Sunday, April 24, 2011


My favorite time to record is usually in the afternoon. No time will ever be without some outside noise but I've found that this window of time is good if I finish recording before people begin driving home from work and the interstate noise makes it to my window. (Yes, the window is closed but huge trucks really rumble.)

One of the noises I've become accustomed to between 3:30 and 4:00pm is the school bus stopping at the corner of my street to drop off high school students. Since the bus is pretty loud and the brakes really squeal, I just stop and wait for it to pass to continue. I rode school buses at least half the time up through high school. Depending on where we lived and how close the school was, I sometimes walked or rode my bike. Everyone I knew hated taking the bus. I always think of the scene from my favorite John Hughes movie, Sixteen Candles, where Molly Ringwald talks about the indignities of riding the bus. The scene showing the bus and the sound of kazoos is perfect.
"I loathe the bus."

There was one place we lived where I really didn't mind it, though. This was in Texas during some of my high school years. We lived on Randolph Air Force Base near San Antonio.

Randolph is considered the 'showplace' of the Air Force and the on-base schools were first class. Our house was on a corner right across the street from the flight line (the airport for the base) so we had planes taking off and landing at all times of the day and night. The war in Vietnam was still going on.

There was a school on base for 7th-12th grade. Because I went to this school and then finished at a high school in Florida, I never attended a junior high or middle school. It was an interesting experience to be walking the hallways with people as much as 6 years older if you were in the 7th grade. Of course, the younger kids didn't share the same classes with the older students but we ate in the same cafeteria, used the same library and rode the same school buses.

Randolph High School (that's what it was called) was located on the other side of the flight line from my house. In order to get there, we had to cross the flight line. There were stop signs and it wasn't unusual to have to stop while a plane taxied across in front of the bus -- just like a car or truck would at an intersection. After we cleared the flight line, there was a winding two lane road that lead to the school.
Our bus driver's name was Daniel. He was Mexican and he was still working on his English. He wore a neat uniform of navy pants and a white shirt and always greeted us with a big smile every morning and afternoon. He had a thick head of hair with some gray going through it but I really had no idea how old he was. His teeth weren't in the greatest shape but he was one of those people who seemed to have more of them than other people. Maybe it seemed that way because he smiled so much.

Daniel greeted each of us when we got on the bus in the morning. He never seemed to mind when any of us asked him questions about where he was from or what it was like there. (My family took a couple of quick trips to Mexico but, of course, that's not the same as knowing the people.)

One day, on the way to school, while we were on the curved road that lead from the flight line to the school, Daniel had to swerve slightly to avoid hitting something in the road. That caused the back of the bus to 'fishtail' slightly and, of course, we loved it. After that we'd beg Daniel to 'please do fishtails!' and, sometimes he would when we were on that section of road with no one else around. It was exhilarating and left us all breathless and begging for more. Daniel would laugh and put his hand up and say 'enough' after one or two. This went on for awhile and, even though we didn't get to 'fishtail' everyday, just the possibility sure made riding the bus a lot more fun.

One morning when I stepped on the bus and looked up, I noticed that Daniel wasn't in the driver's seat. We thought he was sick or on vacation but discovered that, in the words of one of my compadres, 'someone squealed' on Daniel. We figured that one of the kids had told their parents about the 'fun' we had on the bus or maybe we had been seen when we thought no one was around. Either way, Daniel lost his job.

Our new driver was a short solid woman named Margie who often had roller skates hanging on a hook near the driver's seat. Roller derby was big in the late '60's and early '70's and Margie skated on a team. That's all I ever knew about her and, other than Daniel, she's the only bus driver I remember from riding school buses in six different states while growing up. I think I only remember her because she followed Daniel.

We all wondered what happened to Daniel after that. Was he able to get another job? Everyone hoped so. Other than our 'fishtails', he was actually a pretty skillful driver. I hope he was able to earn a living for himself. Even after I became an adult, I still couldn't bring myself to condemn him for possibly endangering those of us on the bus. I was a careful kid who always played it safe. Maybe that's what appealed to me so much about those rides. After all these years, I can still see him in his uniform with that smile. I've never forgotten him. In the mid 1990's, I submitted a poem I wrote about him to a small 'literary' magazine called "Summer Treasures III -- An Anthology of Original Poems" and they published it.



all it takes is the sight of a school bus,
or glimpses of Mexican faces
along the San Antonio river walk, and
I jump back twenty years and up
three steps through the open bus doors,
past Daniel's broken-toothed grin which
slowly split his face until
it resembled a brown jack-o-lantern.
His weathered skin and rough hands fighting
the neat creases of his crisp shirt and pants.

"Do fish-tails!" we pleaded.

Daniel slowly turned the mammoth wheel
left and then right, left, right, until
the big yellow bus began to sway
and then careen.  We screamed,
"Faster, faster!"  Our fear as meager
as his English.  The thrill too brief,
soon replaced by the steady steering of
a new driver, identically outfitted,
whose face I never see.

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