Sun tan accentuated by pastel dress, white socks, charm bracelet and mullet?
Polo shirt, navy corduroys and R2D3/C3PO backpack?
Two nervous moms seeing their whirling dervishes off to the bus stop for the first day of kindergarten, secretly glad to have them out of their hair after a summer of knock-down drag-out kickball games, Barbie mutilations and Double Dare in the front yard?
My best friend and I were off, but school wasn’t the first thing on our minds as we made our way down the sidewalk. What we were really looking forward to, what we had heard so much about from the older kids, was the bus stop and the ride to school.
All the fun happened at the bus stop down the road, which was actually the driveway of two neighborhood kids who assigned themselves entirely too much importance based on that fact.
At the bus stop, backpacks full of Trapper Keepers, sack lunches and permission slips were thrown to the side so the fun could begin. A dozen of us would play Mother May I?, Red Light, Green Light or dodge ball, often getting our clothes dirty before we even set foot on the bus.
When the bus did finally show up—bus 315—Mrs. Hooper would greet us with a smile, something she did every morning of my elementary school career. She was intimidating that first day—a large older woman with crazy gray hair and sunglasses the size of her head—but she gave us candy.
It wasn’t a tough sell.
That first day we learned that the bus was more than just a way to get us to school, but rather a way to build character. There were really no rules on the bus, at least any they could really enforce. Since Mrs. Hooper had to watch the road, she could yell all she wanted, but short of stopping that bus and turning it around, couldn’t actually stop anything that went on in the back.
And all the good stuff went on in the back.
Oh yes, the back seating arrangement was a symbol of status where seats were saved and secrets, snacks and homework answers were shared. You learned about drinking or smoking as heard from someone’s older brother’s friend, gross inside jokes were created and seats were vandalized with markers and colored gel pens.
Stuck up front in those green vinyl seats, we longed to inch our way to the back.
But for those first couple of years, we just went along for the seatbelt-less ride. Even on that first day, it was evident that riding the bus made you tough. You had to get up earlier, stand out in the cold and deal with bus stop bullies. The bus is where the best flavored Lip Smackers were traded and playground strategies were discussed.
If weather or a dentist appointment caused you to be picked up and dropped off one day by your parents, you couldn’t help but wonder what you missed that day on the bus, who sat in your seat or racked up the Red Rover points.
But on that first day of school we knew none of those things, we only knew school had begun.
Well, and that we looked like total bad-asses.
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