Monday, March 30, 2009

The Bus Driver Always Honks Twice

Should you have been a fortunate passenger of Bus #1 during my 1982-83 school year, this smudge of divine intervention would’ve placed you squarely under the aura of the “Old Guy,” our occasional captain of the yellow submarine. In retrospect, he probably rated somewhere near middle age, but through the eyes of a bewildered second grader toting a Heathcliff lunchbox, he was practically Old Man Winter: eternally grateful for the geriatric luxuries of waking up each morning, enjoying a commanding control of his bladder, and breathing without an iron lung ventilator strapped crassly to his back. In those formidable years, the spectre of a strung-out Vietnam veteran assaulting traffic as if reliving the Tet Offensive was enough to send this writer to his own minefield of early education flashbacks. Cornering the market on mesh baseball caps, our senseless leader was forever clad in an interchangeable surplus of brown checkered flannels; gnarled locks cascading over his shoulders like a rock and roll Jesus. Marry that consignment wardrobe to a pair of tinted shades – the kind that darken in sunlight and remain the definitive fashion plate of child molesters and meth addicts – and you have the makings of an elementary school conquistador (or a PTA nightmare, dependent on perspective).

This cat was an easy rider with a jones for the hash pipe; still damaged from America’s then-shameful ingratitude toward servicemen, and thrust into the niggling trifecta of double-digit inflation, oil embargos, and economic stagnancy. But inner demons were surmounted and income finally secured, exploiting every trick in the bag of a freedom rocking army discharge with the grandeur of Waingro
from DeNiro’s ‘Heat’ crew. In the end, his worthy triumphs on home soil outshined any battlefield misfires. He became a substitute school bus driver, rising like a phoenix from the sullied ashes of war to (occasionally) command a squadron of snot-nosed, immature rugrats.

Whether by skyward Batman signal or clandestine phone message, the calling of the Old Guy into service was a treat. On a positive note, it kept him away from the racetrack, and quashed the gloom of entire days spent shirtlessly grooving to Crosby, Stills & Nash, burnt to a crisp. Whispers of his appearance spread virally through hallways and classrooms, excitement mounting in preparation for some Second Coming-type epiphany, especially should an astute set of ears learn of the regular driver’s upcoming vacation.

When assuming the position of transportation royalty, our substitute hero blared “Eye of the Tiger” at glass shattering decibels from atop his throne. Ghetto blaster in tow, its unsteady lean was always one pothole away from torpedoing down the aisle and lodging itself in the head of the trailing car’s driver. Without compromise, the Old Guy cranked this nugget of 1980’s gold through crackling, paper cone speakers on every ride. Morning and afternoon. Rewound and replayed. Pumping his fist in time with each rousing drum crash like our very own version of The Simpsons’ Otto Mann
. And so began the lunacy of careening through busy intersections while untethered to our seats in the most anarchic environment this side of a sandbox brawl; a cacophony of pre-pubescent adrenaline, screaming about the “thrill of the fight” and “rising to the challenge of our rivals” like a hyperactive (and painfully awful) glee-club tour group. This was four-wheeled pandemonium compounded by the carnival barking of “Do you wanna hear it louder!” which punctuated the enclosed chaos like an A-bomb explosion. In second grade, things would never get better than this. Other than extra recess and Santa Claus, life was all downhill.

Did I mention that this was the Alvin & The Chipmunks version of the ‘Rocky III’ classic? Because I think that bears noting. Did I also mention that no student ever heard the rest of the tape, since at the song’s conclusion, Waingro would slam his fungal ridden thumb defiantly against the stop button? It’s possible that the remaining 25 minutes was intentionally left blank to encourage repeated listening – the type admired by air guitar shredding catatonics – because our faithful chauffeur enjoyed the high speed squeal of three rodents covering a glam rock anthem, envisioning their buck-toothed likenesses scampering up the stairs of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. It’s also possible that the ensuing space contained our driver’s own symphony with an escort, recorded in the shadows of a VFW sock hop or, dare I say, in that very bus while parked inconspicuously along a shaded lane. Perhaps across the street from your house while mom lovingly tended her garden some few yards away. As the old saying goes, when the bus is a-rockin’, etc. etc.

Old Guy, it’s been over 25 years since I’ve enjoyed your vibes. Assuming you’re still out there, rotting to the core in some understaffed VA hospital while bribing nurses to increase the morphine dosage, be aware that no one steered that bus with more cocksure swagger. No one jerked that door crank with more assured machismo. No one clutched that boombox with more calculated ruggedness, delivering well beyond the expectations of a grade schooler’s world which stretched, pitifully, from home to Main Street. But within that small window of early adolescence, between diapers and braces, when running with scissors was the most dangerous thing in our sheltered suburban lives and breaking the speed of sound lay miles past our infantile aspirations, you rocked harder than anything else.

Dude, you were a fucking flamethrower.


growingupartists said...

You lived in the suburbs too?

MVD said...

Correct. My pliable mind was filled with all sorts of suburban detritus from the 1970’s through 1980s.

To paraphrase that well-known e-mail chain: I rode bikes without a helmet, played in neighborhoods without an immediate means of being contacted, fell out of trees without the threat of a lawsuit, ran through my house without padding around every piece of goddamn furniture, shot plastic guns without feeling the need to blast someone's face with a real one, watched violent cartoons while understanding fantasy from reality, and had parents that sided with teachers during disciplinary spats.

Imagine that. Life on Mars.

Veronica Warning said...

Another awesome story. Your writing amazes me. Keep'em coming.

MVD said...

Hey Veronica - If you happen to run into my seventh grade english teacher, can you please relay your comment? I don't think he'd believe you.

Ironically, I was thinking of changing this forum, opting to splatter my pages with all sorts of inspirational poetry and existential nonsense.

But since you asked nicely, maybe I'll keep it status quo. Thanks for peering into the hole in my head.

Chris said...

Great job, EB. Of course, this story reminds me of my elementary school bus driver who we affectionately called "Scabby" due to a large rectangular never-healing wound/scab on the back of his bald head that was vaguely reminiscent of a slice of cafeteria pizza.

Just when you think you've suppressed a memory beyond all chance of recall, something jogs it loose. Thanks so much.

Blunt Delivery said...

hopefully he's in a home keeping my Rickety Old Lady company. but if he is, hopefully they are in a maximum security nursing home, cus those places are battlefields these days

MVD said...

Oh believe me, I've ducked and weaved my way through nursing homes as a young tot, and it was never pleasant.

As for the Rickety Old Lady, you might want to think about returning her '64 monstrosity. She may wish to be interred in its back seat.

Matt shea said...

What is it with the workers of the Western world's school system of 70s and 80s (and probably the 90s and 00s also)? Were they all completely bonkers?

A good friend of mine was once attacked by a nun with less than perfect vision for having a dirty chin - he had stitches after falling off his trike. Funnily enough (I say 'funnily' very much with his magnanimous permission) he still has the scar on his chin from the fall, and also the scar on his leg from the ruler.

I wish our crazies were cool like yours, with war stories to boot!

Oh - off topic - Mike, I did get your kind comment on Blu last week but somehow managed to delete it when I modified the post with a picture. Cool stuff init?!

Suldog said...

This is my first read of your stuff. Love the style. I'm now off to see if the rest of it can possibly match this. If so, I'll be back, a lot.

MVD said...

Thanks for pulling up a seat, Suldog. So long as you don't mind cigarettes, politically incorrect debate, and occasional b.o., you'll ease right in.

Of course, I'm going to have to ask you to remove that Red Sox cap.

Suldog said...

Well, so long as I can smoke, I'll take off the cap.

Pam said...

Somwhere between 1st and 3rd grade I would be serenaded by my busdriver's boombox with "Angel is the Centerfold" and "White Lines".

MVD said...

Hey Pam - Was it the Grandmaster Flash version of "White Lines," or did David Seville force his chipmunks into covering old school hip-hop as well?

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