Driving behind a school bus is like trailing a really slow guy on the sidewalk who doesn’t realize you’re there and won’t let you pass him. The difference is that, in the latter situation, I have no compunction about dashing quickly into the street and bounding ahead of said slow man. Pulling a similar stunt in the bus scenario would not only put children needlessly at risk, but forever shame me with the label of “Jerk Who Passed School Bus.”

But man, is it tempting.

It would be one thing if the bus never stopped, like the bomb-rigged bus from “Speed” that would explode if it went too slow. Buses can gather some good velocity, but only with a head start of roughly, say, New Jersey. Any distance shorter than that, and a kid on a bike could outpace one and still have enough wind at the finish line for a game of hopscotch, or cyber Pokemon Hunger Games football, or whatever they play nowadays.

Of course, a school bus can never inch its way up to an acceptable speed, because bus routes now require that it make a stop about once every block and a half. When I pull onto a street on a school day afternoon and see that big, square, yellow butt staring at me, I know exactly what to expect: Stop. Let two children out. Inch forward at five miles per hour. Stop two feet down the road. Let three more children out. Repeat. I could do my taxes and choreograph the Ice Capades in the time it takes a bus to go down May Street in Biddeford.

Now, there’s nothing that makes a person feel old like starting a sentence with the phrase, “Back in my day.” It implies something curmudgeonly, a cantankerous nostalgia for the way things used to be. But you know what? I’m a curmudgeon, so screw it: Back in my day, the bus never stopped that often. It didn’t have to. Our stops were spaced farther apart, and if one of us was unfortunate enough to live a quarter mile from one, we sucked it up and walked there.

When I was a wee lad taking the bus to middle school, I lucked out: The stop was right at the end of my street. It took about four minutes to walk there, sometimes a little more in icy weather. My friend Kevin, who met us there every morning, had his own nearby stop, but elected to walk to ours instead; a close-knit group of friends, it was hardly a complete morning without the full gang present to trade cards and share stories about girls and boogers. Kevin walked almost a full mile for this daily rite. He trudged up and over a hill so steep and massive, its legend earned it a name: Applesass Hill. And yes, he walked up Applesass Hill in the freezing cold and snow. The clichés are true.

Contrast that with today, when a child has to trek no further than the neighbor’s bronze statue of a peeing angel. Now admittedly, I’m not a parent. Perhaps my feelings would be different if I were sending my own 9-year-old out into the freezing cold to wait for a ride on a rickety bus with no seat belts. But it seems that, with the proper guidance on how to be safe, letting a child walk even a 90-second journey would be character-building. And that’s not to mention the exercise factor: In a country where childhood obesity is considered an epidemic, encouraging a kid to put one foot in front of the other hardly seems like the worst thing that could be done.

If the trend continues, then changes will have to be made to that age-old ditty about the wheels on the bus. “The wheels on the bus go ’round and ’round,” according to that childhood staple, but that’s no longer accurate. The wheels on the bus go ’round. Then they stop while the rest of us wait.

— Jeff Lagasse is a columnist and staff writer for the Journal Tribune, and can’t wait until teleportation technology makes the bus obsolete. He can be reached at [email protected].



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