Why a Bus?
During the last year, you don’t know how many times I have been asked the question,
“Why a bus?” The first time was a cold afternoon in January, when my friend Mark and I were boarding one in upper Manhattan to head downtown, and he complained, “Why a bus? Can’t we take a cab?” The second time happened this past spring when I went back home to Ohio and brought my nieces and nephews New York City school bus key chains as souvenirs. They were adorable. They were die cast metal, shaped as yellow school buses, with tiny rubber tires and “New City Schools”
inscribed in black bold letters across the side. When I handed the souvenir to my niece, my sister wondered out loud, “Why a bus?” OK, so there have only been two times I have been asked that question, and, to answer my sister--just in case she is reading this--because EVERYONE gets a Statue of Liberty or an I Heart NY keychain.
Plus, these buses were so darn cute. I really should have bought a key chain for myself. I think I will go back and get one. Not only is New York City my favorite city in the world, and that shade of yellow my favorite color (well for coffee mugs and number two pencils) but my second book, A. Blob on a Bus, just happens to take place in a bus. You might be thinking, “Why a bus?” to yourself. Let’s just say you are. Well, there is a reason behind it.
I was headed north up Hudson Drive when I spotted the giant yellow buggy in front of me. I groaned at the sight of it because no one wants a school bus in front of them when time is of the essence. I was headed to the gym before work, so all I saw in front of me was a flabby stomach and flabby thighs on wheels. For certainly this bus was going to, at some point, lower its mighty arm, signaling, “Stop, you impatient woman, you won’t have time for sit ups today.” And as sure as the day is long, it happened: first the brake lights appeared, followed by the slow, painstaking lowering of the blinking red eight-sided sign emblazoned with white letters: “TOO BAD,” ordering me to stop and wait for a child to appear from the house and board the bus. As, I settled into my seat, drinking my morning coffee, to wait for the emergence of Johnny-Come- Lately, I noticed HER, peering out the back window of the bus. She was looking directly at me. She appeared to be around ten or eleven years old. She was expressionless--no smile, no frown, just an empty stare. Maybe the expression was one of angst because it was the first day of school and, perhaps she had butterflies in her stomach. You know those pesky insects that show up to remind you that your future is uncertain. For some reason, I still get them at the mere mention of the words, “first day of school.” However, the little girls dress--in contrast to her expression--was rather imaginative. She had a bright, royal blue blouse on, underneath a cream-colored vest that appeared to have some shiny metallic strips woven into the fabric. Thin blue and silver streamers dangled against her long brown hair. I thought the glitzy outfit was her attempt to be accepted by the rest of the herd. But then I noticed that she was standing all alone in the back while the rest of the pack were seated, paired up according to type inside the giant yellow ark. The outfit obviously wasn’t an attempt to blend in as the others were moderately dressed. She clearly stood out from the rest. “Why is she staring at me?” I thought, as I averted her gaze and looked down, pretending to have difficulty placing my coffee cup back in the holder. I admired my nails as I placed the coffee in the cupholder. I had just had them painted a sapphire blue with gel nail polish. The gel caused the nails to shine much more than the regular polish I normally wore. I marveled at the color of blue, realizing that it matched the stapler that I had sitting on my desk back at the office. The office that I was going to be late arriving to because I was still waiting on a child to board the bus. When I looked up to see if there was any sign of life from the house, I saw that she was still staring out of the back window at me. A bevy of questions flooded my mind: Why is she still looking at me? Why is she standing? Isn’t that dangerous? Doesn’t this bus have seat belts? Why aren’t all school buses required to have seat belts? Why isn’t Noah paying attention to his passengers? Isn’t he concerned with their safety? Why isn’t she smiling? Is she being bullied? I had already written my first picture book, This is A. Blob, about a bully who wreaks havoc on a playground tormenting other kids. In my research for the book I had read that a school bus was a hot spot for bullying. Besides the fact that the bully pretty much had a captive audience, there is very little adult supervision. Bullies tend to target their victims any place where adult supervision is low. Yes, there was the school bus driver, Noah. But there can be as many 70 kids on one bus for him to supervise and his focus obviously is on safe driving. I felt a little helpless sitting there. I really couldn’t surmise anything from the situation. I knew it was up to the adults in the child’s life to notice the signs of bullying. The mood changes, the minor health complaints, the changes in their grades and sleeping habits. All I could do was sit and wonder about the one who wandered away from the herd and was standing there gazing intently at me.
I don’t know why I did it. It may have been the fact that she was standing alone, looking like an outcast, in need of provision, or maybe it was the blue streamer gesturing me to show kinship. Whatever the case, I decided to flash my freshly painted nails at her, one hand, five fingers, palm-side away from her, in some tribal “I feelyasister” greeting. I don’t know what I expected to happen. Maybe she would give me a sign of the duress she was in. Most likely I was being selfish and was hoping it would cause her to look away and end the awkwardness I was feeling being under the microscope. But she did something totally unexpected: instead of looking away, she returned the greeting in “I’ll see you and raise you” fashion and flashed back five nails decked out in blue and white zig-zags matching her vest and streamers. Clearly her nails were far more stunning than mine. The gesture caused me to spit out my coffee and laugh out loud. Her expression-less face broke out in a huge smile as well. In the meantime, I hadn’t noticed the brake lights on the bus were gone, as well as the flashing red stop sign. The bus began to move and make its way toward the unknown future. The girl with the streamers had sat back down in her seat when the bus continued its journey. I followed behind it for a way before I had to make a left-hand turn. When I put on my signal to turn--to my astonishment--the little girl’s head popped her head up over the backseat, smiled, and flashed me the five-fingered backward hand wave, good-bye. I returned the smile and the wave, and she sat back down in her seat.
I drove to the gym at a leisurely pace. I was no longer hurried or concerned about getting my full work out in. Instead I was thrilled that I had the idea for the next book in the A. Blob series. My only worry –would having a tiny pink butterfly flying out the back window of the bus at the end of the story be too much?