Monday, December 22, 2014

#TheShortBus Flashblog: Notes from a Short Bus Veteran

From the day my mother put me on a bus to a "special needs" preschool at three years old to the day I graduated high school, I rode the short bus.  While my older sister walked down the block to the bus stop, I got door to door service, for fifteen years.  Even now, I use paratransit, a service my best friend Kathleen affectionately calls "the distant cousin of the short bus".  If there's such thing as a short bus expert, I'm probably your girl.

When you ride the short bus, everything becomes intensely personal.  Riding the bus every day with only three or four others, plus the driver and aide, creates a strange sort of intimacy.  Whether you particularly like the others on the bus with you or not, you become a family.  Newcomers are regarded with an uneasy distrust.  The other short bus riders can become your best friends or your worst enemies, sometimes both at once.  Some of my best memories were made on that odd little bus, with our merry band of freaks.  Conversely, so were some of my worst.

Me and my friends Kim and Angelique, short bus sisters, circa 2009.

When you ride the short bus, everything is dysfunctional.  Drivers and aides are not held to the same standards, or do not hold themselves to the same standards, as regular bus drivers.  The bus was often late, with no apology or explanation.  Sometimes they'd veer off the usual route to pick up someone else, or to get coffee, or to do any number of things, again, without a word of explanation.  Sometimes our drivers would just disappear, with a new person in the driver's seat one morning, and we'd be left to deduce whether this was a temporary or permanent change.  Sometimes things would get downright dangerous.  Drivers wouldn't know or care how to operate the wheelchair lift, or how to properly tie down a wheelchair so it won't move when the bus starts moving.  I thank the universe that no one on my bus ever got seriously hurt, but there were more than a few close calls.  I'll never forget one afternoon in high school, when I was the only student on the bus that day, and the driver sped down streets like a racecar driver, while talking on his cell phone.  I cowered in my seat and texted my short bus friends in terror.  They felt guilty for leaving me alone.

But for all the bad apples (and there were many), there were a few good ones.  There were a few drivers who laughed and joked with us.  One driver would go above and beyond his duty, getting out of the bus every morning in the winter to help me down my icy front steps, and making sure I made it up the driveway every afternoon.  The good ones were the ones who regarded us as human.  I shouldn't have to applaud basic human decency, but I do,  So We Transport, pat yourselves on the back.  Out of the dozens of drivers I had over the years, you produced three good ones.  More drivers should be like Patrick, Dion, and Hassan.

For all its failings, the short bus is more than just a joke or an abstract concept for me.  The short bus was where I laughed, cried, and grew.  The short bus was where I began to learn that my education was not valued as much as the "normal" students.  The short bus was where I was able to crank up my iPod and just be myself.  And a few days ago, when I ran into a friend who had rode the short bus with me who I hadn't spoken to in years, we picked up right where we left off.  Because there's something about the bond that sharing a short bus creates that can never be broken.  The short bus left marks on my heart that will never be erased.  I am, and will always be, a proud short bus rider.

An actual short bus that we actually rode, stolen from my friend Angelique.

Note:  This post is part of the #TheShortBus flashblog.  If you'd like to participate, submit your post to by January 5th, 2015.