From Kindergarten through second grade, I attended Wilkes’ Academy in Little Rock, Arkansas. Most days, transportation came via carpool. However, on occasion, I rode the bus. To be fair, the bus was really a powder blue (with white lettering and logo) 15-passenger van, but for all intents and purposes, it was the bus. In fact, Mitch, the driver, got a touch upset if you called it a van. And although I don’t recall many of our daily trips aboard the fun bus—most days were nondescript—for some reason, I do remember you didn’t want to make Mitch mad. He was, though, the adult, the one in charge, and therefore, the ultimate word in what we were supposed to do...right?
He wore ratty t-shirts and jeans every day, perhaps a jacket in the winter. An old-school green mesh ball cap with a foam front with a faded logo, like one of those generic pieces of hud they give you in little league molded his hair to his head, only a curly mullet strung out the back. Mitch had absolute control over the radio (loud), too, and he made sure everyone know it. And I remember that he was loud—louder than Van Halen or the Oak Ridge Boys. His ultra-loud nature disquieted my shy, quiet nature on a daily basis.
Two other kids in my class rode the bus—Shawnna and Kira. The only other kid I remember by name was Stephanie, who was a third grader, who coincidentally looked like my wife did when she was in third grade. Somehow, Stephanie always got Mitch to crank up the volume when “Abracadabra” by the Steve Miller Band came on. No one else could get him to relent his music dominance. The rest of the bus riders were older. Due to my timidity and my unfounded fear of big kids, I usually hunkered down in the back until my stop came.
The mighty Mitch didn’t talk to me much. He had too much fun yelling at (and with) the older kids. I do remember, though, that every once in a while that he and/or one of the older boys would say something that I wasn’t allowed to say. I remember being perplexed about why an adult would let other kids use words like that or even use words like that himself. Adults were supposed to correct inappropriate behavior, not encourage it, right?
Another time Mitch had a shouting debate with one of the older girls about whether taking the Lord’s name in vain was really breaking a commandment. For a kid who was trying to learn to do what was right, the time on the bus really confused me.
I don’t remember much of the route, or how many stops we made, but I do remember one distinct spot along a woodsy bend. This was where Mitch pulled over, leaving the motor running. He ran scurried across the busy, two-lane road, almost becoming a stain on the wood paneling of a white station wagon. Those of us in the bus who hadn’t been paying attention were alerted by the blaring horns and the one-fingered salute Mitch waved back with. He continued and ducked under a no trespassing sign into a yard surrounded by barbed wire with no trespassing signs. He came back with an armload of political campaign signs. He opened the back door of the bus, directly behind me and shoved them in, muttering to no one in particular about how the no good *expletive phrase* wasn’t going to win anyway. A pit opened in my stomach. We stopped a few minutes later to stuff them in a dumpster. I about swallowed myself. Was this an adult I was supposed to trust?
The event that completely messed over my malleable mind was one time when Mitch had had an extremely hard day, I suppose, because the yelling started before we had left the parking lot to go home. He quickly detoured to a 7-11, one of his usual stops, and came back with two brown paper bags. The first, he shoved under his seat. The second he held up as he pronounced, “Listen up. I’m going to try something different today. If you are good, I’ll give you a piece of this candy. If not, you get nothing.”
My young brain kicked into gear. I was always good. I never caused any trouble. I was going to score a Now-and-Later or a Tootsie Pop!
It was one of the quietest bus rides I ever experienced. Even the normally rowdy crowd settled down for the afternoon. I distinctly recall cute Kira getting dropped off in front of her house, Mitch turning around, and giving her a treat as she exited. Shawnna got one, too. And Stephanie. And a few others. When my stop came, I reached for the door and paused, waiting for my candy. But when he didn’t even acknowledge me (not that it was anything new), my candy-loving, adult-trusting soul got crushed. Whether there was any blatant favoritism or not is up for debate. Wasn’t the promise that if I were good, I would receive candy? In my little mind, I didn’t get a piece of candy, so therefore….well, you figure it out.
Why am I sharing this story? That is a good question. It has been on my mind for a while, but I don't know where to take it from here. I have literally typed and deleted eight different conclusions to this tale. Some were more didactic than others. All just felt wrong, though. That said, I will leave you with your own reader response. Whatever you get out of it is fine with me. I’ll just say this, though:
Think about the messages you send to others, especially the direct statements or promises you make.