As I pointed out in an earlier essay of mine, I have never been a bus driver. Nevertheless, I have extensive busage experience. I rode a bus back and forth to school, I am estimating, a minimum of two hours per day, five days a week, over a period of about nine years of my young life, thus accounting for who knows how many total hours (feel free to do the math).
Those long rides, day in and day out, were pretty boring, so, along with most everyone else on board, I was always on the lookout for some activity to occupy my time. In retrospect, homework or reading would have been an obvious option. But my peers and I were far more likely to be socializing on these protracted trips. At some point, though, as a young teen whose frontal lobes were still largely vacuous, it occurred to me: Why not pursue a little romance? I mean, really, what better way to get to know an attractive co-ed than to sit down next to her at dark-thirty in the morning for some idle conversation?
I remember working my charms in this manner on a young lady whom I will call Brenda. At the time I actually had a crush on her sister—Paula, I’ll call her—who was my age and had historically displayed the good sense to have nothing to do with me—I will get into that shortly.
However, I found Brenda to be inordinately shy. I prefer to assume that this was why, on only the rarest of occasions, as they say, did she even so much as acknowledge my existence as a carbon-based life form as we sat but inches apart for an entire hour. But now that I think about it, she had probably been forewarned by her sister. Anyway, allowing for a little artistic license, this is how it might have gone down on any given sunny, spring morning as the bus pulled away from the Aalf’s Road bus stop:
Plop down on the seat next to her, books on my lap, “G’mornin’.” Big smile.
“Good morning,” she says, while looking out the window. No eye contact here.
“Um, you going to the football game Friday night?”
“I’m sorry, what?” Still looking out the window.
“The football game, you know, Friday night, with Niles.”
“What about it?”
“Are you going?”
“Oh. Well, would you rather go with me to a Beatles concert in New York City this weekend? I have two tickets with first class airfare on Pan Am. Here look. We could stay at the Waldorf Astoria in lower Manhattan and consider our options. Do you like Waldorf salad?”
Which brings me to Paula. During one of my high school years virtually the entire school body went to the state basketball championship games at WMU in Kalamazoo. The Buchanan Bucks had a first-rate basketball team at the time and had made it all the way to the playoffs a couple of years in a row if my memory serves (an absurd assumption of course). The school arranged for several buses to take us to the game for something like two or three nights in a row—a ride of about an hour or so each way (tip-off at seven p.m. or thereabouts—okay, well, probably). On one particular evening, as my bus was loading for the trip home, I managed to employ the romancing skills honed from my daily bus ride to and from school to score a seat on the aisle next to Paula. And then as the bus got underway, I casually rested my arm on the back of the seat behind her, as teenage boys are inclined to do when they are trying to figure out how to hit on somebody:
“Ahem—wow, that was really fun!”
And then, she proceeded to fall asleep—with her head on my shoulder. I froze. Didn’t move for the entire trip. She was so sweet. I couldn’t bring myself to disturb her. So there I sat. My hand turned completely blue—to which I still, to this day, attribute my indecipherable handwriting.
Well, truth is, Paula and I never actually dated or anything, but my little on-and-off crush on her went all the way back to the first or second grade. In fact, I believe it was during recess or something one spring day in those early grades at Colvin School when I got the bright idea to sneak up and give her a little peck on the cheek (there’s that frontal lobe issue again). I don’t recall whether I was successful in that endeavor; I do, however, recall her slapping the living bejesus out of me for my efforts (I’m pretty sure I got a black eye from that encounter).