Adventures in bus driving
By Brian Doyle
Summer being upon us finally, after an epic winter in which a friend of mine lost his car for a while and discovered it only after the last snowbank melted, I am reminded of the summer job I had during college, which was driving a bus filled with small shrieking children to a day camp and back. During the day I was nominally a basketball counselor, an adventure I have written about at elephantine length, but in the morning and late in the afternoon I was Mister Brian, The Bus Driver. Those silent hours in the morning come back to me now, me with my tall coffee teetering beside me, and the mostly sleeping passengers lurching from side to side in their seats, and the occasional lunch falling to the incredible dirty floor of the bus and sliding all the way down to me; and the boy named Malcolm who always sat in the passenger seat next to me because he wanted to be a pilot so he was studying navigation theory in general, and the way the bus sighed to a creaking halt at each of our seven stops; and the murmurs of awakening children as I swung into the front gate of the camp, and the way the buses lined up like bright birds to disgorge their brightly colored passengers, and the way after about a week I knew all my kids and knew who would be late and who would be first back to the bus; and the way the kids silently took the same seats every morning and afternoon, looking puzzled when someone accidentally took the wrong seat; and the way the bigger kids sat in the back and made lewd and vulgar remarks and the little kids sat up front; and the way the girls on my bus liked my ponytail and one afternoon asked if they could braid it,which I let them do, to their chittering delight; and the way at the end of the summer on our last day all of the children shyly shook my hand and said, Thank you, Mister Brian, and two or three parents slipped me envelopes with tips, and two children wrote me notes which I still save as holy scripture, and one sweet girl cried when she left the bus; and the incredible rattling of the ancient rusted shivering bus itself, which appeared to be hanging together mostly by willpower and gum, and had clearly never had its wheels aligned in this lifetime.
But most of all, I remember the afternoon when I let my passengers moon other cars on the highway for no reason other than sheer high hilarity. Seven children on one side and six on the other hoisted themselves up on their seats, as we were crawling along at 10 miles an hour at rush hour, and applied their tiny moons to the windows, and we laughed ourselves silly, and several motorists honked in celebration (I think), and one motorist was shocked and offended and wrote to the director of the camp, and now that I am much older, I suppose it was a foolish and dangerous thing to let them do, and I would never condone such a thing, and who in heaven’s name would not only allow but encourage 13 children to stand on their seats in a moving bus? But man, it was funny then, and we laughed ourselves silly, and I am laughing again now at the memory of all those tiny full moons late one afternoon on a crowded highway in the great State of New York.
Sometimes when I am remembering this, I imagine a weary driver near us, after a long day at work, and he’s resigned to the traffic, and idly listening to the Mets on the radio, and our bus sidles up alongside, say at a stoplight, and maybe it’s the dull burnt-orange color of the bus that catches his eye, and he turns and looks up, and sees seven tiny moons staring at him, and there’s an instant of astonishment, and then he laughs so hard his cheeks and stomach are sore for a while. I like this image very much, and it seems to me that it’s not impossible that we did actually make someone as happy as they had been maybe for a while. This is a pleasant thought, and I believe I will take cheerful refuge in it for the rest of the day.
Brian Doyle is the editor of Portland magazine and the author of numerous books, most recently the novel The Plover.