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Not missing long bus rides

By Joel McNeese

There’s an old saying that “the person whose problems are all behind them is probably a school bus driver.” I guess I’m one of the “problems.”

The opportunity to coach high school soccer this year at Vardaman has been abundant in positives. I’ve loved virtually every second of the experience, except for the long, slow rides on those big yellow dogs.

When you have a heavy right foot as I do, riding a school bus with the governor locked down at 50 mph can be tedious, especially on four-lane highways and interstates. My late father-in-law Gale Denley often noted my pension for driving faster than I should and tailing too close to those in front of me by saying, “Joel has a lot of confidence in his brakes.” We’re in no danger of getting too close to anyone on these buses. I guess that’s the point.

I dare say it has been almost 40 years since I last rode a school bus prior to these past few months. While I am incredibly grateful for the Vardaman teachers and coaches who have given of their personal time to take the wheel and chauffeur our Rams all over north Mississippi, the memories evoked of those bus rides long ago aren’t always nostalgic.

I rode a bus to school during my earliest years in Clinton Public Schools. In later years I was fortunate that the proximity of our house allowed me to ride a bike, catch a ride with an older friend, and once of age drive myself in my Chevy Luv pickup I think my dad paid $200 for. Prior to that, I would walk to the end of our dead end street and wait for that big “cheese wagon” to make the turn and roar down Maudedith Lane.

Once on the bus you went straight for the back. The best seat on any school bus has always been the very back, where most of my Rams prefer to be. These days, I’m in the front row right behind the driver. I won’t say what we called the kids in those seats when I was in school. And the bus drivers… I’m ashamed to think back on the things we said and our imitations of the handful of bus drivers from my youth.

“Everyone is in awe of the lion tamer in a cage with half a dozen lions, all but the school bus driver,” Dr. Laurence Peter once said.

The bus drivers we’ve had this soccer season have all been wonderful people, mostly younger than myself. Mrs. Brown was my bus driver throughout elementary school. I remember thinking back then she must be 100 years old. Now I wonder if she was even as old as I am today.

We didn’t have air conditioning on our buses as a kid. Every window was pulled down, many at a diagonal because it was rare they all worked exactly right. We hung out windows, yelled at passers-by, made faces or heaven forbid worse at other kids in cars. Thankfully the statute of limitations has long passed for bad bus behavior from the 1970s and ‘80s.

I should brag for a moment and say my soccer kids are nothing like we were. Valerie Parker, who drove us to Mooreville Monday afternoon, asked me if I didn’t allow them to talk on the bus because they were being so quiet.

“No,” I explained. “They’re just really good kids.”

We do have air conditioning on all our buses now. That was most evident Monday when we made a turn and the AC unit just above me poured out what felt like a gallon of cold water on my shoulder. I guess that’s what I get for being a nerd sitting in the front row.

I will be sad when our last game is done and having to endure the long wait for next season to roll around, but I can’t say I’ll miss the bus rides.

Joel McNeece is publisher of The Calhoun County Journal in Bruce. You may email him at joelmcneece@gmail.com.