Monday, May 9, 2011

Nurse the Hate: Hate the Bus Driver

Each year at this time the frequency of mailbox destruction and lawn turfing in my neighborhood goes up substantially. Having been a bit of a young punk myself, I have accepted these small acts of vandalism visited upon me as contrition for past sins. How can you blame these little ruffians? I remember a time when Summer Vacation stood out in front of you as a never ending blank canvas. At last you would be delivered from the hell that is public secondary education, and have three months of nothing but possibility in front of you. It was summer. Anything could happen. Anything. That was when three months seemed like 2 years. When you were on summer vacation in 5th grade in June, it seemed incomprehensible that August would even happen. Friday seemed like it was never going to get here, so why would 6th grade? The joy at being so close to that freedom always led us, as boys, to destroy things as a way to pay homage to the excitement within.

It was in 5th grade when on our last day of school, we decided to egg the bus that dropped off the kids from the snotty Catholic school about 20 minutes after us each day. That bus driver was a guy that was always in a bad mood, and had yelled at us about fifty times over the course of the year for such sins as standing too close to the road, throwing a nerf football too close to the bus, and looking at him cross eyed. In retrospect, the disheveled bus driver was either a raging alcoholic or dangerously unhinged Vietnam vet. Being violent and having a short fuse is probably a bad combination as an elementary school bus driver. Yes, the kids probably stay in line, but if you are on edge all the time, driving fifty jacked up kids around town while stopping every fifteen feet can't be the best environment. I'm thinking night security guard or clerical work in a library would be a better match, but this comes from the clarity of afterthought.

My neighborhood consisted of the same kind of kids yours probably did. Myself and another guy were the ringleaders. Two other kids were followers through and through, nervously agreeing to whatever half baked plans we had conjured up. These two guys are probably middle managers in some shitty corporation nodding their heads and saying "yes" right now to whatever stupid plan that has recently been devised at Corporate HQ. Filling out the group were two other kids, two years younger and regarded as lesser beings due to their lack of seniority. If this was the military, we would send them in first to a dangerous situation, and refer to them as "collateral damage" when things went bad. They had no say in anything, and were expected to blindly follow orders, which they always did.

The plan to egg the bus was discussed at length the day before, and sketched out like a commando raid. We had recently watched all the war movies of the time like "Kelly's Heroes" and "Guns of Navarone", and understood basic platoon strategy like fields of fire and flanking. We picked our ambush spot carefully. We knew that we had to stay a great distance from our own houses to throw The Authorities off the trail when this operation blew up. In reality, this location turned out to be three houses away from the area we all hung out, but in 5th grade that seemed like a pretty far distance. The spot we chose was where the bus made a stop and let out a girl we all hated (for reasons that remain unclear to me now as they did then). Directly across the street from the stop was a lot that was a new home construction site, with giant mounds of dirt to provide cover. On the driver's side was a house with a perfectly placed playhouse near the road, where one particularly brave soul would launch the first shot. If the bus stopped where it usually did, we would be able to place the bus in a crossfire of eggs and water balloons.

Our final day of public school was a half day, while the Catholic School finished two days after us. Their bus would be on time and heading straight into the biggest ambush any of us had ever dreamed of. The combination of glee on the Last Day of School and fear about our mission made time a fluid thing. We would go though with our plan for certain. The die had been cast. There was no turning back, no backing out. It was bigger than us now. We went home with sweaty palms and nervous energy, each of us responsible for bringing various supplies to the rally point at the construction site. I remember the day was warm, and my mother not asking why I had a hooded sweatshirt with giant pockets on. Had she checked the refrigerator, she certainly would have noticed a dozen eggs missing as well. My mother was many things, but observant was not one of them.

We gathered by the vacant lot and waited for the bus. We were all giddy, with no responsibilities, on the first moments of summer vacation. We were sky high on adrenalin. We went over the plan again and again. Robert, one of the younger kids, would be the first shot. He would emerge from the cover of the playhouse, and toss a water balloon into the open driver's window. Our thinking was that the driver would be so enraged, he would open the bus door as he had so many times that school year to chase Robert, and leave the bus a sitting duck. The rest of us would pound eggs and water balloons into the bus and its open passenger windows, pelting the snotty kids inside. We must have had three dozen eggs and a half dozen water balloons. After using our ammo, we would disappear into the brush and make our way to the rally point at the railroad tracks, gone like ghosts.

When we saw the bus approach, I called out for everyone to take their positions. We all hid down into our cover, breath coming in short fast puffs. It's funny to think about now, as we obviously could have just stood there and waited for the bus and nailed it, but when you are a kid, you assume it is totally obvious you have a devious little scheme afoot. I remember looking to my right and seeing one of the follower kids getting ready to lose it. With his face pressed into the dirt mound, he was acting like an extra in All Quiet On The Western Front, trying to gather his courage to go over the trench into No Man's Land in WWI France. "Wait... wait... wait..."

The bus stopped, and Robert made a throw as good as Joe Montana, his water balloon effortlessly gliding through the open driver's window and soaking the driver. The bus driver dude was super pissed about it too, as he let loose with a stream of profanity that included words I didn't know the meaning of yet. The school kids in the bus started to yell, as this was maybe the most exciting thing to happen on a drive home since that aforementioned nerf football controversy a few months back. The driver opened the bus door, and stomped out into the street. He was about halfway out of the bus when my buddy yelled "Fire!" and we all popped up from our hiding places. It took a few seconds for the driver to realize this wasn't just a lone gunman, but rather a well coordinated guerrilla attack of shocking ferocity.

I remember time slowing down as I rifled egg after egg into the side of the bus and into the windows. There is one image that has always stuck with me, of a girl who had her head hanging out the window screaming. I placed an egg right on the corner of the window frame by her head, and the contents of the egg sprayed her across the face while she continued to scream out in shock. Her face was shiny with egg and her mouth formed a perfect "O".

All of us performed with valor that day, executing our mission flawlessly, until Bruce went completely rogue to my right flank. Out of nowhere, he abandoned cover and ran towards the stunned bus driver. At point blank range he hit the driver with two eggs, one after the other. Out of ammo, he fell back with the rest of us into the brush, leaving the high pitched screams of the kids behind. Moments later we heard the bus lurch into motion, the gears changing aggressively, the clutch on the old bus complaining angrily. Then it was gone...

We waited a moment and worked back to the street. We had done it! Damn it, we had really done it! All of us were screaming at each other, recapping what had just happened, telling our individual battle stories. There isn't a much bigger high for a 12 year old. Here it was, literally the first hours of vacation, and we had already done something legendary. It was probably because we were all talking so excitedly that we didn't notice the obvious high pitched revving of an old empty school bus feverishly barrelling into our neighborhood. Yes, the bus driver was back and he was pissed.

We retreated into the woods like panicked schoolboys, probably because we were in fact, panicked schoolboys. The bus driver stopped, and got out of the bus screaming about how he "knew where all of us little motherfuckers lived and he was going to get every last one of us if it was the last thing he ever did". I believed him. I still do. That guy was crazy. We hid down in the brush like rabbits, shaking with fear. Eventually he drove off, grinding the gears in protest. The Follower kids started to freak, sure their parents would be alerted somehow, and started making waffling rhetoric about giving up the rest of us if they were called in for questioning. We tried to talk them down, and am fairly sure made some threats of physical violence if they "went rat". For some reason the driver never followed up, and we got away with it. It was an amazing day.

You don't get to feel that way as an adult very often. I've felt something close for only fleeting moments, just long enough to stir a memory of what used to be possible in simpler times. I don't know if I ever really felt that combination of excitement, joy, and freedom quite the same way again as I did that afternoon. Maybe one day I will recapture it.


At May 11, 2011 at 1:34:00 PM EDT , Blogger Cannon said...

I can practicaly see the video for this story; kids with 70s haircuts,a montage of the planning stages and recon work,the unsuspecting victims calmly boarding the bus to their doom,the moments of tension before pulling the trigger,the barrage,the meyhem,the carnage,and then...the glory. All in golden orange hues that suggest a magical summer afternoon. Now,if we just had a song...


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