I took my two sons, ages 5 and 2, on the bus the other day. It was a short trip, about a mile down the major thoroughfare in town to the shopping mall. I decided to take the bus because the parking lots were jammed with holiday shoppers and because I hadn’t taken the younger one on the bus before.
My older son, Nicholas, had ridden the bus a couple of times previously. He loves it. On the first trip he remarked to me, “Daddy, I didn’t know it would be this bumpy!” For him, bumpy is a good thing.
I dropped some coins into the farebox and herded the boys toward empty seats, about halfway back. Before we could get settled, the bus driver accelerated back into traffic, nearly toppling the three of us. I quickly ordered Nicholas into the closest seat and grabbed up Matthew, the 2 year old, and hoisted him into an empty seat.
At the very next stop, a couple of high-spirited teenagers got on the bus. One of the boys made an obscene gesture to the other in a jesting manner. Fortunately, my boys were focused on everything except these teenagers. They were busy looking out the window at other vehicles, especially from this higher vantage point.
Pulling out the stops
They also marveled at the cord that alerts the driver that someone wants to get off at the next stop. “Can I pull it, Daddy?” Nicholas asked. “OK,” I replied, “but not now because we still have about three stops to go. I’ll tell you when to pull it.” He immediately pulled the cord.
“What did I just say?” I said, probably for the 900th time. “I said ‘not now,’ right?”
Fortunately, the lady in the seat ahead of us also pulled the cord and got off at the next stop. Might be nice if buses had a “Cancel Stop Call” button for parents of unruly young children.
Nicholas pulled the cord again, this time at the appropriate moment. We got off the bus without incident. I thanked the driver on the way out and got a curt nod in return. I probably should have mentioned to him that he nearly flattened the three of us as he pulled into traffic, but thought that might seem ungrateful.
We enjoyed an ice cream at the food court in the mall and gawked at the expensive toys in the Franklin Mint store. The saleswoman kept a close eye on my kids and seemed to grow nervous when they reached out to point at the merchandise. After a few minutes — probably long minutes for the saleswoman — we left the store and made our way across the street to catch the bus in the other direction.
This time, instead of a two-minute wait, it took about 15 minutes for the bus to arrive. In the interim, I waited on the bus bench with the kids while cars and trucks zoomed by us at 50 mph. Although I knew that it was extremely unlikely that a motorist would lose control and jump the curb, I spent most of those 15 minutes imagining the horrible consequences.
A neighbor drives by
“Hey, I think that was Trish who just drove by,” Nicholas said, referring to our across-the-street neighbor. I wondered if she had noticed us and was curious as to why the boys and I were waiting for the bus. As the editor of a magazine about buses, I should be the last person to feel embarrassed about being seen waiting for a transit bus, but, I have to admit, that was what I felt.
The return bus ride was uneventful. Nicholas again wanted to pull the cord, but I let Matthew have a turn. I again thanked the bus driver, and this one actually smiled. The kids immediately asked when we could ride the bus again. “We’ll see,” I said, probably for the 900th time.