I am up uncharacteristically early (seriously, before 8am of my own volition, what the heck?), and as I lay in bed pondering the oddness of this occurrence, I heard a sound that I haven’t noticed in years. Just like the smell of cherry-flavored Chapstick (dang it, Katy Perry, you have tainted that for all of us), this sound instantly flooded me with memories. It was the distinctly high-pitched screech of school bus brakes at the top of our street.
How many of you just heard it in your head? I don’t even have to describe it. If you rode the bus, you know. Oh my gosh, The Bus. It seems like it should be capitalized. If you don’t hurry up, we’re going to miss The Bus.
When I was young, we lived in a typical neighborhood where the bus stopped right in front of our driveway. Riding the bus back then was exciting, because my very bestest friend in the whole wide world rode the same bus as I did, and it gave us an extra thirty minutes to make up patty-cake rhymes and giggle about boys.
I guess then my mom was in charge of making my brother and I get out to the driveway in time, because I don’t remember it ever being much of an ordeal. There was one time, though, that the bus driver passed us even though she could see us running for it. My mom chased her down and gave her a good talking to. I remember because when she drove away, she used her handheld radio to talk to another bus driver. “Dude,” she said, “some crazy lady just chewed me out.” I purportedly piped up, “Hey! That crazy lady is my mom!” although I still suspect that I might have just wished I had the courage to do that.
When we were older my family moved to a different neighborhood that was more out in the country. It was residential enough to have a bus route, but there were no sidewalks or streetlights and most of the lots were at least an acre. Catching the bus back then was a quite a different story.
Ah, Bus 47. How you elude me still.
As you can imagine, our neighborhood was much too spread out to warrant a stop at the end of each driveway. In fact, our driveway was the only one on our entire side of the street. And it was a long street. Which, in turn, meant that we couldn’t just run out the door once we heard those trusty old brakes. Heck, our gravel driveway alone was a significant trek. We had to – gasp – actually be ready at the end of our street at 7:15. (Come to think of it, I think this might be why I have such an aversion to waking up early.)
Which, by the time I was a teenager with the frizziest hair that ever, ever existed (This was before straightening irons and the knowledge that you don’t brush curly hair. Seriously, in one of my school yearbook photos my hair was bigger than the box allowed to me.), was easier said than done. I can remember many a morning when my brother and I heard the brakes several streets down, looked at each other in horror, and ran. Sometimes I didn’t have my shoes on yet, forgot my backpack, or whatever, and my brother would run ahead to make the driver wait for me.
Those were good times. But actually, there was a sort of fierce glee in getting there just in time to make the bus – or even better, just in time to make it wait for you. It meant we didn’t have to stand there shivering. And since my brother refused to wear long pants unless it was below 40 degrees, there was a lot of shivering. Although, of course, this was a risky move on our part. Get there even fifteen seconds late and we had to make the walk of shame back to the house to ask Mom for a ride.
By the time we were in high school, which bus driver we had became exceptionally important. Namely, as a matter of status amongst other bus-goers (bus 63, in particular, was stiff competition). What you wanted back then was a young, attractive bus driver who was just a little lax with the rules. You didn’t want one too lax with the rules, because then they might miss your stop on purpose or ignore bullying when you were the victim, but a little lax allowed for cursing, standing up, and eating missed breakfasts. And most importantly, the cool bus drivers chose the cool radio stations. I.e., alternative rock. The lame bus drivers listened to oldies, NPR, or – God help us – country. Which is funny, since we actually lived in the country and I’m pretty sure 80% of us secretly loved country music. But hey, no one needed to know that.
I remember the ever-sticky floors, the smell and give of the leather seats, the way the fabric would stick to your legs in the summer. I remember how the windows stuck and there was always one or two people that everyone would ask to get theirs – the sound of them sliding down and slamming up. I remember slouching down to put my knees up on the back of the seat in front of me, and dreading the days when my seat-mate didn’t ride. Not that she was that great; she used to comment on everything from how often I shaved my legs to the brands of my clothes, but hey, she was familiar at least.
I learned a lot on the bus, mostly about people. I mixed with a whole different crowd of kids than the ones in my classes, and man did they know a lot more about sex than I did. They could talk a big talk, anyway. And they knew all the good cuss words, too.
By sophomore year, when kids started turning 16, The Bus became indescribably lame – no matter how cool the driver. Luckily, I was so active on my dance team, which had before- and sometimes after-school practice, that I really did need a car for my parents’ sake. So I got to drive to school and forget about the bus. Which I did quite successfully, until this morning when I happened to be lying in bed just as one braked at the end of our street, ready to drive a new load of kids down future memory-lane.
So what about you? Did you ride the bus? Are there sounds like bus brakes that send you immediately reminiscing? Smells that take you back?
And, of course, most importantly, which bus did you ride?