Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Riding the bus -- jcarolek

When I began my formal education, it was in Cyprus, and I have no earthly idea how I got to school...I just don't recall. However, when I started school in the U.S., I was a first-grader and the school was about a three or four block hike...we traveled on foot, my sister and I. And in the next few years, we were joined by my two eldest brothers. Walking to school was the norm for us. Actually, walking everywhere was the norm. We walked to the grocery store, the movies. the library. But every day, we made the hike to school and back.

When I was 10 we moved to Cheltenham, Gloucestershire in England, and for the first year there,

we all walked to our schools, Jeannie and the two youngest boys and I went to New Court and the two eldest boys went to Dean Close. The hike was farther than our trek to our elementary school had been, but it was still not bad. I suppose, had New Court not closed its doors for good that year, I would never have had the enjoyment of riding the bus.

In 1969 I started at Charlton Park Convent for school. My sister went to Cheltenham Ladies College, the three eldest boys went to Dean Close (and still walked) and Mom escorted our baby brother to Berkhamstead (we referred to his school as "Cheltenham Babies College, being the good siblings we were!). With my new school destination, came the opportunity for me to ride the bus.

Now the bus I rode was the regular transit double decker bus so well known to the English experience. I walked a block to the bus stop in the morning and hopped on when my bus pulled up. I always preferred the upper deck, and so quickly climbed the winding stairs at the back of the bus, balancing against the forward motion of the bus as I climbed. I flopped unceremoniously into an open seat and chatted with other school children, making similar daily excursions to their schools.

My favorite part was paying my fare. I had my threepence ready to go, and the conductor was always "chatty." Every one of the conductors, male and female, knew my mom, as she was quite a "get about town" person in those days. And I always looked forward to having a certain conductor named Rita...because she ALWAYS let me ride free! That meant I had tuck money and when I got off the bus, I was holding my threepence in my pocket, prepared to dash into the little corner store and make my candy purchase. I was a huge fan of the Pear drops in those days, so that was my standard choice. Eating in our uniforms off school campus was forbidden, so, I quickly made my way to school, and popped the first drop in my mouth as I entered the cloak room.

The afternoon bus ride home was WAY more exciting, though I rarely was forgiven my bus fare. This bus ride was fun because of the challenge. My best friend, Linda, and I decided we preferred catching the bus at the boys school a few blocks away. To successfully accomplish this, we needed to be fast. We could not waste time going through inspection as we filed out the door in the afternoon. We, instead, grabbed our satchels, coats, hats, gloves and outdoor shoes, ran to the lavoratory, climbed out the window and ran like the wind down the alleyway to White Friars. There, out of breath but insanely pleased with ourselves, we hopped on the bus, and rode it home, chattering and carrying on with our friends and never, ever having fights or other nastiness I hear about in the "cheese" as my kids called it, that they had to ride to school here in the US.

When we returned to the states, I once again was on foot or cycling to school, first Jr. High, then High School. My senior year, I had the honor and privilege to drive the 1958 red and white Chevy station wagon....old, even then, in 1976. I never got to ride an American style school bus, except for field trips.

When I hear kids grumble about having to catch the bus, I am always thrown back to those two years of bus riding. And I wonder how it was that, largely unsupervised kids, of all ages, were expected to and did as a course of habit, catch the right bus to their school, pay bus fares, be responsible enough to obey the uniform, and general conduct rules.....while the kids who rode my children's CHEESE had to have regular disciplinary action exerted by the bus driver.....such very different bus riding experiences.

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