Hail to the Bus Driver

When I was in third grade, my school bus driver was named ‘Slice,’ and he was the coolest. His hair was blond and spiked, held in place by gravity-resistant gel. In the front seat – where not even the nerdiest of nerds dared sit – he kept a Styrofoam container filled with icepacks and cans of orange Slice soda, which he sold for twenty-five cents, instead of the usual pop machine fifty. Before school, my friends and I would each chug one down to get our morning sugar fix – our teachers and parents probably didn’t think Slice was the coolest. But best of all, he drove what might in retrospect be called dangerously fast, so we would get to school early. Instead of dropping us off, though, he would crank up KDWB and drive around the block three or four extra times, letting us climb over the seats and run up and down the center aisle, so long as we promised not to hurt ourselves. Man, he ruled. Then he moved to Alaska, which I’m pretty sure is bus driver code for getting fired.

Every year at about this time I’m reminded of Slice, because I see the big yellow buses start to make their rounds around the city. Empty of children, the drivers and supervisors go through their routes, as if practicing will make them any more adept.

What this all means, of course, is that the school year is coming up. Zooming ten years ahead of third grade, college students are beginning their treks of various lengths across the country, packing their hand-me-down cars with "carefully secured suitcases full of light and heavy clothing; with boxes of blankets, boots and shoes, stationery and books, sheets, pillows, quilts; with rolled-up rugs and sleeping bags; with bicycles, skis, rucksacks…stereo sets, radios, personal computers; small refrigerators and hairdryers and styling irons…the controlled substances, the birth control pills and devices; the junk food still in shopping bags – onion-and-garlic chips, nacho thins, peanut crème patties, Waffelos and Kabooms, fruit chews and toffee popcorn; the Dum-Dum pops, the Mystic mints." (From the first page of Don Delillo’s White Noise – a wonderfully relevant book even though I don’t know what Waffelos are.)

Something about sixty-eight degrees and sunny with a cool breeze always makes me nostalgic and weepy. Oh my gosh – good poetry also makes me nostalgic and weepy. Synergy.

I couldn’t find any good verse on mildly subversive bus drivers, so this one goes out to the college kids (somewhat ironically, as it’s more about leaving school than arriving there…sorry…suckers)…and to former English majors about to embark on their Kerouac kicks, and to anyone who has a long commute each day and finds the means to enjoy it. In fact – not to get political here – the Road Trip seems to me a very American entity, and with gas prices doing what they’re doing, one wonders how much longer it can remain a pastime. Let’s sing it some praises, shall we?

"Song of the Open Road" (part 1)
by Walt Whitman (who rules, like Slice does)

Afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road,
Healthy, free, the world before me,
The long brown path before me leading wherever I choose.

Henceforth I ask not good-fortune, I myself am good-fortune,
Henceforth I whimper no more, postpone no more, need nothing,
Done with indoor complaints, libraries, querulous criticisms,
Strong and content I travel the open road.

The earth, that is sufficient,
I do not want the constellations any nearer,
I know they are very well where they are,
I know they suffice for those who belong to them.

(Still here I carry my old delicious burdens,
I carry them, men and women, I carry them with me wherever I go,
I swear it is impossible for me to get rid of them,
I am fill’d with them, and I will fill them in return.)