Riding the short bus.Posted: March 26, 2010
A few days ago, someone I know referred to a mentally challenged person as a “short bus rider.” It bugs me when people do that, for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is that I think it isn’t cool to mock a person with a developmental condition that they certainly didn’t ask for. I let the person know I really didn’t think it was right to demean handicapped people in that way. There is another reason I’m a little sensitive to the short bus joke.
I rode the short bus to high school.
On the first day of my junior year of high school, I, along with friends from the neighborhood, met our school bus at the appointed time. Unfortunately, we found that the bus on our route was at capacity before it got to our stop, the last one of its route before heading to the school. We ended up standing in the narrow aisles. It was far from the safest situation for us. We complained to the driver, and probably more significantly, parents complained to the school.
On the second Friday of school, as he dropped us off at our home stop, the driver told us a solution had been found and we would not have to stand on the way to school starting Monday morning. He didn’t say how that was going to happen.
Monday morning, a dozen of us were at the bus stop. Down the hill, at our appointed pick up time, came a short bus. It stopped in front of us. The door opened. We didn’t get on. Someone said something about “some sort of mistake”, that we didn’t have “anyone like that” at our stop. The driver said,”I know, get on.” The solution to our overcrowding/safety problem was one of the dreaded, stigmatized short buses.
As we started to file on, our old bus pulled up behind us. We could hear our friends howling with laughter.
There weren’t really conversations on the short bus that first morning. There were mostly just exchanges. I remember saying something to a girl about how ugly things would get when we arrived at school. She just whispered, “I know.” We all knew it was inevitable. We were going to wear the short bus stigma.
I was right, it was not good when we got to school. People really were giving it to us as we got off the short bus. I paused at the top of the stairs, as if staying on the bus and going home was an option. I heard the driver say “go on son, the rest of the kids I drive get off this bus every day of their lives.”
I’d be lying if I said I understood what she was trying to tell me back then. I was fifteen. I get it now. I wish fifteen-year-old me did.
I walked off into the storm of jokes and insults. It was bad. It was bad all day. I couldn’t wait to get back on the bus to go home, except that I’d be getting back on my short bus.
The short bus became our nemesis and our friend. It was the one place we could all be sure we wouldn’t hear the jokes. The one place we weren’t called retards and the only reason people who’d known us for years were calling us that.
I was a short bus person for a year. The jokes backed off a bit. A girl told me she thought my bus was cute and she wished she rode it too. I thought about telling her about the other side of being on the cute bus, but she was a girl, so I was not going to debate any discussion that contained any association between me and the word cute.
There was no short bus for my neighborhood after that year.
I don’t think most of the people I went to school with remember the short bus, but I do.
Some kids get off that bus every day of their lives. Some parents put their kids on that bus every day. They all hear the short bus joke and it isn’t really funny to them. Maybe we could cut them a break on the short bus stuff.