Nan was the first person I heard say “fuck” in a professional capacity, and I don’t think I’ve been as impressed by the word since, except maybe the first day of Contracts when Professor Leslie slid into the room in an outfit far too California-subtextually-gay for the Midwest and screamed it at the top of his lungs before saying in a much calmer voice “I just got tenure, I can say whatever I want now.”
Nan was the bus driver for what was at various times Route 2, Route 9, and Route 12. I remember they changed the numbers just often enough that I wasn’t ever quite sure what bus I was meant to get on, and that sometimes it was the number on the bus and sometimes it was the number in the window of the bus. That led to a whole nother series of issues, including the day I had to sprint a mile and a half up our road to tell my mother that my sister had missed the bus and had apparently decided to walk home from fourth grade along ten miles or so of country highway instead of calling for a ride.
Nan had blonde hair of that particular yellow shade that says you do your own bleach at home and you’re impatient. That blonde hair was always carefully sculpted into the teased-up waves favored by such diverse artists as Whitesnake and Reba McIntyre. Nan played country music on the bus, probably because District 6 didn’t like heavy metal. Nan was broad of shoulder and square of breast, and she favored black t-shirts and steel-toed boots.
And Nan hated kids.
No, that’s not fair. She may not have hated kids at all. But she hated us.
Route 2/9/12 was one of the longest, worst routes to drive, and Nan drove it twice a day, rain or shine, snow or black ice. Our district was spread over three towns, none of which was big enough to have a school of its own. Basically-Nowhere, LittleTown, and Suburb each had their own elementary schools. Then Basically-Nowhere and LittleTown shared a middle school, while Suburb had its own. We all went to high school in Suburb.
Our route ran between LittleTown and Suburb, and it would have been just fine if Nan had driven along the back road between the two towns, letting kids off along the way. But as much as Nan hated us all, she hated the kids from Little Town the most. So she’d start in Suburb, take the freeway to LittleTown, get rid of all the townies at once, and then work her way back toward Suburb in a loop.
Honestly, either solution would have worked out okay for me on an emotional level. I was either going to escape first, if Nan took the back road, or the town kids would get off first if she took the freeway. That meant that regardless of which direction we went, the bullying would end at the first stop. Still, it would have been nice to get home before dinner. But Nan wanted those spitting, gum-chewing, stomping, yelling town kids off her bus as fast as possible.
It seemed no level of hate, no cautionary shout, no threat, would ever make an impression on the townies. They knew that as a bus driver, there was simply not a lot Nan could do to them. She couldn’t ground them. She couldn’t report them. The days of capital punishment were past. She couldn’t even really see who was doing what to whom in the cloudy rearview mirror, angled to catch makeout sessions in the back of the bus. Everyone believed that the noise and rowdiness were simply a status quo that would persist from September to June, twice a day, rain or shine, snow or black ice.
Until the day came when Nan had had enough.
We were halfway from Suburb to LittleTown, churning along at a speed-limit 55 mph when Nan made her move. Old tire parts, bits of glass and gravel flew as she skidded the entire school bus to a stop on the side of the freeway. Cars slowed as they went by, looking for a blown tire or an ambulance.
“Listen up, you little shits,” Nan said into our shocked silence. “I get paid by the hour, and I don’t give a fuck when any of you get home.”