School buses are little microcosms of the universe orbiting around neighborhoods across America. I vividly remember the voyages to and from school growing up. We kids were almost the first on and last off for our nearly one hour commute in rural Tennessee.
First was the three-tenths mile jog to the end of the gravel drive at six-thirty every morning loaded with books that would never see the inside of a backpack, which would have been totally uncool. The bus door would open and there she was – Marge Simpson in human form, who drove that enormous diesel bus on the curvy back roads like a bat out of hell. We held on, white-knuckled, as she took the bends Andretti-style. It was especially brutal the years before the seats became high-backed and more padded.
At the next bus stop up from our house lived Buddy. He and I sometimes hunted crawdads in the creek behind my house. He was sort of annoying in a gross boy kind of way most of the time while on the bus. He was the only kid I ever remember cussing at the bus driver. I found out at my high school reunion that he was killed in a car crash a few years ago.
Kelly’s stop was an apartment complex. She had perfect hair, perfect Jordasche designer jeans, and a beautiful rabbit fur jacket. In sixth grade she could compete for boys with high school girls. Her glasses were even tinted. Amazing.
On the other end of the social spectrum was Anna and her little sister who had a little growth thing that dangled from one ear that I tried not to look at. Their house was set really far back from the road and looked exactly like “Jennie’s” childhood home from the movie Forest Gump. Anna frequently wore the same dirty jumpsuit. She always headed for the back of the bus and fell victim to those kids who preyed on the weak of body and mind. “Come on, sing a song, Anna!” they would prod, pretending to be really interested. She would start on a gospel song and the kids would turn and snicker. It made me feel sick. The only thing that made me feel worse was that there were a lot of days that the bus would slow down as it approached their driveway, see that no one was there, and pick up speed again. I would strain to look as long as possible at the awful, ramshackle house till it disappeared, wondering if they were inside.
I don’t know how many hours I logged on that bus. I think about those years when I hear and see those big yellow buses now.