BUS DWIVAH! Chapter Five
For Bill Murray it was Groundhog Day, in the movie of the same name. For Bus Dwivah! it was Arbor Day.
I never saw it coming, even though it develops that it is highly predictable. In Pennsylvania, it falls on the last Friday in April. Arbor Day is quite a lovely concept, intended to celebrate the contribution that trees make to our lives and to help us learn about the contributions we can make to theirs.
I can appreciate Arbor Day from a distance. I can even appreciate it up close so long as I'm not behind the wheel of a school bus.
So, it's the last Friday in April (any April), and Bus Dwivah is leaning against the fender of her bus as it idles along the curb at the elementary school, chatting with a couple of colleagues. The dismissal bell rings and the drivers quickly wrap up their conversations and the group starts to disperse, when a low groan is heard from one of the drivers. The groan is quickly echoed by another driver and another. The familiar groan chills the spine of every driver there, and it means one of three things:
1. Today was the day the science teacher helped the kids make a model of the solar system out of Styrofoam balls (for the planets) and dowel rods (to hold the planets together), and fifteen or twenty of each bus's seventy-two passengers will be transporting the solar system home. If any of these children become astronauts, imagine their surprise when they learn, drifting through the immense blackness that is space, that there ARE no dowel rods! (Are there?)
2. A driver saw a child with the trademark green gills that signals stomach upset (feared like nothing else among bus drivers). Some driver somewhere will be dealing with a busload of barf before the afternoon is done. Talk about Epidemic!
3. Or it's Arbor Day.
Numbers 1 and 3 represent very similar problems for Bus Dwivah, but the difference is magnitude. The solar system is produced by the science classes, and usually only in a grade or two. Every child in the school is included in Arbor Day, and to her deep regret, so is Bus Dwivah.
The fact that the groan was caused by #3 is verified in seconds when, instead of the usual horde of small persons wearing Hello! Kitty sweatshirts and sneakers with lights that flash when the wearer walks, a battalion of pine trees floods through the open front doors of the school. They look for all the world like an assault force of short soldiers using the surrounding flora as camouflage. In fact, they ARE an assault force of short soldiers. Their objective? Bus Dwivah's sanity.
Each of my seventy-two charges is carrying a 2-foot tall pine tree in a pot. There are sharp ends on each of the uncountable pine needles on each of those trees, and 144 eyes as potential casualties. There is approximately eight cups of dirt in each of those pots, and 72 pairs of jeans, 72 expensive sweaters or jackets. Small children, especially, who have not yet been jaded by the heartbreaks of previous Arbor Days, have already formed a powerful emotional attachment to their tree, and when at least one of those trees is inevitably dropped or otherwise damaged, a great cry of anguish will soar to the very heavens, and will continue until the tree-less afflicted child exits the bus, tears and snot pouring down his/her face.
Bus Dwivah mutters warnings as seventy-two trees, each riding a child, climb onto the bus and bristle their way to a bus seat. She thinks feverishly, "Please let the kid whose tree gets trashed be an early stop."
At last all passengers are seated, trees on laps. Bus Dwivah steps to the head of the aisle and announces in her best raucous Rosanne Barr voice, "LISTEN UP!" They listen. Mostly.
"I will say this once, and only once. Anybody who touches anybody else with their tree will no longer HAVE a tree. It will be MY tree. If you touch anybody else with your tree on purpose, by accident, or because I went around a corner and you lost your balance, I WILL TAKE YOUR TREE AND YOU WILL NOT GET IT BACK."
Solemn eyes stare at Bus Dwivah through the branches. It's like addressing a congress of small owls.
The horn of the bus behind Bus #30 in the conga line honks. Bus Dwivah pays no mind. She knows that driver is just jealous because he did not have the foresight to prepare Arbor Day remarks.
In the manner of a drill sergeant addressing green recruits, Bus Dwivah hollers at her busload. "DO YOU UNDERSTAND?"
Quiet murmurs. "I CAN'T HEAR YOU! DO YOU UNDERSTAND?"
A chorus of "Yes," comes back in response with a counterpoint from the back seats where the big kids reside, "Can we just get ON with it?"
Bus Dwivah nods curtly. "All right then. You understand." She returns to her driver's seat and puts the bus in gear, waving out the window dismissively at the driver of the bus behind. "Yeah, yeah," she mutters. "I'm goin', I'm goin'."
As Arbor Days go, this one isn't bad. Only Mairzy Doats' tree plunges from her kindergarten lap as the bus descends Mile High Hill. The potted tree rolls in a wobbling path to the feet of Bus Dwivah just as she pulls up at the stop sign. In a deft move revealing the merits of long practice, Bus Dwivah scoops up the pot while centrifugal force is still holding the dirt in, and save a couple of lost needles, no harm, no foul. The next stop is Mairzy's and Bus Dwivah hands her the tree as she disembarks and gets rewarded with a tremulous little Mairzy smile.
Aaron the Weasel, a fourth-grader who is clearly destined for some white-collar lockup as an adult, hones his brinksmanship skills by meticulously positioning his tree so that when he calls Stephen's name and Stephen turns his head, the longest branch on Aaron's tree will poke Stephen in the eye. Aaron plans all this so he can have plausible deniability. He did not poke Stephen in the eye with his tree. Stephen stuck his eye on Aaron's tree. Stephen blinked a little but wasn't actually harmed, as near as Bus Dwivah can tell, but she will call Stephen's mother to advise observation.
At last Bus Dwivah deposits the last child carrying the last tree at the last house on the route. The afternoon sun limns the trees along Parson's Ridge with gold, and all the children still have both eyes.
And Arbor Day won't happen again for a year.