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‘Grab your books, the bus is here’

When I was a kid, I had to walk five miles to school. Didn’t matter if it was 95 degrees, raining cats and dogs, or snow was up to my boot tops.


OK, not really. But an old friend once told me a similar story from when he was a boy. He’s long gone to his reward in that one-room schoolhouse in the sky. I hope he didn’t have to walk.


The house where I grew up was about two miles from the school I attended for 12 years. And no, I wasn’t held back from graduating the elementary grades. This was before 12-year schools in the county were consolidated into larger high schools and middle schools.


My siblings and I were relieved from having to walk the two miles by sympathetic bureaucrats. This is the rule according to the local school system’s website: “Any student assigned to a school which is one and a half miles or more from his or her residence is eligible for transportation services to and from school.” Hence, we were bus riders.


There are concessions to the mile-and-a-half rule for health and safety reasons. But a healthy student living 1.4 miles from school will have to hoof it.


So, back when I was in school, there were bus riders and walkers. Some of my best friends were walkers. I didn’t look down on them for being pedestrians, or town kids.


If I remember correctly, the bus riders were called to leave first, then the walkers were allowed to, well, walk. I think that was to prevent the young hikers from being run over by buses. Remember, bus drivers back then were high school students. 


The State of North Carolina was one of the few that allowed such youthful drivers to be in charge of the safety of school students. Officials claimed that the teenage drivers had excellent safety records.


And besides, if a driver got a ticket while racing the family car on Friday night, he or she lost their bus license. I had a friend who fell into that category. But that was OK since he had his own Pontiac.


There were a few students who drove to school but their numbers could probably be counted on one hand. Since our school had a large rural population, that meant most of us rode a bus.


One of my brothers drove a bus for a couple of years and had to get up early to warm up the bus, which he parked in our circle drive. While he was rounding up farm kids out in the boonies, I waited to get out of bed, timing it so I was at the road when he stopped to pick us up.


Back in those days, school buses were packed to the maximum legal number of riders. You could tell when a bus was approaching by the noise of juvenile voices. Naturally, they were louder going home than they were riding to school.


What happened to those days? 


Ginny and I have been assigned the duty of picking up our great-granddaughter Ava, who is a kindergartner. Technically, she’s a walker since she lives less that 1.5 miles from school.


But she’s much too young to walk the city streets to her home. So we pick her up in the afternoons.


I’m always amazed at how many school kids have parents or designated drivers come pick them up in the afternoon. There are buses for riders but I’ve seen another couple of the yellow coaches sitting lonesomely in the parking lot.


The line of vehicles waiting to get their youngsters stretches from the pickup drive at the front door, goes down the street, winds through the parking lot like a DisneyWorld maze, then back down the street before curving up Main Street for a quarter mile. Last one in line, turn on your flashers.


I’ve told Ginny, while waiting in line, that I believe there are more vehicles in line than there are school children. Certainly all these kids being picked up aren’t walkers. Are they?


I don’t think this is a one-off at Ava’s school. I’ve seen the same pickup lines at other schools.


But it’s different at high schools. Unlike when I was in school, students drive their own cars these days. One of the biggest features of a high school is the student parking lot.


I don’t see how Thomas Built Buses stays in business. Nobody rides the bus any more.


Larry Penkava is a writer for Randolph Hub. Contact: 336-302-2189, larrypenkava@gmail.com.