On September days, I quadruple travel time, waiting behind school buses. The route doesn’t matter. My car is a bus magnet.
I’m never bored, though. A school bus at a stoplight entertains me more than Animal Planet.
I recall the first year Bus Number 3’s doors flapped open, when I scaled a steep stairway in early steps toward an education. I stopped dead at the top, nearly sending older brother Ned flopping backward.
The bus driver, Mr. Feeney, resembled a giant frog wearing a flannel shirt. Would he catch flies?
Instead, he nodded a silent greeting. When I dropped into a seat beside Ned, Mr. Feeney grunted, and my brother squawked. I was sitting on the boys’ side! I had violated The Aisle.
Why didn’t they color the girls’ side pink? I shrank into the seat behind Mr. Feeney. To my joy, a classmate soon joined me. Mary Jo and I sat there the remainder of the year. Why? With autumn’s arrival, the heater baked our ankles like apples.
Mr. Feeney often checked his big rearview mirror, from which he monitored the western hemisphere. He controlled our bus through the radio. When crowd noise reached 747-landing levels, he turned off “A Summer Place” or “Alley-Oop” or “Purple People Eater.”
Perhaps we six-year-olds found his big, red-and-black-checkered back comforting. Wiggly minnows in an ocean of big kids, we rode with teenagers big as God and my daddy.
Teen girls pushed cancanned skirts through narrow aisles. But these lost their goddess standing when I discovered their guy obsession. Didn’t they know about boy cooties? Still, I learned a whole new set of life skills, including “going steady,” by observing romance negotiations across The Aisle
JIMMY’S FRIEND: Brenda, do you like Jimmy?
(BRENDA hugs the window and stares at cows.)
BRENDA’S FRIEND: She thinks he’s dreamy!
(Snickers and catcalls from the boys’ side. JIMMY punches his FRIENDS.)
(BRENDA’S FRIENDS giggle for 60 minutes straight.)
Undignified, almost indecent. Why didn’t Mr. Feeney do something?
After a girl bagged her male prey, official rules required she bring angora yarn aboard and wrap her prize: the boy’s ring. Those big, sparkly high school rings beat Cracker Jack® prizes every time.
Once, a lovesick couple sat together. The universe tilted. Mr. Feeney began to pull over, frightening the guilty parties into desperate dives back across The Aisle.
Now, waiting behind buses, I wonder if these children will follow one 50 years hence. No. By then, mothers will beam their kids to first grade.
At times, I wish I hadn’t spent hours riding school buses.
But think of all the education I would have missed.
Your Extraordinary Ordinary: Did you ride a school bus as a kid?