There are many not-so-subtle reminders how much things have changed since my misspent youth. For instance, hanging out at the mall so I could go to Spencer’s or watch our school’s famed break-dancing group E-lec-tric-i-ty spin on flattened-out cardboard boxes occupied much of my weekend time.
Conversely, the last time my teenaged son went to the mall — to actually purchase something — he came back with a tale of watching a cop wrestle a guy and a gun discharging around a group of people. Bring back the popping and locking!
Movies were also a huge part of my teenaged life, but my kids have all the movies they could ever want right at home. No $20 buckets of popcorn for them.
Then there’s the school bus. None of my kids has ever ridden ye olde Cheese Wagon, which I fear may ruin them as adults. It’s such an important gateway into the world of public transportation. Where else would you learn about crowding into seats with sweaty people you don’t want to touch?
What got me thinking about this was Gov. Kay Ivey’s announcement the other day that her office has awarded $48 million to the Department of Education to fund various “measures aimed at counteracting the effects the coronavirus pandemic will have on the upcoming school year.” There are millions for remote learning, additional academic help, and before and after school care, which is what you’d expect. But, there’s also $10 million set aside for equipping school buses with Wi-Fi. This is to “increase internet connectivity and help bridge the digital divide.”
Apparently this will mean buses can be used as internet hotspots in communities that don’t have quality access. So, if distance learning is required, kids can apparently gather within a certain distance of the bus and — boom! — internet happens. Who would ever have imagined the school bus actually helping learning?
Having not ridden a school bus in 37 years, my memory of that experience may be a bit hazy, but I don’t believe I ever accomplished anything related to actual education anywhere near the bus. Of course, we didn’t have the internet. Or phones. (It would have been cool to have rotary phones in each seat, but the wiring issues would have severely limited the bus route.)
It’s hard to wrap my head around the concept of school buses as learning centers “bridging the digital divide.” I’m not knocking the concept. And certainly the drivers would absolutely love it if the kids could maybe quietly type away on schoolwork during trips as well. Just a thought.
In olden times we could have used some distractions. My bus driver, Miss Betty, frequently had to pull to the side of the road and physically walk to the back in order to break up fights or stop someone from throwing things. The back of the bus was where the action was, and if you decided to sit back there, or were forced to due to overcrowding at the front of the bus, the ride was a wild experience.
After the planned upgrades, modern bus drivers might simply be able to turn off an unruly passenger’s wireless as punishment, but back in the day there were no easy answers. The bus driver was left trying to drive along twisting, turning roads in a massive vehicle full of other people’s children while also looking into that huge rear-view mirror to see if someone was being beaten or harassed.
It’s sort of a steroided-up version of what most parents deal with when two or more kids are riding in the back seat, except on the bus the kids are 35 feet away. The blind, backhanded swat is of zero use.
My high school bus experience wasn’t a great introduction to a new school. As fate would have it, I was the second to last stop on the morning route. That meant the front and the middle seats were filled and my only options were to stand at the front of the bus holding onto a padded pole (life was cheaper in the ’80s) or to sit in the back where the bad kids had spread out one to a seat.
Somehow the hot girl who was the last person on the route always managed to get a seat up front that wasn’t available to me, which seemed very unfair. But I digress.
After a couple of weeks standing on the way to school, I finally sucked it up and walked to the back and asked one of the resident senior badasses to move over. Surprisingly he didn’t beat me up. And I spent the rest of the year sitting in the back with the troublemakers. Miss Betty never looked at me the same again.
Things were a lot less unruly in the mornings, because everyone was still half asleep. In the afternoons, though, I damn sure got on the bus early enough to get a seat up front because the back was going to be sheer insanity. Miss Betty was totally frazzled shortly into the ride and was constantly having to yell over the din to tell someone to sit down.
These were the days before a team of geniuses invented seat belts for school buses. Back then it was still considered a good idea for 70 kids to ride unrestrained on a bus. The high, quasi-cushioned seats were there to protect us. But this meant kids were always jumping around and changing seats.
I do remember one day when Miss Betty actually turned the bus around and took us all back to school. Short of driving off the Pascagoula River drawbridge nothing could have been worse than being dragged back to school so the assistant principal could yell at Bobby Lowe for acting like a lunatic on the bus. We all had to sit and wait for what seemed like hours, then the ride started all over.
When Bobby was dropped off, he stood in the middle of Graveline Road behind the bus and flipped Miss Betty off with both hands. A double bird. It’s a wonder Miss Betty didn’t have a drinking problem. Maybe things would have been different with Wi-Fi.
I’m not sure I learned as much on the bus as today’s kids will from the bus, but I am certain riding the Cheese Wagon provided me with the work ethic and drive it took to buy my first car so I would no longer have to be part of that insanity.
It’s good that today’s buses are an extension of the learning environment, and who knows, maybe wired buses will help our beleaguered education system move up to 49th in the country. But I’d still encourage any kids out there reading this to steer clear of the back of the bus.
This page is available to subscribers. Click here to sign in or get access.
It looks like you are opening this page from the Facebook App. This article needs to be opened in the browser.
iOS: Tap the three dots in the top right, then tap on "Open in Safari".
Android: Tap the Settings icon (it looks like three horizontal lines), then tap App Settings, then toggle the "Open links externally" setting to On (it should turn from gray to blue).