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  • This article by Betsy Marston originally appeared in the Mar 29, 2012 issue of High Country News.
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Topic: Culture & Communities     Department: Heard Around the West     Comments: 0


Montana's hard core school bus drivers

News: Mar 29, 2012
by Betsy Marston

The city of Grand Junction, in western Colorado, just loves controversy, or so you would think from reading the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel. First, there was the flap over a high school student who refused to sing an Urdu song because its lyrics translated into an Islamic hymn; then there were the members of the Lions Club, who dressed up as suicide-terrorists for their annual parade through town, complete with white robes, dark glasses and necklaces made of "bombs." One phony Jihadist sported red cylinders resembling dynamite dangling from a cord around his neck; another wore a box on his chest labeled "C-4 explosive," plus an attached cell phone to represent a triggering device. Hundreds of spectators watched and laughed as club members pretended to demonstrate against the fence around the local airport: "Trust us you don't need a fence," said one placard. But after the marchers dumped their costumes in a trash can near a bar, somebody picked up the "C-4 dynamite"-labeled box and put it in front of a door to the Rio Grande Federal Credit Union. That really got folks hopping. A passerby called police, whose explosive experts proceeded to detonate the "bomb," and the airport called the FBI because police told them that Arab protesters were verbally attacking the airport fence. Not surprisingly, in the Sentinel's always lively "You Said It" column, readers expressed outrage at the Lions Club's poor judgment. Other commenters were distressed because so many people sided with the student who couldn't bring himself to sing a Muslim song, with one concluding sadly that there "really isn't too much difference between a Christian extremist and a Muslim extremist." Oh, well, at least the Lions Club, which aims to raise money for worthy community causes, tries mightily to have a good time. In previous years, members have paraded in drag as nuns, which "didn't go over well with St. Mary's Hospital," and during the Enron scandal, "members dressed in barrels with fake derrieres, holding up signs saying they lost their rears when Enron collapsed."

If the residents of Browning, Mont., a town of 1,000 close to Canada, ever need to brag, they can always boast about how their weather goes to extremes. Back in 1916, on Feb. 23, for example, the temperature dropped 100 degrees in a day -- a record -- plummeting from 44 degrees Fahrenheit to minus 56 degrees Fahrenheit. Perhaps because freezing cold, blowing snow and fierce winds are hardly news to the locals, no one seemed too surprised recently when 65 mph gusts pushed a school bus with 11 students aboard right off the road and into a fence, where it remained upright. "Good driver!" commented Ron Boyd to "Didn't try to steer it back on the road and roll (over). Just rode it down to the fence." But highly skilled school bus drivers are the norm in rural Montana, says Roundup resident Wendy Beye, who has spent years following her children -- and now grandchildren -- to basketball and volleyball games that are long hours of driving time away. Winter weather is almost always bad, she says, as the kids leave early in the morning in steamy-windowed buses; yet accidents are rare because bus drivers have learned how to drive safely in rotten weather. "Somehow," she says, "all of us almost always arrive intact.

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