Chuck ruled the bus. He was our equivalent of The Fonz, stretched out across the back dispensing wisdom, standing up for the downtrodden, and generally being the epitome of cool. Except he was short, blonde, didn’t care about the downtrodden, rode the bus instead of a motorcycle, and mostly dispensed wisecracks, so I guess that’s not really the best comparison. He ruled the back of the bus, mostly talking just to his friends but occasionally he’d share something with the whole bus, like the time we had a substitute bus driver who ground the gears, got the bus stuck on a hill, and got lost. Chuck yelled from the back, “Didja get your license out of a Cracker Jack box?” It seems pretty weak now but in the world of first through sixth grade we had low standards and thought it was hilarious.
Anyway Chuck’s place was the entire back of the bus and everyone knew and respected that, at least until one day when I got on the bus and there was a commotion at the back. Another sixth grader, Jim, decided it was his turn to have the glory of the backseat for a change. Most of the time he sat at the front which was the equivalent of sitting at the front of the class. The cooler you were the further back you sat. I don’t know what the catalyst was on this particular day but Jim didn’t have a lot of friends on the bus and he was the son of a teacher. It was hard for him to achieve anything approaching being cool but maybe he thought if he could have the backseat things would change for him. The bus driver quickly pushed her way through the crowd and broke up the fight. She stuck Chuck in his usual spot in the backseat and sent Jim to the front where he’d quietly ride the bus the rest of the year.
There was something weird, almost comical about the way Chuck and Jim fought. They’d both had their eyes closed and were only punching each other in the stomach, and only hitting because there’s not a lot of room to move in the back of a school bus. I guess they were both really cowards but Chuck had found a way to compensate with an attitude.