Greensburg Salem School District. The golden lion was our mascot. We had “Lion Pride,” or so the hyperactive glee club squealed during assemblies. At our school, we had tours by strange people who gave “ohhhs and ahhhs” over the nice carpeting and the architectural aspects that made the building a maze of halls and stairwells perfect for students to skip classes.
Not that I’m saying I ever skipped classes. Of course, I’m not denying this fact either.
The middle school was situated on the outskirts of downtown Greensburg while only a hop-skip-and-a-jump away from the high school. I’m not sure how the grading works at other places, either then or today. But I never understood the purpose of having a middle school to teach three grades (7th, 8th, and 9th before I attended then 6th, 7th, and 8th while I attended - so I only spent two years there).
Other than building accommodations, it would have made life easier for everyone if those three grades were split between the elementary school and the high school. At least the busing situation would have improved.
During my years of late school-dom (‘88 to ‘93), our yellow chariots chugged along picking up students for both the high school and the middle school. Crowded? Heck, packed sardines in tin cans had more wiggle room than we did on the bus. It dropped off the high school kids first in the mornings and then the middle school students, and the situation reversed in the afternoons for pickups.
It was a Friday afternoon. On this day, it appeared every middle school student had attended classes. The noise level of our chatter mimicked drunk concert goers pissed over a canceled show, yet we weren’t throwing bottles or rolling around in our seats (I can’t attest to there being no necking). The line of buses stretched along the road headed for the high school. Our bus driver sweated heavy with a small towel wrapped around his neck and his little motorized fan on the dash blowing his fruity armpit aroma around at full speed.
That’s how quick things happened. There was no suspense or drama leading up to it. One moment the bus chugged along. The next moment we rammed into the back of the preceding bus. Our driver caused the accident.
Although the vehicle’s forward movement had suddenly stopped, the students practiced Isaac Newton’s Law of Motion. 13 and 14 year olds ricocheted around in their seats. I slammed, face-first, into the hard leather in front of me and then my head knocked into the window. My leg flew upward, striking the metal bar frame on the bottom of the seat.
Both buses pulled over to the side of the road. Or rather, the bus we hit pulled over. With the engine in our conveyance dead, the driver shifted us into gear as gravity rolled our wheels backward as he steered to the side. Then he rose from his seat with a red bump on his forehead where he had struck the steering wheel. The driver asked if everyone was all right. Everyone mumbled that we were. Then a girl at the front pointed and blurted out, “She’s bleeding!”
Her finger pointed at the student in the seat behind her. “She” referred to me. Blood welled out between my lips and I hadn’t even realized it until my hand wiped over my mouth. I lifted my tongue and felt around, hoping I wasn’t missing any teeth. Someone handed me her makeup compact. I looked into the mirror and saw my gums bleeding from the contact with the seat.
The bus driver handed me his towel to hold at my mouth and told everyone to check themselves for possible injuries. Again, no one else spoke up besides me. I had a small gash on my shin where it had struck the metal frame. By this time, the other driver had walked back. There were no injuries to report on his bus. The two men conversed, and our driver claimed he had heard someone scream. When he had glanced into the rearview mirror, this was when the accident happened.
No student agreed to his story. We might have been loud. And we might, might, have been necking in the aisles. But no one had screamed.
All we could do right now was wait for the proper authorities to show up. Thirty minutes later, the fire department and paramedics showed up first. They inspected my mouth and slapped a Band-aid on my leg, declaring I wouldn’t need a trip to the hospital. Then they asked if anyone else was hurt.
“Owwwwwwwww . . .”
A boy at the back of the bus had his hand pressed against his chest. He claimed he was having trouble breathing and suffered from asthma. The paramedics brought the stretcher on board along with an oxygen tank and hefted him away.
“Owwwwwwwww . . .”
A girl at the front of the bus claimed her back was bothering her now. The paramedics rolled her onto the backboard, placed on a neck brace, and took her away.
“Owwwwwwwww . . . ahem.” Sorry about that. I must have eaten a bad piece of chicken yesterday. It's upsetting my stomach. "Owww . . ." Anyway, where was I? Oh, right.
Well, no one else claimed they had any internal injuries. So the medical team left, the fire department left, and the police finally showed up to take a report. Then two hours after the accident, we had permission to leave.
The students on the smashed bus disembarked and got into the other one. Except having the emergency door dented in, it was still driveable. We all headed to the high school. Those students whose bus was smashed scurried off while the high school students boarded their appropriate bus and it drove away.
Now we stood stranded and alone at the high school. The high school kids who would normally ride our bus had already found alternate means home. So we begged those remaining teachers for rides. A few of us got lucky. About ten of us remained, including me. An hour later, a yellow bus appeared. Our driver pulled in and we reluctantly piled on. He took us home while driving slowly and keeping his eyes glued to the scene beyond the windshield.
He never did ask me where his towel was. I had forgotten to bring it along while I tried to scrape the fruity sweat taste off my sore gums.