No matter what she’s doing, Carol Taplin will run into someone she knows when she’s in Southold.
Often, she said, she’ll be at the store and be greeted by a familiar face, eager to say hello.
“It’s funny, some of the older ones that come up to speak to me now, they’ve grown so that I don’t recognize them,” Ms. Taplin said. By “the older ones,” she’s means college-age students or adults who at one point rode the bus she drove for Southold High School.
Ms. Taplin, 84, was a school bus driver for just under 50 years. She retired at the end of January due to pain in her back and leg that made it difficult to continue driving safely.
Ms. Taplin was first hired by the district and then by Sunrise Bus Company and said that during the last few years of her five decades behind the wheel in Southold, she was driving the grandchildren of students who had ridden with her at the beginning.
She has stories of the people who rode her bus, like the two students who ended up getting married. There were former students who begged her to drive their children and one family for which she drove parents, siblings, children and grandchildren.
Throughout her career, Ms. Taplin drove a route in Peconic. She picked up high school students first, then elementary students, and then circled back to bring them all home. After that, she’d head back to the schools to transport students to sporting events, many of which she stayed to watch to support the students she transported.
“I always told my kids: when you get a job, make sure you like what you do,” Ms. Taplin said. “Because it makes it better. If you hate to go to work, then the job you do isn’t fun. There was never a morning that I got up that I didn’t like going to work.”
Although she’s spent most of her career on the road, Ms. Taplin started out around 1970 as a cafeteria lady in Southold schools. One summer, the superintendent at the time asked her to be a bus driver.
“I looked at him and said, ‘Are you crazy?’ ” she recalled. But two years later, she returned to let the superintendent know he’d been right in thinking it’d be the perfect job for her.
“It’s been fun,” she said. “I’d still be driving if my back wasn’t hurt.”
Ms. Taplin said reason her injury stopped her is that she didn’t think she’d still be able to pass the required physical exam.
Before school starts each year, bus drivers have to complete a series of physical tasks, such as getting on and off the bus within a certain amount of time, dragging a 50-pound deadweight the length of the vehicle and running up and down the bus stairs.
Ms. Taplin said she already misses all aspects of her job, but misses the students the most, many of whom she developed close relationships with throughout her years. One girl even wrote Ms. Taplin a heartfelt note when she graduated.
“That’s important, I think, for kids going to school. When they get on, you acknowledge them and you know them by name,” she said. “You become familiar with them. And I think that’s part of when you live in a small town.”
Photo caption: Carol Taplin in her Southold home Tuesday. Ms. Taplin recently retired — after almost 50 years — from her job as a bus driver for the Southold School District. (Credit: Nicole Smith)