The kids in my neighborhood were greeted with rain as they returned to school Monday, prompting me to wonder about the several hundred Lahainaluna, Baldwin, and Iao students affected by the school bus driver shortage.
According to Maui News articles over the past week, new bus vendor Ground Transport is about 15 drivers short and has had to suspend or consolidate routes temporarily. The state Department of Education had planned to provide affected students with Maui Bus passes, but Mayor Alan Arakawa said the public buses would not be able to handle the additional load. The mayor urged parents to make other arrangements for their children.
Back in my Baldwin High days, we would have welcomed a situation like this. “Gee, Mom and Dad, since there’s no school bus, I guess I’ll have to take the family car.” Driving to school was as much of a status symbol as the driver’s license itself. Bonus points if you had your own car, even it was a hand-me-down Maui cruiser.
Our preteen idea of cool was walking to school with friends. It took us 10 or 15 minutes to cover the few blocks each morning, twice as long to get home in the afternoon. It didn’t occur to me then, but I realize now that those daily walks constituted a coming-of-age ritual, a taste of independence and an introduction to the social dynamics of junior high. On our way to school, we’d devise strategies for dealing with the mean girls and getting the attention of the cute boys. On our way home, we’d put those plans into practice.
That’s why it took so long to get home. Even kids who got dropped off at school by parents had to walk home after school. The neighborhood streets provided a daily opportunity for interaction without adult supervision. It’s where we girls learned to flirt, and boys tried their hand at charm, each side as clumsily as the other; where puppy-love promises were made and broken. I would imagine it’s the same nowadays, although perhaps the kids are tweeting and texting instead of passing 1-4-3 notes scribbled on scraps of binder paper.
When my son attended Kahului Elementary School, I’d drop him off in front of the cafeteria on my way to work. One morning when he was in the 3rd or 4th grade, as we approached the turn onto Hina Avenue and the last block of our route, he asked me to pull over. I thought he was going to ask me to let him off there so he could walk the rest of the way, but he surprised me. “Mom, I don’t want my friends to see you kiss me goodbye. So can you do it now?” I did, and the stealth kiss became a morning ritual.
My own grade school years were spent at Makawao Elementary, even though we lived in Central Maui. My mother worked at Maui Pine’s Haliimaile office, so she got a district exemption for me to attend school closer to her workplace.
I don’t remember much traffic on the road during our morning drive; I think I often used the time to grab a few more minutes of sleep. Mom would drop me off at the Haliimaile bus stop, where my friends and I would jump rope or play jacks until the big yellow bus pulled up.
Mrs. Vares was our bus driver, always pleasant and warm, but firm when it came to our safety. There was no running in the aisle, no rowdiness, no bullying; Mrs. Vares made sure of that. She was like an auntie to all of us, and I looked forward to her smile and cheery “Good morning!” when I boarded her bus. Except for the times Mom and I ran late.
As a child, I was a bit of a dawdler. Well, more than a bit. The admonition I heard most often was “Stop dilly-dallying!” I also loved to languish in bed, still do. My mother did her best to keep me on track in the mornings, but every so often, we’d miss the bus and Mom would have to drive me to school and be late for work. Once, when we were just a couple of minutes late, Mom raced up the road and caught up to the bus, honking her horn and waving out the window. The bus pulled over, the doors opened, and I had to do the walk of shame from Mom’s car to the bus. Even Mrs. Vares’ kindly greeting didn’t ease my humiliation.
I haven’t completely cured myself of dilly-dallying, but that was the last time I missed a bus.
* Kathy Collins is a storyteller, actress and freelance writer whose “Sharing Mana’o”
column appears every Wednesday. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.