When I was in elementary school, I rode the school bus. At the foot of the driveway to my parents’ house, the kids from next door, the kids from across the street, and the kids from the house behind ours congregated, socializing in a supervised capacity for about five minutes every morning.
Those five minutes felt like hours, but the conversations had a wide and hilarious range of topics, including that you could make a bomb out of fertilizer, so you kids shouldn’t put your feet so close to those flowers, lest they cause you to blow up. This was my father’s way of keeping the neighbors’ kids out of the flower garden lining the driveway.
The first day of kindergarten, getting on the bus was the most terrifying thing I could imagine. But it was full of other terrified kindergarteners, so I lost my fear of the bus. My justified fear, as it turned out the next year, when 1-6 grades were crammed into the same bus for the mere fact that they lived closer to one another.
It was in the next 6 years of the bus that I truly learned to hate this particular method of transportation.
It was chaos for first grade—literally. Once, when a kid threw up on the bus, the children literally ran in opposite directions from the mess, prompting the helpless busdriver, whose yells to sit down and stop screaming for Christ’s sake, to slam the brakes on, sending children and vomit sprawling in all directions, a picture best represented by going to “crash positions” in the movie Airplane.
Rather unsurprisingly, this bus driver did not last long.
He was replaced with Kathy, a hard as nails lady whose snaps at your misbehavior could make you feel shame for a week. She was the kind of authority figure who didn’t have to work for it, but just exuded it.
I loved her.
Those who’ve read the blog will know that even with all the Crazy, I prefer a well-ordered life with clear directions. As it seldom happens for me, I admire anyone who can create it, or even fake it.
As you can see from most of my posts about childhood, I was not popular. Nor was I cool (until the second semester of my sophomore year of college when I purchased the album Kind of Blue).
Dodging taunts, especially those about my small size, was hard enough in school, but impossible on the bus.
I’ve grown much less sensitive about being petite, partly because most of the people who called me such brilliant names as “shrimp” and “pygmy” are now obese. Haha, suckers!
But in elementary school, it was a constant source of torment and shame.
And the bus was the worst. As you got older, you got to sit further back on the bus, a reward of less proximity to authority for being [supposedly] more mature than the younger students.
I would often read on the bus, something which motion sickness now prevents me from being able to do. Lost in a story, I could mostly ignore the other kids. I wasn’t always the target, nor was bullying always a source of entertainment for the other kids on the bus, but I do remember some of these instances with scalding memory.
But there was Kathy. When it started to get out of hand, she would yell, SILENCE ON THE BUS!
Silence on the bus was my favorite—it meant I could read in peace—without fingers poking me from the seat behind me, without hands waving in front of the page as someone hung over the seat in front of me, without being hit on the head with various projectiles or hands, without someone chanting, “shorty, shorty, shorty short girl, shorty shorty shorty…” with increasing volume until I was distracted enough to look up.
There were two successful ways to break silence on the bus: 1) behaving for an appropriate length of time for Kathy to think we could hold it in for the rest of the ride or 2) simultaneously breaking in to a round of “Three Cheers for the Busdriver” a song from The Simpsons, that Kathy found hilarious. I learned the song from the kids on the bus, as The Simpsons was then forbidden television.
Even I liked this song, because, while crass, it made Kathy laugh, and I wanted to participate in something that didn’t make me feel like a complete outsider.
Kathy genuinely seemed to like the kids—even the bad ones. She’d tell the parents as we pulled up to houses about how good or bad we were, and she’d tell our teachers too. She even hand crocheted stockings for us at Christmas, with little mini candy canes in them.
She was wonderful.
Sadly, she didn’t stay forever, and subsequent bus drivers didn’t seem to care what went on in the “older kid” section of the bus.
Including, but not limited to:
1) A boy telling me I had nice legs, and that I should wear shorter shorts…as a fifth grader, I didn’t really know what that meant, but I knew it was creepy! I think I said thank you, as that’s what I was told to do when receiving a compliment, but I’m also pretty sure that my tone and facial expression told the kid just how creepy that compliment was.
2) A group of boys who decided it would be a good idea to tie a plastic dinosaur to a fishing line and throw it out the window at cars behind the bus, pulling the line forward to retrieve the toy anytime a car hit it or swerved.
3) Kids placing food on the roof the bus before leaving, so it would fly off the bus and hit other buses, teachers, or children as we pulled away (for which the bus driver was deemed responsible by the elementary school).
4) The same group of boys from the dinosaur incident bothering me while reading, and when proven unsuccessful for about 10 minutes, worked even harder to get me to look up. When I did, one of the boys was exposing himself to me. I was in the fourth grade. I turned back to my book and pretended I didn’t see, as that would have let him win.
You may be wondering if I reported this behavior (especially 4) to my parents or teachers.
Of course not.
I was already a target, I didn’t want to be a pariah.
When we moved at the end of my 6th grade year, necessitating my mother driving us to school every day, and then, when junior high began the next year, we were close enough to walk to school, it was sweet relief.
A shrink would probably say that my inability to read in moving vehicles could be tied back to some emotional reaction to the bus. I think that’s hooey. Motion sickness came with age and more frequently than not, the windiness of whatever road I traveled on as a passenger.
The bus may have been a nightmare sometimes, but Kathy, the bus driver of dreams, made it a safe place to be a weird, lonely kid. I wish I could properly thank her for that now, as an adult.
Three cheers for the busdriver, the busdriver, the busdriver. Three cheers for the busdriver who’s with us today. She smokes and she cusses, she stinks up the buses. Three cheers for the busdriver who’s with us today!
Three cheers, indeed.