Wednesday, January 16, 2013

school bus stories.

I grew up in the country: not “boondocks cut off from all communication have to make my own clothes out of deer hide” country, but “gravel roads fifteen miles from a grocery store start driving tractors when you’re six” country. Like anywhere, it had its pros and its cons: I loved having a giant (or, what seemed giant at the time) backyard forest to play in, and I loved exploring the sloughs and catching salamanders. The cons were relatively minor: I was much more likely to get ticks, and my chores sometimes involved picking rocks out of fields. There was one con, though, that overshadowed them all: the school bus.
Though it is a stock photo, this bus has South Dakota plates.
Really adds to the story, wouldn't you say?
In the early years of my academic career, riding the bus was actually kind of fun. If you’re five years old and your parents deem you responsible enough to ride the bus by yourself, it’s a pretty big deal. I remember my very first day of school: my mom offered to give me a ride, but I said no: big, important kindergarteners (like me) rode the bus. I’m sure she was impressed.

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. 
YOU GUYS this is totally the lunchbox I had! Google
Images is the best thing ever.
The 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.

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. 
Not actually Susie, but a snappy stand-in.
Man, do I miss that car.
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.

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.


  1. I recently went on a luxury tour bus and it banished all my bad memories of the school buses and city buses when I was growing up. The leather seats, wi-fi and fairly spacious bathroom amazed me. It changed my opinion about public transportation.

    1. That sounds pretty fantastic! If my school bus had been like that, I'm sure I would've enjoyed it a lot more. :)

  2. this story sounds pretty familiar t mine,, I also live in South Dakota, too. Anyways my family moved from the city to the farm, my dad and mom bought my grandparents farm SE of St. Lawrence SD and started riding the school bus in 1st grade, that first year we were the 3rd ones on. which means, we rode for an hour in the morning,, but be the last ones off in the afternoon, an hour and 15 minute ride. which got me out of chores.. and the odd thing. I loved riding the school.. as long as it got me out of my chores, lol by the time I was in 6th grade we were about the 6 or 8th ones on and still the last ones off the way our route was set up. Our bus driver was a sweet lady who sometimes in my regards was the nicest lady I knew. Normally I would bore anyone talking about school buses, but not Louise,, she answered all my questions and often got me sales brochures on new school buses from time to time. and often when we had to drive a different bus she let me sit behind her and explore the instrument panels and step well and other things as long my butt was still attached to the seat. I remember lots of times.. being a half hour ride from the stop to mine.. she and I would have some good talks about school buses. When I graduated I was sad to not be able to ride the bus anymore I rode all through school. except high school.. but often after school when I was back in Miller I would stop to say hi to Louise at the school when she was waiting for kids to get out of school.. She drove from 1968 to 1998 I believe and now she is retired now.. In 1996 living in Phily Pa I got a job driving school buses , which was my most favorite job.. of all ... I often remember my times on the bus. when I drove. I drove school for two years before moving back to SD. but in SD I could not get my school bus driving job as none were available where I lived at the time so I went into truck driving up to 2010 when DOT pulled my CDL due to health issues.