Sunday, February 3, 2013

The School Bus and Big Kids

I was driving to an appointment in the next county. I left with time enough to get there without rushing, and for a change there was not a logging truck or a feed truck ahead of me.  I made the other side of the mountain that marks the boundary between our county and the one where I was headed, got down on the flat, set the cruise control and enjoyed the ride. And I got where I was going with enough time to be a few minutes early. That was good.

What wasn’t good, or at least understandable, were two stops I had to make for school buses. I’m always careful when I see one, because they stop so frequently in the populated rural area between home and where ever I’m headed. About half-way to my destination I approached a small town with a county school complex in the middle. As I got closer there were two buses ahead of me. We stopped, we waited, we started again, and so on until one turned off to head for the county high school. The other continued on half a block more. And then it stopped. One block from the elementary and middle school complex that is in the town a mother put her small child on the bus. Half a block more, it stopped again for two middle school kids. I thought the bus must be for a special school beyond the town. Then the bus turned in at the entrance to the school complex! One block? Half a block on the school bus?

I grew up in a largish town (not officially a city), that had neighborhood elementary schools feeding district junior high schools, and one high school that also served the county. And I never ever rode a school bus. The elementary was four blocks from our house. Our street went down, crossed another, then headed up hill and finally, when it was level, reached the school. My sister, four years older, walked with me the first few days, I’m sure, and then as kids do, we met others and broke into small groups walking to school. At some point I was even a crossing guard, stopping other kids from crossing until the road was clear, then walking them across the intersection.

By the time I went to junior high my sister was in high school. One was north, the other south. I walked or rode my bike.  It was probably two miles to the school.

High school was three miles or so. I walked or rode my bike. Even in my senior year, when we finally had two cars in the family, I almost never drove to school. That was for boys who took auto shop and learned to rebuild engines and things. I didn’t learn much about that stuff until I was in college and was able to justify a car ($50, which explains why I had to learn to be a mechanic) and pay for the insurance.

If I ever rode a school bus it was for a class trip or a ball game. Of course the county kids, from farms, from rural enclaves near the factories that supported the city, rode buses. They had many miles to go if they came to school in town. But my neighborhood pals and I never had that luxury. Rain, snow, hot end-of-school year days, we walked or rode bikes. Sure there were some kids whose parents drove them, but we had one car, my father traveled and he left on Monday and returned on Friday, so that wasn’t an option.

I’m sure there are reasons why kids ride buses today that have nothing to do with who has a car. We live in a rural area with one school for the whole county, “K-12" as the educators like to call it. There are virtually no sidewalks except around the school and in the village where the school is located. I understand why the buses are necessary, recognize that as the one-room schools closed and consolidated, the need to move kids safely became necessary. After all, not every kid had a horse or mule to ride. But those three kids getting on the bus to ride a block or half-a-block to school?

Now I understand why my elders would harrumph and say things like “A foot of snow? Why when I was a boy we walked five miles uphill in a blizzard every day!”

We were all skinny in those days.

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