I was on my way to work and stopped behind a school bus. I watched attentive parents watch their younglings leisurely saunter onto the bus, oblivious to the traffic piling up.
I smiled at the familiar scene, and all the memories of going back to school flooded my senses (insert Parliament's Flashlight and cue dream sequence).
I went to magnet schools since junior high, so I was always bused across town. My mornings started around 5:30.
The first day was always the most exciting. I had my outfit picked out after hours of deliberation. You had to come hard on the clothes but not hit them with your best too soon. You also had to factor in possible duplications at school, weather conditions and the all-important factor of layaway outfits.
I used to go to school and brag about what I had on layaway. I often wondered if there was a layaway heaven for all the clothes that never saw the light of day -- kind of a fashion purgatory.
I grew up in the ’70s, so the grooming ritual was important, especially the hair. You had to pick out your fro for maximum volume. Then you used a plastic bag to shape it into the ultimate orb and finish it off with a bug bomb’s worth of Afro Sheen. If you could breathe and see straight you were not using enough.
I would woof down my bowl of Kaboom or Cocoa Puffs then grab the change my mom left me for lunch money.
I’d grabbed my book bag (no back packs back then) and headed out, house key around my neck, into the dark morning air. This was when a kid could walk to school alone without supervision, cell phones, mace or GPS device. I liked the morning walk because the neighborhood bullies went to regular school and were still resting up for their day of persecution.
I made my way to the neighborhood school and waited with my other bus mates in the dark until we saw the distant lights signaling that Ms. McCray, our bus driver, was on time. Ms. McCray was one of those evil bus drivers who wore a wig that fit like a helmet -- you know the kind where it lifts up from the back of the neck. You could tell what kind of night she had based on how red her eyes were and how askew her wig was that morning. Drug testing did not come into popularity until much later.
She greeted us with her usually pleasant "Get yo butts on this bus." Our bus was overcrowded so she made the first few stops sit three to a seat. So there we were, 3 boys sitting on the same bench at the back of this huge empty bus.
We complained constantly that this would scar us socially, but she was not hearing it.
Bus culture is a rite of passage. I was small and skinny so fighting was not an option. I learned that if you made people laugh they would back off. My favorite ammunition was other kids’ parents who waited for them at the bus stop, especially the moms sporting the old school pink rollers and house coats.
Every morning we would come to the stop of my girl Cookie. I grew up with about 10 girls name Cookie. Anyway, Cookies' mom always sported the big pink rollers, blue nappy housecoat and matching slippers. It really pissed Cookie off when I would roll down the window and yell, “Good morning, Mrs. Johnson, is that a new robe?”
Cookie was a fierce girl and always coordinated. She was also one of those folicly challenged girls -- you know the kind who would start brushing her hair from lower back and eyebrows, hoping to get about three strands to hold those colorful ball barrettes in place… classic.
The bus banter continued throughout the ride with pleasant greetings, singing, and the occasional game of dozen played out between rivals. And what bus ride would be complete without a round of "Yo Momma" jokes thrown in? The bus would continue for the next hour or so at various stops all across the south side until we eventually hit the freeway, which was the silent cue for all to fall asleep until we got to school.
All the grooming was undone as Afros, school supplies, book bags and clothing had shifted during travel.
We always knew we were at school because the bus would lurch to a stop with the requisite hiss of the brakes and door being flown open. Then Ms. McCray would yell, "Get Yo Black Butts to School." I know that was her special way of saying, “Have a good day.”
I heard a car horn honking behind me, bringing me back from my Coolie High flash back. I slowly began to move and spied a mother with her head wrapped and wearing a tasteful robe. I fought back the urge to yell, “Nice house coat, Mrs. Johnson...”