Oh man. I’m still getting reacquainted with the rhythms of suburbia. Mornings have seen a massive traffic increase on local roads. The congestion coincided with the start of the school year.
A neighbor explained it’s because of parents driving their kids to school. Upon reflection, this is way more plausible than my pet theory – that the extra drivers are all psychoanalysts back from August vacation.
What the hell is wrong with these parents? When I was a kid, everyone took the bus to school. Getting chauffeured by your parents was oddly conspicuous, like an ethnic speaker at the Republican convention.
Riding the school bus is a formative childhood experience. Any kid deprived of it is probably missing out on some Eriksonian phase of psychosocial development.
It started at the bus stop, which functioned as a prototypical office water cooler. The kids on your street would assemble and fidget and kill time. Maybe you’d dissect the previous evening’s episode of Knight Rider; or note who was debuting a new set of braces. Stuff like that.
The bus would arrive and that heavy door folded open. (I was infatuated with the mechanics behind the door: that system of levers and hinges.) Driving a bus seemed like the coolest job. In our impressionable minds, it was definitely higher status than teachers. I mean Christ – you got to operate that door all day. The driver could also smoke, if he liked.
The universal seating plan put the littlest and sweetest kids up front, and the coolest, toughest kids in the way back. For my money, the best seat was over the rear wheel well, since it was the bounciest over bumps.
Now try and say rear wheel well five times fast.
I think now when kids board, bus drivers make a point of not putting the bus in motion until everyone is safely seated. This wasn’t the case years ago, when expediency trumped liability. You even learned to anticipate the initial lurch, and maybe used the inertia to help fling you into a seat. (This technique was effective for “accidentally” sitting next to a specific girl.)
Nowadays buses have seatbelts and everyone has to sit still. But in the era before hyper-litigation, kids were all over the place. The bus often resembled one of those weightless training flights for astronauts.
If you wanted to open a window, it required a true specialist. There was a trick, requiring mutant finger strength, to squeeze aluminum tabs at the upper corners. And the windows were sticky, so when they finally yielded to force, they’d slam open (or worse, shut) with guillotine swiftness.
The ride to school was an integral nexus of social and spiritual development. Homework was finished (or copied). Friendships were formed. Reputations were ruined.
Activity on the bus might best be compared to a model UN. Kids negotiated trade agreements, bilateral treaties and cultural exchanges. Definitely way cooler than riding shotgun backseat with mom.