More than three decades later I can still summon it, the rising fear of a child swept past the point of no return. I was riding home on the school bus. I was probably 8 or 9. All the other kids had gotten off, and my stop was just around the corner. I loved the ride home. It felt so good to be liberated from the classroom. The bus neared my stop, and I prepared to scramble off with a curt "see ya" for the driver. For some reason, he didn't stop. We swept past my corner without slowing down. I should have immediately shouted, "Hey, you missed my stop back there!" But I didn't. I was alone, sitting in the back of the bus. To this day, my silence confounds me.
Trapped on my own bus
I should have shouted, but he was the bus driver, the adult, the person in charge. I figured that he knew what he was doing. Maybe there was a good reason why he skipped my stop. He'll stop. Of course he'll stop. Any moment now he'll stop and turn the bus around. Can't he see me in the mirror? But he kept going. After he had driven for another five minutes I was too scared to say anything. After all, wouldn't he be furious that I let him drive so far beyond my stop before saying anything? An ordinary ride on the school bus had turned into a visit to the Twilight Zone. After another few miles, we arrived at the bus depot. The driver pulled into a parking spot and shut off the engine. I had come this far without alerting him to my presence, but I didn't plan to spend the night on the bus. Sheepishly, I got up and started walking to the front. My sudden appearance startled the driver. "What are you doing still on the bus?" he sputtered. I told him that he failed to stop at my corner and that I was waiting for him to see me in the mirror and turn around. "Why didn't you say anything?" he asked, still dumbfounded. I don't remember how I responded. Probably with something illuminating like, "I dunno." The driver considered his predicament and mine. "Tell you what, I'll give you a ride home in my jeep," he said, adding after a pause, "and you don't need to tell your parents about this, OK?" I was so relieved that he was going to take me home (the fact that he drove a cool jeep was a bonus) that I heartily agreed that my parents didn't need to know. Although I had been warned dozens of times never to accept a ride from a stranger, I hopped into his jeep without hesitation. After all, he was the bus driver, the adult, the person in charge.
The adventure ends safely
Thankfully, my blind trust was not broken. He dropped me off at home, reminding me for the eighth time that my parents didn't need to know of this unfortunate incident. Of course, I immediately told everyone, including my parents, of my adventure. They all asked me, "Why didn't you just tell him that he missed your stop?" Like I said, I don't know. Is there a moral to this story? Or even a point? I think so. As school transportation professionals, you need to be aware of how much children rely on your judgment for their safety and well-being. Even though they can be obnoxious and disrespectful, your passengers still see you as the adult, the bus driver, the person in charge. They may even trust you enough to jump into your car for a ride home. Don't fail them.