|Though it is a stock photo, this bus has South Dakota plates.|
Really adds to the story, wouldn't you say?
It didn’t take long for the novelty to wear off. Turns out the school bus is smelly, loud, and a terribly bouncy ride (thankfully, I’ve never been one for carsickness). From kindergarten until the time we moved (eighth grade), our bus driver was our next door neighbor. What sounds awfully convenient ended up being a total curse: after the bus driver’s own kids, my siblings and I were the first ones on in the morning and the last ones off at night. Our ride was usually not more than an hour each way, but an hour on a school bus is an awfully long hour.
Every once in a while, my friend Sarah would ride the bus. Those days were the greatest: she was the only one of my friends who lived on my bus route, and Sarah usually rode in with her mom (who worked in Arlington). When Sarah rode the bus, I FINALLY had someone to talk to. Without Sarah, I had to try to drown out the screeching of my busmates either by extreme concentration on my chapter books or with my bright yellow faux-Walkman in which I played the Lion King soundtrack tape on repeat. (That was foiled, though, when the bus driver scolded me for my music being too loud. Well, how ELSE am I supposed to hear “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” over the squealing of my fellow elementary schoolers?) Sarah’s bus days were few and far between, so the only thing I really remember about her riding the bus was the time she whacked a sixth grader with my pink Mickey and Minnie Mouse lunchbox.
handle broke and my dad had to replace the missing pink plastic gadget with an
old farm screw that didn’t quite go with the princessy theme.
|YOU GUYS this is totally the lunchbox I had! Google|
Images is the best thing ever.
Getting on the bus in the morning was rarely anything to worry about since there was always a parent around to make sure we dragged our lazy selves out of bed on time. Making the bus after school could be a different story. We got out of school at 3.15, and the buses tended to leave at 3.20 if they could. I was usually pretty good at getting to the bus in the milder months, but in winter, it was a challenge – especially when the teacher won’t let you out of the room until your snowpants and boots are on. If I missed the bus, I would retreat to my friend Allison’s house and wait patiently for my mom to pick me up after work. (I missed the bus accidentally-on-purpose on more than one occasion so I could do just that. Mom wasn’t pleased.)
In South Dakota, you can get your learner’s permit at 14 – since most of us have been driving tractors since we were tall enough to reach the pedals, we might as well be driving cars, right? By that time, I was the oldest kid on the bus, and I had been for some time. The kid closest to my age on the bus was my sister Darrah… almost FOUR YEARS younger than me. Riding the bus was the mark of the uncool, and I thought my shiny new learner’s permit (and shiny new-to-me 1987 Buick Park Avenue) would be my salvation. Not so fast, came the word from my parents. If I wanted to drive to school and back every day – about a 30-mile round-trip – I’d better be prepared to pay for the gas. I had worked all summer at Twisters, but of course, I’d squandered every last cent. My only income was my weekly allowance, and that certainly wasn’t going to fill my tank. I was a little worried that I’d NEVER get to use my new driving skills when my parents told me not to fret: I would, in fact, be driving on their dime. I could drive to school on 1.) Wednesdays for confirmation, and 2.) Tuesdays and Thursdays when I needed to take my younger siblings to Brookings for Tae Kwon Do.
For a glorious year and a half, I only rode the bus on Mondays and Fridays (except for that month in ninth grade when my license was suspended, but that’s another story). When I got confirmed in October of my sophomore year, I no longer needed to stay after school for confirmation, so I was back to riding the bus on Wednesdays. Aside from the odd oral interp meet or honor band (what a dork, I know), there was no way out of riding the bus.
For the rest of my sophomore year and all through my junior year, I whined to my parents about how I was the OLDEST kid on the bus and NO HIGH SCHOOLER WITH ANY SELF RESPECT WOULD BE CAUGHT DEAD RIDING THE BUS. My father had no pity: “I rode the bus until I was a senior in high school! When I was in college, all I had was a Schwinn! I RODE MY SCHWINN THROUGH THE SNOW!” Skunked again.
My salvation came in the form of a little blue coupe. In the summer after my junior year, I used my hard-earned Methodist camp money to buy a little Ford ZX2 stick-shift named Susie.
I also dove headfirst into activities:
I was in oral interp, band, choir, the all-school play, National Honor Society,
and the one-act play, plus I taught Sunday School and was in advanced biology (which
practically required a couple evenings a week set aside for studying terms).
Rare was the day when I didn’t have something going on after school. Since
Susie was impossibly cheap to drive (four cylinders and a five-speed manual
transmission = CHEAP) and my schedule was hectic, I was given the go-ahead to
drive to school every day. My school bus days were finally over.
|Not actually Susie, but a snappy stand-in.|
Man, do I miss that car.
I have ridden buses in years since – I suffered through several band bus trips in college, including a 20+ ride to New Orleans, and my experiences on the Denver city bus over one summer are a story all their own. For now, let’s hope that my bus-riding days are permanently behind me: I’ve clocked enough time and smelled enough eau-de-public-transportation to last me a lifetime.