It’s well before full daylight when Samuel walks down to the bus stop each morning about 6:20 a.m. When I follow a little later, giving the dog a morning romp, Samuel and his compatriots are quite a sight. Three boys wait at the same bus stop, all high school freshmen, but they rarely say a word. Rather, each one stands or sits apart, earbuds in place, with faces glowing in the light of their respective iPods as they play games or search for favorite tunes.
During the first eight days of school, they had three different bus drivers who arrived on different buses, before the school system finally found driver who is capable of following the route correctly and arriving at somewhere near the expected time. Samuel is fortunate: this is only his third school, as he was able to go the distance at both his elementary and middle schools. This is his first year riding the bus.
Times have changed. Back in the day and the place where I grew up, we went to the same school for all 12 grades (no kindergarten then) and had the same bus driver (Mr. Jinks Goldman) for the entire stretch. My first grade year (1956), the bus looked like something out of a cartoon. It was short and rounded, with big black fenders surrounding the narrow nose. It was No. 6. A few years later, we got a new bus (No. 21), and shortly before I graduated, yet another one (No. 26).
We didn’t have to meet the bus until 8:00 a.m., as school for all 12 grades started at 8:25 a.m. and let out at 3:15 p.m. If we were late getting out of the house in the morning, we could count on Mr. Jinks blowing the horn as he came down the hill well before reaching our driveway. I started out alone at the stop, with my younger brothers joining me three and five years later. We tended to banter while waiting, usually in good-natured fashion. In cold weather, we admired the ice crystals growing from the red clay, then stepped on them. Small transistor radios had come out before I finished high school, but it would never have occurred to me to plug in the earphone and take it to school.
Samuel and his friends carry giant backpacks, but for some reason the notion of a backpack or bookbag was unknown in our county. We stacked up our books and carried them under one arm, if they would fit, or in both hands. I remember using a green rubber strap to keep mine together (it fit right in with my nerdy glasses and pocket protector).
When homework time comes, Samuel pulls out a slick TI-83 Plus calculator that has more computing power than the entire University of Georgia had when I started there in 1969. I considered myself technologically advanced because I got a slick yellow Pickett slide rule my senior year.
Times change — but fortunately the basic rules of algebra and the classic authors remain the same, so I’m not yet useless when it comes to homework. Give me a challenging word problem, and the smell of chalk and purple spirit masters comes rushing back.
If only the equations came as easily …