On the Bus

by Michael Bérubé on March 3, 2009

I am looking forward. . . .

<a href=”http://www.michaelberube.com/index.php/weblog/tuesday_potluck/”>On the bus home from Philadelphia a few weeks ago</a>, I had an Important Insight.  It was an insight borne of decades of driving and my last couple of academic gigs, which (because of their locations far from airports) have entailed traveling in shuttles and buses and vans and town cars and rickshaws.  And I’ve decided to share it with you, just because (and just below the fold).

After decades of driving, I find that I have become the Default Family Driver.  The reason it has taken me so long to grasp this is that when I met my wife in the early 1980s, she was far more conversant with auto-mobiles than I was; I hailed from New York City and had never owned a car, whereas she drove a small truck and could actually do her own repairs.  Over the past quarter century, however, cars have become too complicated for mere mortals to tamper with, and Janet has gradually become less and less comfortable driving in rain, snow, or darkness.  Since we live in a corner of the world that is covered in rain, snow, or darkness approximately seventy percent of the time, I do most of the driving.  OK, and then there was her neck surgery, which had obvious implications for things like backing out of parking spaces and handling difficult intersections.

The result of all this default driving is that I now feel completely pampered whenever I am being driven someplace.  It doesn’t matter where I’m going or what vehicle carries me.  I find a comfortable position, curl up as best I can, and read or fall asleep or read and fall asleep and read and fall asleep and read again.  It feels like luxury.*

But it didn’t occur to me until a few weeks ago that I used to have a very different — and far more neurotic and tightly-wound — attitude toward passengerdom.  The first glimmerings of this Important Insight (whose importance will become clearer as the tale unfolds) appeared while I was on my way to Trent University in Peterborough, Ontario late in January.  I know, I know — I live in a land of rain and snow and darkness.  How could I be so delusional as to plan a trip to the remote frozen north in late January?  But <i>mirabile dictu</i>, after a series of delays and cancellations and miscellaneous uncertainties, I managed to arrive in Canada, which turns out to be a completely separate country from the United States, with its own currency and everything.  And as I was being ferried from Toronto to Peterborough in a snow-and-salt-encrusted shuttle, I suddenly had flashbacks to my youth, when I was being ferried around southern Ontario in the snow-and-salt-encrusted team bus that drove us from one hockey tournament to another.  I’ve always been happy (er, possibly too happy) to note that mine was the first team from New York to play in Canadian tournaments, and even happier to note that in early 1972, just before the <a href=”http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Summit_Series”>Summit Series</a>, we actually beat a bunch of Canadian teams, including Kitchener, the team that had beaten Wayne Gretzky’s team, Don Valley, in the finals of the AA division of the Brockville “Thousand Islands” tournament (my team had lost in the A division finals).  So to this day I can say (and will, whenever the occasion presents itself) that I played on the American team that beat the team that beat Gretzky’s team in 1972.  But my flashbacks this year had nothing to do with playing hockey, and everything to do with the sensation of being driven from town to town in southern Ontario through four-foot snowbanks in salt-encrusted vehicles.  And then lo!  When, after an hour and a half on the road, I checked in at the Peterborough Holiday Inn, I saw that I would be sharing the hotel with . . . <i>teenaged hockey players</i>, participants in a “bantam” tournament (ages 13-14) of teams from southern Ontario.  The woman at the front desk apologized, thinking that I would be worried about rambunctious adolescents keeping me awake all night.  “Not at all,” I replied, “I was just thinking about when I used to play in these tournaments.  It’ll be fine.”  I looked around — yes, it was all there again, the breakfast specials with the maple-flavored sausage, the frozen swimming pool, the lanky, scraggly kids unloading their stuff from the bus. . . .

(By the bye: the drivers who drove me from Toronto to Peterborough and back, like the driver who drove me from Albany, NY to Williams College last week, got a $20 tip each way.  That’s partly because I believe in thanking people for ferrying me around for sixty to ninety minutes, and partly because I know I have to pick up the slack for all my fellow Americans who have decided to <a href=”http://pajamasmedia.com/blog/ask-dr-helen-is-it-time-to-go-john-galt/”>go John Galt</a> when they encounter workers in the service economy.)

Anyway, when I was but a bantam I always rode in the front of the bus and watched the road.  I wanted to see precisely where we were going, how we were getting there, and how quickly or slowly we were getting there.  I wanted to check out the surroundings and the traffic and even the design of the highway signs.  If you could have rolled down a window, I probably would have stuck my head outside it like a dog.  Weirdly, I took this approach even to city buses in New York, one of which — the world-famous Q28 of Queens — I rode every weekday as part of my hour-long slog to high school.

So I realized, thirty or thirty-five years later, as I was being shuttled around the northeast US and southern Ontario not caring where I was going or how I was getting there, that this excessively attentive bus-riding was one of my younger self’s control-freaky traits: that I wanted to experience the bus ride as if I were actually in the driver’s seat.  I don’t remember whether it had any ulterior purpose — whether I thought of it as a form of mental discipline, or whether it was some kind of superstition.  All I remember is that I always rode in the front and watched the road intently, and now — thankfully, I thought to myself as I dozed off in the middle of my latest leisure read, <i>Dreams From my Father</i> by some guy whose name I can’t pronounce — I really do leave the driving to them, and chill the hell out for a few hours.

There’s a scene in <i>Pushing Tin</i> that gets at this.  Starring John Cusack, Billy Bob Thornton, Angelina Jolie, and Cate Blanchett, <i>Pushing Tin</i> is almost universally acclaimed as the <i>Citizen Kane</i> of air traffic controller films, and the scene in which Thornton sings a karaoke version of “Muskrat Love” has moved more than one critic to tears.  And fittingly, it is about control-freakery: at one point, Cusack’s character leaps up in a breakfast diner to “help” a befuddled waitress by straightening out all her chaotic orders for her, just as he lines up aircraft for takeoff and landing.  Well, you don’t want to be That Guy, and if you’ve got a few of That Guy’s tendencies in you, you probably should keep a hold on them — though not too obsessively, because that’s a bit control-freaky in itself.  And you should <i>definitely</i> try to keep That Guy in check if you have a teenager with a disability who wants to do things all by himself.  (Well, some things.  Jamie remains fond of demanding that I fetch him a plate of cubed pepper jack cheese for his television-viewing pleasure, and after a few weeks of telling him I am not his house elf, I have taken to sobbing like Dobby, “Michael is still treated like vermin.”)

Then again, chilling and going to sleep is not a plausible way of life.  Sometimes people really do need help (or plates of cheese!), and sometimes it’s good to pay attention even when you’re a mere passenger.  In 1974, humming along the frozen New York State Thruway on its way back from a dismal tournament in Potsdam, NY, our team bus suddenly lost its grip on the road somewhere west of Syracuse.  We were in the middle of an especially nasty upstate lake-effect winter storm — sheets of snow and high winds — and our driver simply found himself being blown off the road.  The alert kid up front (that would be me) had a moment of pure terror as he realized that the bus was heading for the guardrail of a bridge over a small frozen river, but it was only a moment, because the driver cannily steered in the direction of the skid, brought the bus veering back across three lanes of traffic, and managed to crash gently into the large snowbank (covering a sculpted grass hill) separating eastbound from westbound traffic.

After my moment of terror passed, I was preternaturally calm about the whole thing, having seen it develop from the start; so when the bus tilted, groaned, and then fell over to the left, I simply hung on to the overhead rack and then let go when the bus finally settled.  Not everyone got off so easily: a few of the parents were injured, and one unlucky fellow broke his arm.  I surveyed the damage and wondered whether I should kick out the front window, as passengers were advised to do in such an emergency as this (yes, I read the emergency warning on the front window, too).  Certainly it would make it easier for everyone to exit the bus, but then again, I had no idea who owned the bus and whether they would appreciate my attention to emergency safety procedures if it meant they had to replace a large front window on top of all the other repairs they’d be doing.  Also, at that age I had a well-earned fear of getting yelled at.  So I didn’t kick anything, and when the EMT people arrived they hauled us out of the right side windows, which were now at the top of the bus.  This was quite painful for the guy with the broken arm, and watching him, I wished I’d kicked out the window for his sake.

So I was thinking all these thoughts as my Greyhound bus brought me back from Temple University a couple of weeks ago, because even as I was feeling good about relaxing and snoozing and reading and not being a neurotic and control-freaky kind of passenger, I was dimly aware that we’d be heading through some rough weather and a couple of mountain ranges along the way (see comment 25 in <a href=”http://www.michaelberube.com/index.php/weblog/comments/1235/”>this thread</a>).  For some reason, a fellow Pennsylvanian decided to challenge my description of these mountain ranges as “mountain” “ranges” (comment 30), but he was well and duly mocked (comment 31) for his pettifogging pettifoggery.  More important, he was informed (by me, comment 35) that the final half hour of the ride did indeed feature some scary stuff.  But what I didn’t tell in that thread I’ll tell here: as the bus inched its way up the “mountain” pass near Rothrock State Forest, where US route 322 runs through the Tussey Mountain Range and there’s a nice sheer drop of a few hundred feet to your immediate right, a van crept by us on the left (why is it always a van?) and then tried to return to the right lane well before it had passed us.  The driver cursed, veered a bit to the right, and hit the horn.  We had no wiggle room, we were going no more than 15 mph, and we had maybe 20 or 30 yards of visibility — not enough to see the taillights of the next vehicle.  The van backed off, its driver apparently paying attention to his surroundings now, and our driver relaxed and softly cursed again.

And the reason I know of this little almost-incident is that I was sitting only three rows back, and there was no one between me and the driver; as in the Syracuse crash, I saw the thing develop, because when we hit that fog on the mountainside I couldn’t believe we were going to make it through (sure enough, most of the trucks on the road had pulled over at the rest area at the summit), and I decided to pay attention for a change.  After the van backed off, I whistled softly, and the driver said, over his shoulder, “do you believe that?”  “Unreal,” I replied.  “This is the last stretch like this, isn’t it?”  “Yeah, we’re almost there,” he said, “but this is pretty bad.”  It was indeed pretty bad, and if you travel from Philadelphia or Harrisburg to State College by car, you know that this mountain pass is then followed by fifteen miles of a two-lane road that consists of rolling hills.  For reasons that remain obscure even to the world’s leading meteorologists, it is always raining, snowing, <i>and</i> dark on that stretch of road, which makes the game of “avoid the oncoming tractor trailer” especially entertaining.  I didn’t talk much to the driver the rest of the way, but I could tell that he was quite relieved that somebody else within earshot was paying attention, that he wasn’t entirely alone in the night and the sleet and the fog.

We arrived in State College safe and sound and only a few minutes late; and before heading off to grab a cab in the sleet, I said to the driver as he hauled out the bags, “nice work through the mountains.”  He thanked me, I thanked him, and I got into yet another vehicle.  It’s a tricky thing, driving — and it’s a tricky thing, trying to figure out how to pay just the right amount of attention to the world.


* I realize this is impossible on buses on which passengers are subjected to an endless stream of Adam Sandler and/or Sandra Bullock films.



Dan Butt 03.03.09 at 7:38 pm

“I realize this is impossible on buses on which passengers are subjected to an endless stream of Adam Sandler and/or Sandra Bullock films.”

Not, one presumes, “Speed”.


Simon 03.03.09 at 7:42 pm

Do people generally tip bus drivers?


Chuchundra 03.03.09 at 7:54 pm

This was really wonderful.


giotto 03.03.09 at 8:09 pm

I’ll be in a good mood the rest of the day because of this.


fardels bear 03.03.09 at 8:15 pm

How much simpler life was growing up in the Midwest where driving involved getting on I-35, driving for 5 hours, turn right, drive for another 6 hours. I would defy anyone to pay really close attention for those drives. “Look, corn! Now that field is beans! Over there, more corn! Hey, I think we passed that corn before!”


Michael Bérubé 03.03.09 at 8:15 pm

Not, one presumes, “Speed”.

Actually, they save that one for those dangerous mountain passes. It distracts the passengers from their surroundings. Well, not me, but other people.

Do people generally tip bus drivers?

The short answer is yes and no. On your average Greyhound / Trailways run, no. On a charter, when a group hires a bus to take them to a ball game or a concert or something, it’s a nice gesture to take up a collection (especially since the driver is also putting in a few hours of waiting-around time), and I’ve seen a couple of groups do this. (I don’t believe our hockey teams did, though.) I don’t know how I came up with my own tipping policy, but upon reflection I think it amounts to this: the more individualized the service, the more appropriate it is to tip. Cab and “limo” drivers at the top of that list, then shuttle-van drivers, then bus drivers. With exceptions and recalibrations: the Toronto-Peterborough shuttle driver took me with two other passengers, but drove 90 minutes, so I tipped him the same amount as the Albany-Williamstown driver in whose car I was the sole passenger for 60 minutes.

Chuchundra: thanks!


Michael Bérubé 03.03.09 at 8:30 pm

Giotto, also thanks.

Fardels bear, you take me back. In 1990 when my parents visited me in Illinois for the first time, they flew into Chicago, not realizing that they were asking me to drive for six hours round trip (and then again at the end of their visit!). On the way down I-57, no sooner did we get into the cornfields than my mother said, “that’s it! that’s the barn!” “What barn?” I asked. “The barn in the photograph you gave us for Christmas,” she said. “Uh,” I replied, thinking of the obvious passage from White Noise, “I don’t think it’s the same barn.” Ten minutes later, she said, “no, that’s it! that’s the barn!” This went on, I kid you not, for the rest of the ride.

I liken midwestern highway driving to playing the outfield in softball: long stretches of absolute nothingness punctuated by sudden flurries and scrambling around.


Bloix 03.03.09 at 9:04 pm

There is no fog like central PA fog. It’s like all the dark matter of the universe has descended upon you.


P O'Neill 03.03.09 at 9:04 pm

Once: taking a make-up bus for a TWA (remember them?) cancelled flight from JFK to National, trying not to be control-freaky but then becoming convinced as we approach the Beltway that (1) the driver thinks he’s doing to Dulles but (2) he doesn’t know the way to Dulles, I had to decide the threshold for intervention. Decided that when he goes the south/clockwise way on the Beltway, that would be it. Sure enough, a direct conversation with the driver confirms both points. Navigate him through Alexandria and to the airport (and possibly breaking the law by being on GW Parkway for part of the journey) and situation is resolved peacefully. So I wonder if the Important Insight depends on the stakes.


Stacey 03.03.09 at 9:20 pm

It’s a tricky thing, driving—and it’s a tricky thing, trying to figure out how to pay just the right amount of attention to the world.

So very not snarky of you, Michael!

Thank you for the thoughtful post. It’s a joy to read.

That despite bringing back the dreaded memory of winter 1981-82, the 8 hour (normally 4ish) bus ride from Penn Sta. to SUNY Binghamton in a blizzard. I ran out of books to read so could not escape the terror in the young bus driver’s eyes. I would have killed for a Sandra Bullock film at that time…


mds 03.03.09 at 9:22 pm

In 1974, humming along the frozen New York State Thruway on its way back from a dismal tournament in Potsdam, NY, our team bus suddenly lost its grip on the road somewhere west of Syracuse.

“Somewhere west of Syracuse”? Traveling between Potsdam and New York City? That must have been some grip-losing.

(Yes, my penchant for quasi-accurate nitpicking has reawakened.)


alice 03.03.09 at 9:34 pm

Ah, you bring back memories of college busrides from Boston to Syracuse, and various subsets of that route. I remember one winter ride that started with flurries by the Boston Common. By the time we hit Newton, we were in full storm mode. Someplace between Worcester and Springfield, a truck passed us, going far too fast for the whiteout conditions. Less than 20 miles later, we saw it jack-knifed off the side of the road. We made it through the Western stretch of the Mass Pike (the stretch that tripped up the Albany River Rats last week—the hockey bus rides don’t end in peewee or juniors), and on to Pittsfield, where I was sure we’d end up spending the night in a church basement. But, no, Greyhound wasn’t deterred, so we continued up and over the Berkshire Mountains (yes, mountains). I was sitting behind the driver, convinced that he must know something I didn’t about how passable the road was, because it sure didn’t look to me as if we were going to make it up the hill. When we finally reached the crest of the hill, because I was sitting up front, I could see the driver relax, and I realized that he hadn’t thought we’d make it up the hill either. I was never so glad in my life to be leaving the driving to someone else, especially to someone who could really drive!


Michael Bérubé 03.03.09 at 9:47 pm

Right you are, mds — it was just east of Syracuse. I managed to conflate the Potsdam tournament in 1974 with an interminable bus ride from Buffalo to NYC in 1972. But I remember the Syracuse bit because the hotel we stayed in overnight (until we got ourselves another bus) was an octagonal 20-story Holiday Inn, the very place I had stayed for the NY state tournament in ’72.

Good to see somebody’s paying attention to the grainy I-90 details.

Stacey: thanks also. I think David Denby is right — snark is bad for puppies and other living things. But wasn’t Sandra Bullock like 17 years old in 1981?

P O’Neill @ 9: the Important Insight is basically that everything depends on the stakes, which is why it’s impossible to come up with an across-the-board Chill Out or Pay Attention policy. Or a fixed threshold for intervention! I’m reminded of the time I was in a car whose driver yelled a series of racial epithets at dark-skinned people crossing against the light. I should simply have said, “right, let me out here,” but it was one of those fleet cars the corporate law firm made available to their lowly word processors, and there would be a mess of paperwork involved in getting out as well as a query from middle management as to why I bailed on the car service after five minutes, miles from my apartment, so I bit my tongue and rode with John Rocker the rest of the way.


Janice 03.03.09 at 9:50 pm

There’s an awful lot to be said for letting someone else do the driving once in a while, it’s true. And being too much of a control freak isn’t fun.

But your riff of of being treated like Dobby was the absolute best part of this essay. It resonates!


spyder 03.03.09 at 9:54 pm

I know I have to pick up the slack for all my fellow Americans who have decided to go John Galt when they encounter workers in the service economy.)

Thank you, thank you, thank you!!! As a part-time concierge for a big hotel (why should i use my retirement checks to pay for health-care??), your appreciation through gratuity is more than gratefully appreciated by those that shuttle others in conditions when no one else is driving. It is one thing to spend my summers touring, driving rigs and earning serious income and cash (that i can then dispense as gratuities to others); it is quite another to spend my winters driving in extreme conditions hoping that some Galt-head will remember to offer a tip. Most don’t, except of course for FedEx pilots and Amtrak conductors.


steve muhlberger 03.03.09 at 10:34 pm

I really enjoyed this, in part because I live in a snowier part of Ontario than Peterborough, and also because I’ve had bad PA driving experiences!


JP Stormcrow 03.03.09 at 10:46 pm

This is a terrific post. You said exactly what I was thinking but phrased it much more elegantly and graciously than I ever could. Thank you so much for writing it!


JP Stormcrow 03.03.09 at 11:14 pm

OK, now that that’s out of the way.

For reasons that remain obscure even to the world’s leading meteorologists, it is always raining, snowing, and dark on that stretch of road

Ah, but if only the Feds weren’t unfairly competing with Joe Bastardi and Accuweather; he’d certainly have it all “cleared up” by now. And what do you expect on a public highway anyway? Only toll-paying customers have bought the right to complain.

The passing van story reminds me of a time that I was the asshole (shockingly … but not in a van!). We were heading up the long grade on I-80 to the Pocono Region of Relatively High Land in a classic returning-home-from-New-York-City-after-Thanksgiving ice storm. Wisdom of the crowds (aka those who had not yet slipped off the road*) speed was about 10 MPH. My impatience driven internal governor said 12 MPH, so I pulled out to pass the guy in front of me. When I came alongside I glanced over and he was giving me a look of such pure bewildered terror mingled with “Seriously, WTF is wrong with you?” that I temporarily came to my senses, backed off and abashedly returned to my rightful place in the 10 MPH slog.

*In truth we were all idiots for even continuing.


George 03.03.09 at 11:15 pm

This story would make a lovely note on Facebook.


Dave Maier 03.03.09 at 11:22 pm

Before I read this post, I will require a plate of cubed pepper jack cheese to enhance my enjoyment of same.

I’m waiting.


mollymooly 03.03.09 at 11:23 pm

Perhaps I misunderstand the thrust of this post. Surely it is possible for a passenger to pay attention to the road without being “excessively neurotic” about it? One can derive pleasure from examining the minutiae of the passing landscape or streetscape, without paying attention to the driver’s performance and without in any sense questioning their competence.


Michael Bérubé 03.04.09 at 12:09 am

One can derive pleasure from examining the minutiae of the passing landscape or streetscape, without paying attention to the driver’s performance and without in any sense questioning their competence.

I did indeed learn that at some point between 1970 and the present, but it took a while.


Stacey 03.04.09 at 2:43 am

But wasn’t Sandra Bullock like 17 years old in 1981?

As was I!

Ok, Raiders of the Lost Arc, then. Any mind/eye candy would have done the trick under the circumstances.


Warbo 03.04.09 at 4:16 am

As someone who comes from a country (Australia) where tipping is virtually unknown outside restaurants, I find the whole subject of when and how much to tip when in, for example, the US, very scary.

Case in point: couple of months ago, shuttle bus from LAX to hotel just outside Disneyland; late at night; cold; two adults, three kids (including one 5yo). At hotel, driver parked on the street rather than at the hotel’s front door, thereby avoiding having to negotiate what I imagine would have been an ever-so slightly tricky roundabout and obliging us to haul our luggage down a 50-metre driveways and across a couple of side driveways. No big deal, but really not what we felt like in the circumstances. I was so annoyed by this I decided not to tip, but felt bad about it almost immediately because (a) he probably relied on tips to make up for a crap wage and (b) there may have been some regulation preventing him from driving to the front door that I, a novice in US traffic laws, was unaware of and (c) he probably hated me.

Nice post, by the way (I wish you’d post here more often), and sorry for spoiling it with my whingey anecdote.


jj 03.04.09 at 4:24 am

After I got mugged in the middle the night in the middle of a Cleveland slum (the mugger was kind enough to rob me and drive off in the cab less than half a block from a fire station) I abandoned the radio runs entirely and concentrated exclusively on the airport runs, where the airport spotter mugged anyone who hoped to catch a trip beyond the adjacent suburbs. Hopkins Airport used to be located at the extreme southwest corner of the Cleveland metropolitan area, but the suburbs had long since overtaken it and passage through them to downtown Cleveland or the eastern suburbs required an appropriate kickback. The cab line at the port ran along an access road which was usually clogged with forty or fifty cabs and the turnover time between trips was around two or three hours on average, so we had approximately six trips to cover gas and lease expenses, as well as any acquired profit. But the nights we lived for were the blizzards, when the spotters and half the drivers decided to stay home, and even $10 trips to Berea or Lakewood got you back to port that much faster, where the exit ramps were crowded with dozens of passengers who could not believe the pilot would actually attempt to land the damn thing under those conditions.


Brent 03.04.09 at 5:39 am

Nice catch, mds. I’m going to add that that I-90 in upstate NY does not have three lanes until you get further west (Rochester area). At the point Michael’s bus veered into the hill it could only have crossed two lanes — unless it crossed the median into oncoming traffic, which I think would have made an already bad situation much much worse. Or maybe if the bus started in an exit lane…?

Having become a default driver myself, I now find that I cannot sleep on any vehicle, plane train or automobile. A few years back I had no trouble, but now with every bump in the road (turbulence in the air, what-have-you) I’m digging nails into my palms looking for the wheel.


Michael Bérubé 03.04.09 at 12:34 pm

Um, maybe it had three lanes in 1974 but then they got rid of one? That kind of thing happens all the time, I hear. Or maybe I’ve misremembered a detail or two. Could be.

And Warbo and jj, I have a followup for you later this week. No, not the post about the “Love Train.” Something else.


jackd 03.04.09 at 8:09 pm

Lovely story, Michael. And at least one of your readers was cool enough to catch the Replacements reference but not too cool to mention it.

How I wish I could emulate your practice as a passenger. My problem is not being a control freak (not in that context, anyway) but having motion sickness. Watching the scenery through the windshield is fine; watching it through the side windows brings on a vile low-grade headache that points directly toward nausea. Reading just brings on the symptoms harder and faster.


Doug 03.05.09 at 8:19 am

In The New Life, Orhan Pamuk explores this theme at some length. His narrator is looking for something more transcendental by riding around Turkey on long bus trips, occasionally punctuated by accidents.


The Constructivist 03.05.09 at 5:58 pm

Rushdie’s Haroun and the Sea of Stories has a great bus trip at the beginning, too.


ice9 03.06.09 at 7:03 pm

In college I made a lot of bus trips with a men’s choir. The specialty of our outfit was concerts at the several women’s colleges in the region; we’d do our thing, they’d do their thing, then we’d group up for a little forbidden SATB. The shows would go fairly late, then the reception with all the flirting as everybody tried to take advantage of the target-rich environment, then a late busride home through the very Pennsylvania-like environs of southwestern and central Virginia.
On the way home from a certain elite women’s college in Lynchburg, the group was grumpy from the combination of an alcohol-free parochial punch reception and a far too brief mixer. The chaperones figured out quickly that the young men and women constituted a danger to one anothers’ virtue, especially if the snow kept up and the guests had to be accommodated for the night. The lights were snapped on and the music off, and we were hustled out to our bus and away into the night without a ceremony.
I was new to the group, and young, so I found myself in the front seat, hanging over the driver as he worked very hard to stay on Hwy 460. We got to talking, and he was clearly glad for the company. Pretty soon we had our ‘van moment’, this one a dualie and horse trailer on a downhill right-hander, if I remember correctly. The truck wound up snowbanked but undamaged. We were unaffected and soon after went on our way again.
The baritones and basses had been agitating for a refreshment stop before the clock hit midnight, when beer sales in Virginia stop. The tenors were against it. The upper voices in our outfit were the religious ones; I make no conclusion about that. The director ruled it out, of course, but he made a tactical error by asserting that it was illegal, and the driver would never permit it.
A few minutes after the near-miss, the driver casually mentioned to me that he wouldn’t object if we wanted to stop. The deal was done, and before we made Salem the bus was full of the heady sweet aroma of Miller High Life, and I was a hero, and the practice of hanging out with the driver was vindicated.


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