Most of us had them, at least in the beginning, the bus that took us away from our parents–our security–to something called “school” where we had to sit still, listen and learn. What a load of crap that was. The driver generally had a sketchy look, a fringe character, some sort of growth leaping from their face. Miss Jay boasted all these qualities and then some. She seemed famous the world over for admonishing us with one crushing line: FIND YOUR FANNY! More about her later.
My son now takes the bus, a little guy entering the big world. His driver strikes me as a slim Wilford Brimley.
Canary yellow hull, striped in black, the feral hiss of air brakes, guttural clanging of the accordion door, all serve as time travel to my senses. Although mostly a “walker” I do have very vivid school bus memories, both good and horrifying. Get aboard.
Back of the bus is hallowed ground, reserved for the coolest, often occupied by a bully or two. You know you’ve “arrived” when you sit in the back. After all, it’s the best place to get away with sh*t. Your bus driver is miles away, preoccupied by maintaining our safety while we conspire in the name of evil.
Not normally an early bloomer, at the wee age of 9 I inexplicably receive an invitation from the backseat matriarchs–sit with them. All the way back there? With them? Really?! Perfect timing in retrospect–I just started noticing girls in a new way. They’re still annoying she-devils but I can’t get enough of them! I book it to the rear and get a prime seat next to a sweet-smelling blonde–it’s like a perfume factory back here! I soon realize why I’m invited–the girls can’t get over my hair, a spastic tousle of blinding white fiber. They try to comb it every day, make a fuss and squeal, but it’s no use, my hair is a foreign organism. But talk about heaven… back of the bus with girls!
Now, years later, I’m still in the back, a festering point for illicit behavior. On the way to school I notice our bus mysteriously lacks its regular number of passengers. Nobody’s here. I’m bored. I decide to do something stupid. For whatever reason, I have a pocket mirror. I channel the sun’s blinding reflection into the huge rectangular mirror above our bus driver’s head. The reflection acts like a goddamn laser, penetrating Miss Jay’s skull, this chain-smoking reptilian skinned human. She nearly drives us into 7-11. I think her thick, crusty glasses amplify the laser’s strength by a power of 10. I don’t even know what that means.
Detention soon follows and with good reason. The stupid deserve to be punished.
Sophomore Year, High School
Dead body! I’m not kidding. There’s a frickin’ dead body at the intersection of Hooper Ave and Rt 37. Wind and cold whip about the two car pile-up. John Doe’s tarp is blown clear just as we pass through… we see all these awkward limbs, lifeless. Screams peel throughout the bus, echoing, shrill. Our bus driver guns it, tries to put some space between us and the body, but the damage is clear, settling over us in an ugly pall. Graphic, raw and creepy, just like Romero in his prime.
I’m now a full-grown adult (really?) and Camp Counselor for privileged kids in Lawrenceville, NJ. The beloved school bus re-enters my life, our source for Summer transport. I welcome her with open arms, an old friend, our field trip vessel.
Now I’m probably the best damn whistler you’ve ever heard–in your life. I’m that guy. Each and every field trip is marked by my ritualistic opening of a bus window. The kids noticing my studied routine become restless with anticipation. I desecrate the air with a devil-call, rattling random street-people to the edge of cardiac arrest. Campers go bananas! They love this crap and so do I. I throw out a gravelly, “HEY LAAADEEE!” or “WATCH IT!” after each whistle. Not everyone loves this move. Our bus driver, Mr. Leahy, thinks I’m the Anti-Christ.
In Conclusion (Or, Trite Ending Title)
The journey was nearly always epic. Looking down and making faces at other drivers, seeing friends hop on, spitting loogies on the bus ceiling, timing their departure. That all changed when we got our licenses, making the bus totally uncool. But I keep to my roots, still messing with school buses. Whenever possible I flip the bird, propelling kids into a royal frenzy. The middle finger is like a deadly virus, infecting every kid, faces plastered against windows, pleading–did u c that?! Some are upset, some laughing. Either way, this act gives me a good feeling.