Those phantom school-bus stops

November 29, 2013

On my daily journey from my personal home to my work home, usually anywhere between 6:15 and 7:15 a.m., I pass by several obvious school bus stops and a few not-so-obvious bus stops.

It is the not-so-obvious ones that perplex me.

On any given morning, my travels will be slowed by the flashing lights of three to five school buses. Some of these stops hearken me back about 45 years to a time when, as a youngster, I would gather with the neighborhood children to wait for our ride to school.

But we hardly stood there waiting.

Usually, I couldn’t get through breakfast fast enough before racing out to the bus stop — just so I could join whatever game it was we were playing at the time. In the fall, we turned the street into a football field; in the winter, if there was no snow, we’d play basketball at the nearest basket and, if there was snow, we’d pick teams, line up on opposite sides of the street and have a snowball fight (sometimes directing our snowballs toward any unsuspecting girls in the area); and in the spring, the street would be transformed into a baseball field.

In those days, the bus stop was an extension of the school playground. It was common to arrive at school sweaty and disheveled. And once, I even got there with a cut between my eyes that ended up getting three stitches — thanks to a sudden meeting between my forehead and the curb during an icy fall.

There is just one bus stop which I pass each day that is like that, where many of the children have piled their belongings on the curb and engaged in some physical activity. It’s good to see, but sadly … rare.

Most of the bus stops nowadays are different. They often are manned by a single youngster, standing solo in a driveway with earphones attached to an iPod and/or their thumbs getting an early morning workout on a text or game with their phone.

Perhaps the saddest part of this scenario is that the bus will stop to pick up this lone youngster, proceed another 100 yards down the street and pick up another lone youngster — and so on. Apparently, we don’t want our youngsters to have to walk any further than is absolutely necessary to catch a school bus.

In fact, many parents nowadays are either driving their children to school to avoid the bus altogether OR driving their child to the bus stop and sitting there until the bus arrives. And you can be certain I’m not talking just about elementary age children here.

Two words come to mind everytime I see this: Lazy and unsociable.

But it gets worse.

The not-so-obvious bus stops that I referred to earlier are those where the school bus lights start flashing — first yellow, then red — and you begin scanning the road ahead for youngsters standing at the side of the road. But there are none.

The bus sits there, unmoving for what seems like an eternity. Cars are lining up both behind and in front of the flashing lights. And then, just as I’m sure every single motorist is muttering “what in the world,” there is movement well off the side of the road. And there, bounding down the front steps of the home, is a youngster headed for the bus. And behind youngster No. 1 is youngster No. 2 — and this one is walking toward the bus at a pace that would rival a tortoise on a lazy summer day.

There was a day when, if there were no children in sight as a bus approached a bus stop, it would barely slow down as it passed on by. There was no excuse for young’uns not to be waiting at the designated time. A bus could be late, but a child could not be — and often, that child would face the wrath of a parent who now had to deliver the child to school.

Now, however, apparently a child can wait inside their home for those extra minutes of Xbox play or “SpongeBob” episodes, with nary a thought about a bus arriving to whisk them away to school. At least, not until someone hollers that the bus is THERE.

But it gets worse still.

Many times, a bus I am following will stop at one of these not-so-obvious bus stops, put on the flashing lights and, as cars lined up both ways, begin the wait. And wait. And then wait a moment longer — well past the “what in the world” stage. And then … the flashers will go off and the bus pulls away from that phantom bus stop without taking on a passenger.

As I remember it, the school bus stop — and the ride to and from the school — was an important social event for youngsters way back when. It was a chance to interact with peers, create things to do to keep us busy while waiting and riding, and an opportunity to learn a variety of skills necessary to be sociable, constructive individuals as we grew older.

So many children miss out on all that now, simply because bus stops are more like cab rides.

W. Curt Vincent is the general manager and editor of the Bladen Journal. He can be reached by calling 910-862-4163 or by email at