Monday, January 07, 2019

Monday Memories: Another One Rides the Bus

Starting in first grade and continuing through most of my public school career, I rode the bus to and from school nearly every day. It came along the service road next to the highway and stopped at our street around eight o’clock in the morning. I always tried to get down the street to the corner a few minutes before that so I wouldn’t miss the bus. The few times that happened, I had to trudge back up the hill to our house and my mother had to take me to school, much to her annoyance.

The people who lived in one of the houses on the corner had a boat, and they kept it in a shed that was fairly close to the road. The shed had no front, but it had sides, a back, and a roof, so when it was raining, or very cold, the kids waiting for the bus crowded into the shed for protection from the elements. We had no trouble hearing the bus’s rumbling engine as it came along the service road toward our street.

Most of the time we waited outside, though, and of course, being kids, we came up with games to play. Since there was a ditch on both sides of the street, we used the one alongside the boat shed for a game called “Quicksand Monster”. One kid would get in the ditch and serve as the Quicksand Monster. The others had to jump back and forth over the ditch while the Quicksand Monster tried to catch one of them and haul him or her in. When that happened, the kid who got caught became the Quicksand Monster, and so the game continued. I have no idea who gave it that name, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t me. I imagine other kids in other places played variations of the same game, but I never heard or read any other references to calling it Quicksand Monster.

The bus had already made three stops before it picked us up. After we got on, it continued on up the service road, made one more stop at the corner of another street, then turned, crossed over the highway, and headed back toward town and the various schools. Some years, the bus I rode also made several stops at a neighborhood on the other side of the highway to pick up the kids who lived there, but when that happened we were really crowded in and really had too many kids on there. I don’t recall that ever being a permanent situation.

Most of the time, after making the one stop beyond our street, the bus returned to the high school first to let off those kids, then cut through some back streets and a residential area to get to the elementary school I attended. Along the way we passed a big concrete watering trough on the corner of some land where people kept cattle. I first noticed that watering trough in the fall of 1959, when I was in first grade. I drive by there occasionally now, and I always look over at it. The watering trough is still there—or at least it was the last time I went by. That corner hasn’t changed in the almost sixty years since then.

Anyway, as I got older, I began riding on past the elementary school to the junior high, which was the last stop. The bus barn was located there. And finally, when I reached high school, I got off at the first stop every morning.

The routine in the afternoon was much the same, except that route started at the elementary school, went by the junior high, and then the high school last before heading out the highway to the area where I lived. My street was the fourth stop. The bus usually got there about five minutes until four o’clock in the afternoon, which meant I could hurry up the street and get in the front door in time to watch MIGHTY MOUSE or HUCKLEBERRY HOUND or THE ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN, whichever was running in that time slot that year. Much later, I made sure I got home in time to watch reruns of THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E., which one of the local stations showed every weekday.

I remember missing the bus in the afternoon only one time, and I couldn’t tell you the reason why. But I was in high school, I know that (the old campus, the one’s that now a junior high). It was about a mile and a half from my house, so I decided to walk home instead of trying to call my mother and ask her to come get me. It wasn’t a problem; I was young, and it was only a mile and a half. And I remember enjoying that walk quite a bit. You see a lot of details when you’re walking that you never notice when you’re riding in a bus. I got home about half an hour later than usual, so I probably missed something on TV, but I don’t think I cared. However, that was the only time I ever walked home, so I didn’t enjoy it so much that I started doing it on a regular basis.

Over the years I rode various buses: 5, 15, and 33 are the only numbers I recall. But they were all virtually identical, so it didn’t really matter. They weren’t air-conditioned, of course, but we would let the windows down on hot days. I had a few friends, some from my street and a few from the street where the bus stopped just before us. I don’t recall ever being picked on, although that certainly happened to some kids. Being a fat little nerd, I had learned at a young age to keep my head down and be as invisible as possible in such situations.

That’s the way my bus riding went until the first day of my junior year of high school. The morning ride was normal, but that afternoon when I got on the bus to go home, it followed such a long, circuitous route that it was 5:30 before I walked in the door. Being accustomed to getting home by four o’clock, this delay was flatly unacceptable. I needed that hour and a half for reading comic books and paperbacks or watching TV or playing football, baseball, or basketball. Since I had my driver’s license by then, I asked my dad if I could have a car and start driving to school. He knew a guy who had a used car lot (as I’ve mentioned before, no matter what you needed, my dad Knew A Guy) and within days, I had a car. It was an olive-drab Oldsmobile, a ’66 model, I think, ugly as sin and one step above a junker, to boot. But it ran—most of the time—and I no longer had to ride the bus. That led, the next school year when I was a senior, to the one, count it, one semester of public school that I truly enjoyed, the second semester of my senior year when I came in late and left early.

I wasn’t fond of riding the bus. I wouldn’t say that I absolutely hated it. Most days it was just part of the overall experience of going to school, not really good or bad, just something that had to be gotten through. But by the time my kids were school age, Livia and I were both working at home as full-time writers, so we made our own schedules and one of us was always able to take the girls to school and pick them up. They rode buses for field trips and other extracurricular activities, of course, but never to or from school. That was fine with me, because I always enjoyed those trips with them. They may have missed a few experiences by not riding the bus, but on the other hand, we listened to the radio and we waved at the donkey in the field where we always turned and we went by the house where all the weiner dogs lived and hoped they would be outside so we could see them running around and playing. I hope those moments were worth something to the girls. They certainly were to me. More than any bus ride I ever took.


Dennis Bedard said...

Fast forward to today and that three sided shed and quicksand pit would be VERBOTEN! The risk of liability would be too great to take a chance and allow you youngsters to have fun. I grew up in RI and you filled in the spare time by playing baseball or football in the street while waiting for the bus to arrive. But the real fun was after a snowstorm when we declared open warfare on any approaching vehicle as we innocently pelted them with snowballs. No harm, no foul.

James Reasoner said...

The boat shed is long gone, as are the two houses that sat on the corner of the service road, all of them moved out when the highway was expanded. I guess the bus still stops at what is now the corner, but I don't know that for sure. If so, there's no place for the kids to wait out of the weather. The ditches are still there, but I doubt if they play Quicksand Monster. They're probably too busy checking their phones.

We spent a lot of time playing in the street, too, although not while waiting for the bus. Since our road was a circle and didn't go anywhere, there wasn't a lot of traffic.

Rick Robinson said...

I was out in the hilly country, and it was a .9 mile walk to the bus stop, morning and night. I had to be there at 7:15 am, so I was often leaving home soon after it got light in Winter. Because this was Southern California, it usually wasn't cold or rainy, but it was a trudge, and it was hilly, mostly down in the morning and up in the afternoon.

I wish we'd had backpacks or book bags then. I remember carrying my books and papers in my hand, pressed against my hip, my paper bag lunch in the other hand. No games at the bus stop, just standing there, waiting.

Jeffrey Meyerson said...

Great story. When we lived in Queens when we first started school, we had a bus, but when we moved to Brooklyn when I was 9 I was two short blocks from school. Junior high was a lot longer walk, but it was good exercise, and high school was a little closer.

James Reasoner said...

Since I was able to get all my homework done at school most of the time, I didn't carry textbooks home very often, but I always had a notebook and a library book or a paperback to read in study hall. I usually carried paperbacks inside the notebook, and I still remember, 50 years later, losing a copy of Alistair Maclean's SOUTH BY JAVA HEAD when it slipped out of my notebook sometime during the day and I didn't notice. I was upset and had to get somebody to take me to the library that afternoon so I could check out their copy and finish the book. Luckily, it wasn't already checked out.

Anonymous said...

What about music, James? Did they play the radio on the bus?
They did on mine. Although I've always loved music, it was the first time I got the sense that my life had a soundtrack, that certain tunes fit with who I was, where I was and how I felt.

John Hocking

James Reasoner said...

No music on the bus, John. I'm not sure they even had radios, except maybe one to communicate with the bus barn. And I don't recall any of the kids bringing transistor radios to school, except during the World Series when all the games were still played during the day, and they'd usually get caught with those and have them taken up. For me that realization that life had a soundtrack didn't come until I was in college.

Jim Wilsky said...

James, it sounds like my '64 Nova (which was also a faded drab green, not olive, not any describable shade of green really) and your Olds would have been side by side at the ugly finish line. My dad knew somebody, just like you said and I was thrilled. When I got the turtle wax out and tried to put a shine on the old gal, the paint came right off. But the Chevy ran and that's all that mattered. I walked to school pretty much everyday, all through my years of grade school, junior and senior high. Real small town. The benefit of walking was two fold, I hated the bus with a passion and the real prize was a time honored and very treasured practice, in my memory anyway - carrying a girl's books home. Carrying them on top of the books I was already carrying. And of course walking her to her house and then my house, houses that were almost never on the same route of course. Thanks for the memories sir.