Most of the time on school field trips we’d ride on the yellow school buses, but once, on a long trip to Washington, D.C., we were carried around part of the way on a regular city bus complete with the side door and no emergency exit in the back and much bigger windows and the pull cords. I thought the cords would just ring a bell to signal the driver but the driver told us never to pull them because, he said, they were connected to the brakes and would stop the bus. At the time I thought, well that’s weird. What kind of bonehead thought that would be a good idea? I’d actually never ridden on a city bus before and it surprised me to think that passengers could literally be backseat drivers, that they’d have that much control over the bus. Now that I’m an adult with lots of experience riding buses and pulling the signal cords I realize, of course, that the driver only said that to prevent a bunch of rowdy kids dinging the bell every ten seconds and he succeeded.
Okay, I did at one point reach up to pull the cord just to see what would happen but Mr. Peters, the social studies teacher, grabbed my arm and said, “DON’T!” He was already keeping an eye on me because I’d wandered away from the group when we stopped at Monticello and then he watched me even harder for the rest of the trip, but that’s another story.
Anyway the other day I was the only person on the bus but as my stop was coming up I pulled the signal cord anyway because, well, I’m kind of a stickler for protocol and I didn’t want to bug the driver by going up and talking to her.
She slowed down and shouted, “Was that your stop I just passed?”
I walked up to the front and said, “No, it’s the next one coming up.”
“Oh, thank goodness. I was afraid I missed your stop.”
We didn’t have much time but we chatted a little bit about how some people pull the signal cord too soon and earlier in the day a guy had yelled at her because he pulled it too late after she’d already passed his stop.
“If I pull the cord too late that’s my fault,” I told her.
“I appreciate you,” she said as she slowed the bus to a stop. Then she opened the doors and said, “You have a good day now.”
“I hope yours keeps getting better,” I said and stepped off.