September 19, 2008
Big yellow bus
The little kids sat near the front, two or three to a seat, while the big kids, those swaggering eighth graders, took over the back of the bus where they'd fool around and make noise until the bus driver would yell at them. When I was very small, I sat shyly in a seat with my sister, too scared to say a word. I'd just stare out the window, watching trees go by and listening to the radio the bus driver always played. As I got older, I moved from the front of the bus towards the back, until finally my friends and I were the eighth graders, loud and confident and in charge of that small world of green bench seats and windows that needed two hands to open.
In ninth grade, I rode the afternoon bus with Outdoor Girl, whom I'd known since second grade. We didn't have any classes together, so the bus ride was our time to chat about kids we'd met at school and what funny things had happened. I never liked carrying books on the bus, I thought it made me look like a nerd, so I always tried hard to get my homework done in school, even if it meant working math problems during Social Studies class.
I can remember one bus driver who would get angry at how noisy we were, and she'd pull over to the side of the road and just wait until the bus went silent. Another bus driver made us all pumpkin cookies one year and handed out candy on holidays. One time Blond Awkward Kid vomited on the bus — he was sitting in the emergency exit, I remember it so clearly — and the bus driver stopped to sprinkle on that weird pink stuff that teachers and bus drivers seemed to always have on hand when a kid vomited. Bus rides always made me a bit queasy myself, although I had learned that staring out the window helped and that I should never ever turn around to talk to someone in a seat behind me.
The bus crowd was its own community, a group of kids thrown together by geography and the logistics of a route. I traveled with pretty much the same kids, twice each day, for thirteen years, the community changing just a bit each year as the older kids moved on and the younger kids moved up. Years later, when I see a school bus go by, I look at the kids inside, jouncing about and talking to each other, and I remember the smell of those green fake leather seats and the exhaust that came up through the floorboards melting the slush we brought in on our boots. I remember that bumping, soothing sensation, and the swirl of voices around me, and the warm drowsy feel of rattling as the yellow bus took me along home.
Posted by jo(e)