Al Batt: Taking a trip on a bus with a cautionary tale

Published 10:08 pm Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Tales from Exit 22 by Al Batt


I bounced high and landed hard.

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The bus found it impossible to miss every pothole.

I was leading a bus trip. A busload of people intent on gazing and grazing. The driver was from Minnesota, but nearly from North Dakota. A nice combination for a bus driver. What do you call a group of bus drivers? A drove.

I’ve experience with buses. I was on a bus unable to climb a hill in North Dakota. The passengers got out and pushed. That bus came with its own exercise program. One bus hit a tree in Michigan. It wasn’t an air freshener that looked like a tiny tree, it was a large tree that had jumped in front of the bus. I was in a bus that went into a ditch in northern Minnesota on a -33° day. That was the ambient temperature without windchill. That happened right after the driver had told me she’d been driving buses for over 40 years without a single blemish on her record. A John Deere tractor pulled it from its predicament. I was in a bus on a scalding hot day in southern Texas when the vehicle experienced a series of electrical difficulties. The loss of air conditioning turned the bus into an oven. A woman had a thermometer in her purse and kept the sweaty passengers informed of the increasing degrees in both Fahrenheit and Celsius. People were highly motivated to get off that bus. I was a leader on a bus that became stuck in Fairbanks, Alaska, and one that had its transmission bite the dust in the Wabasha parking lot of Slippery’s, made famous by the movies “Grumpy Old Men” and “Grumpier Old Men.” One bus had a broken gear shift and another had a large hole in the floor that vacuumed up road dust. I’ve been on lost buses, but an equal number were found.

I’ve likely forgotten a few bus misadventures. Norman Wisdom said, “As you get older three things happen. The first is your memory goes and I can’t remember the other two.”

I’ve no conspiracy theories about the bus mishaps. There’s no point.

Buses have taken me places I’d dreamed of visiting and places I never dreamed of visiting. They’ve graced me with many friendships and have taught me there are two kinds of people: those who enjoy being on time and those who don’t.

The school bus was a metronome of my youth. It seated 55, one comfortably.

It was an ice day. The bus moved like an octopus on rollerskates. A fellow student, Harold, who sounded a bit like Cliff Claven and was nearly as pedantic as the postman on “Cheers,” sat next to me. He informed me that from that moment forward, he wished to be addressed as Eugene. Eugene wasn’t any part of his birth certificate, he just liked the name. I think he lives in Eugene, Oregon now.

I tried to care about Harold/Eugene, but I was too busy wondering what we were doing going to school on a snow day. Rumor was that Mr. Norswing, the school’s superintendent, would declare a snow day only if blowing snow prevented him from seeing his wife across the breakfast table.

In the back of the bus was a group of senior high boys who were riding the bus only because of a stupid state law wherein they lost their driver’s licenses if the number of traffic violations they’d received in 12 months was more than double their grade point averages. They were a surly bunch, as ornery as Yosemite Sam with a toothache. One of them may have been cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs.

It was a white world thanks to a snowstorm. Satchel Paige, a Hall of Fame baseball pitcher, said, “Don’t look back. Something might be gaining on you.” Following that advice, the bus driver asked the backseat boys to keep an eye on the ditch so he didn’t back into it as he reversed out of a farm driveway.

The only one who thought asking those jokers for help was a good idea was our driver. They encouraged him to back up until the vehicle had gone into the ditch. It was pulled out by another John Deere tractor.

We were late getting to school, arriving just in time to get back onto the bus as school had been canceled due to bad weather.

I’ve ridden countless buses since that day.

The secret is to pack light, wear comfortable shoes and accept help, but look for yourself.

Al Batt’s columns appear every Wednesday and Saturday.