The School Bus

Written 12/2015

The school buses here are built by Thomas Buses of High Point NC.  They’re an old company that started here in the Tarheel State way back in 1916.  For the last 11 years, these slow-moving yellow behemoths have been a big part of my life, ferrying my daughter and her classmates safely back and forth to school.  Over the years the bus numbers all seemed to run together.  There were 149, 88, 266, and many more I can’t remember.  Kindergarten and elementary were 149.  Ms. Sue, one of the drivers I remember, drove 149 for several years back and forth to Harrisburg Elementary.  She was a nervous woman who smoked too much.  I never saw her with a cigarette, but an ex-smoker knows.  The subtle smell and that raspy, congested voice were a dead giveaway.  

I remember our daughter’s first day in kindergarten.  Both of us took her to school.  Her mother said I would be the one to cry, I’ve always been the softy.  As we left her in her new class that first morning, guess who cried?  Mom fell apart.  There was an intangible I never admitted.  I knew I would be there, at the bus stop, that afternoon, but my wife wouldn’t, she would be at work.  A few hours later when that beautiful yellow chariot rolled up our street, I took a deep breath of relief.  The most valuable cargo in the world, my daughter, was safely home.

It wasn’t always that smooth.  Elementary school went off mostly glitch-free.  Middle School was a different story.  We enrolled her in a STEM magnet school.  That meant she would not be going to the middle school closest to us, she would be going several miles away to a school in a much different neighborhood.  As far as the district was concerned, transporting kids to STEM was a logistical nightmare.  That first morning worked pretty well.  The bus was on schedule.  I was cautiously optimistic the afternoon trip would be the same.  Boy, was I wrong.  The bus was 20 minutes, then 30 minutes, then 45 minutes late.  While my wife concentrated on Hospital business, she had no idea our daughter was somewhere in school bus limbo.  I tried to remain calm.  The bus was almost an hour late and I didn’t know where my kid was.  I always tried to give the powers that be in the school district the benefit of the doubt, but after an hour I called the assistant principal.  He was a wreck.  The stress in his voice spoke volumes.  Curtly he said, “I’ll call you back.”  Within 5 minutes my phone rang.  It seems the driver had gotten lost.  Instead of calling someone, he just took the bus and all the kids to the bus garage and left them there.  Another driver took over and brought all the kids home.  Two and one-half hours late but she finally got home.  I don’t know if that driver was fired or quit, but he never drove my daughter’s bus again.  The last year of middle school and high school brought a new plan.  The district implemented a hub stop system.  I knew they would have to do something.  It wasn’t practical to run buses all over the county shuttling STEM students.  The hub stop plan has worked well.  As a parent, I would rather have a neighborhood stop but economics dictated otherwise.   

Over the years there have been substitute drivers, bad weather, and mechanical problems.  But, all and all, I always felt that my daughter was safe, and in good hands.

Buses?  I wasted a page talking about buses?  It’s not the bus.  It’s what the bus represents.  It’s about my daughter’s childhood.  Her childhood has passed way too fast.   I have spent over a decade making sure that twice a day she got on and off that bus.  The daily rendezvous with those yellow land schooners is quickly coming to an end.  That end signals a responsibility I’m not ready to give up.  Time passes too fast.  With every day, my daughter matures more and more.  With that maturity, my oversight dwindles.  That’s the way it is.  That’s the way it’s supposed to be, but that doesn’t mean I like it.  

I’m an old man who can name all the Kardashians.  I also know J Cole, Drake, Nicki M., and Passenger.  I find myself saying, “Literally” and “No Problem” way too many times.  I can Text, Tweet, Snapchat, and Instagram.  I’m just another 65-year-old hauling four fifteen-year-old girls to a sweet sixteen party.  I’m a dad who has learned when to keep his mouth shut and when to speak up.   I’m a  dad that knows how boys try to manipulate girls, mostly from past experience.  But I’m also a dad that has become quite familiar with all the “Mean Girl” tricks too.  I’m constantly surprised by the depth of my daughter’s intellect.  Her keen awareness and understanding of the world around her warm my heart and make me so proud.  At times I feel I’m in the presence of a superstar, other times, not so much.

Herein lies the problem.  That problem is time.  The last 15 years are like that first date you never wanted to end.  But we all know time is a cunning thief that steals those precious moments.  My daughter has given me something I never expected.  She is the greatest gift I have ever received.  My backward life and its unorthodox timeline have truly been a blessing.  The first gift in my life was my wife. My daughter was the second.

I love those buses.  Those big, windowed, rolling, yellow containers and their priceless cargo represent the greatest time of my life.

Late At Night

Nights can be dark and unforgiving in rural North Carolina.  Darkness and deep woods are an ominous combination.  The trio seemed trapped in a strip of high grass between an old fence and a two-lane country road.   They had no choice but to follow that narrow path where ever it may lead.  Since their parents disappeared, life was a constant battle for these three, sleeping during the day, out of sight, and foraging for food under the cover of darkness. They had no idea where they had been or where they were going. All they knew was they were hungry.  This spot seems eerily familiar. Maybe they would find a scrap of food thrown from a passing car.  Suddenly a pair of headlights appeared in the distance.  Could this be their chance?  Could this be another uncaring driver tossing out a half-eaten biscuit?  An unspoken excitement drifted over them.  At the last minute, just as the car approached, overwhelmed with excitement, one of the wanderers jumped into the road in front of the speeding vehicle.  Only a thud was heard as a broken, lifeless body slid to the side of the road.  In horror, the others watched as the red taillights faded in the distance.  In a small, quiet voice, only they understood, one uttered, “Possum Killer” as the two moved on.