It’s always a pleasant surprise when, after 35 years, I can say I learn new things on the job.
Take, for example, last week when Videographer Chris Flynn and I had the pleasure of riding along with school bus driver Allan Kville on one of his last routes before retiring after 57 years with the May-Port CG school district.
We stepped on his bus around 7:00 a.m and traveled for the next hour and a half on his route through the western part of the district. I observed a lot and reminisced about my own school days and what might have been.
A rookie school bus rider
I was never a regular school bus rider. I went to elementary school in Fargo and lived just a few blocks from school. So my siblings and I walked. If the weather was bad, my mom drove us. The school bus was reserved for field trip days. I certainly didn’t know what it was like to have a long bus ride every school day.
I should have. I’ve heard stories for 23 years. My husband, Mark, grew up in a small town in Iowa. Often when we’re back there, traveling on the gravel roads, up and down the rolling hills, he’ll point out a farmhouse or two and mention “That’s Adam’s house or that’s Janelle’s house. They were on my bus.”
He’s also shared fond memories, like how their driver, Florence, would let them have squirt gun fights on the bus on the last day of school.
He’s mentioned how he was the first one picked up at 7:00 a.m. but how it paid off in the afternoon when he’d be the first one dropped off–at 3:45 – just in time to grab a Pepsi and watch “Gilligan’s Island.”
I thought about his stories when we were traveling the gravel roads west of Mayville with Allan the other day. His first pickup was a family of three kids who lived out in the country about 15 miles away from school.
It was 7:20 a.m. when they stepped on the bus.
Immediately, the fifth-grade boy sat in the first seat behind the bus driver, pulled out his phone, and started playing a game. The boy’s adorable first-grade sister sat behind him, looking at me, like “Aren’t you a little old to be on the bus?”
In the meantime, the seventh-grade sister had made a beeline for the back of the bus.
Is that a thing? Do the older kids always stake a claim in the back of the bus, as if it’s the cool kid’s table in the cafeteria?
I realized how little I knew about the social norms of the school bus as I watched where everyone sat and the kind of interactions they had. I also realized, as we bumped along on the gravel roads still beaten up by winter, this wasn’t a trip for the faint of heart. In all, we drove 45 miles on gravel and pavement before we even got to school.
Rural bus ride near Portland, N.D. May 22, 2023
The view from my window on my first-ever rural route bus ride.
I admit. I was tired and maybe just a little nauseated from the trip. It was just 8:30 and the school day hadn’t even begun.
When I mentioned my one-time rural bus experience to friends, so many of them immediately launched into their own rural school bus stories, including my friend Kris Hauge, who grew up in Sacred Heart, Minnesota.
“As a farm kid, our middle school was about as far away as you could get in our school district,” she recalled. “There was one year that with changing bus routes, I happened to be one of the first kids on the bus around 6:15 a.m. and one of the last kids to get dropped off around 5 p.m.”
But Kris said there were perks of those long rides.
“I did develop a sense of patience and an appreciation for the beauty of where we live, staring out that bus window for so many hours,” she said. “I also developed a love of reading, finishing many novels on those roads, and a keen sense of what made for good road trip snacks (thanks to my mom ensuring I always had after-school bus route treats in my backpack.)”
Walking to school memories
I’m not saying I don’t have any of my own memories of walking to school.
I remember walking almost a mile to Agassiz Junior High with my older sister carrying her cello, and how it convinced me to choose a smaller instrument (the viola).
In high school, I remember the fateful day I realized Candies (if you know, you know. Late ’70s cool girl shoes) aren’t the best for a walk to school in late November.
I made it to school in the morning, but the walk home that afternoon was different. Freezing rain during the school day had shellacked the sidewalks. I slipped and slid with every stylish step. Soon, I resorted to walking the rest of the way home with my mittens on my feet. I believe my friend, Sheryl with whom I was walking that day, might still be laughing.
But honestly, those two things are the only things I remember about walking to school in the 12 years I did it. Seems like nothing compared to what I’ve heard from friends and my husband about their memorable years riding the bus in from the country.
Learning lessons you didn’t learn in school
I’ve heard from more than one person that lessons learned on the bus are ones you don’t necessarily learn in school.
“Looking back, I learned a lot of things on that bus route, some things I probably shouldn’t have known until I was MUCH older,” Kris said.
For my husband that included swearing.
He recalls one night when he was in first grade, sitting at the dinner table wanting seconds on the rolls, but they were all gone.
With his little 6-year-old voice he exclaimed, “Damn! No more buns!”
His mom replied, “That darn bus.”
A few other friends said the long bus ride through the countryside felt like another class all its own. You learned the hierarchy of the school, knew the gossip at the high school while you were still in junior high, and really talked to one another because there was nothing else to do.
Lifelong connections were made. The kids you started riding with in elementary school were the same kids you rode with in high school. Maybe you weren’t even friends during the school day, but sharing that bus ride to and from school for a decade meant something. You were bonded forever.
I’m confident none of the 25 students who rode with me on that May-Port CG bus the other day were thinking about any of this. Their long ride to school through the gravel roads of Traill County was just a normal part of their day. They’re home for the summer now and probably don’t realize the memories they made this school year.
But that ride was special to me. It gave me a glimpse of what my school days might have been like if we had lived outside the city limits.
I had a great school experience in Fargo and walking to school had its definite perks. I got to sleep in a little later and probably got home a little earlier. I didn’t have the boredom (or possible bullying) on the bus or even the occasional motion sickness.
Even so, I can’t help but feel like I missed out a little not riding a rural bus – where lifelong memories were made with every bump in the road.
And darn it, I bet if I had ridden the bus, I could have kept wearing those Candies.