One of the charming things about our precious cargo, is that they often want to assist us in our daily rounds.
Lifting the rear door handle or pushing a button to deactivate the bus alarm after arriving at school is seen as a great privilege by the younger ones. Beetlebomb, one of my noisiest and most “active” fifth-graders, redeems himself by informing me whenever I’ve left my flashing amber lights on. Other kids happily serve as spies for the sake of maintaining discipline.
See: The Rat Patrol
(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.)
Of course, there are times you need them to help and they can’t, especially wide-eyed kindergartners who stare or shrug when you need directions and ask them where they live. Sometimes even older kids can’t tell you.
One day a teacher brought a sixth-grader to my bus and said, “He doesn’t know where he’s going. Let me give you his address. He doesn’t speak any English.”
I at least knew the way, but he had to get off at the end of a street I couldn’t go down and just walked away. Naturally, the next morning he wasn’t at his stop. I can only assume he got home.
“If he didn’t, you probably would have heard by now,” my wife says.
But I’ve learned (the hard way) to be skeptical of the information my passengers provide.
They’ll say someone isn’t on the bus and then yell that they are … as soon as I’ve passed or pulled away from the kid’s stop. Beetlebomb, who seems to be up on everyone’s business, tells me when someone won’t be needing a ride on any given day. Sometimes he’s right.
“He went in early for chess club,” he’ll say as we approach Hobbestweedle’s house in the morning. But one day he claimed that Hobbestweedle had a dentist appointment and it turned out that he was merely late getting down his long, winding driveway to our pickup point. The lad was left behind to his mother’s, and my, dismay.
Live and learn … to take anything you are told with a grain of sodium chloride. Which is why I didn’t freak out the morning Brutus and Robespierre yelled from the back, “Hey, Mr. John! Beetlebomb is dead!”
“Well, that will keep him quiet until we get to school,” I cooly replied over the PA.
Those kids, they’re always joking.
The infamous Robespierre, one of the most rambunctious of intermediate school hellions, got everyone’s hopes up when he announced that he was moving to Arizona. I thought it was too good to be true, but when was gone for a few days I dared to believe though I wondered why our router hadn’t told me he’d been taken off my run sheet.
Then Robespierre showed up one morning with a big grin on his face and turned the grin on mine upside down.
Like Charlie Brown convinced that Lucy will actually let him kick the football, I also bought into Brutus (one of Robespierre’s partners in crime) informing me one Friday afternoon, “This is my last trip on your bus.”
“I’m sure you’ll make it a memorable one,” I said.
“I’ll be taking another one. My mom says you get me home too late.”
“Did you tell her that might be because you keep forcing me to pull over and make you sit down and be quiet?” I asked with a flinty squint.
Lo and behold come Monday morning Brutus wasn’t on and I rejoiced.
Turned out he was only riding in the afternoons. I thought I’d have a good cry but there was an unexpected blessing: Rollo, yet another rider of ill repute, was removed from my bus and assigned to a small one after repeated scrapes with Brutus and others.
A few days later I learned from Rollo’s new driver that Brutus was being added in the afternoon. Apparently, his mom had prevailed in her request to have her dear, sweet son delivered to her door more promptly.
I could only chortle at the thought of how thrilled Ol’ Brutus would be to find out he’s been reunited with his nemesis Rollo (I had to keep them separated) and that he will actually be getting home later because Rollo’s stop adds time to the new driver’s run.
I must confess that sometimes I can’t resist turning the tables, like when I had my riotously flatlulent middle schoolers convinced that state law requires at least one fart on the bus per trip.
One morning after my “lively” crew was surprisingly quiet, I told them over the PA as we pulled up to Helga Poppin Intermediate School, “Hey, great ride today, people! I didn’t have to call in the National Guard or change anyone’s seat!”
“He’s pranking us!” I head someone say.
“It’s April Fool’s Day!”
It wasn’t and I wasn’t. Truth is, there are times when I can use the Guard’s help. Maybe some of my well-behaved riders will enlist some day.