My family tries to get together every 4th of July. I love seeing my kids interact with all their cousins and transmit all the Ohio germs to Missouri and North Carolina.
While the adults sit around at night, tales of our youth always seem to pop up. This year was no different. We talked about the bus this year.
As kids, we rode the bus to school. We were the first stop of the day on a ride that took an hour. My teachers thought I had horrible hand writing, but actually I was just doing my homework on the bus. The back roads we took were very bumpy and we would sit in the back and time the bumps so that we could get maximum height on the bounces. I remember seeing one kid bounce over the top of the seat and land head-first on the seat in front of him. To make things worse, on the ride home we were not the first ones dropped off as the bus re-traced its route backwards. We were dropped off at the halfway point of the route so I spent about 90 minutes a day on the bus.
The bus stop was about 100 yards from our house off a major highway. On the mornings when we got there early, we'd stand about 10 feet away from traffic traveling 60mph. When trucks would pass we would dare to stand as close as possible to the road to get pushed around by the wash of air. But most days we were late. I'd be putting on my first sock when you would hear someone yell, "BUS!" In a flurry, we all grab 75% of the stuff we were supposed to take to school and head out the door. As I exited the house, I could see the person who yelled now getting on the bus with someone sprinting half way down the road and me trailing behind thinking about how I was going to eat with my lunch money sitting on the counter. With the bus stopped, traffic would begin in build on either side of the road, held back by the bus' red flashing lights. Sometimes it would take all of us three minutes to run to the stop. I assume people changed their drive schedules to avoid our stop.
At the bus stop there was plenty to do. There was always trash that people had thrown out of their cars. Sometimes there would be fast food bags half filled with food and half filled with ants. There was always a dead animal and then usually the things that eat dead animals. When the trash on our side of the road was thin, sometimes one of the daring youth would sprint across the road and see what was in the ditch on the other side. Once we found a gumball machine with the money gone and the gumballs wet and ruined on the inside of the broken glass top. Sometimes there was a Playboy or Hustler in a state of sogginess, hopefully from the rain. The pages would be all stuck together, but careful peeling would reveal bits of pink.
The last option for entertainment was the stop sign. We would climb it and swing from the pole. If I ran around it fast enough with one hand holding on, I could actually make a complete flying circle with my feet not touching the ground.
Then one day my parents got a letter from school. It said that then needed to ensure that I was properly cleaned up when I left the house to be prepared for school. They were mortified and ensured that I was presentable upon leaving the house to catch the bus. Cleanliness was ensured, but they got a phone call a few days later. While what was actually said is up to debate between my parents, the phrase that everyone agrees on was that I was a "dirty little boy." My parents were baffled. They were sending me out the door clean, so I must be getting dirty on the way to school. Some brief interviews with my brother and sister and well as a trip to the bus stop showed the culprit. The stop sign pole was covered in black grease. I'd be sent out the door clean, make a few laps on the pole and my hands and face would be nicely covered. So my parents banned me from the pole.
I rode the bus through the first half of my senior year until Russ got a car and drove me to school. Before Russ had a car, I would sneak in though the high school kitchen so that the my classmates would not see my bus riding shame. By that time, the city school busing department got smart and the bus would actually turn down my road and pick us up in front of our house. This way the bus would give us a five minute warning as it roared past our house and then turned around to pick us up. Even with that five minutes we were still usually running our the door with the driver leaning on the horn.
Here is my tribute to all my bus drivers: Thank you for not beating us when were were late or loud or obnoxious. Thanks for finding the stuff we left behind and knowing exactly what child the crap belonged to. Thanks for not telling our parents and thanks for not making assigned seats. And thanks for giving us a warning look first in that big overhead mirror.
Mrs. Bibby (Retired after 30 years service. Her last two were with me.)
Mr. Sigler (Paralyzed in a car accident.)
Miss. Budd (She had beehive hair. The bus smelled like cigarettes with her.)
Mrs. Norris (Who was actually just Miss Budd, but married.)
All salute to all the school bus drivers of the U.S. An obvious group of unsung heroes.
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