[Image description: short yellow school bus with doors open, image courtesy of shopbuses.com]
Sometimes I wonder when folks make jokes about “short bus” riders is it because their sense of compassion was stifled and stiffened from having to brave a wintry mix of snow and ice chips to catch the bus blocks from their homes? Maybe they bristle feeling embittered and slam the door on exploring more frigid aspects of their mentality. Perhaps they were scorched by the sun and it baked the good taste out of their tongues. Or got pelted by the rain and the pain still lingers. The elements got the best of them and dammit they reached their limits.
I smile when I remember my short bus transport. Maybe it’s because I had door-to-door service and once settled in my seat every morning the driver greeted me with hot chocolate and a doughnut before revving off. What a great start to the day I tell ya even though by 3rd period that beloved beverage *kicked in* and Ms. Traniello was none to happy about the hall pass she’d have to write from biology class. Good time for a restroom break and reset from talking all things osmosis, frogs, mitochondria, etc. *eye glaze, head spin*
Freshman year in high school and forward, I was ferried to and from school in a vehicle that was a bit more accessible. Sometimes my chariot was a small bus, station wagon, or a van. Not always more accessible though, when a van was dispatched climbing aboard using seat belt as a makeshift grab bar for support was not the most ideal way to enter a vehicle. Also, it usually meant sustaining a scuffed knee or two and maybe even a stain since they scraped the van floor and might not be easily swiped off. A big fat fashion don’t in high school. *clutches pearls*
Mostly I rode alone and usually regaled by drivers’ tales of parenthood wins and woes and even one who had participated in protest marches as an activist. On a temporary basis my fellow paratransit passengers included other students with disabilities. Some had learning disabilities and chronic conditions like kidney disease. Others may’ve broken a bone and required short term shuttling. My disability was less apparent and not really discernible to the naked eye unless you watched me climb stairs.
Back then I had less trouble stepping down then stepping up *thanks gravity* and the big bus’s stairs were too steep to safely board with ease. Due to compromised mobility that affected core muscles, I would lumber up the stairs and often dropped my bookbag on each step before advancing to the next. Sometimes a cousin or friend would grab my bag and relieve me of what felt like a Sisyphean task. So when my mother caught wind of this she quickly orchestrated a way for the alleviation of my struggle. I didn’t realize it then but her act of advocacy planted seeds that would later pave the way for my own work in advocacy. Sure, this is what many parents do in providing seamless means of access without their child realizing and when they do it’s often many years later reflecting in gratitude after becoming parents themselves. Still, these examples are embedded favorably in providing a foundation for which I would later build support skills on.
On a not-so-gracious day while wallowing in self-pity, I was reminded by a new passenger of how wonderful this VIP service back and forth from school was. The ride included a new route and familiar face emerged after couple honks of the horn. He was a popular basketball player who’d broken his leg and balanced on crutches gingerly ambulated toward car. After plopping in his seat he smiled and said hello. Returning greeting, I followed up with a small grunt and woes of being separated from friends. *gasp* He politely chided my sullen reply and pointed out that customized choice was a great option. Adding, he didn’t have to bumble to the bus stop risking further injury by getting bumped or slipping. Hmm, pondering this my little rain cloud lifted and I began to perk up grateful for my travel mate’s logic and sunshiny disposition. My teen angst had almost ruined a perfectly good commute complaining.
Sometimes we’re so swaddled in self-absorption we can’t see past the details of our drama. Staying behind those lines may comfort us but it also confines us until it’s called out and we’re forced to make a change whether in plans or self-perception. I think of how often this happens when our sense of privilege is questioned. I’m reminded of the discomfort and cognitive dissonance when standing in the gap straddling both worlds from less evolved to more evolved. Maybe that’s where so many are stuck when they poke fun at paratransit riders or anyone. Knowing it’s wrong but opting for the quick laugh at another’s expense as a distraction from their own low self-worth.
Thinking of all the journeys we take in life and the “vehicles” used to move us from one station and phase to another. Some are smooth rides and some are bumpy transitions rife with gripes gripping life’s grab bars and wondering are we there yet? Grateful for all the twists, turns, yield signs, and even abrupt stops.
Many moons after high school, I usually drive but disability dictates that on occasion I find myself strapped in carted off to various destinations using paratransit service. Still paying rapt attention to more tales and details of passing scenery now as a proud “short bus” rider.