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  • Writer's pictureK. Arthur

"The Old Bus"

Updated: Apr 1

I am not for certain why there was a broken down school bus in his backyard. Sometimes people get attached to their vehicles where I come from, and cannot bear to see them go to the transportation graveyard where visitors are not allowed and two Dobermans stand sentinel. Uncle Bert never drove a bus. He was a fire fighter, an expert fisherman, and a lawn mower repairman. But not a bus driver. The old bus leaned toward its back left rear, and its once shiny chrome bumpers had turned a dull shade of rust. There was an iron skillet sized hole in the floorboard through which black-eyed susans emerged, with petals the same yellow-orange color as the bus used to be. The seats were mostly intact, with a few silver duct tape repairs. The air smelled of old rubber and burned diesel fuel, the same way all school busses smell. I sat on the edge of the driver's chair with my feet dangling. almost touching the floorboard. The steering wheel was almost too big around for my small arms to reach the 10-and-2 positions. The manual jackknife door was stuck permanently open. And I pretended to drive.

Four lots up was the East Gadsden Baptist Church, where the streets were lined with a dozen school busses for carrying children to and from Sunday School. My parents were bus captains, and I rode along in one of the rolling beasts as it snorted and grunted through neighborhoods. Mom and Dad ran routes in Downtown Gadsden and Glencoe and spent the better part of Tuesday evenings going door-to-door asking permission from parents to roll up in the big yellow bus early on Sunday mornings. It was a win-win for the moms who generally came to the door in house coats and slippers to safely send their kids off to learn about Jesus, have a quiet morning, and maybe take the rare opportunity to watch the backs of their eyelids a little longer.

One Sunday morning Brother Tommy Hight announced with an evangelistic fervor that church attendance was at an all-time high with close to 800 church goers, due largely to the thriving bus ministry. Loud clapping and shouts of "Hallelujah" were heard from the congregation, and a few muffled amens came from the back row. There was a celebratory potluck in the activities building following the service -- not that there has to be a reason for a Baptist potluck.

After transporting hundreds, if not thousands, of children, I figure one of the trusty machines tired out and hobbled its way down the street to Uncle Bert's lawn mower repair shop, like an injured Brahma bull considering retirement from the rodeo. Fixing the bus for Brother Tommy is something Uncle Bert would have volunteered for out of the goodness of his heart. But V8 diesel engines are far more complicated than four-stroke gasoline engines, and I reckon the bus could not be resurrected. So, there it remained.

A quarter century later, I drove by to see if the faded yellow beast was still there. I imagined it would be unrecognizable and covered in Kudzu, but its skeleton along with the house were both gone, and only a freshly mown green lot was left. I read that the Government is fixing to get rid of all diesel-powered school busses and replace them with electric ones. They intend to replace the entire American fleet by the year 2030, which will no doubt reduce greenhouse gasses, for the betterment of the environment and our children's health.

I take every chance I get these days to briefly step inside one of the iconic traveling machines and pay homage, before they are all dismantled, scrapped for parts, and crushed flat like griddle cakes. I like to think the old bus in Uncle Bert's backyard was made useful again and turned into recycled steel for something like train tracks, structural beams for a bridge -- or a church, back to its noble beginnings.


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