The Big Amarillo School Bus

New York City 1980

Moving back to New England from Asunción, Paraguay, we stayed in a short-term rental in New York City until our household goods caught up with us in America. It truly was a case of the slow boat down the river from Asunción to Buenos Aires, Argentina, where our things would be transshipped and head north to the USA. With luck, a voyage of about 3-months at the time.

One Manhattan morning after a doctor's appointment uptown, my 3-year old and I caught a public bus to head to midtown Manhattan. Slowly edging through the traffic, I saw the first one. A small cockroach surreptitiously entering the luxuriously air-conditioned bus from under a wheel well. Then another popped out, to be joined by a few more.

No big deal, I thought remembering the cockroaches of Paraguay. The dozen or so other passengers weren't quite as sanguine.

"Driver, there are cockroaches on this bus!" yelled someone. Other passengers jumped up to join the outrage and insist that the driver pull over immediately, and call for a clean replacement bus. One without cockroaches. Back in the USA.

Out piped my 3-year-old daughter Jennie, "Mommy, what's wrong?" I explained to her only to find her puzzled face. "But Mommy, the cockroaches are so small." Her experience didn't include being upset by a few cockroaches.

Small compared to those we'd left behind in Paraguay, where 2-year-old Jennie would walk barefoot down the hall happily stomping on any scurrying cockroach she encountered. Those had been long as my fingers, these were tiny as Jennie's fingernails.

It's all about your perspective.

Guayaquil, Ecuador 1986

The yellow, amarillo school bus that carried our elementary children to their private, English-speaking school up the nearby hill to their international school had large, gaping holes in the floor. Holes large enough to see the roadbed below. So we just told our kids to remain seated on the bus and not fall down a hole when entering or exiting the bus. As for the school bus run home, I knew better than to ask about the brakes of the bus.

Some afternoons the bus would be late. Some afternoons it was very, very late. On those exceptionally late days, a friend with wheels would backtrack the streets looking for the missing bus that was always found broken down on the side of a road. She'd rescue her children and as many of their friends as would fit in her car. These lucky kids would get home late but not as late as the kids who remained on the bus. They'd have to wait for the bus to be repaired and only then be dropped home very, very, very late. It was what it was.

Mexico City, Mexico 1995

In Mexico City, the American School's bus was positively First World. No holes in it's floor. There was a driver and a "Miss", who sat in the front of the bus to monitor the children. In reality the Miss was as powerless as a day old tortilla, since every kid on the bus knew, or soon learned that the Miss was just another empleada or employee.

One thing the Miss could and usually did do, was to keep the children safe as they entered and exited the bus. For exiting the bus to cross the road was always dangerous given the cars would zoom past the stopped, light-flashing yellow school bus with impunity. Rules are for peons.

Surrey, United Kingdom 2018

Despite the UK's avowed, hyper-focus on carbon footprint, public school buses are virtually non-existent. Only the posh, or rich students in private schools sometimes have school buses. As for students in state schools, parents and caregivers either walk, bike, scoot or drive in horrific traffic jams to do the school run, unless they have the option of mass transit. And yes, young kids do ride mass transit.

Curacao, Netherlands Antilles 1983

In Curacao, the 35 miles by 7 1/2 miles desert island near Aruba, the island was too small for the expense of a school bus at the private international school. Children got to and from school by car or carpool. With the never-ending trade winds, pollution wasn't a problem. It would blow away.

Lima, Peru 1972

When I taught 3 classes at an American high school in Lima, Peru in 1972, I took the kindergarten school bus to get to and from my part-time job. We had the same schedule. Since I didn't have a car and mass transit was insanely time consuming for the short trip to the nearby, but not near enough, school, it was just easier.

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    I was an accidental expatriate; love and marriage led me to it. One day I was a bandy-legged kid sitting atop my dogwood tree looking out of my small backyard world in 1950s New Jersey, wanting to move somewhere--anywhere, different. Next thing I knew my father had accepted a job in Houston TX. I was ecstatic, it was a foreign land in 1961 America. After high school graduation, my parents’ gave me a matched set of fawn-colored hardsided American Tourister luggage. Taking the hint, I went to college; well four colleges in five years--it was the 60s after all. Meeting a young hirsute anti-war, soon-to-be-Peace Corps volunteer, I fell in love. After finishing up college coursework for my degree, but before I even walking a graduation stage, I grabbed the paper airline ticket my boyfriend had sent me, my brand-new passport, and was off to the airport and Lima, Peru.

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