SAN ANTONIO – A school bus driver for NEISD can call himself the best bus driver in the nation.
Michael Castaneda earned second place in an international bus driving competition. He barely got edged out by a Canadian driver.
Still, Castaneda now has the distinction of being pretty much the country’s top bus driver.
He goes back to his day job at NEISD next week when the school year begins, and invited News 4 into the bus barn to see his skills.
"Okay, we’ve got to go through like, seven things we’ve got to do,” Castaneda says.
Before the wheels on the bus go anywhere, they’re turning ‘round and ‘round in Castaneda’s head.
“Check the lugs,” he says.
Castaneda’s up by 5 a.m. for a safety check of the bus, something he’s done every day for the past 12 years.
“Everything’s good,” he says as he gets in the drivers’ seat.
So when kids step on board, he’s ready to roll.
"They've got my back, I've got their back,” Castaneda says. "I might be the only adult figure to take the time to give them a minute or so."
He gamely gave the News 4 crew a minute but says, make no mistake.
"I'm listening to your questions but I'm more focused on the road,” Castaneda says.
The bus is empty for our ride but soon, dozens of kids will fill the seats. It’s Castaneda’s job to keep them safe, all while navigating a route that averages 100 miles a day.
"I'm thinking about this guy - he's going to cut in front of me and go that way,” he says at an intersection. “I’m thinking about this guy over here - when he gets the red light, he's going to keep doing and not stop."
So we put Castaneda to the test with the same obstacles he faced in the international competition.
First up: parallel parking, with the help of – get this – seven mirrors.
"You can see under the fender, around the tire,” he explains, to be sure kids are clear of danger.
Thirty seconds later, he’s in.
Next up: changing lanes – no sweat.
"It takes us maybe five times more space to stop than you do,” Castaneda says while explaining the difference between a school bus and regular vehicles.
Finally: making that wide right-hand turn and activating the sign at the bus stop – where, you can bet, the gossip will be about the award-winning driver.
"I let the kids know about it because they like to brag to the teachers and the other kids that ride buses that they have the best bus driver,” Castaneda says.
He hopes his journey inspires kids to work hard.
"If you want to win, you’ve got to practice, you’ve got to study, really put effort in it,” Castaneda says.
All while keeping your eyes on the road ahead.