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When Terry Baker learned how to live.
Terry Baker (left) and his son Kyle working on their “Windy City” print. (Sun-Times photo.)
After art director Terry Baker’s career was detoured in a 1998 Leo Burnett downsizing , he became a school bus driver.
A yellow bus.
Yellow may denote caution, but it is not for fear.
Baker is a man who sees beyond the obvious, which is why he is debuting the magnificent “WIndy City” print with his printmaking son Kyle Baker. Kyle Baker has made gig posters for the Zac Brown Band, the Steepwater Band and many others. My full Sun-Times story is here.
Baker, now 63, drove elementary, middle school and high school students in his hometown of Highland Park as well as Northbrook. “It was absolute heaven,” he said. “Low paid person. It was 6:30 a.m. until 1:30 in the afternoon. I’d drive the school bus and then do whatever they needed.”
No one ever remarked about the former Leo Burnett ad executive driving a school bus through the North Shore. “I was conscious of the existence of such things,” he said. “I had to be sort of born again to get past the ad life anyway. I started thinking I was entitled to all of that, the stretch pick-up to the airport, the first class, the Beverly Hiills Four Seasons Hotel. I got to the point where I thought I was pretty hot shit and I had all this coming. Truth was, I didn’t. Once I got over that I was happier and freer.
“Because when you get over yourself, you live.”
Baker, who has raised two children of his own with his wife Trudi, will never forget his encounters with middle school students. “I finally figured out why there was middle school,” he said.
““My first week on the route the sixth, seventh and eighth graders would come on the bus and ask, ‘Where do you want me to sit Mr. Baker?.” Mr. Baker replied that this is America and they can sit anywhere they want. “A look of terror came across their face,” he recalled. “I had chaos on that bus for about a week. They were hitting each other. It was terrible. There was another bus driver, a big guy. Lawrence. It is important to know his background was African. We hit it off immediately. He was keeping an eye on me. “One day he put his arm around me and said, ‘Terry, I notice that there is chaos on your bus. Do you want peace?’” Baker said he would do anything to achieve tranquility.
He continued, “ Lawrence said, ‘You gotta’ segregate your bus.’ I go, ‘Lawrence, that’s just terrible.’ He said, ‘Listen, you got sixth graders entering puberty. You got seventh graders in the middle of psychosis. Then you got eighth graders who think they are hot stuff. You gotta keep the one at this end away from the one at that end and keep the one in the middle away from both’.”
Lawrence told Baker to buy duct tape and make three ceiling-to-floor compartments on the bus. Eighth grade was assigned to the back because “they earned it.” The sixth graders claimed the front of the bus because they were “terrified.”
Baker said, “Lawrence said to tell them they may not violate each other’s space. And when they go through the aisle to keep their hands to themselves.” Baker spent the weekend decorating his bus.
On Monday morning the kids immediately fell in line with their arranged seating. “By the way never raise your voice as a bus driver,” he said in hushed tones. “The quieter you get the more dangerous they think you are. I said, ‘You probably know this but we now have sections. There is an invisibe plane between six and seven and you may not put a finger through that plane.’ I repeated that to the seventh and eighth graders. I said ‘We will keep the peace on this bus.’ Because I am the king of the bus.
“Lawrence told me to say that.”’
Like a 1968 ride out of Haight-Ashbury, the bus became all peace, harmony and love. “And one by one as those kids got off the bus, they said, ‘Thank you Mr. Baker’,” Baker said. “At that age they do not want to have the additional burden of discipline, organization and goals. They should be dealing with their homework, the changes they are going through. Just be kids. Because they’re not going to be kids much longer. This is what Lawrence taught me.
“So when you see that guy coming down the street driving that bus and you’re thinking, ‘Poor guy, I guess he didn’t have better employment options’ remember he may be a great guy with more wisdom than you have. And God bless them for doing that work.”