Wednesday, December 22, 2010

On Not Missing the Bus

Before this year, the last time I remember missing the bus was when I was 11 years old and in the seventh grade. It's a vivid memory: me dragging my backpack behind me, running wildly after the bus, screaming out, "Wait, wait, PLEASE!"

But Mrs. Burgee--kind bus driver as she was--had a policy. And that policy was: if you weren't waiting in the line when her bus came to its squeaky halt, you weren't getting on the bus.

I hated missing the bus. Watching that yellow ride traverse forward without me, chugging along, thinking, If only I had spent less time putting glops of gel in my hair, I would have made it!

So when I started high school, I felt waves of relief each morning as I hopped on my bicycle and rode the three miles to school. I never had to worry about missing the bus--and if I was really running late, my dad loaded my bike into his trunk and he would kindly drop me off on his way to work.

So, it's been years since I missed a bus--18 years, to be exact.

But this past October, when Jennifer and I and Tyler began our new life in York, England, that seventh-grade trauma came back to haunt me as a grown man, husband and father.

Like anything bad that happens in middle school, some experiences are hard to forget. Missing the bus in York is especially hard to forget because we didn't just miss one of them.

We missed three.

It was October 9, and we were finally going to do it: after a little over a week in our new home, without a car, Jen and I had decided it was high-time we start exploring. So, we asked our neighbors where the buses can be caught near our area. They told us the # 7 Bus gets you most places you'd want to go, and it stops about a five minute walk up the road.

So, we got the diaper bag set, extra juice, snacks, and our camera, and out the door we went in search of the # 7 Bus.

And what great timing!

Just as we arrived at the bus stop, we saw a glorious # 7 Bus come streaming towards us. I smiled wide. This is going to be no problem at all! Living without a car will be easy--maybe even more fun!

I held Jen's hand, looked her in the eye, and smiled. Tyler was excited, too. "Beeeg Bus! Beeeg Bus!"

My smile feel flat off my face at approximately the same moment that the # 7 Bus flew right past us, not slowing in the least.

I turned to Jen. "Hhmmph. Maybe that one was full or something? Or maybe off-duty?"

Jen responded, "Yeah, that could be. But it looks like another one should come soon. It says here the # 7 Buses come every ten minutes or so."

My smile returned. Surely, I thought, the next bus will have room, or will be in functioning order.

Ten minutes later, another # 7 Bus made its way down Fulford Road towards us.

Tyler: "Beeeg Bus!"

Jen: "Let's hope this one stops..."

Me: Of course it will, it doesn't even look half full, there's no way it isn't going to--"

And as this second # 7 Bus whooshed past us, I can't lie to you: I was starting to get kind of ticked off.

As we waited, I started thinking to myself, Maybe there is some kind of secret code? Or maybe we are on some British version of Candid Camera, and someone is filing this whole thing--just to see how we're going to, no, that can't be. Maybe I just need to sort of flag down the bus--make sure they know that we ACTUALLY want to get on it...yes, yes, surely that's it.

Ten minutes later, as a third # 7 Bus came rushing towards us, I held both my hands up over my head and started jumping up and down.

The driver smiled wide as he hit the gas and streamed past us.

Almost entirely out of ideas, and getting ready to hang our heads and walk home again, I decided that it was better to ask than to stew. So I started asking everybody who walked by.

"How do you get a bus to stop and pick you up?"

The first two people had no clue.

The third--an older woman wheeling some sort of bag along--responded with a warm smile, "Why, just stick out your hand like this." She proceeded to stick out her arm perpendicular to her body, and hold it politely there.

When the fourth # 7 Bus came roaring towards us, I didn't jump. I didn't wave my hands. I calmly and respectfully held out my arm--perpendicular to my body as the woman had shown me--and tried to look as British as I could.

The driver hit the brakes and stopped perfectly in front of us.

Flash forward two and a half months: it's December 22, and Jen and I decide we're going to head into the city with Tyler to do some last-minute Christmas shopping and visit the Yorkshire Museum (which we affectionately call the DINOSAUR MUSEUM! for Tyler's sake).

It didn't hit me until we were already on the bus how comfortable we've grown with living in a new place, and doing without many of the comforts we had come to previously depend on and think of as so essential.

We talked with excitement and we flagged down the bus, hopped on, and got off at the exact right spot.

After all, we had made this trip more than a few times in the last two months.

And as we returned home, Tyler atop my shoulders, regaling all who would listen with his vivid memories of the dinosaur skeletons and the video of the Golden Frog, I had to smile again.

This time--and hopefully never again--no bus has passed us by to wipe that smile off my face.

Indeed, my smile remained as I fed Tyler lunch and put him down for his afternoon nap. And the single line running through my head that tied itself like a thread to my smile was this: We live here; this is our home.

And man, does it feel good to be home.