Saturday, August 17, 2019

The wheels on the bus



I think yellow is a great color for a school bus. It stands out, doesn’t blend in with the background, and it screams, “Don’t mess with me because I’m bigger than you and you do NOT want a nasty scrape of yellow along the door of your Lexus.”

My father-in-law likes to tell the story of the time when he had to ride a school bus to school – a vehicle that was really only school bus in name. It was more like a panel van with benches against the wall. One rainy day, the driver called him up to the front to manually work the windshield wipers. My father-in-law turned the knob to the left, the wipers swiped left; turned the knob to the right, the wipers swiped to the right.

He turned that knob back and forth all the way to school, and loves telling me that story whenever we come to visit because he knows I’m a school bus driver.

I learned how to drive a school bus way back in ’86, not because the school district was in need of bus drivers or would pay me, but because driving something big and yellow looked like so much fun. I didn’t drive a regular route at that time. I just drove the marching band to their games and contests – and it wasn’t a bad gig.

Eventually, jobs changed, careers changed, and I found myself on a regular morning and afternoon route here in East Texas. I drove for Harts Bluff ISD, Chapel Hill, and then finally Mt. Vernon. I’d wake up every morning at 4:45, be out the door by 5:30, in the bus by 6, and on the road at exactly 6:13 so the riders could walk through the schoolhouse doors just before 7:30.

And I liked it. I liked it so much I made up names for almost every portion of my route:

First, I drove my bus through the Eye of the Needle, and whether I survived it or not, ended up at the Purley Gates. I took the Short Cut to the Castle, turned around and went through The Spooky Woods to the Goat Farm, then headed through The Cow Pasture until I drove past the Loveliest House on the Hill. From there I zig zagged through Tornado Alley, drove by the Rabbit's Den, turned right at the Tree In The Middle of the Road (which isn't there anymore because it died), went past the Horse Ranch, down Blind Man's Alley, took a left through the White Fences, past the cemetery, and took a ride on Dead Man's Rollercoaster which took me back to the main highway. Eventually I found my way through Pelican Bay, and if I made it through there alive, I picked up my last riders on Liberty Lane and headed north back through The Eye of the Needle.

I passed by four cemeteries, drove through a working cow pasture, got to see peacocks, dairy cows, deer, wild boars, rabbits, squirrels, raccoons, vultures, and occasionally went head to head with a donkey in the middle of the road.

I drove a school bus for almost 30 years, but this year I’m taking a break. When Mount Pleasant, Chapel Hill and Harts Bluff buses are plying the neighborhood streets picking up students – and they will be pretty soon, so you better give them wide berth – when those drivers are out on their morning routes, I’ll be sleeping in.

Every now and then, I might even eat a proper breakfast.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

When will enough ever be enough?


I’m not an eloquent writer. I type up some sentences, and as long as the nouns and verbs are pert near where they’re supposed to be, I’m happy. Same goes for me when it comes to public speaking. I’ve never been described as succinct. I’m not even sure what the word means.

So, when bad things happen in this country, things that keep me awake at night thinking thoughts like, “Surely, they will do the right thing this time,” and “How can good people just stand by and let this happen?” and “Can I write a story that would make a difference?”, I know I can’t, and I’m honest with myself enough to know it would be silly for me to even try.

So instead, I’ve decided to address three subjects that have been weighing on my mind lately – haggis, Kinder Surprise Eggs and lawn darts.

I have eaten haggis – traditional Scottish haggis served in a traditional Scottish restaurant – and I can honestly say I thought it tasted quite nice. Most people I know have the exact opposite reaction, especially when they learn haggis is made with sheep lungs and is boiled in an animal’s stomach.

A few years ago, I decided to celebrate the birth of Scottish poet Robert Burns in a ceremony called Burns Night. It’s an annual celebration that happens every 25th of January, and the main dish is haggis. Except you can’t get traditional haggis in the United States. It’s been banned since 1971.

“But sir,” I can almost hear a true-blooded Scottish-American say in protest at that 1971 congressional meeting, “a traditional haggis has never harmed a soul. Haggis doesn’t kill people; people kill people.”

Nevertheless, traditional haggis was banned. Just like Kinder Surprise Eggs.

I’ve never eaten a Kinder Surprise Egg. In fact, before I started doing “research” for this article, I’d never even heard of Kinder Surprise Eggs. But they’re banned – banned because in the middle of this chocolate egg is a little plastic toy.

I can see how the U.S. government could be concerned about people choking on the object – in fact, since the eggs were created by Ferrero in 1974, 10 children worldwide have choked to death on them – but to ban them seems a bit heavy-handed.

“But sir,” I can almost hear a true-blooded American chocolate lover say in protest at that congressional meeting, “if Kinder Surprise Eggs are outlawed, only outlaws will have Kinder Surprise Eggs.”

Nevertheless, Kinder Surprise Eggs were banned. Just like metal-spiked lawn darts.

I used to play with metal-spiked lawn darts (or Jarts) when I was a kid. It was so much fun to toss the darts toward a ring on the ground and watch them stick in the yard like a kid-friendly javelin.

Unfortunately, they weren’t all that kid friendly. A final ban on the toys came in 1988 after 7-year-old Michelle Snow was killed when she was hit by one of the darts. Michelle’s father, David, testified before a House subcommittee regarding the dangers of lawn darts, and successfully campaigned for them to be banned.

“But sir,” I can almost hear a true-blooded American lawn dart lover say in protest at that congressional meeting, “the only thing that can stop a bad guy with lawn darts is a good guy with lawn darts.”

Nevertheless, lawn darts with metal spikes were banned.

Finally, let me leave you with this wee little tidbit: The U.S. Constitution was written at a time when “bearing arms” referred to muskets that took 20 seconds to reload and weren’t all that accurate. Today, almost 40,000 firearm deaths happen every year.

Obviously, we could do something about that – if we really wanted to.

Saturday, August 3, 2019

Learning something new is good for me and you


Last Tuesday, as I was sitting on the porch drinking my morning cup of coffee and watching the cats ignore a giant cottontail rabbit bouncing across the front yard, I realized that Star Trek got it all wrong – space is NOT the final frontier.

I grew up in the 60’s and 70’s, during a time when the starship Enterprise hurtled across our television sets on a five-year mission “to boldly go” wherever Capt. James T. Kirk wanted it to go because space was endless, even if the original TV series wasn’t.

The mission: to explore new worlds, seek out new civilizations, and to keep TV viewers coming back for new and exciting episodes week after week – same time, same channel. But like I said before, the premise of space being the final frontier was all wrong.

Reaching space was the result of mankind’s search for knowledge and understanding. And that never-ending search is the true “final frontier.”

For instance, as I watched that little rabbit make it safely across my front yard, I was curious to know why rabbits hop instead of run (it’s because of their gigantic back legs and feet) and why my cats choose to ignore them (It’s because we feed them too much, so they’re apathetic about shopping around for their own dinner).

Of course, once I started thinking about food, it was only natural to wonder which eating utensil had been around the longest.

Knives have certainly been around since prehistoric times, but who could’ve guessed that the oldest eating utensil was actually the spoon? I thought for sure chopsticks came first, but no. In my quest for knowledge, I found out that hollowed-out wood or seashells served as the first spoons way back during the Stone Age. Chopsticks didn’t make an appearance in ancient China until around 3,000 BC.

And what about the fork? The humble fork was once considered sinfully decadent.

Who knew?

Sushi and chopsticks
In 1004, according to an article by Lisa Bramen published in the Smithsonian Magazine, the Greek niece of a Byzantine emperor used a golden fork at her wedding feast in Venice. Some of the Venetians believed that, since man had been created with fingers, using such a fork was an insult to God. When the bride died a few years later from the plague, Saint Peter Damian pronounced it was God’s punishment for her hateful vanity.

I never use a fork in a Ramen or Pho restaurant. It seems to me an insult to the chef. That’s why I always use chopsticks. Of course, learning how to use them was hard at first, not to mention I looked so darn foolish even trying. Sometimes I still look foolish using them (especially when I bring the chopsticks to my mouth and drop all the food into my lap), but it has been well worth the trouble.

According to the California Academy of Sciences, chopsticks were developed in China around 5,000 years ago. By the year 500, chopsticks had spread to Japan, Vietnam and Korea. In 2012, Astronaut Don Pettit – who wrote in his NASA blog that he likes to eat with chopsticks on the International Space Station – lost one of his chopsticks when it just floated away. It was found a couple of days later stuck to a ventilator inlet grill.

Imagine that. Chopsticks in outer space. Something you and I would’ve never known about if I hadn’t sought out a comfortable porch chair last Tuesday and watched the cats ignore a fearless bunny boldly hopping where no bunny had hopped before.

No need to thank me. It’s my job.