Saturday, September 21, 2013
School Bus Business
I am sitting in Hattie's Cafe, my customary morning spot. It's sometime between 8-9 a.m. From my seat I can see clearly the intersections of Rt. 91, Clinton St., and Aurora St. The Hudson school buses turn here throughout the morning--taking kids to school, returning to the bus parking lot.
This morning, I look up and see Bus 29, pointed south on 91, waiting to turn left onto Aurora Street. It's about half-full of kids who seem to be very early in elementary school--maybe even kindergarten. (But my age-detection software is somewhat out of date, now that I'm retired.)
Some look straight ahead, some look wistfully my way (they'd rather be in Hattie's with a scone than going to school! so would I).
And I realize, watching them, that in my entire public school life, K-12, I never rode the bus.
In kindergarten and elementary school (Enid, OK, and Amarillo, TX) we lived close enough to school that I walked or rode my bike every day. Lots of kids from the neighborhoods we lived in would swarm toward school (at the last possible moment), and I joined that swarm, a dilatory little fish (like most of the others), in that slow swim.
All elementary schools in Enid were neighborhood schools, so I don't know that there even were school buses we wee ones could ride. Enid had one junior high on the west side (Emerson JHS), one on the east (Longfellow JHS)--and but a single high school--so buses did run to those sites. But we had moved away by that time.
Did I say "a single high school"? I didn't count Booker T. Washington HS in Enid--all-black: the schools were racially segregated throughout my boyhood. (George Washington Carver was the elementary.)
As I was about to begin my seventh grade year, we moved to Hiram, Ohio, where my dad began teaching at Hiram College; my mom, at James A. Garfield HS in Garrettsville. We lived right in town--I use the word town generously: Hiram was/is tiny--so from grades 7-12 I walked to school every day. In my later high school years there were occasionally friends who would stop in their smoking cars (smoking in more ways than one) and drive me the half-mile or so to school. Kids who lived out in Hiram Township rode the buses, though--as did the students who lived in nearby Streetsboro but who were attending Hiram High (complicated story for another day).
The first time I ever rode a school bus was in seventh grade. I was playing on the basketball team, and I remember my first experience--an away game at nearby Nelson at their community hall (now a bakery--I will resist the urge to say that our team "cooked"). I was excited. A school bus!
I got over it quickly. It was bumpy. Noisy. Slow. Too hot. Too cold. Still ... I felt a kind of thrill, being on a school bus. Just like most everyone else ...
In high school, on the JV and then varsity basketball teams, I rode the bus all the time to games--became an Old Hand. The cheerleaders sat up in the front seats (no back-seat hanky-panky on the bus!), and if you were dating a cheerleader, you got yourself seated right behind her, where you would mumble Sweet Nothings, maybe get a sweaty grip on a hand slid down around the seat. Heaven! Everyone knew when you broke up, though, because you would move far to the back, and some other Romeo would romp up to the front, plop down, mumble Sweet Nothings, and maybe get a sweaty grip on a hand slid down around the seat.
Oh, and if you lost the game (i.e., virtually always for the Hiram High Huskies in my day), then you slumped in your seat on the way home and grieved--and the cheerleader would try to ... cheer you ... and you learned early lessons, you foul adolescent male, you, about using sorrow for, uh, personal gain.
When my teaching career began in Aurora in the fall of 1966, I found myself on buses for field trips (oh, may the inventor of those have to ride Satan's School Bus for the rest of eternity!) Actually, I enjoyed field trips (more fun than teaching indirect objects)--as did the kids, who saw them as furloughs from prison. I learned early the stupid chaperon jokes. Here's one: When the bus stopped at the train tracks (state law), I would say: "Train's been by." Some innocent child would ask: "How do you know?" Me: "Left its tracks."
I also rode commercial buses on long trips with the kids (e.g., to Washington, DC)--that's another post some day.
By the end of my career I had had it with chaperoning field trips and bouncy yellow buses. And one of my very last experiences was a frightening one. We had taken all the juniors at Western Reserve Academy down to the Cleveland Play House to see The Glass Menagerie, a play they'd all read for "Summer Reading." Coming from a public school background, I was more--what?--hyper?--about arrangements than were my prep-school colleagues. Anyway, I counted heads on my bus when we left school, saw the show, counted heads as we prepared to leave. Missing two. "They're on another bus," offered someone. I checked. Went over to the other bus. Asked: "Anyone here switch buses?" (Need I add the other chaperons had not counted heads? Laid back.)
Tried again: "You're not in trouble. I just need to know."
I went back inside the theater, looked around, checked the restrooms. Nada.
Back outside, the other chaperons still weren't as concerned as I was. Hey, it'll work out seemed to be the feeling.
Home we rode to Hudson--and all the while I was certain some kid was back at the Play House wondering where everyone went.
A long, long night at home. Worrying.
The kids had all checked in their dorms on return. No one was missing. They'd just been scared, those two switcheroos. Did I want to know who the kids were?
No. I didn't want to hate them for the rest of Time.
And now my school bus days are over. I confess a bit of nostalgia when I see them rolling for the first time in the late summer. Happy kids in their new duds. (Does duds date me?)
But it doesn't take long before the nostalgia wears off--or the happy bus faces, either. Before long, I see the young ones staring longingly out the window at me in Hattie's, where I'm eating a scone, sipping coffee, feeling relief that I am not on that bus.