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March 25, 2022 — The kids on the bus

Years ago, when I was in middle school, I took a school-sponsored van every morning for the 20-mile trip from our house.

We were a mixed bag of kids on that bus. Male, female, black, white, Latinx, different walks of life. Being together on that small van, we got to know each other pretty well. That was to be expected in a school with about 250 students from kindergarten through 12th grade.

You might think that, being cooped up with the same kids for three hours per day for five days a week rolling through suburbia, that we’d drive each other crazy. But somehow, we all got along and we all had pretty good successes afterward in academia, the business world, and we had a future doctor and a future lawyer among us.

Yesterday, I learned about the death of one of the kids on the bus. Damon was a street kid, having grown up across the street from the local public school. As such, he had a different perspective on right and wrong, once having sneaked some of his mother’s whiskey with him on the bus.

He also had a gift for being able to put improvised words to music. He often freestyle-rapped — and at a Lin-Manuel Miranda quality — on the bus while reading or playing one of the many hand-held video games which were in vogue before the invention of the Game Boy.

Damon would transfer out of our school and attend one of our other local private schools, looking to parlay his athletic prowess at a place that could offer him more exposure. He wound up at a public college out of state, but wound up coming back to town after he graduated.

I saw him only a couple of times in real life afterwards. He took a job at one of the local shopping malls working at a store selling musical instruments. Another time, I ran into him at a tavern, whereupon he wanted to borrow money to pay off some kind of random debt.

I would learn that he had fallen prey to the temptations of life. He made the newspapers for the wrong reasons, having been arrested for use of crack cocaine while on the job working for the city as a traffic enforcement officer. Afterwards, he seemingly turned his life around, moving to the deep South and becoming an ordained minister. He would get married and had a committed relationship with his spouse and with the Lord.

I don’t know what took him; the on-line obituaries don’t mention these kinds of things.

But what I do know is that he was part of the carefree days. These trips on that VW Microbus (yeah, we used those), clattering past the hulks of the area’s industrial past. We would take occasional side trips to the local convenience store to buy movie trading cards or the little wax tubes filled with sugar water.

Today, these circumstances could never be replicated, thanks to liability laws. Heads would roll if an open container of alcohol is discovered a school van. Or if a side trip to a convenience store was taken. Or, heck, if a Microbus (a notorious death-trap of a vehicle) was in a school’s van fleet.

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