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Riding The Short Bus

By Kent Lewis

If you’re a regular Anvil reader, you probably already know how important education is to me. This month, we’re hosting the Third Annual Get SMART Gala in Portland, Oregon to raise awareness for children’s literacy. Beyond book learning, there are many reasons to go to school: to develop organizational skills, discipline, perspective, independence, networking and socialization. Let us not forget, however, that getting there can be half the fun.

My entire pre-college educational experience involved bussing, thanks to Seattle’s desegregated school system. Starting in first grade, I began my twelve year career of standing at bus stops in all weather conditions, begging my parents to take me to school when I missed the bus, and stopping into the corner store to spend my spare change on Lemonheads and Hot Tamales. Over the years, I experienced a variety of drivers, students and adventures.

My first bus experience was a converted van, known to transportation industry luminaries as “The Short Bus.” Luckily, there was no stigma associated with bus size back in first grade. Witty bus banter at that age consisted of boogers, farts and how gross girls were. We spent most of the bus ride crawling over, under and around the bench seats. Should we have ever gotten into an accident, I would have undoubtedly been thrown clear.

The bus experience wasn’t particularly interesting or fun until fourth grade, when Peter pulled up to my bus stop on the first day of school. Over the remainder of the school year, our bus driver entertained us with music, costumes and generally goofy behavior. He truly enjoyed his job and it made the 40 minute trip (each way) fun. The last day of school, he pulled over the bus as we drove through the Arboretum and handed out milk & cookies. If everyone loved their job as much as he did, this world would be a better place.

In middle school, the stakes were raised. While my route was much shorter, maybe 20 minutes each way, the level of conversation elevated to important topics like boogers, farts & how evil girls were. Nathan Eckstein Middle School was in a nice neighborhood, but there were plenty of thugs along the route home. One day, two truant boys tossed rocks at our bus, broke a window and sent shards of glass into a girl’s eye. When the cops arrived, I volunteered to take them to the house I saw the boys slip into after fleeing the scene. My only ride in the back of a police cruiser was a surprisingly fun experience.

By high school, I was a veteran of the Seattle Public Schools bussing program. A handful of my best friends were on my bus, so we spent a majority of our time talking about girls (and sometimes boogers and farts). A sea-change occurred in my school transportation strategies when I turned 16, however. While my parents didn’t let me have a car until college, I was able to borrow one a few times a week and my friends all drove as well. Far too many accidents were narrowly avoided by luck or divine intervention as racing to and from school became a blood sport.

Moving up to Bellingham, Washington for college significantly altered my life in many ways. In terms of school transportation, I downgraded from cars to foot. Living on campus meant short, but not necessarily uneventful, commutes. After Japanese class on morning while heading back to my room, I tripped on my own boots and fell flat on the concrete in front of an attractive fellow student I (thankfully) didn’t know. As she passed by smiling, I made a vow to start riding my bike to class.

Junior and senior years, I rode my bike almost every day. Unfortunately, that didn’t make me exempt from mishaps. One day while riding alongside my roommate, I caught my pedal on a plastic orange construction fence and proceeded to fall into a muddy gutter in front of a crowded walkway. As I took out my anger on a random piece of rebar, the Dean drove by and admonished me with his pointer finger, perhaps foreshadowing my future career in marketing.

The crown jewel of my scholastic transportation adventures occurred while riding home from class on a typically rainy northwest day. As I approached my apartment, I lifted my front wheel and slammed it down in order to shake off the excess rainwater. On the second attempt, I pulled up on my handlebars and my forks lifted, without the wheel. I recall looking down and seeing my bike wheel rolling away from me and watching the quickly approaching concrete. When the forks hit the ground, the sudden stop flipped me over the handlebars and I struck the sidewalk with my face. After a bystander pulled over to ask if I was okay, I vowed to walk from then on.

Other than more recent bike-related personal injuries and humiliations, I look back fondly at my many years of getting to and from school. I forged lifelong friendships, caught up on homework and sleep and managed to entertain more than a handful of people with my intentional (and unintentional) antics. Even today, I still find myself talking with friends about boogers, farts and women, but I have to do it at a bar instead of on a bus.

 

 

Riding the Short Bus
by Kent Lewis

 

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