The Wheels On The Bus

I passed a school bus on the way into work today, and it reminded me of all the times that I rode the bus to and from school. With the exception of a couple of years of middle school, I was a latch key kid for most of my school-aged existence. (That used to be the norm. People nowadays think that letting your kid come home to an empty house is a horrible, horrible thing. That's not the problem. I didn't mind being the first one home..the problem was how I had to get home in the first place).

Let me tell you about school busses, just in case your memory has gotten fuzzy. They smell bad. They pick up at the crack of dawn in the mornings. The other kids are loud. The bus driver is insane. Your legs stick to the vinyl seat in the summer time. They'll leave you if you're even an nanosecond late to your stop. Your window is always stuck in a position that you don't want. There is no air conditioning. And did I mention that the bus driver is insane?

Don't get me wrong. I'm sure there are some very nice bus drivers...those are the ones that have only been on the job for about 15 minutes. Driving a school bus is one of those occupations that will slowly yet inevitably drive even the most centered and serene person absolutely bonkers. The longer they've been driving, the crazier they become. You can tell exactly how long a bus driver had been at it by the severity of the eye twitch and the degree of paranoid mumbling. It's an art really.

Take for example, Mr. Ronald. Mr. Ronald had the honor of terrorizing me when I was about 12 or so. He looked to be about 200 years old, but I'm sure some of that was due to the premature aging caused by spending his days with 50 or so 12 year olds. That man hated kids. I have no idea what possessed him to become a bus driver. He would spend the entire ride picking his nose and glaring at us in the giant mirror that hangs in front of the driver. Then, if you looked like you even thought about talking too loud, or turning around in your seat, or sneaking one single Goldfish cracker out of your lunch box, he'd call you up to the front of the bus where he would spend several minutes yelling and shaking the nose-picking finger at you. You never knew what was going to fly off the end of that finger. Repeat offenders took to wearing rain coats.

Worse than that is why the state allowed this guy behind the wheel of a school bus, since he was obviously blind as a...well, a blind guy. Mr. Ronald had a bad habit of taking corners a little too sharply. Have you ever driven through your neighborhood and seen street signs ripped out of the ground? You no doubt shook your head and muttered something about hooligans. Oh, but it wasn't the hooligans! It was Mr. Ronald! (The hooligans were cowering in the back of the bus screaming "Watch out!"). Mr. Ronald would take the turn so that inevitably, the road signs would catch on the open windows of the bus, rip out of the ground, and drag about 15 feet before falling off. You'd be innocently riding along with your head leaned up against the glass, trying to catch a few more minutes of early morning shut-eye before school when BAM! a stop sign slams up against the window and "Washington Road" catches on the frame just inches from your face. I'm serious! Mr. Ronald had the only bus in the county where the kids fought over who HAD to sit by the window. Eventually we worked out a system where some kid in the front would yell "Sign!" at every intersection, and the rest of us would duck and cover.

As blind as Mr. Ronald was to street signage, he had eyes like laser sights when it came to squirrels. The only thing that Mr. Ronald hated more than little kids was a squirrel. As our bus route would meander through the tree-lines streets, Mr. Ronald would amuse himself by keeping a sharp watch for any squirrels stupid enough to even think about racing across the street. I think, in all honesty, that the opportunity to hit squirrels is why he became a bus driver in the first place. As soon as one furry squirrel toe touched the asphalt, Mr. Ronald would jerk the wheel, swerve across two lanes of traffic and flatten the unsuspecting creature. Squirrels that were technically still on the sidewalk were fair game also. I figure Mr. Ronald and his yellow squirrel-squishing machine were responsible for cutting the Tennessee gray squirrel population in half.

Mr. Ronald drove my bus for two years before retiring, or finding other ways to torture little kids, or being chased out of town by Squirrel Lovers of America...I really don't know. One year he was there, and the next year we had a new driver. Looking back, it's funny how a guy who seemed so monumental as a kid turned out to be just a blip in my overall childhood. I guess that's the thing about growing up- the wheels of life, much like the wheels on the bus, DO go round and round.

The squirrels learned that the hard way.

*Disclaimer: My observations about school bus drivers stems directly from my experiences with Mr. Ronald (which may or may not be his real name- I actually can't remember). I'm sure other bus drivers are perfectly lovely. Please don't send me hate mail because you and/or a loved one happens to drive a school bus.


Melissa~ said...

*LOL*...why do I always take a sip of coffee before reading your blog??

Pink Paper Peppermints

Jean said...

OK that brings up so many bad memories of my bus riding days. Sitting on the laps of the high schoolers when I was in elementry is one, the drunk bus driver--I swear he had to have been driving 80 plus on the highway coming back from a field trip. I think my new friend, you have given me fuel for some blog fodder and for that I thank you.