Larry Banman: A long school bus ride reveals characters
February 2, 2009
For my high school graduation, my sister and her husband gave me a roundtrip plane ticket, which I was to use to visit them in Chicago. For me, in many respects, it was a landmark event.
It was my first plane ride and my first solo venture and the first time to be paged to the white courtesy phone at O’Hare International Airport (but that’s another story). It was a transitional time for me and, I knew even then, that I was seeing things through the eyes of an emerging adult.
My brother-in-law had his faults I suppose, but he was and still is an excellent tour guide. In my short visit to the Windy City, he showed me enough that I could savor the flavor of the city. From the Magnificent Mile, to the Merchandise Mart, to The L Train, to the wharf on Lake Michigan, to Soldier Field, to the Sears Tower, I experienced the city. I learned the difference between south Chicago and north Chicago and spent one night in downtown Chicago.
I wasn’t old enough to go into a nightclub, but we walked by one limo-surrounded establishment and I heard one of the drivers say, “Sinatra said to wait, he will be out in 10 minutes.” Later I learned “Ol’ Blue Eyes,” Frank Sinatra himself, was in town. It was 1973 and the album, Ol’ Blue Eyes is Back had just been released. I felt as thought I had my finger firmly on the pulse of one of the most vibrant cities in the world.
After my near brush with “The Chairman of the Board” my sister, her husband and I were relaxing at a diner somewhere in the middle of the historical center of downtown Chicago, or The Loop. As I was picking away at a stack of French toast, covered with powdered sugar, my brother-in-law told me that his favorite thing to do was people-watch. At the time I thought that to be an odd statement.
I had been wowed by scenery and events that were totally foreign to a farm kid from Kansas and he was telling me that people (which can be found practically anywhere) are the real story. It was almost a throw-away statement, but that turned out to be the most significant event of the entire week. It began, for me, a lifetime of people watching.
Fast forward more than 35 years to a school bus. Traveling over a snow-packed road somewhere in northwest Colorado. Packed with more than 30 people on the return trip from a basketball game in the middle of nowhere. (If you aren’t hearing the theme song from “The Twilight Zone” you are probably younger than 40.)
The school bus seat was originally designed by Attila the Hun as a device to subdue the citizenry of the countries he overran. Three minutes in a bus seat and surrender was imminent. For more details about the history of the bus seat, I recommend a visit to the Museum of Historic Torture Devices in Wisconsin Dells, Wis. Put 25 kids and seven somewhat cranky adults in a school bus and you get predictable results.
I have found that a bus ride quickly divides people into several categories. Place me in the “couldn’t sleep if you gave me a bottle of Valium” group. People in my group often are on the receiving end of “would you please shut up” comments. We think that we are funny, no matter the time of night or day. Plus, we assume that we have to talk louder so everybody can hear us above the drone of the bus.
A school bus is notorious for its uneven heat distribution. It would be easier to keep a room full of debutants placated than to satisfy a bus full of the aforementioned 25 teenagers and seven sometimes-crabby adults. Cries of “turn up the heat” and “shut the heat off” are rampant. Because of the drone of the bus and the loud-talking, can’t-sleepers, those cries rarely are heard in their original version.
What is interesting to me is that people fall into two categories. There are those whom you are quite sure are going to die of either heat stroke or hypothermia. Such is the depth and passion of their caterwalling. Then there are those who suffer quietly, those who would die a martyr’s death rather than complain. The same could be said for people’s response to the pressure they are feeling from their bladders.
Some kids pack for every possible climate and every potential eventuality. Those are the people upon whom the rest of us would depend to survive should we be stranded for a month. Others assume there will be a stop every 10 minutes and every convenience and luxury will be afforded them at their whim and whistle.
And then, there is the matter of general hygiene and tidiness. I am the last person off the bus at the journey’s terminus. There are the kids who leave no evidence of their presence on the bus. They never leave any trash, their belongings are always neatly stored in their satchels and they offer to help other people with their luggage. The other end of the spectrum is the kid who gives a cursory scan for trash, somehow overlooking the heap of candy wrappers, plastic bottles, spilled Skittles and burrito wrappers that they packed onto the bus within the past few hours. Those same kids leave clothing behind as if they are on a trip to Goodwill.
On one trip last summer, I removed from a bus one sleeping bag, a tote with tennis shoes, one pillow, two blankets, a pair of headphones and some techno-gizmo that I am afraid to touch. And, amazingly, I have yet to hear a peep from anybody who might possibly be missing something.
I have often used the statement, “athletic competition builds character.” My good friend and assistant coach Joe Shields amends that statement to say, “competition reveals character.” I believe his statement is probably more accurate. A four-hour trip on a school bus also reveals character. Or, more precisely, it reveals characters.