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A quick-hit but high-impact profile

I know I chose the right profession on days like yesterday. Days when I encounter someone I’d love to just take for coffee and talk about everything they’ve seen or experienced, days when I feel privileged to be in the company of some very interesting people.

No it wasn’t a dignitary or a politician. It wasn’t a basketball star or anyone famous. It was a bus driver. A guy whose length of service is more than twice my life, and whose matter-of-fact humor and story-telling ability made me wish (even more than usual) I had more than 10 inches to write the story. But ah las, that’s what I got. Reading the story today, I am almost glad. It forced me to choose only my best anecdotes and to get the impact he had on the community out there quickly. I think I succeeded.

I posted the story on the clips page because I really like it. Sadly, though it’s dominant on local in print, it didn’t make the front of the J&C site today, so the likelihood of people seeing it online drops about 99 percent. So, I’m going to post part of it here…

Bus wheels go ’round for 45 years


ATTICA — When Attica Elementary School second-grader Austin Ross heard bus driver Russell Serie was retiring, his response was immediate: “Russell, are you really leaving?”

Followed quickly by a sigh and, “Who’s going to drive us?”

When the school district began busing students in the 1960s, Serie was one of the first people to sign up for a route.

Back then it was for the extra $7.50 a day. But for the past 30 years or so, it’s just been because Serie, who owns a farm and a lumber business, likes working with the kids.

Serie, 68, will retire Thursday after 45 years of service, during which time he missed only eight days.

“I’m not sad,” Serie said. “But I will miss it. I’ll miss it big time.”

But Serie said he wanted to be sure to leave the job he loved on his own terms. He said lately his legs have been bothering him a bit more, and he’s ready to hang up his days of shuttling children to the city’s east side and handing out Tootsie Rolls as they get off the bus.

He said he’s going to miss getting to know the kids and their families. He’s driving students now whose parents and grandparents used to ride his bus.

He’ll also miss driving the football and basketball teams. The highlight of his career was the night he drove the basketball team home from winning the state championship in 2001 and delivered them to a packed gymnasium.

“Josh Smith, our champion player, wanted to present me with the game ball,” Serie said. “You could have knocked me over. I probably had tears in my eyes.”

(The whole story is at the J&C)

This also was one of those cases where I wished I could empty my notebook with all the details I had. The grandparents sending off their kids. Serie’s neighbors who have sent four kids on his bus and the fifth who next year won’t get the privilege. The student whose life he impacted by helping her through a drug problem when he was her only trusted adult. The 5-pound Tootsie Roll bag he keeps stashed under the dash, which he easily goes through each week. The sad realization that the name painted on the side of his bus for the last several decades will, after this week, be another’s name for the first time ever. And so much more. Choosing the details (or in some cases amount of detail) and anecdotes to include was difficult, but the story pretty much wrote itself. It’s impossible to sum up a career in 10 inches, but I think you get the idea of the impact this driver made.

5 Responses to “A quick-hit but high-impact profile”

  1. Jaclyn Says:

    I just had one of those interviews, too! She’s a dorm mom at a local university, and she grew up in South Korea. She watched her mom kill herself when she was five, and she forgave all the problems with her dad and stepmom (there were many) from a single Bible verse. She wasn’t a Bible thumper; she was a woman whose life was genuinely changed by religion or spirituality or God or whatever it is you like to call that. And she’s this beautiful 40-something woman with this fab accent that had me asking her to repeat every other sentence. We met at a local café, and it was hard not to hug her when she left. Yay, cool interviews!

  2. Charles Says:

    I can believe that he was a great interviewee. But I’m not sure you caught the pathos of it quite right. Take this as the gentlest suggestion, but I think you could try it at least three other ways – leading with the proudest night. Leading with the first day he drove and why he’d signed up. Leading with what he thinks he’ll do the first day he’s *not* driving.

    Try them. See if any is better. See if the story runs better from them. Perfect intro (lead), perfect story; imperfect intro, imperfect story.

  3. Meranda Says:

    Charles — I think you’re right that there are any number of ways I could have written it differently, and some may very well have worked better.

    I chose the lead I did because I was trying to focus on the impact he had on the community padded by details of his career throughout. That also lead to my choice of anecdotes and quotes later on. Perhaps I could have included more detail about the student in the lead — you could hear how heart broken he was to learn his bus driver was leaving as he overheard my interview with him, which spoke volumes of the type of driver Serie was to the students. They looked up to him and considered him a friend (a point I thought using the quote where the 7 year-old-calls the 68-year-old by his first name made).

    The problem with having too much material and too little space and time to write what you want is there’s always the thought of how you could have done it differently if you’d had more or less of anything. It is what it is, but thank you for your suggestion. Maybe I’ll practice rewriting it through to see if I like any of them better. It’s quite possible I will, and either way it’s a good exercise to go through.

  4. Charles Says:

    The problem with having too much material and too little space and time to write what you want is there’s always the thought of how you could have done it differently if you’d had more or less of anything.

    Welcome to newspaper journalism!

  5. Reality Bites, NEPAL Says:

    “You could have knocked me over. I probably had tears in my eyes.”………………
    Meranda , you have written in a simple and clear manner. I think you include all
    the important paramenters of the news value that the story needs.
    Hopefully, I like your story ending style , which is so much touchy. Keep continue
    your hardwork.