It’s funny how we associate certain songs with certain times in our lives. There’s a whole batch of songs, that, whenever I hear them take me back to 1982 and riding the school bus to school each day.
I was about 14 and the ride was about 20 minutes each way, through the rolling wooded hills and farms of upstate New York. We’d all – the 10 or so kids in the apartment complex where I lived – pile into the bus each morning at 7:30. On cold winter mornings, we’d wait in the heated indoor stairway of one of the buildings by the bus stop, huddled in the confined space, occasionally glancing out the narrow steamed-up window to see if the bus had arrived. Upon seeing the bus trudging up the hill, we’d wait till the last possible moment to run bursting through the stairwell door, crunching through the snow as the tall glass bus doors squeaked open.
From there we’d proceed past a few industrial buildings, the convenience store where we’d spend our quarters playing Pac-Man and Asteroids, the roller rink that was the hub of “nightlife” for our pre-teen weekends, and then a sharp turn left and down the hill into the trees. Soon we’d pass the giant light blue water tower, “Foghat” spray painted in large fuzzy drippy letters near the top. For years, “Foghat” remained emblazoned there. And for each one of those years, I had no idea who or what Foghat was. It sounded kind of decrepit and mysterious, but I don’t think I had any inkling that it was a band.
Around a bend and then the bus would make it’s next stop – the run-down trailer park. The atmosphere of the bus would change dramatically as the juvenile delinquents and stoners would shuffle down the aisle between the seats. Faded jean jackets, AC/DC and Ozzy Osbourne shirts, and above all the smell of cigarette smoke (and occasionally pot).
We’d soon be out in the country, with scattered houses, farms and forests flowing by out the window. I was a pretty quiet kid and I’d stare out the window looking for deer. I’d also listen to the bus radio, piped through the roof speakers. We had the same driver for a few years, a woman in her 30’s who always played the local rock/pop radio station. Sometimes she’d turn it up – probably to drown out the little monsters in the seats behind her.
Though it probably only happened a few times, it seemed REO Speedwagon’s “Keep On Lovin’ You” always came on right as we were approaching the school or just leaving the school. The big syrupy power ballad was the perfect soundtrack at the time for the latest infatuation with a girl in my math class. Or my English class. Or my Biology class. I think there was at least one in every class….
Hot early Fall day in September, on the way home listening to “Gypsy” by Fleetwood Mac, yellow gold mid afternoon light filling the air. The smell of harvested earth, bus exhaust, and pavement. Green vinyl seats cooler near the aisle and hot by the sun streaming windows. Cooler Autumn days, no less golden and sun-streaked, trees a blur of orange and amber out the window while Joe Jackson’s “Steppin’ Out” played. Thinking about jazzy cosmopolitan nights in New York City glimpsed in movies and magazines. Also “Jack and Diane” by John Cougar (not yet John Mellencamp or even John Cougar Mellencamp, as he temporarily called himself). I remember thinking that the electric part was totally out of place in the strummy acoustic song….and I still do, for that matter.
One of my somewhat mysterious memories involves a few weeks when I ended up sitting next to a kid who I never saw in the hallways or class rooms – just on the bus. We were both just discovering the music of the Beatles and spent the majority of those mornings and afternoons on the bus talking about the lyrics to “I Am the Walrus” or “Across the Universe”, who sang or wrote what song, was Ringo a good drummer, and other equally profound and weighty Beatles questions for budding young teenage music obsessives. We never talked about anything else – just two 20 minute Beatles conversations per day for a few weeks, maybe a month. Just as suddenly as my musical compadre appeared, he disappeared. He stopped riding the bus, and, as before, I never saw him in school.
Though I professed to hate riding the bus at the time, in actuality, it was a welcome respite. It was a break in the day where I could daydream and listen to music, while watching the world roll by.