Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Honk Honk!

I could hear the school bus idling at the end of the driveway as I frantically scoured the house for my other shoe. I had a strange habit of taking off one by the door and the other God knows where.

“Hooooooonk!” Mom laid on the horn. It was her first year as a school bus driver, and I was making her late. Again. I slipped into the other shoe and sprinted up the driveway. I stepped in the puddle that was always present after a rain storm… the one across the driveway from the mailbox. Muddy water oozed into my sneaker that I’d left untied so that I could save time.

Jeremy, the boy a few houses away, scowled at me as I sat down. All the times that he wasn’t standing at the end of his driveway Mom didn’t stop. She didn’t even slow down to see if he was running out the door to catch the bus. But she always waited for me and I never missed the bus.

She gunned the engine and shifted into first gear. Mom drove the stick shift bus, while the newer buses had an automatic transmission. The other drivers had complained to the dispatcher that driving the stick shift hurt their backs. I overheard the dispatcher say “Jane never complains about driving stick.” It made me a little proud.

Mom drove the bus from when I was in third grade until seventh grade. Then she went to work for Dad, running deliveries for the shop. She didn’t drive my bus by the time I hit junior high, but some of my friends were on her bus. The dispatcher also gave her the route that went into the low income apartment complex, where the notoriously bad kids lived. By the end of the year the kids from the apartments were on their best behavior while riding the bus because Mom had broken them in. She didn’t have to mend any torn seats anymore or wash away their graffiti. They didn’t even call her Jane, like the other kids did. They called her Mrs. K. But they didn’t shorten it to just the K, they called her the whole thing.

On the last day in seventh grade, Mom and her bus driver friends were crouched around the spigot at the front of the house. A few more of them were crouched around the one at the back of the house. They were giggling excitedly. I was 13, so in response I rolled my eyes and continued on to decide what to wear for the last day of school. The last day of school outfit was as critical as the one worn on the first day.

The kids I knew who rode Mom’s bus arrived to school completely drenched. On the way to school, Mom diverted to a seldom traveled back country road. She pulled the bus to the side of the road and stood in front of the kids, hands behind her back, and thanked all the kids for being so good to her that year. Then, without warning, water balloons flew from her hands faster than anyone could react. She drew from a seemingly endless supply of them, and thoroughly soaked every rider on the bus that morning.

Once they arrived at the school, Mom pulled the bus to the curb and opened the door. Water and bits of multi colored latex poured down the steps and onto the curb. The kids filed out, their sneakers squishing and slurping with every step; you could barely hear the noise over their laughter.

This morning on the way to work I stopped as a school bus flashed its lights and flung the stop sign out. I watched as the kids boarded the bus. If my mom was driving, she would have moved once the kids sat down. But this bus driver was different. She had another adult on the bus with her. Mom only had another grown up on the bus if she was teaching a new driver the route. This other adult bounced down the steps and glanced under the front tires of the bus. Then she ran to the back of the bus and checked under those wheels. She was an old lady, and she was hauling ass back and forth along the bus. She checked the front of the bus again and then bounded up the steps and sat down. At that point the driver turned off the lights and retracted the stop sign.

I watched the old woman run back and forth and wondered how it was ever decided that her job was necessary. Has there been a rash of kids getting run over by school buses that escaped my attention? Somehow I doubt Mom would have tolerated having an old lady running back and forth at every stop. But she could have run back and forth a dozen times while waiting for me to find my shoes.

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