WHILE his mother was at home in tears, eight-year-old Jamie Stone was on the joyride of a lifetime.
Thanks to an innocent mix-up, Jamie ended up on the wrong school bus, and instead of a short trip to his family home in Westlawn, he ended up in Baryulgil.
"That morning was the first time I'd caught the bus to school. My mate caught the same bus and I wasn't sure which one to get on to come home," Jamie recalls.
"Mum just told me to get on the same bus he got on. We didn't know my friend went to his Auntie's house after school and it was out on Baryulgil Rd."
Although his mother was distraught with worry when her young son failed to get off the bus at home, Jamie took it in his stride and made the most of the unexpected two-hour return trip.
"Once I realised what had happened I went and sat up the front and told the driver. I talked to him the whole way there and back asking questions. When we got back to Grafton he dropped me at my front door and I thought that was so cool. It was the start of my obsession."
Fast forward 13 years and the now 21-year-old is a fully fledged bus driver, earning his licence just over a week ago.
"You have to have your full driver's (car) licence for 12 months before you can apply for your bus licence," he said.
Having officially realised his dream now makes Jamie one of only eight* 21-year-old bus drivers in the State, his debut performance made last week on the Waterview Heights school run.
And the fact that Jamie looks like he's barely out of a school uniform himself does raise the occasional eyebrow.
"Some kids give me a funny look when they get on," he said.
"They probably wonder whether I'm old enough to be driving one."
Jamie agrees the image of the bus driver is usually associated with older people but is proud to have such a responsible job at his age.
"I'm the only one who wears a tie to work. They take the mickey out of me but I think it's important to look professional."
Before Jamie got behind the wheel as a relief driver for Busways, he had done the hard yards as a mechanic for the company.
"I did a four-year apprenticeship and that's still my main job here in the (South Grafton) workshop. I basically started that way so I could be one step closer to driving. It's dirty work though," he said.
"I'd like to drive full time one day, but I'll probably have to move away to do that."
Despite only having his licence for a short time, Jamie has had years of backyard practice while growing up and engaged in plenty of activities to satisfy his hunger for all things omnibus.
"I used to play buses with my friends on push bikes," he said.
"I've also collected King Bros. memorabilia for years. They were my favourite. I got to tour their depot for my 12th birthday. I was a little bit devastated when they went bust."
His family also get into the act occasionally, a 21st birthday cake in the shape of his icon, the latest encounter.
"It was for a bit of a stir. Everyone knows what I'm like."
Jamie said he had been hassled a bit about his "hobby" over the years, particularly as he was always known to sit up near the driver, but said generally his friends had been pretty supportive of his devotion to the machines.
"When I got my licence and put a photo of my ID card on Facebook, everyone was happy for me," Jamie said.
"They all knew I'd always wanted to be a bus driver."
* Source NSW Transport
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