Monday, November 5, 2012

N.H.L Lockout: Should out-of-work Zamboni drivers be operating school buses during work stoppage?

New York--The N.H.L. lockout continues to drag on, threatening the 2012-'13 season and economically impacting thousands. The trickle-down effect of the labor dispute has put players, coaches, officials, cotton candy vendors, concession stand workers, security guards, agents, parking attendants, and even Zamboni drivers out of work or has dramatically reduced working hours.

Zamboni drivers. What does an N.H.L. Zamboni driver do when there is no need for Zamobi-ing-ing?

Cliff Cargill, the Zamboni driver for the Flyers for the past eighteen years, has been out of pro hockey work since the lockout began. Fortunately, he has been able to make up for a few of his lost hours on the Wells Fargo Center ice with a part-time job on week nights driving the Zamboni at Gary's Ice Rink & Roll in Lansdowne, Pa, a venue catering to peewee ice hockey games during the week and roller skating on the weekends. (Yes, the patrons attempt to roller skate on ice. It is quite the sight and worth the $20 entrance fee.)

However, most of Cargill's income during the unscheduled break comes from driving a school bus for the School District of Philadelphia.

There's a slight problem, though. Cargill, 53, a South Philadelphia native who has been without a car since he was 20-years-old, has also been without a valid driver's license since that time, too. So, how on earth is Cargill driving a school bus filled with young children?

"Cliff has been a model driver for the District for the past two months," said Dana Halpert, the District's assistant superintendent managing director. "His background is driving on ice, which probably makes him overqualified for the position. Neither Cliff nor the District has committed any wrong doing, as a Zamboni license is an acceptable document verifying proficiency in operating a motor vehicle."

That is correct. The public transit- and bicycle-dependent Cargill, who has not driven an automobile in nearly thirty-three years, secured the bus driving job with a Zamboni license. A Zamboni license! The district was dangerously short on drivers this school year and allowed Cargill to use the "ice license" in place of an automobile license, which is permitted by the District and by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

It must be noted that Zamboni licenses are not distributed in cereal boxes or found at the bottom of Pringles cans, as the process to certification is rigorous and must be renewed every eighteen months at the Zamboni Academy and Research Institute in Toronto, Canada. The initial exam consists of an intense ten-hour multiple choice, essay, and short-answer computer test, followed by a six-hour behind-the-wheel hands-on test. The renewal is five hours and three hours, respectively.

Nonetheless, Cargill has not driven a vehicle on the road for quite some time and there are differences--like, the difference between eastern Washington state apples and western Washington state apples--from driving the ice smoothing machine.

"I can do circles no problem," laughed the father of three, who literally drove a bus in circles in the vast parking lots at the South Philadelphia Sports Complex to prepare for the job. "My bus route is mostly circular, but when I have to make a right and then a left--or vice versa--I get somewhat disoriented. But, I'm working on that."

Cargill also says he gets very anxious and disappointed when he drives over pot holes with the bus, looks in the rear-view or side-view mirror, and sees that the pot hole is still there. "That's one part of the job I don't think I'll ever get used to. The Zamboni takes care of all ice 'pot holes.'"

Parents of the school children riding the bus have, for the most part, supported the driver despite the lack of hours behind the wheel of the big yellow bus. "I'm a big Flyers fan, I mean, huge. I have all orange and black in my row house windows. So, if I get to tell my friends and family that the Zamboni driver for the Flyers takes my kid to school, than I'm not too concerned about what kind of experience he's got," said Donna Scioli of Shunk Street, wearing an autographed Jaromir Jagr jersey.

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