Sunday, April 27, 2008


BUS STORY # 81 (Suffer The Children)


“Hey, you kids, you shouldn’t be crossing the intersection against the traffic like that. You need to be more careful.”

The driver’s voice pulls me out of my magazine. We’re at the corner of Lomas and Eubank, and four kids have just boarded the bus. They look to be within range of junior high.

They’re in high spirits. They’re on spring break, and they’re also enjoying the first, long-awaited, glorious days of spring. They’re in shorts and T-shirts and tank tops. The lead kid is the biggest, though not the tallest, of the four. He’s got a blue T-shirt with the sleeves cut off and “Monzano Wrestling” written across the front. The last kid is the smallest. He’s carrying a skateboard.

They move boisterously down the aisle. The kid in the lead pauses by my seat, looks me in the eye, and asks in a theatrical voice, “And how are you doing?” Then he pats me on the shoulder and moves on to the back of the bus. The second kid says “Hi,” working much harder to be comfortable with what he’s doing than the first kid, and he also pats me on the shoulder and moves on. The third kid doesn’t say anything. He pauses, looks toward the back of the bus, then touches my shoulder and moves on. The fourth kid just goes by and grazes my shoulder and keeps his eyes fixed straight ahead.

At first, I feel irritated by this impudence. That’s quickly overtaken by wry amusement. These are kids, and this is the dinky best they can do at being obnoxious. In this day and age, I ought to feel grateful.

I hear them carrying on in the back. Kids’ voices. And suddenly, I am transported back to grade school in 1958. I know all four of these kids by name, first and last. And now, half a century later, here they are once again, riding my homeward bound bus. Imagine that!

Pretty soon, the F-word pokes out of the vocal roughhousing, followed by a second and third variation on the original. You can just hear the newness of it in their mouths, the weighing of each variation, each placement, each emphasis. As ZZ Top might say, they’re working it like a new boy would.

There is also the bus. It’s a test environment complete with live adults who do not know either them or their parents. If any of the live adults are disturbed by this prepubescent workout, they’re acting remarkably blasé about it.

With one exception.

“I told you kids last time if you didn’t behave yourselves, I was gonna put you off my bus. I want you all off at the next stop.”

In the back, subdued voices, at least one expressing real regret. “See what you’ve done?”

The bus crosses the intersection and pulls over to the stop just past Eubank.

“C’mon, kids, off the bus.”

“Can we have another chance?”

I am overwhelmed by the innocence here. It really could be half a century ago.

“I warned you last time. C’mon, now, off the bus.”

The kid with the skateboard moves to the door, but he pauses when he realizes no one is behind him. He looks back, his face a mixture of frustration and pleading. He starts back to the back, then stops.

“All four of you,” from the driver.

“C’mon, let’s go.” Almost a whisper.

The skateboard kid turns back to the door and pushes it open. He looks back, and stops with the door pushed open. Another kid comes to the door, and they both step off the bus.

“You kids need to get off the bus right now,” calls out the driver.

The third kid heads to the door, turns around and calls back, “C’mon.” The kid in the blue sleeveless T-shirt moves reluctantly to the door. He looks sullen. Then with a bang of the doors, they’re both outside. All four of them are milling around outside on the sidewalk and looking lost.

The bus pulls away from the stop.

“Sorry about that, folks,” calls out the driver.

If any of the live adults are happy about the intervention, they’re acting remarkably blasé about it.

__________

My wife suggested I explain to you, as I did to her, that I took the photo at the top of this story one morning on my ride into work. I’d never seen this particular bus poster before, and I was intrigued by the thought that someone believed it might make a difference. I took the photo with the premonition it would be perfect for some future bus story. The story occurred that afternoon on my way home.

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