I stood at the end of the lane waiting for the school bus to pick me up and take me to a new school to start grade 9. The bus was small as there were only a handful of us in this particular pocket of the county who were designated to attend a junior high in the city.
The small yellow bus stopped and the door popped open.
“Are you John?” the driver called out. I nodded and climbed onto the bus. The driver was an elfish woman with a gravelly voice that must have come from whiskey, cigarettes, and a lifetime of yelling. It was a voice I’d only ever heard in the movies. I looked around at the collection of misfits. Bad haircuts, ill-fitting clothes, and a fashion sense that indicated limited access to chain clothing stores. There were the gangly, the sort of fat, the acned, and the crooked-toothed. The place had the atmosphere of first-time convicts on the way to do hard time in a federal penitentiary. You could smell the fear and anxiety.
I sat beside a larger kid with a bowl cut and apple-red cheeks. His hair was much like mine– no style, not cut by any professional, just there on his head with the odd piece sticking straight up like it had never occurred to him to comb it, or wash it, or put it right in some way.
“I’m David Lightfoot,” he cheerfully introduced himself. I had never met anyone named Lightfoot. I shook his hand.
“Do you like Motley Crue?” he asked.
“Yeah, sure. I guess so.” I was bluffing. I had no idea who Motley Crue were. That summer my cousin Sharon had given me the Loverboy album Get Lucky and I had pretty much worn it out, mostly because it was the only record I owned.
“I got a Sony Walkman for my birthday. I can bring it on the bus if you want. You can listen to the tape.” He was being really nice. The bus drove on. After a few minutes of chattering about his family, nervously, he suddenly put his head in his hand. And threw up. The vomit had pooled in his hands and he looked at me in pleading, heartbreaking, way and said, “Oh geez, I’m sorry. That’s really gross isn’t it?” He must have been searching for a place to put his throw-up because he looked around furtively, but, finding no solution, he dumped the contents of his hands on the floor.
He vomited again. It was loud and plentiful. He caught this batch in his hands as well and then dumped it on the floor. It splashed and splattered.
Again he apologized: “I’m really sorry about this, man, this is really gross.”
The smell filled the bus and soon everyone was plugging their noses and making noises of disgust. But no one was angry. In fact a few of the kids were laughing and soon we were all laughing.
When the smell hit the bus driver, her head whipped up to the rear-view mirror and she yelled, “What in the name of God is that?”
Through her chortles, a curly-haired, bespectacled girl with braces said, “That kid puked all over the floor. Ewwww.” She pulled the front of her t-shirt up over her nose.
“Guys, I’m really sorry. I don’t know what’s going on,” he said.
The bus made a detour to a gas station and the driver borrowed a hose and managed to wash out most of the vomit. By this time even she was laughing and shaking her head. We had all gathered around outside and had made fast friends with each other now that we all shared a minor trauma. Even David was laughing. He kept apologizing, but by now no one really cared. It was funny. And thanks to David we were all a little less afraid.
For that whole year riding the bus was the best thing about going to school.