Riding the school bus was always an adventure. A dream I had last night triggered some reminiscing about the grade-school bus drivers I had, and some of the more memorable moments in the days of Al and Mrs. Poopy-snot…
Starting in kindergarten, and continuing through 6th grade, my local bus driver was Al. Al was an older man (could have been anywhere between 60 and 70 years old), and he always wore a tweed hat, much like this, with a band around it and a small feather stuck in the band. Al was responsible for picking up everyone who lived on my street, along with the kids who lived on the smaller side streets and could easily walk to the bus stops at the intersections (like The Admiral). Al made a rule on his bus that all of the girls had to sit on the right side, and all of the boys had to sit on the left. We all thought this was normal for riding the bus until we hit the fourth grade, and started going to a bigger school, which required a bus change. Everybody from Al's bus (and a few others) got off at the end of the road and switched to Mrs. Poulyat's bus. We could sit on either side? For quite a long time, I remember always sitting on the opposite side from Al's bus, just because I could.
Mrs. Poulyat's bus was non-stop excitement. Since a number of busses emptied their contents of kids into Mrs. Poulyat's bus at the bus-change intersection, her bus was quite crowded. We got to hang out with a whole new bus crowd, were introduced to seat-skipping, side-skipping and the daredevil maneuver of seat-jumping. Seat-skipping was the easiest, and just involved moving to the seat directly in front, or behind you. Side-skipping was just as it sounds, and involved skipping across the aisle to the other side of the bus. This was more risky, since crossing the empty aisle was more easily spotted in the Big Brother-esque bus driver mirror. To add an element of daring to it all, you could move forward or back a couple seats at the same time as skipping the aisle. Last but not least was seat-jumping, which was rarely attempted on daylight bus rides1. Seat-jumping involved vaulting oneself over the seat back, in front, or behind you, to the adjacent seat. Most kids who attempted this were immediately spotted, thoroughly scolded, and moved to the front seat, just behind the bus driver. In addition to all the skipping and jumping, there was also the crawling under seats. This wasn't nearly as thrilling because the risk was minimal, and you just ended up getting dirty, and kicked.
When the seat-skipping daredevils were spotted by Mrs. Poulyat, or when chanting/shouting/laughing or what-have-you got too obnoxious, the population of bus-riding kids could elicit the rare ear-shattering holler of Mrs. Poulyat, “SIT DOWN AND SHUT UP!!” This rarely had a lasting effect, and the boisterous roar would continue. We would occasionally get another shout or two from Mrs. Poulyat, or she may even pull over and punish a few of the easier targets amongst us. Of course we all saw this as cruel-hearted fascist bad temper, hence the nickname Mrs. Poopy-snot was passed on from generation to generation of bus riding kids.
Al's bus had considerably fewer kids, so skipping seats was a much bigger risk. Plus, Al's quiet stoicism had never broken, and we were all a little frightened about what would happen if he got furious. There were a couple forward/back seat-skips attempted without any problem, but it wasn't until 5th (or 6th?) grade that any of us would attempt a cross-aisle side-skip on Al's bus (I mean, who really wanted to sit on the giiiirls side anyway). In 5th grade I had one of those 2-day long “we're going out” stints with a girl who rode the same bus. The end of the first day we were “going out,” on the bus ride home, I made my move. In the back of Al's bus, she was sitting in the seat across the aisle from me. I quickly glanced at the bus driver mirror to make sure Al's gaze was on the road, and then I went for it… I skipped across the aisle, into her seat. I kissed her on the cheek. I skipped back to my side. A double-skip and a kiss! Al briefly glanced up at his mirror, with a stern look, but immediately looked away. Success! I was the man! Except it really just got me teased for the remainder of the bus ride, not to mention that the girl and I decided to break up the next day. So much for that. There wasn't much time left on Al's bus anyway, since we moved on to the highschool bus for 7th through 12th grade, and that one was just plain scary.
1 For a couple months a year, I was in a group/club that would get a bus to the YMCA after school to go swimming. It was always dark outside when we took the bus from the YMCA back to the school, where we were picked up by parents. In the dark, it was incredibly easy to leap around the back of the school bus, over seats