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April 16, 2013 8:10 am

Wheels on the bus go round and round

Written by Doug Blough

In spite of my fevered protests a few years ago, the new Sunset School was built a couple hundred yards from my place. For nine months each year, I’m now tortured by yellow buses thicker than the locusts of King Pharaoh’s eighth plague.

I recently glanced at an information article asking, “When must a driver halt for a school bus stopped for children?” The answer obviously is, “It depends on when an officer is in sight.”

Seriously though, it is sometimes confusing, but my policy has always been: When in doubt — and in no huge hurry — I stop. Children are our future, and we can’t be runnin’ over them all the time.

Now we segue into my dangerously checkered history with school buses during Pennsylvania blizzards. At 15, I rode bus #16, and the driver was an old man (depressingly, probably younger than I am now), named Harley Kaufman. He was nearly humorless and never seemed to like me much. 

One wintry morning when I was irritated our school wasn’t among those canceled, Kaufman got out at my stop to put chains on the tires. It would be a fateful decision for both of us. Like a thief in the night, I crept up and locked the bus doors, proudly grinning all the way back to my seat.

I was totally unprepared for the screaming, pounding tirade when he tried to get back inside with his mustache frozen solid. A dork underclassman finally unlocked the doors and was so scared he fingered me as the culprit. I was dragged and smacked all the way to the front seat, where I remained the rest of the year. A classic overreaction to a humorous prank.

The second bus bungle was at 19 when my parents were under the flawed assumption I had been working a new job for Honkus Construction. Actually, I couldn’t find the job location the first day, so I began a long series of days spent sleeping in my ’66 Barracuda till noon and playing pinball machines the rest of the day till quitting time.

One blizzard afternoon, I was killing time driving around a ritzy, rural area and happened upon a large brown box attached to the mailbox in front of a mansion. Now, before I go any further, I realize now that stealing is wrong, but we’ve all gone through those youthful phases when we might tell a fib, steal something or goose a stranger.

I’m not sure what I imagined might be in this box — a bunch of cash, I guess — that was addressed to a manufacturing business, but a fleeting but distinct voice said, “Your Dad’s expecting a paycheck soon; grab the box!” I suppose I justified it with the old, “These people live in a mansion and here I am with barely any pinball machine money. The rich just keep getting richer.”

So with lightning speed, I jumped out, untied the box, tossed it into my backseat and spun up the steep hill. To my horror, when I crested the hill, there came a spinning school bus coming up the other side right towards me. Panicked, with most likely thousands of dollars of stolen loot in my car, I jammed the brakes and slid into that bus, just barely grazing the entire length of it.  

The driver stuck his head out the window, slowly surveyed the yellow paint, and said, “Well, there’s no damage; you can go.” Half hour later, still shaken as I neared my parent’s house, I pulled over on the dirt road and with trembling hands, tore open the package. One hundred pairs of freakin’ green work socks. I was able to sell a few pairs here and there to friends with actual jobs, but the caper’s profit was extremely marginal.

The next winter, I was caught on another long, steep hill in a whiteout, this time en route to my real job at Coleman’s Manufacturing. There were many vehicles stopped in front of me that also couldn’t make the hill, so it was a good time to step out and knock ice from my wipers. At that exact moment, an oblivious, snow-blinded bus driver trying to gain speed on the hill, slammed into the rear of my Dodge Dart, sending me airborne and back down again onto the frozen asphalt.

I was sliding downhill like a bobsled and looked up just in time to reach out and push off the front tire of the still-moving bus, avoiding becoming his tire-traction by inches. Other than a bruised coccyx, a stiff neck and a snuff can in my rear pocket (where I landed) a total loss, ER doctors found no serious injuries.

In summation, always brake for flashing school bus lights, and kids: you stay in school. Robbing mailboxes is risky, minimum-wage work, at best.


  • Comment Link April 18, 2013 3:16 pm posted by Nan Temyer

    love your stories Doug, they take me back to things I had forgotten, keep up the good work, I look forward to reading your stories every week. Also, I like the fact you interject your vast knowledge of religion in to the stories without preaching

  • Comment Link April 22, 2013 8:00 pm posted by Frank Rozek

    Doug, one adventure after another with you. Someone is surely looking out for your well being. Good thing to because I don't know what I would do without ya. Keep these great columns coming!

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