When I was a very little kid… about five or six years old… I was, for some reason, fascinated with buses. City buses, Greyhound buses, school buses… any buses. I have no idea what it was about buses that so captured my imagination, but, well, they were just the coolest thing in the world. My next door neighbor Gary, who was roughly the same age, had a different obsession: Garbage trucks. He couldn’t wait to get up on trash day and wait for the garbage truck to come. One year for his birthday, he got a big Tonka garbage truck, and it became his most highly-prized possession. For all I know it still is. If you asked Gary what he wanted to be when he grew up, he always answered that he wanted to be, of course, a garbage man.
Anyway, I was similarly obsessed with buses. And helicopters and airplanes. To me, they all had roughly the same glamorous cachet. Bus driver = pilot. If anyone asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would answer bus driver! Or astronaut. Again, not that far apart in my mind.
In 1960, I entered first grade at White Street School in Springfield, Massachusetts. And my 4-year-old sister, who was two years behind me, had to wait until her turn, which, apparently did not sit well with her. She would hear my tales of adventure, which began and ended with an actual school bus ride every day, and, not to be outdone, she came up with her own tales. Knowing my obsession with buses, she spun stories of how, every day while I was at plain old school, she was going to bus school. There, in her telling, kids like her, of three and four years old, were spending the day driving buses. And, apparently, flying helicopters.
Her stories were so convincing that I found myself half-believing them. For awhile, I thought that, as soon as I left for school in the morning, my sister was whisked away into this wonderful world where she got to drive a bus (or fly a helicopter) every day, until just before I came home. Eventually, I guess, I realized that the stories were fanciful, and that she was just making up stuff because she wanted to go to first grade too. At least I think she was making them up.
Now, I’m 57. I’ve spent more than 35 years in broadcasting, and have had a pretty interesting career. And now, as I’ve explained before, I’m unemployed, and for various reasons, unlikely to be back behind a microphone any time soon. So, this week, here in North Carolina, I’m taking a course in school bus driving, so I can get my passenger and school bus certification, and my CDL. These certifications will enable me to drive any passenger vehicle in North Carolina. There are some hoops to jump through: because of my recent heart surgery, I have to get a doctor to certify that my heart won’t stop while I’m driving the bus, thus conveying a bus loaded with kids over a cliff to their fiery doom. And, since I’ve held licenses in two other states in the past five years, I have to plead with Florida and Pennsylvania to sell me my driving record in order to be certified here. And I have to do all that before I can actually drive the bus in training.
But that doesn’t change the essential fact. For the next two days, in class, I’m in bus school. Finally. Yesterday, on my way home, I thought of those days, now more than fifty years ago, when my sister rained on my parade with the stories of how she and her fellow four-year-olds were spending the day driving buses. And I started to laugh.
My sister is a successful insurance executive here in High Point. Of the two of us, she’s the one who always made the right decisions, stayed on a career track, and done quite nicely for herself. I was the one who generally made the more boneheaded life decisions. Like going into radio, for example. Anyway, last night she dropped by, and I finally had my moment of triumph. I looked at her and said, “So NOW who’s the cool one? NOW, who’s in Bus School, HUH? HA-HA!” It was clear that she knew immediately what I was talking about.
She just smirked and changed the subject.