When did the wheels start coming off the bus?

Published 2:15 pm Monday, December 20, 2021

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Those of us in my generation look at what’s happening today and ask ourselves at what point did the wheels that went round and round on the bus start to wobble.

I was reminded of that when chatting this week with a member of a younger generation with kids who only recently allowed their children to ride the school bus. The parents had heard of bullying incidents on the school bus and didn’t want their kids subjected to it, so they drove them back and forth.

This isn’t a local friend, but if it’s happening there it’s probably happening here. Back in the day, riding the school bus was almost always fun.

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Our farm was located 17 miles from the schools. The bus ride lasted about 45 minutes. During that time, I was a quiet observer of students on the bus, parents at some bus stops waiting to put their small children on board, farmers getting their tractors ready to hit the fields, Mr. Wood pumping gas at the little country store and how Mr. Higgenbotham’s cows had gotten off their farm and into the neighbor’s fields. Again.

I looked at everything, even paying close attention to Mr. Hinkley, the bus driver who also was our FFA instructor. He was as precise in his driving as he was teaching us to make a sharp 45-degree angle cut with a hand saw, a skill I struggled with like a mule on ice. But, I could drive, and I actually became a school bus driver my senior year.

That was challenging. I only had to deal with one serious misbehavior on the bus that year. I pulled the bus off the graveled road and called the miscreant, a devilish boy who kept making Little Miss Muffet cry, to the front. In the sternest voice I could muster, I told him he had a choice to make. He could either behave for the rest of his bus-riding days, or he could get off the bus and walk the five miles to his home. And explain to his parents.

There was a collective gasp from the back of the bus where his friends who had egged him on realized that I would do it and their friend would probably have the seat of his pants set on fire by his mama when he finally made it home.

He nodded his head and walked back to his seat, and in the bus driver mirror that seemed the size of a kitchen table I could see his mates looking as if they had seen a ghost.

Before I pulled back onto the road, I announced that I would not be making my regular stop at the little country store so the kids could go inside to buy candy.

Daggers flew from the eyes of my passengers at the little cabal of outlaw boys, and a smile the size of a lemon drop came to Little Miss Muffet’s face.

The rest of the school year my little bus merrily bumped its way along the country roads without incident. We soon resumed making our daily stops for candy, where Mr. Levy, the store owner, kept his “free candy” basket full for those kids who “forgot” their money.

That could never happen today. In too many places, the parents would let loose a torrent of venom at the principal and the bus driver, show up at the school board meeting screaming and possibly punch anyone who defended the driver’s actions.

Today the school bus is loaded with discord, disconnect, entitlement, anger, and hate. When will we put them off?


Larry McDermott is a local retired farmer/journalist. Reach him at hardscrabblehollow@gmail.com