Riding in Busses with Friends
Memories of the big yellow - or white and blue - busses

School busses are interesting things. Back in high school it was the whole politics of how far back you sat and with whom, or if you rode at all or drove instead. The fire drills and driver's radio and lack of seat belts and all. Then just when you think they're behind you, they pop up yet again.

My first run-in with a school bus out of high school was probably the one that took us from the Dallas/Ft. Worth airport to Teen Mania's base a couple hours away in Garden Valley, Texas. But a couple of hours on a school bus with people you've just met isn't really anything. You make a couple of friends, take a nap, and you're there.

Read school bus rides last more than ten hours. Those are the rides that stay with you, that make a permanent impact on your life. There were at least two of those during my year with Teen Mania, to Colorado and to Michigan. These are my memories.

The ride to Colorado, coming after we'd been together for just a month, was a novelty, fun and exciting. I was in a bus with the high-backed seats. That is an important distinction for tall people like me. I can't lean my head on anything in busses with short-backed seats, which means I can't sleep. But this was the good kind of bus. There was still no leg room - my knees were touching the seat in front of me constantly - but if you were willing to give up the stability of the window, you could have an aisle seat and stretch at least one leg during the day. Your head would slide around on the seat, of course, but if you had a good seat-mate, you could lean on her.

The aisle wasn't so handy for leg-stretching at night, because people would lay in it to sleep. That way a short person could lie down on the seat while the seat-mate got the hot vibrations of the floor. Neither choice was ideal, but both were better than sitting upright.

During the daylight hours, we enjoyed the freedom from the usual cheesewagon rules by finding as many new and potentially comfortable positions as we could. We would sit on the back of our seats or the seats of those in front of us, stradle two seats or two seat backs, whatever we thought might put our muscles in a convenient position or help us face the people with whom we were talking. We played word games and got to know each other much better. I started a letter to a friend who used to live in Amarillo as we drove through.

The most fun thing to do on a bus at night is to take mystery photos. They are mysterious for two reasons: few people can tell who took them, and you don't know what they will look like. You have to be sitting near the front for it to work. Hold the camera over our head at whatever feels like the right altitude and angle to get a shot of everyone behind you, but don't look. Then just snap a flash photo. It wakes everone up, but by the time they can see again, your hands are down and the camera is out of sight. When the film is developed, you get a funny and unexpected photo to enjoy and embarass your friends with.

One of the rules on Teen Mania bus trips is that drivers must have had 8 hours of sleep in the last 24. On the trip to Michigan, that meant that we had 2 drivers who took turns. The bus was all girls, but one of the drivers was a guy. It was quite a compliment when we got back and he told us that we had managed not to develop the usual "bus funk" smell. It was also handy in case anything went wrong, since he worked with the vehicles on campus. Thankfully nothing did on that trip, but it was not unknown for a bus to have technical difficulties from time to time.

I discovered on the way to and from Michigan that Arkansas has the worst roads in the country, or at least the highway we were on was the worst. The bus vibrated so hard I could neither write, read, or sleep. Good thing it was only one state.