It is often emphasized to us wretches o’ the wheel that we’re the first and last representatives of the school district that many children see each day. We’re told to always be pleasant and say “Good morning” or “Enjoy the rest of your day” as our precious cargo boards or departs our buses.
(This blog is based on actual events, though names, places and some personal details have been changed to protect the innocent as well as the guilty and avoid libel suits.)
Quite often I get no response or perhaps — if I listen very closely — a muffled something that sounds like “mumpf.”
Some kids do cheerily offer or return hearty greetings. Daisy, a delightfully perky fourth grader, almost always stops, turns, and exclaims something like, “Well, you have a nice day!” at me before she exits.
Some will thank you for your suffering on their behalf. Some actually say they feel sorry for me. “Good luck,” I’ve been told more than once by a student as he or she leaves my hopelessly raucous bus.
And, oddly enough, in the wake of the COVID pandemic, the kids I drive have been strangely polite and I’m hearing “Hello” and even “Thank you” fairly often. A side effect of the bug, perhaps?
Even the coldest ragamuffins warm up at least a bit during the course of a school year as they become familiar with you, but I’ve found that you can’t take the silent types personally and be insulted by their ignoring your pleasantries. Tis better to content yourself with the knowledge that you did your duty without undue strife or calamity during the trip.
Being a mere mortal, I found this consolation to be a thin emotional gruel during my first year behind the wheel. After saying “good morning” to no avail for many weeks, I began adding “little buttercup” or “same to you” under my breath.
Fearing that I would grow old and expire before I received an actual reply, I contemplated announcing over the PA system that the first kid to utter as much as a “You, too” in response to one of my greetings would be the winner of a valuable prize, maybe a set of snow tires or some oven mitts. I’ve yet to decide.
However, establishing such a quid pro quo is probably unseemly. And we are discouraged from handing out treats, due to the scourge of food allergies as well as possible liability for bringing on a medical emergency.
I have to say it is amusing when you startle a kid with your greeting and they suddenly stop and look at you like you’re nuts.
“What?!” they ask, as if I just accused them of a high crime or told them an alligator is loose on the bus.
When I greeted Oswald, a fretful third grader, one morning he suddenly locked his horrified stare on me. I have to imagine he was even more alarmed when I cackled loudly and said, “What?!”
He quickly fled to his seat.
You gotta love the Eddie Haskells. If you are of a certain vintage, you likely remember the character from the old Leave It to Beaver sitcom. Haskells are kids who put on an angelic demeanor and pleasantly hail you en route to or from wreaking havoc.
I’ve observed them doing headers over seats, uttering hoary oaths and epithets, blatantly eating and drinking despite my repeated warnings about stuffing their faces on the bus, and engaging in crimes against the soul. But whenever they’re near me, they act like nothing undue happened.
Then there are those cherished moments when a child offers a sweet, spontaneous salutation:
One afternoon at Helga Poppin Intermediate School, Oswald came up the bus steps with a green cube in his hand.
“I’m going to blow you up!” he solemnly informed me as he casually waved it in my face.
“Oh yeah?” I replied. “If you blow me up, who will drive the bus?”
“My mom will just come and get me,” he replied as he sauntered to his seat.
Yes, it’s always a blast to be acknowledged and know you’re appreciated.