September 19, 2008

Big yellow bus

Go round and round

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.

10 comments:

Anjali said...

What a wonderful post -- and the perfect analogy for growing up.

I have two little ones who sit next to each other in the first row, with a friend sandwiched in between them.

Cathy said...

I always wanted to ride the bus, but lived too close to school.
This is the first year our school system will be getting school buses with a/c.

Abby said...

This reminded me of my own bus experiences. I didn't ride the bus very often -- I lived just a bit too far away for it to be practical, so one of my parents usually gave me a ride. But sometimes I would have to take the bus home. There was a bus stop about four or five blocks from my house, which wasn't much of a walk, EXCEPT in the winter.

I grew up in very northern WI, so that walk could be treacherous and painfully cold in the winter. But there was one bus driver who knew where I lived -- I still remember his name -- and he would drive down the dirt road to my dad's driveway to drop me off, even though he wasn't supposed to deviate from his route.

Even now, over 20 years later, I remember that kind gesture. Amazing the things that can matter.

Rana said...

I don't remember the bus much except for field trips, though surely I must have ridden one at some point in all our moves.

I remember more walking to and from school, both in urban areas and in more rural ones. Sometimes I'm surprised at how far I walked, often alone, even when in grade school.

Urban Sophisticate Sister said...

The pink stuff is called "Zgoop" (not sure it's around anymore). I have a friend who claims only people who went to Catholic school know what Zgoop is.

Gawdess said...

the yellow and blue are perfect counter points in this shot - I almost never rode a school bus for anything other than field trips - this was interesting peek into that life I didn't live

KathyR said...

Oh, God. I get woozy just thinking about that backwards-on-the-bus thing.

And I walked to school.

Name: Matthew Guenette said...

I love this blog...I was struck my the sticky notes entry; I kept reading and re-reading--obsessing over its poetry. So I messed around, and here's what I got. Hope you don't mind...

Sticky notes are stuck to the wall.
They curve along like a snake, a letter
on each, they spell out a word: aperture.
I’m bleary-eyed, looking around,
seeing sticky notes everywhere.
One on the door says, don’t panic!
A pink one the lamp says, enlightened.
There’s one on the photo of my niece,
her pale skin, fly-away hair, and mysterious
smile made suddenly creepy by a caption
that says, I will eat your soul!
A sticky note is stuck to my foot.
I pull it from my sock. Don’t tread on me!
A voice pops in my head. It assures me
I haven’t found them all yet,
that there are many more notes to come.

red-haired sister said...

Ugh, I'm amazed you have any good memories of the bus at all. I remember walking all the way to the corner and freezing while waiting forever for it. Then we always had a ridiculously long ride every year.The Catholic school years were the worst, waiting in uniform skirts while our knee caps froze.

Abby said...

Nah, I went to public school and I know what ZGoop is. I think it's a school staple. And I can conjure up the smell of that -- barf and the pink stuff -- almost immediately. This does not please me. :)

And my word verification starts with "eww." Seriously.