The bus stops here

When I was very young, there were a few things I looked forward to doing as I grew up. As a Grade 1 student, I looked forward to having homework. Hard to imagine, I know, but at the time it struck me as the height of maturity.

When I was very young, there were a few things I looked forward to doing as I grew up. As a Grade 1 student, I looked forward to having homework. Hard to imagine, I know, but at the time it struck me as the height of maturity.

Of course, once I hit high school, the novelty of homework wore off very quickly, and doing it usually required a fair bit of parental nagging.

The other thing that I looked forward to doing was riding the school bus. From kindergarten to Grade 7, I attended my neighbourhood elementary school, which involved a 10-minute walk, and was close enough that I walked home for lunch every day as well. A rare treat was to get a ride to school if we were running late or the snow was too deep. In Vancouver, that was rarely an issue.

In Grade 8, I started at a new school that was on the other side of town and required being on the bus early in order to make it to school on time. On my first day, my dad dropped me off at the bus and I, a nervous and shy 13-year-old, was terrified.

The ride to school wasn’t too bad. The ride home, however, involved the pick-up at my school and then pick-ups at three other schools, so that by the time we were well on our way home, each seat usually had three kids crammed in together.

The noise level was such that there were a few times when the driver pulled over, yelled at us and threatened to kick us off. I’m pretty sure drivers aren’t allowed to do that anymore (they probably weren’t then either).

By the time I started in Grade 9, I no longer wanted the charter bus experience, so took the city bus instead.

It meant transferring downtown, but the hassle was balanced by the fact that we could go into The Coffee Mug, a now defunct restaurant in the basement of the Bay in downtown Vancouver. There, ever the sophisticates, we drank coffee heavily laced with sugar and cream, and smoked illicit cigarettes.

Then it was time to hop on the bus and continue our journey.

But aside from our teenage coffee klatsch, there was nothing fun about standing in the dark, in the rain — because in Vancouver in the winter, it was usually raining — and praying the next bus was ours.

Once some of us started driving and borrowing or acquiring cars, the drive to school was a lot more fun, and once again rather loud, thanks to the blaring of the eight-track stereo.

Now that I have a child in elementary school, I’ve discovered that the excitement little kids feel for public transportation is still there.

Over the last few years, trips home to Vancouver have involved rides on the bus, the SkyTrain and the SeaBus, all cheap but thrilling entertainment for a toddler.

When my daughter was in kindergarten last year, she couldn’t wait to take the bus. I, on the other hand, was a nervous wreck thinking about her being on that huge bus with a bunch of other kids, most of whom we didn’t know.

But my fears were laid to rest thanks to the reassurance of Alan Hemming (and special shout-out to drivers Eugene Branchuk and Mark Olsen). The transportation supervisor for the Vernon School District calmly explained to me how it all worked during kindergarten orientation. He patiently answered my questions and made me feel better.

Whenever I called the transportation department to ask Alan a question, he always answered patiently and respectfully, and yet he must have answered these same questions a million times before.

And this year, I found myself calling him again when we changed our daycare routine and required busing again. I think this involved several calls to Alan. And once again, he answered patiently and never once made me feel as though I was interrupting him or being utterly ridiculous with my repetitive questions.

Alan retires in April after 30 years with the district. He has definitely earned his retirement, and I wish him all the best.

But his successor has some awfully big shoes to fill.