Mike Murphy

Mike Murphy

According to the School Bus Fleet website, an estimated 471,461 yellow school buses provide transportation service daily in the United States. About 25 million elementary and secondary school children ride school buses to and from school each day.

The Idaho State Department of Education website reports that “every school year, about 109,000 of Idaho’s children rely on bus services to attend school. Every school day, more than 3,400 buses transport students to and from home to ensure their participation in academic programs.”

For sure, none of this was true when I attended high school in Omaha, Nebraska, during the 1960s. It wasn’t until 1971 that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that federal courts could order busing to integrate public schools. Then a federal court order mandated busing in the Omaha Public School system in 1976, nearly 10 years after I graduated from high school.

Normally, I try not to reminisce much about the past since I can’t guarantee that I’ve got my facts straight anymore. But after watching kids gather each morning this school year at a school bus stop near my house, a gnawing question keeps popping up in my head: How did I get to high school?

You probably have no problem remembering that about yourself — unless you happen to be a member of my age group. Some days I can’t remember if I’ve fed the birds yet, so I just go ahead and feed them again while the sparrow flock refrains from snickering.

One thing that I’m quite certain of is that neither of my parents ever drove me to or from school at any point in my life. First of all, Mom did not drive. Second, Dad was at work five days a week.

I do not recall ever even discussing school transportation with my parents. That was my problem; they just assumed that I would work it out. The fact that my friends and I couldn’t afford cars certainly complicated the issue.

Now, I am quite aware that boomers are occasionally made fun of for exaggerating how hard it was to get to school back in their day, like the “I walked three miles to and from school, uphill both ways” quip. But I’m not complaining about how hard it was to get to school; I’m just trying to work out how I got there at all.

One thing I am sure of is that it’s 2 miles from the house where I grew up to my high school. I did not know this or even care about it while attending school, but now with some time on my hands and the wonders of Google, I know.

Out of approximately 800 total secondary school days over four years (yes, it only took me four, wiseacre) and 3,200 miles traveled on those 800 days, I can clearly recall the journey to get to school for… oh, around three of those days.

I’m sure that I got rides to school my freshman year with my brother, who was a senior, and his friends, a scary thought indeed if you knew those guys. If my parents endangered my safety that way in today’s hyper-sensitive society, no doubt they could be arrested. Which would be easy since my dad was a police officer.

As a sophomore, I know that I regularly rode to school on the back of a friend’s Honda 50 motorcycle for some time. Honda 50s were all the rage back then with an engine comparable to that found on gas-powered weed eaters.

The freezing fall morning trips included a long downhill stretch with tears from the cold wind flooding my eyes and streaming down my face as I prayed that the driver could see better than me.

Of course, we didn’t wear coats because that wasn’t cool, so it took till third-period class for both of us to thaw out.

The first two years I simply walked home from high school because as a freshman I had to stop at the station and pick up newspapers every weekday to deliver on my route. Later, as a sophomore, I walked halfway then caught the city bus downtown to work as a movie theater usher.

As an upperclassman, hitchhiking on the main drag to reach school during the winter is what I recall. Hitchhiking was a common mode of transportation in the 1960s. Only problem was I ended up hiking a lot more than hitching.

Luckily, my best friend’s mom would often pick me up on her way to work. Since my friend, his brother and the mom all smoked, stepping inside the car was like entering a cloud. Even if I had been aware of the secondhand smoke health threat back then, I still most likely would have risked it. It was either that or freeze to death.

I should envy kids today when I see them being dropped off by parents then standing on the corner waiting for a bus. But I don’t. For me, just getting to and from school was an education in itself.

Mike Murphy of Pocatello is an award-winning columnist whose articles are syndicated by Senior Wire. He published a book titled “Tortoise Crossing – Expect Long Delays,” which is a collection of 100 of his favorite columns. It is available on Amazon.com.