On the John
The bus column
Originally completed May 21, 2010
It was Monday afternoon, just after 4:30, when an empty school bus whooshed through the left turn from Warren to Leavitt. We were three hours into a full table computer work session at headquarters, complete with a 15-pack of Tropical Starburst. These had been provided by Rob only ten minutes earlier as a work carrot, and we commented on childhood days gone by when afternoon snacks and hang out time was the norm…
Ricky was standing on the patio balcony enjoying a cigarette when the bus passed. “Damn.” He turned and laughed. “That bus was MOO-vin!”
Rob laughed. “Just flying, huh.”
“Dudes NEVER drive like that with the kids.” Ricky stubbed his cigarette into the railing ashtray and walked inside. “They get rid of those kids… WOO!”
From that, I was sparked to tell my favorite childhood bus stories.
Stories One and Two were about drivers. The first was a quiet, slender man at Orrington Elementary School between kindergarten and 3rd grade. His schtick was stopping on rides home at a small Evanston market called D&D (located half way between Orrington and our first stop), picking up cigarettes, sometimes a hot dog, talking to friends. I don’t specifically remember hearing he was fired. I only remember having a new bus driver in 4th grade.
The second was a waddling fat man in 8th grade at Wilmette Junior High. We used to line up alongside the bus door after school, silently cruel, waiting for him to waddle over. We displayed zero respect for the man; after months of enduring what must have surely been terribly poor behavior, he reversed on us. Quite literally. Stopping one day half way to the first stop and pivoting left, suddenly, on Wilmette Ave., and driving back to school.
He pulled right back into the parking lot and said: “We’re here.” So we walked home that day. I remember a feeling among us that, yeah, yeah, probably deserved that one.
My favorite bus story, far and away, took place over the summer of 1991. My brother and I were among the few Evanston kids who attended Tamarak Day Camp; multiple buses all throughout the suburbs (and a few in Chicago) collected children early in the morning and brought them to Lincolnwood, IL, to camp, for eight summer weeks.
These buses would, ultimately, converge on Edens somewhere between Lake Cook and Half Day. One Monday afternoon on the way home, our bus was stopped at Park Ave. West alongside the Glencoe bus. Our buses had met at that same spot that morning, where our bus counselors exchanged fun, teasing words through the window. Now we were lined up at the light once more… we had a cooler in the bus that must have recently been filled with cans of pop. While their counselor peered into our bus for our counselor, our counselor ran onto their bus with the cooler, making it back just in time to see his soaked counterpart steaming in the window as we sped away.
Even at 9-years-old, I, like Rufus T. Firefly before me, understood what had happened: then it’s war! Why, then, did our counselors choose to fill up on the way to camp at the Park Ave. West Shell station the very next morning? And why, of our three bus counselors was Mr. Cooler Assault chosen to pump the gas? This seemed poor planning…
No sooner did this reasoning flash through my mind did the other bus pull into the station. Their windows slid down. Out popped a row of Super Soakers, and they proceeded to fire streams of high-powered well-filtered water straight to the heart of our bus counselor Sonny Corleone-style.
The next day, a Wednesday, found our bus responding with a Super Soaker arsenal of our own. By Thursday we’d coordinated our morning trip and were firing upon each other on the highway, cruising north on 41 at speeds greater than 50 miles per hour. This would have been quite a scene for any summer morning traveler driving behind us: two buses in sync six feet apart, Super Soakers leaned out of the windows while kids lobbed water balloons from one bus to another. The camp director found out Friday, and the jig was up…
“Hey!” I announced to Ricky and Rob. “I have a bus column now!” This was an exciting revelation, as it always is when you realize you have something new to write.
Back during my sophomore year at IU, I remember celebrating the announcement that I would be writing a weekly column. Next came the panic, as it surely does for all new columnists struck with the reality of developing copy on a weekly basis. “Holy crap!” we think to ourselves. “What in the hell am I going to write about every week?”
Slowly, though, you gain your confidence. You begin seeing the world in columns, just as, I would imagine, novelists see the world in novels, songwriters in songs, Larry David in episodes. There’s always something new to say, some new story to tell, new feelings/opinions/ideas to explore. You start taking notes, storing ideas for rainy days, boring days when nothing much has happened to anybody.
And if you feel your deadline coming and nothing yet has materialized, find a school zone between 3 and 5 pm and keep watching until the last kid is home.
Copyright 2010, jm silverstein