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Expressway: Driving the party bus during prom season

Jack Byrnes with the limousine bus he drives

Jack Byrnes with the limousine bus he drives for parties, including prom groups. Photo Credit: Byrnes family photo

It's prom season -- and I'm on the lookout for kids with alcohol.

I have been driving a limo bus -- a party bus -- on weekends for almost seven years. Most of the time I take people to weddings, vineyards, Jets, Giants, Mets or Yankee games, or bachelor and bachelorette parties.

For proms, groups of 45 to 55 teens hire my bus for a 10-hour job. The 45-foot vehicle features cushioned benches that run the length of the bus, a high-powered speaker system, a lighted ceiling and strobe lights.

A similar bus made the news in April when police found it at a Southampton rest stop carrying gallons of liquor, more than 100 cans of beer -- and 42 kids, ages 16 or 17, many of them drunk. The driver was charged with child endangerment.

I love kids. I have three grown children, coached soccer for 13 years and am still involved with a soccer league. It is a pleasure to watch young people mature into adults.

As a driver, however, I'm disappointed to see kids as young as 15 and 16 drinking on the bus -- sometimes with the consent of parents -- and some older ones smoking marijuana.

When I start a prom job, I often collect kids at a private home. I cannot frisk them, but I check backpacks, pocketbooks and coats. We do not allow coolers or any open bottle of anything. I tell them: "Let's be very clear here. You're not 21. If you pass out, we go home. If you throw up, it's $300 for the cleaning and we still go home. There's no smoking of any kind on the bus. The decision's up to you."

But they still try.

I've seen boys chug beers before boarding. In one case, a mother let kids drink in her backyard for an hour until I insisted they either board the bus without the booze or I would leave.

Some teens hide bottles of vodka, rum and tequila in their pants or stockings. One group of boys at a junior prom even gift-wrapped cases of beer to pass them off as birthday presents for one of the girls.

"Get lost," I told them. I let the students on board but, with the help of parents there, not the "presents."

At two junior proms, the parents said it was OK for kids to drink and asked if I couldn't be "more flexible" as I checked backpacks and pocketbooks. Of course I said no.

The standard tip for a bus or limo driver is 15 to 20 percent of the cost of the job. At a recent senior prom, a young woman flashed cash -- several hundred dollars extra -- at me to stop checking backpacks and pocketbooks for alcohol.

"You can put that away," I said, knowing I was forfeiting my tip.

When the bus arrives at the prom, some school officials check it for bottles. Too many do not. At one prom, officials found backpacks in the belly of the bus packed with vodka. The school wanted to turn away the bus and the students, but relented when students surrendered their bottles.

My job is to drive young people safely. I have kept things under control, but too many students test me and, being young, think I don't know what is going on.

Parents can help. They have to stop helping their kids get alcohol. When parents take an active role, the problems are kept to a minimum -- and the kids still have a good time.

Reader Jack Byrnes lives in East Northport.


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