In grade school I had the world’s best bus driver. That may seem like damning with faint praise but I’m serious. We were let out of school late one day when it started snowing and she did her best to get us home through covered streets, maneuvering around stuck cars. Most of us had to be dropped off at the bottom of a hill and ended up walking farther than usual but she took down every kid’s home phone number and when she got home called all our parents to make sure we’d made it safely.
That’s not the story I want to tell now.
The story I want to tell now is about the world’s worst bus driver who I had to deal with only one day in grade school.
I was in first grade and still not quite used to riding the bus by myself. Each route was assigned a very specific bus number but I hadn’t bothered to memorize it. I’m not sure why. I just looked for my bus driver. She was a distinctive woman with an enormous head of bright red hair and she always wore dark glasses.
What are the odds she’d have a twin sister who also drove a bus? At least I got lucky and got stuck with the good twin most days. But really what are the odds I’d not only end up with someone who looked just like the driver I knew?
I had a funny feeling something was up when a kid I only knew from school saw me on the bus and said “Hi Chris!” I didn’t know where he lived. All I knew is he didn’t live anywhere near my neighborhood. I’d never seen him on the bus before. But I was still new to riding the bus. I’d only been in first grade about a month or so.
I felt even funnier—okay, maybe “funny” isn’t the right word for it—when I was the last kid on the bus and the driver asked me where I lived. I told her. She laughed and said, “Where is that?”
That’s not a question you want to hear when you’re six years old and the last kid on the school bus.
She started pulling over and asking people she saw in their yards if they knew where my street was. And what are the odds I’d end up with a driver who didn’t know her way around well enough to find a street on a different route?
“I got this little girl here…”
Oh yeah, I had to remind her I was a boy. I realize small children can seem androgynous but you’d think after three times she’d remember that I wasn’t a girl.
Obviously this story has a happy ending. My mother had noticed I didn’t get off the bus with the other kids and was driving around looking for me. She found me while I was standing in a stranger’s yard reminding the bus driver for the seventh or fiftieth time that I was not a girl. We were two blocks from my street—within walking distance actually.
I learned an important lesson that day. You’re probably thinking I learned I should always make sure I got on the right bus and not to just make superficial assumptions, and you’d be wrong.
What I learned is you can beat the odds.
This is a particularly helpful post for me to read today, Chris. What are the odds?
Hopefully the odds are good that I’ll be helpful. It’s one thing I try not to leave up to chance.
Oh wow, yeah, that’s the WORST feeling in the world when you’re that age (or actually it could be at any age!) — where you know you’re not in the right place, but you’re not quite ready to say anything to anyone about it, until you have to. Of course I guess you could’ve hunkered down behind the seats and hidden like you hear about some kids doing on the bus. Glad you made it home safe! 🙂
Now I think I’m being unfair to that bus driver because she did make an effort to get me home safely. A truly terrible bus driver would have just dropped me off somewhere. There were times I thought about hunkering down in the seat but in those days and in that particular area I think school bus drivers drove their buses home rather than to a station.
That would explain why I saw buses regularly parked in peoples’ yards.
Oh man, you and my son should sit down for a beer and rootbeer and commiserate about bad bus drivers. My son is only in the second grade and he’s decided that he hates riding the bus. He first year, kindergarten, was great because he had a super nice driver and there were only like 9 kids on the bus. It’s gone progressively downhill. A few weeks ago we were literally standing at the corner waiting and the driver sped past us like his pants were on fire. I had to call the bus depot and the driver pulled over on another street and then I drove my son to the bus. Oh well. It will give him funny stories to tell someday…
Misery builds character, right? At least that’s what they told me when I was a kid. It sounds like he has a pretty terrible bus driver. I think we should commiserate over root beer floats.
Ok, I know there’s some heartbreak in this…a little six year old boy lost and alone. But you have to give the dingbat driver credit for being so persistent in the designation of your gender. (And I laughed a little…I’m so sorry…)
It’s okay–the driver’s insistence on calling me a girl makes me laugh too, especially since for so many years as an adult I had long hair and was regularly mistaken for a woman. And I do appreciate her persistence in trying to get me home by just driving me around. She could have taken me back to school and just left me there.