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Monday, May 30, 2011

the bus - and not

When I began this post, my intention was to contrast my kids' Last Day Of School celebrations with my own. The post took a turn (writing can be weird that way, right?) and is about something different, sort of.

As a kid, I rode the bus to and from school. And since I lived in the country, my bus ride took a very, very long time. I hated the bus. (Yes, my dad did teach at the same school I attended as a child, and no, he absolutely would NOT drive me. Ever.) It was smelly and dirty, I always got headaches from riding it. Plus, I learned all manner of foul things sitting on that bus: swearing and limericks and the like. And of course the bullies/bosses of the bus: those who occupied the back seats. There was my first bus, #77, with Dave the bus driver. Dave was nice enough, but I was jealous of the kids who got to ride on Jack's bus, or even better yet, Jeri -- she was awesome. ("Jeri was a race-bus driver...") In high school (yes, high school -- on the bus.) we had Gordy as our driver, a kind old man who drove #96, one of the newer buses (with seat belts! Which we never used!) which had -- wait for it -- an FM radio! On the tops of some of the hills we could get decent reception and when a really good song came on -- like something by Billy Joel -- we'd ask Gordy to turn it up. He'd look at us in the interior rear-view mirror, call out, "Okay!" and turn up the volume for us . . . and then turn it back down fifteen seconds later.

(Once I threw up on the bus. It was on the way home, I had had the school's pizza for lunch, so that's what I threw up. I threw up directly into the aisle and every time the bus would make a stop, the liquid vomit would crawl further and further toward the front of the bus. Kids had to walk on the seats to get to the front door when their time came to disembark. Now that I'm writing about this, I wonder: why did no one clean it up? Certainly school buses are equipped with something, like that powder that dries up liquid messes, right? Or something?)

Somewhere in the middle of Dave and Gordy was Ms. Lewis. She was an intimidating woman who yelled -- a lot. I suppose that trying to communicate with a bus-load of noisy children might necessitate yelling, but it doesn't necessitate the tone (or words) which she used. You know how when you're in grade school and there's a bully and you're not their target, but rather you're on their perimeter, but you never know when their mood will change and so you're nice to them simply for the hope of not being the one to be bullied that day? It was like that with Ms. Lewis -- we didn't like her, but we totally kissed-up to her so that she wouldn't yell at us. Better to plaster on a fake smile and pretend to like her than to be on the receiving end of her shrieks.

There were a lot of rumours about cruel and inappropriate things she had said to children which I won't detail here, because I don't remember, from my own memory, if they are true. But one scenario has been on my mind lately, and that's what I'm going to tell you about.

I said that we didn't like her, but there was one exception to that: one boy liked her. In fact, every day he sat directly behind her and talked to her for the entire bus ride. His stop, on the way to school, was just after my stop (and on the way home was just before my stop), which made for at least 45 minutes of him talking to her -- 45 minutes one-way; 90 minutes total, every day. She was so mean to him. She'd call him a nerd and a geek and rally the troops on the bus to be mean to him. My memory specifically recalls the sharpness she used when she'd yell, "Andy! Shutup! Just shutup!" I shudder to think that I may have ridiculed this boy under the pressure of being pegged as one who associates with . . . with who? -- a boy I had known practically since he was born (he's my younger sister's age), whose mom babysat me when I was a preschooler . . . any way, yeah, I cringe to think that I would have, but I wouldn't put it past my then-self to have done so, for my own protection and because of my own cowardice.

Toward the end of the school year, Ms. Lewis would lead the kids on her bus in a rousing rendition of a song. Here, I'll give you the words and I'll bet ten bucks* you can figure out the melody**:

Ten more days of school,
Ten more days of school,
I am happy,
You are happy,
Ten more days of school!

. . . and so on, until the last day. The big reward was that on the last day, we were permitted to have a squirt gun fight on the afternoon bus ride. Every year, that was the reward. Except one year, when the plan was changed. After Andy had been dropped off one day, Ms. Lewis announced that our end-of-the-year thing would be to have a party at the park down the road from where I lived. The catch? It was ONLY for those kids who were on the bus after Andy had been dropped off. This meant making sure that no one talked about it in front of Andy -- he couldn't find out about it -- he wasn't invited, and if he found out about it, he would surely ride his bike down to the park and his mere presence would ruin the party. I think the intent was for Ms. Lewis to help us feel like we were some exclusive club. The reality is that it made me feel uneasy.

The day arrived. For kids riding home on the last day of school, we were eerily quiet and calm. The tension level rose as we approached Andy's stop. "'Bye, Ms. Lewis! Have a good summer!" Andy called as he hopped down the massive steps and toward his house. He must have heard the cheering through the bus's open windows as we drove away.

As an adult, I can't conjure up the logistics of this party at the park. Did she drive the bus there? She would have had to have gotten permission slips signed in order to bring the bus, and the kids, to the park, right? What would the parents have said when their kids explained that it was only for the kids who lived beyond Andy's stop? What about those kids who, as they do, forgot to tell their parents about the party? Did they just not show up at home when they were supposed to because they had diverted and gone to the park?

I didn't go to the party. I didn't feel right about it, and I didn't even like Ms. Lewis -- why would I go to her party?

Maybe it doesn't need to be said that I have rotten feelings associated with school buses. The only time my kids have ridden on a school bus is when they've gone on field trips. Maybe this all explains why I really don't mind driving my kids all around town to get to school (for those who have asked).

Not that I have to worry about that now. Didn't I tell you?

No more days of school,
No more days of school,
I am happy,
You are happy,
No more days of school!

*not actually going to bet ten bucks, I haven't got it.

** the tune is the same as that of 99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall -- did you get that?


{natalie} said...

i never ever rode a bus except for field trips. we had to walk. boo.

kade is on a bus and i wonder about it a lot. so far he has had a good experience. we will see how it goes.

Naomi said...

While I'm sure I didn't appreciate it at the time, I am glad I got to cycle 8 miles a day in all weather during high school, rather than catch a bus full of kids!

Fig said...

What a weird, mean woman. (Not you! Lewis!) What on earth was she doing driving a bus full of kids?

I don't blame you for driving your kids around. My bus memories are fuzzy, but I they include curse words, secks acts, fights, and various contraband substances. Good times.

Living the Scream said...

I also never loved the bus growing up. I thought the tune to the song was "Hi ho the derrio" :)

Melissa said...

I rode the bus from 6th grade to sometime in high school. I never had a mean bus driver, but that's so awful! My daughter rides a bus to kindergarten now, and so far she likes it...but I do worry about how long it will be when she starts noticing all the nasty things the older kids do. =(

heather said...

i had jeri. best bus driver ever :)
that is one messed up story. did i ever tell you mrs. tigler yelled at a kid in my class she hoped he got hit by a mack truck?