yada's bus warmly greet her as they board and she returns the favor. She knows each by name and often asks them questions: "Are you ready for graduation?" or "Where's your brother today?"
Yada's route takes her up Palo Alto Road and back down, up Happy Valley Road and down Third Avenue. On this particular Wednesday in late May, the fog is so thick that Yada can barely see several yards in front of her at times; it covers the homes and the lavender farms. When she starts her route at 7 a.m., all of Palo Alto Road seems to be fast asleep with only the bright yellow bus cutting through the quiet.
"I feel fortunate that I'm getting paid to drive around the mountains," Yada said as she maneuvers the bus, much larger than the scooter she normally drives between work and her Carlsborg home. "People think (my job) is monotonous ... but you never know what's going to happen."
Yada is considered a senior driver, having been with the
Sequim School District for 17 years. She said after spending time as a lifeguard at Sequim Aquatic Recreation Center, she decided to drive buses when her daughters were 2 and 8 years old.
"It was good having kids in the district and having this job," said Yada, whose husband owns a logging business in Carlsborg. "I could be home with my kids in the evenings and on weekends."
The hours that attracted Yada often discourage potential drivers, she said. Yada works two hours in the morning and two hours in the afternoon. Since she is a senior driver, she also works the kindergarten route for two hours in the afternoons and accompanies the students on many evening and weekend field trips.
"Those extra trips are like gold," said Yada, adding that with the drivers' newly negotiated contract, the field trips will be assigned on a rotating basis, not by seniority.
For Yada, though, the hours are perfect. She said she goes to SARC to work out during her morning break and then heads home for lunch after taking the kindergartners home.
Yada, who loves to travel, said she takes most summers off to globe trot but this summer she'll be helping make the move to the new bus barn on Third Avenue and Brownfield Road.
"Both my daughters (now 19 and 25) are getting married this year so I thought I'd work some more to help them out," she said. "I'll be painting and doing whatever they need me to do."
It's clear that Yada is popular among her coworkers; she said she loves getting together with them outside of work.
"I have a lot of close friends here," she said. "We've had some tough times together ... we come together when something like that happens."
Yada even backpacked through Italy and Greece with fellow driver Vicki Doran, on a trip to visit Yada's youngest daughter. Over spring break this year, a group of female drivers spent five days in Las Vegas.
"We have so much fun," Yada laughed.
It's clear Yada, who describes herself as "loving kids," has as much fun with the children she hauls around as she does with the adults at work.
Brownfield, for one, gives her bus driver an A-plus, setting down her fossil to raise both thumbs.
"She's awesome," Brownfield said, not knowing that Yada can hear her. "She tries really hard to keep the kids on the bus (if they get in trouble) ... she really cares about us."