Albemarle County Public Schools
As a child, there were many things I enjoyed more than riding the school bus.
Things like going to the dentist. Or going to the dentist for a root canal without the use of anesthesia. Or going to someone who says he’s a dentist, but whose degree came from an online dental school based in a country you’ve never heard of.
(Did I mention I hated riding the bus?)
During most of my bus-riding years, my family lived in the quiet country several miles outside of Charlottesville, Va. My elementary and high schools were in town, but my middle school sat 15 miles away, situated well in the hills of rural Albemarle County.
This meant the bus had already rolled through the suburbs and picked up nearly everyone who would ride our route to Leslie H. Walton Middle School.
Unfortunately, I was usually the last to board. And, by the time the bus reached the bottom of my long gravel driveway, there were only a couple of seats left. Finding one amid the cruel snickers of sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders felt like a warped game of “Where’s Waldo?”
My wobbly knobby knees carried me up the steps, and I knew that if I didn’t find the open seat quickly, the bus driver would snap at me and only deepen the embarrassment. Sometimes a seat that appeared to be open would suddenly fill when I tried to sit. Like pieces on a chessboard, the movement created an opening elsewhere, but by the time I noticed it and made a move, that seat mysteriously became occupied, too.
One bright spring morning as I waited anxiously for the bus to arrive, I decided that I’d simply had enough. It had been a particularly rough couple of days and the bus had become a laboratory of bullying and mockery for others and me.
I could not get on the bus that morning.
I would not get on the bus that morning.
With a burst of brilliant ingenuity, I scanned the trees that lined both sides of our driveway and spread deep into the surrounding forest and picked one on an angle about 20 yards from the edge of the road.
Then, I hid.
A few minutes later, the bus barreled down the road and stopped at the bottom of the driveway. I knew the driver was craning his long, wrinkled neck to see if I was awkwardly galloping toward him, dragging my backpack and fussing with a trombone case bigger than I was.
Thinking I was nowhere in sight, the driver punched the gas and continued down the winding country road without me.
I slowly slunk out from behind the tree and stepped to the head of the driveway. I looked left, then right, then left, then right again. “Jason,” I said to myself, “you might be the smartest kid in the history of the world!”
I glided back up to the house and explained to my mother that — silly me — I somehow managed to miss the bus. It wasn’t the first time, of course, but it was the first time it had been deliberate. Mom called my father and he drove a fair distance from his office in downtown Charlottesville to pick me up and drive me into school.
After I stopped by the office and handed over a note from my mother, the secretary gave me a late pass and shooed me on my way. As I moved down the hall, feeling smug that I’d successfully beaten the system, a kid from my bus passed me on his way to the library.
“Hey, Jason, what happened to you this morning?”
“Yeah, I know, I missed the bus. Totally stinks, right?”
“No, I meant why were you hiding behind a tree in the woods?”
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