[This Commentary originally appeared in the January 11, 1990 issue of The Mendon-Honeoye Falls-Lima Sentinel.]
(The following is loosely based on a real life adventure as told by an eight year old.)
The Start: The focus of my formative years had to be the School Bus Stop. That – and summer vacation – provided the best opportunity of non-structured learning. School and my family both taught me very important things I needed to know, but only places like the School Bus Stop allowed me to begin to practice that knowledge and learn for myself.
My School Bus Stop lay at the top of a half mile long dead end street. I knew the exact length because we had the last house on the street. Each day would begin with my mother pushing me and my little brother out the front door and into the real world. She would always leave us with nice thoughts in hopes of spurring us on to academic achievement. Little did she realize, once we reached the end of our driveway our small minds could think only of the ominous expedition ahead. In front of us, the straight road stretched on forever. We could barely make out the corner of the street – the School Bus Stop.
Lots of other kids spent their weekday mornings walking up the street to the School Bus Stop. Most of them, however, had a substantially smaller distance to travel. In fact, my brother and I generally journeyed alone until we reached the midpoint of our trek. It seemed like all the other kids lived in the middle of the street.
The Kids: At the age of eight, four species of kids existed. The Older Guys were tough, mean and nasty. Too young for any serious teenager to pick on, they yet loomed large enough to menace those younger than them. We had two Older Guys at the School Bus Stop. We always wondered what would happen to these guys. Our mothers constantly scared us by saying if the Older Guys didn’t behave, they would end up in jail.
Next in the hierarchy of the School Bus Stop came the Older Girls which themselves fell into two subclasses. We called the first subclass “Cat-Fighters.” These girls always got into fights with each other and sometimes with kids younger than them. We always figured they were destined to marry the older guys. We had three Cat-Fighters at our School Bus Stop. The second subclass consisted of the Nice Girls. These girls seemed real smart and very fair. They represented the only non-adult capable of convincing an Older Guy not to beat up someone and their wisdom often settled many arguments. We figured these girls would marry normal guys. We had four Nice Girls at our School Bus Stop.
The Normal Guys made up the third type of kid. This group including me, my brother, my best friend and his younger brother. We sort of stuck together and tried hard to avoid getting beat up. We had simple goals – staying alive, passing school and getting a Nice Girl to marry us.
The last segment contained the remaining dozen or so kids known as the Little Kids. They represented the horde from which all the species evolved from. As Normal Guys, we felt obliged to treat them kindly (because we always wanted people to treat us kindly) but did not wish to mix with them (after all, they were just Little Kids). We always thought they’d grow up to be our children (well, some of them at least).
The Setting: The School Bus Stop persisted as a dynamic, socially active and intellectually challenging environment. Located on the corner of my street and a Big Road, lots of cars always passed by early in the morning. The timeworn two story red brick building behind where we stood had a bar and a small apartment. It was always quiet there in the morning. In fact, I can’t ever remember seeing people go into or come out of either the bar or the apartment. Although physically closest to the bar and the apartment, of all the buildings around the School Bus Stop, this dual-use structure stood as the most foreign to us kids, (except for the Older Guys – they liked to hang out around the front door of the bar and tell jokes I couldn’t understand).
An ancient service station made of concrete block occupied the spot across my street on our side of the Big Road. It had long ago stopped selling gas and seemed to concentrate on collecting pieces of wrecked-up cars. I remembered it used to sell gas when I was a Little Kid. It, too, never appeared to be open for business. Standing at the School Bus Stop, the dirty junk piled around it looked threatening. No one ventured too close to it, not even the Older Guys.
On the other side of the two-lane Big Road stood an old statue shop (the shop was old, not the statues), a couple single wood frame houses and my grandfather’s pizzeria – another vintage two story red brick building. Further down the Big Road on the other side sat the dated hardware store my father worked at when he was a Teenager and the fire station, which also had an active collision shop next it. My mother’s family lived above the pizzeria, and sometimes I would look up at the big window in the apartment’s parlor to see if my grandmother was in there. On very rare occasions, if he would miss his school bus, I would see my uncle. He was just a little bit older than the Older Guys but not a Teenager yet, so he still didn’t mind if I talked to him about stuff.
The Turf: Pretty much each group stayed within its carefully marked territory. Us Normal Guys stayed next to the apartment building’s brick wall facing the Big Road, waiting for the school bus to come. Basically, we stayed away from the Older Guys and tried to stay out of trouble.
The Nice Girls would stand off to the side in a circle somewhere in the street, quite apart from the actual School Bus Stop. They didn’t need to interact with the rest of us and they stood in a way to promote this non-interaction. The Cat-Fighters hung together loosely, but always between the Nice Girls and the Older Guys. The Older Guys liked to move around a lot, egging on members of the various other groups. Cursing and teasing, they instilled fear in the hearts of everyone.
The Little Kids stood like a huddled mass on the largest available space left to them. They giggled and cowered, depending on the situation. They always lined up first for the school bus. The Older Guys always got on last (and headed immediately for the back of the school bus).
But all the exciting things happened before the school bus even got there. The Older Guys would spend the better part of the wait first threatening each other, then threatening the other kids. They especially liked to pick on us Normal Guys. Though smaller than them, we presented them with the best challenge. After all, even the Older Guys would be embarrassed to beat up a Little Kid and they really didn’t know how to deal with the Older Girls. The Older Guys pushed us to the brink, but somehow could never get us to act unwisely (either a Nice Girl would intervene on our behalf or the School Bus would show up and save the day). Until one day when the school bus came late…
(Next Week: Over the Edge.)
Last Week #41: Ronald Wilson Reagan – The Real Man of the Decade (originally published January 4, 1990)
Next Week #43: Terror at the School Bus Stop – A True Life Story (Part II) (originally published January 18, 1990)
[What is this and why is here? See Interested in Discovering My Time Machine? for more details.]