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We went to a Catholic high school a couple of towns away.  Since there was no public bus service from our town to our school (separation of church and state and all that), those needing a ride in and back were either left to their own devices, or paid for a seat on a chartered school bus belonging to a local family business (which we'll refer to as the "Smith Bus Company" - not its real name - to protect the innocent and guilty alike).

Smith's bus service from our town to our school snaked its way through our town and the town next door, then hopped the interstate to the downtown of the city where our school was located.  There we dropped off students of a girls' school (also Catholic) before hopping over the hill to ours.  The afternoon route was the reverse of the morning's, with the exception that the ladies had already been fetched before we climbed aboard.

Our bus stop was on the state road, out in front of a local government building which housed, among other things, the local police department and school district offices.  It was the first stop in the morning... and the last stop in the afternoon.  Why is this significant?  Well, for one thing, it meant that our total "work" day was longer - I usually had to be at the bus stop at something around six thirty/ a quarter to seven, and didn't end up back home till neigh onto 3:30.  It also allowed plenty of time for a bunch of antisocial teenagers to hatch mischievous plots.

The first bus driver I can recall was Toni (she may not have been the first, but she's the first I can remember). Young, Italian, not aesthetically unpleasant (save for the copious amounts of underarm hair she sported).  But, best of all, she wasn't particularly concerned about happenings on the bus, as long as she didn't get into too much trouble with the boss (i.e. Mr. Smith).  (She did, unfortunately, on several occasions, as you'll soon learn.)

Now, it is important to understand the mix of people who rode the bus.  From our town were the Elders (upper-classmen, who happened to have troublemaker reputations), a few others (such as the Elders' younger siblings) and a slew of (naughty and nice) Girls' School ladies.  The town next door provided a wealthier (and snottier and whinier) demographic.  Add the three of us to this mix, and... what happened wasn't all that surprising.

First of all, the Elders liked to smoke... herbs wholesome and otherwise.  Many's the day when I'd arrive at the bus stop (the local Cop Shop, don't forget)... greeted by the smell of burning hemp. (Though, truth be told, most often it was the smell of multitudinous Marlboros permeating the morning air.) Usually pipes were used; though, on occasion, someone would forget his, this prompting local teenage ingenuity in the employment of a soda can (dent the side, make a hole, suck through the opening in the top) - which seldom worked as well.

Most amusing, though, was that (for awhile, at least), this practice continued onto the bus. (The Elders, of course, occupied the back.) On occasion, the bus resembled something out of a Cheech and Chong movie - cloud hanging from the ceiling and all. One day, though, just over the border into the next town, Toni pulled over.  (This was to become a regular practice.  At that point, all the "culprits" - read: "riders from our town" -  were aboard, and we could be lectured without soiling the virgin ears of the precious little tykes from the next town.)  She announced that someone (from the other town, of course) had called Smith to complain about the smoking on the bus.

Well, not having smokies to occupy themselves, the Elders began to find other ways to pass the time. One of them managed to come by some M-80s - and must have thought, "What better to do with explosives than... bring them to school!"  But I guess he thought better of this (maybe thought he'd be caught with them on school property) so he decided to dispose of them... out the bus window... on the interstate... lit. (This was not to be the last time boys were playing with fire on the bus - as you'll soon learn.)

At some point (not particularly near the holiday season, and I'm sure after a healthy dose of THC) the Elders decided that a new tradition was needed... namely that freshman (us) should be compelled to sing Christmas carols for the amusement of all aboard. Which we did. (We didn't carry on with this tradition, I'm afraid; but by the time we were Elders, the atmosphere aboard had changed for the "worse" - for us, anyway, though probably not the bus company or the precious tykes from the other town.) It was all in good fun (despite the menacing way in which our "talent" was recruited).

So we had tobacco (and other smokeables)... we had explosives (albeit no firearms - I think)... so someone needed to round out the Big Three with... ALCOHOL!  One of the Elders (and/or one of the ladies of the Girls' School) brought a bottle aboard. (Probably Jack, though it may have been one of the flavored brandies/schnapps. Or both.)  Now, on one or two occasions I had had a shot of ice cold Stolichnaya before hopping the bus in the morning. (Couldn't do that now - the very thought of booze in the AM makes me queasy, gee but it sucks getting old.)  There's a big difference between a single bracing shot and passin' the bottle so that you arrive at school pie-eyed and falling down.

I think the trouble (leading to subsequent disciplinary action) started with the ladies - one of whom was purported to have walked in, collapsed, and puked all over a nun's patent leathers.  Another, apparently, made it to class, only to decide, during morning prayers, to do an "improvisational" reading of the Hail Mary ("...with the cherry..." or something to this effect).

Our school didn't fare much better. There was, I believe, some vomit. Then someone cracked and spilled the beans. Net result was a couple of transports to the ER with stomach pumps to follow, and several suspensions (including that of all or most of the Elders).

[Looking back, I'm surprised they weren't kicked out on their asses - then again, neither were we despite OUR copious nonsense.  The school administration probably felt that they'd be a better influence on us than we'd have in the public schools and, thus, were doing the entire community a tremendous service.    They were probably right.  Anyway...]

While the Elders were occupying themselves with their (frankly rather pedestrian) evil doings, we were busily advancing the "state of the art."

As I mentioned, the Elders sat in the back, so we occupied seats in the middle.  And, as I also mentioned, fire became a major theme.  Two of my colleagues (and even, for awhile, Yours Truly) smoked, so there were always disposable butane lighters around. One of our number became quite adept at "flaming fingers" - filling his hands with gas and igniting it a la a cheesy magician's act.

My other colleague, on the other hand, preferred other flammable gases to butane, and, on several occasions, could be seen hunched down in a bus seat with knees splayed on the seat back in front of him, lighter flame held precariously close to his pants seat. Yes, he obtained the intended effect - all too well one time, when an impressive blue flame shot out and scorched his pants.

More memorable, though, was the occasion one of the Girls' School ladies (I remember we knew her and one of us had a "history" with her) made the mistake of gripping her seatback while engaged in conversation, thus leaving her fingers to dangle into our "territory." Apparently one of the gentlemen  thought her fingers appeared to be a bit chilly, and thus proceeded to, um, warm them up.  She didn't notice at first, then...

"What the...? "
(She turns around, spies him with the lit Bic in his hand.)

she shrieks and hauls off and lays one on him across the face, literally knocking him out of the seat and into the aisle.

Did this cool the fiery antics?  Of course not. Towards the end of one year (sophomore, if I recall), we managed to convince the driver (still Toni, I think) to let us have a paper fight.  She said OK, as long as we cleaned it up afterwards. (We did, sort of.)  Of course, one of my firebug friends couldn't keep from innovating (or suppressing his pyromaniacal urges) so his paper balls were, um, the proverbial Great Balls of Fire.  ("Owwww!" a precious tyke from the town next door yelped nasally.)

We did clean up the bus after that paper fight: at one of the stops along the state road (in the town next door, of course), we popped open the emergency door in the back, and proceeded to sweep something like fifty cubic feet of wadded (and sometimes singed) paper out onto the road... and the hoods of the cars of those unlucky enough to be behind us at the time.

Of course, there was another occasion where those stuck behind our flashing red lights were to be treated to our creativity.  About that time, I came to own a certain novelty: a plastic model of the head of a phallus, mounted on a pair of feet, with a wind up device which would cause it to hop about.  At our school, the Wind-Up Dick became sort of an unofficial school mascot, being permitted to do such things as wander the halls and classrooms.  Once on the bus, we must have decided its feet were cold, so we found a nice, cozy place to tuck them: my zipper.  Fully-wound, the feet in my zipper, Mr. Dick hobbled and bobbled to the delight of all - most especially those drivers haplessly stuck behind us, as I stood spread-eagled at the back window and gave them a show. (By then, the Elders had left the bus, so we were living in the back - though not for long.)  Of course, Mr. Dick's final abode was sitting atop a Bible in the Lost & Found cabinet, into which one of our number had previously inserted a sketch entitled "Lana" - pert and perky and rather lovely, she found herself quite at home at an appropriate passage in Genesis.  (Of course, other things found their way into said Lost & Found, as well.)

Nor were projectiles only wadded paper.  One of our number made a habit of scurrying around under the seats, snipping off the coated tips of other riders' shoelaces, and inserting pins to produce darts.  On another occasion, a less painful projectile was chosen: one of those wall-crawler sticky figures.  While being chucked around, it managed to find its way to the bus roof right above Jackass, who looked up just in time for it to fall into his face (to the amusement of all present).

Over time, as we made our way towards the back, we noticed that Smith wasn't overly conscientious about seat maintenance. The most egregious example of this was what became known as The Mouth.  I'm sure it began its life as a small cut in the fabric of the seatback, which, had they been good about making timely repairs, would never have matured into the monster it became. Over time, though, the slit widened, then someone started picking at the seat stuffing, which made the Mouth an accommodating place to dump one's trash (a practice to be known as "Feeding the Mouth").

I, of course, was shocked and appalled at the lax maintenance.  So... spying a loose piece of stuffing, I decided the thing to do would be encourage a policy change on their part by the clever use of a visual aid.  Said stuffing was placed in an envelope (I believe with a typewritten note to the effect of not telling them what it was or where it came from, save for one hint: "it's yours") and said envelope was mailed to the headquarters of the Smith Bus Company.

This didn't seem to help. (Not to mention we were noticing other items, like problems with the heater.)  So we decided a more aggressive approach was needed to call this maintenance item to attention.  Since the Mouth was being fed garbage anyway, we just added a bit to its variety (including such items as lunch remnants, tuna fish and, eventually, an open can of sardines). It finally got fixed.

In fact, this approach seemed so effective we thought we'd try it on the problem with the heater.  An open can of either tuna or sardines was wedged under the heating unit on the floor. I think it was that point we ended up with another bus.

By then we noticed that the quality of maintenance service on the buses they provided our route kept going down (methinks they were purposely giving us their junk - can't imagine why). The worst, though, was one having a seat about three quarters of the way towards the back, which had a crack in bracket holding the seat back fastened to bench.  Since we tended to sit hunched down with knees on the back to the seatback in front of us, this provided pressure on this crack causing it to open, and thus causing the seat to, um, recline.  Thus, "The Recliner" was born.  Quite comfortable, albeit a safety hazard.

The Recliner wasn't to live long, however.  Our use of its most comfortable feature during the ride in had weakened the cracked bracket considerably.  My bet is that they used the bus on another (middle school?) route, because by the time we got it again that afternoon, the Recliner was really reclining.  My colleagues ended up in said seat again; and I was across the aisle and up one row.  It was decided by back-of-bus consensus that the goal of that bus ride would be to see just how much the Recliner could be made to recline (turning it into a bed was, I believe, the goal).

So my colleagues pushed their knees extra hard against the seatback in front of them.  One of the Elders (they were still aboard at that point) got into the act as the trip rolled along - standing up, giving a furtive glance around, and kicking the bracket with his ubiquitous cowboy boots.

The seatback was damn near horizontal by the time we got off the interstate in the town next door.  The occupants of most of its neighbors had (wisely) decided to relocate.  The finale, however, didn't come until we approached our town.  There was a spot in the road with several (three I believe) rather nasty potholes in succession.  With the first, the seat became horizontal.  With the second it tilted towards the floor.  It didn't break off entirely until the third. The gentlemen jumped up and looked a bit shocked as they spied the seatback on the floor, the bus seat being reduced to a bench only. (They quickly sat elsewhere - seeking to distance themselves from the scene of the crime.)

We hailed Toni to let us off (quite a ways up the state road from our usual stop) - we figured we were going to catch hell and were looking to  escape.  As the bus drove away, we watched the succession of seats in the bus windows... the one seat missing gave the scene the look of a hillbilly's toothless grin.

Next day, we board a (different) bus.  Nothing is said.  We take our seats, proceeding to the next stop. About a quarter mile down the road (just over the town line, once again) Toni pulls over, stops the bus, and looks up. "Mr. Smith was pissed!" she said.

Once the Elders has departed (I don't think we saw any more of them following the pass-the-bottle incident - that was probably fine by them anyway, I'm sure at least one of them drove) we began occupying the back.  This was short-lived.

Now, I thought we were pretty tame that year. Still and all, the bus company had learned its lesson and replaced Toni with a cigar-chomping old bastard we proceeded to call Pops. You know that kiddie song, "Hail to the Busdriver Man" - cusses and stinks up the busses and all that?  That's the man.

First order of business: one-by-one, everyone from our town was made to sit in the front. (I got pissed about our treatment and wrote a nasty letter to complain, a la the Precious Tykes - didn't do any good... in fact, he found out about it and made life generally miserable.)

Fortunately, as we had begun that Great Rite of Passage of American Teens - getting the driver's license - we, too, were to leave the confines of the Smithmobiles and take to the open road... in a borrowed red Montero and a powder-blue Monte Carlo.  (But that's the subject of another whole set of tales...)

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