When I was in college, I had the bright idea to become a schoolbus driver. For this unfortunate career decision, I blame hairspray and sex.
It was my freshman year. I lived in Oklahoma City at the time and went to a fundamentalist evangelical university. I was 18, had been dating my boyfriend for four years, and was technically still a virgin. I say “technically” in a Bill Clinton sort of way. I might even still have the dress to prove it.
The reason it was important for us to stay virgins before we got married was that premarital sex was wrong. Thinking about it was wrong. Planning for it was wrong. And doing it was definitely wrong. We were supposed to be on fire for God, not each other.
There was only one way around it: Marriage.
In marriage, we could make sweet monkey love every night and it was OK. We could stop feeling guilty for all of those crazy, out of control desires that sent us parking in a steamed over car at the edge of the Nature Reserve night after night.
Yes, Oklahoma has a nature reserve. There is nature there.
The problem with our marriage plan was that we had no money. Neither of us had jobs.
Destined to become a teen bride so that I could stop feeling guilty for wanting to have sex, I discussed the issue with my roommate, who I shall call Gloria.
Gloria was a good southern girl. She dressed in flouncy blouses, had big hair, candied nails and wore Cole Haans loafers on her feet. I was not a good southern girl. I was from Colorado. I wore flannel. I had flannel sheets. I think I even had flannel socks on under my Tevas.
On the day I moved in with Gloria, I pushed open the door to walk into a windstorm of Aqua Net.
“Oh, sorry!” called out the intended recipient. I squinted into the haze as she slowly began to take shape. “I hope I didn’t get y’all in the eye!”
I checked behind me, unaware that I wasn’t alone. With no one in the hall, I proceeded forward with caution.
I attempted to make small talk for the next several minutes while she put the finishing touches on her tightly permed chestnut locks, which basically involved repeatedly blasting them from a spectrum of angles – angles, which I knew theoretically existed from my science geeky boyfriend with whom I longed to make sweet monkey love, but perhaps in a different plane or dimension.
“Y’all should drive a school bus like I do,” she told me one morning soon after we announced our engagement. It was morning and she was getting ready for her own route. The “bus barn” was just down the street and apparently had a lot of college kids on the payroll. Good pay and good hours for students.
She whipped out the can and got to work freeze-framing her locks as she talked. I did the math. It wouldn’t take much to live on if we got a small apartment with student housing. At the time, we could get a place for $160 a month on campus. Sure it was 300 square feet and had a view of the cafeteria dumpster, but we could put up curtains. Curtains to shield us from the prying eyes of the cafeteria workers, friends, our pastor and possibly even God himself so that we could skip from room to room wearing nothing but garlands in our hair.
Lured by the thought of being able to afford a life of marital bliss, one in which coitus came freely and without guilt, Scott and I both signed up for bus driving lessons.
The leader of the bus barn – a Mr. Trumbell – took us on and led us through a workshop on how to drive a schoolbus. Mr. Trumbell was old, had Marlboro stained creases on his face and appeared to have a lifetime of red meat stored in his gut. He walked slowly and with a limp and never failed to have a plastic mug filled with Folgers within three feet of him.
Mr. Trumbell was filled with bus driver wisdom. He taught us about lug nuts and airbrakes. He taught us how to park one of those SOBs backwards into a space with only three feet on either side. He taught us how to keep kids in their seats and quiet under threat of his Folgers breath of doom.
I didn’t know how to drive a stick shift, so he assigned me to a couple of other drivers who went to our school. There was a girl and a guy. The girl was blond, beautiful and sang constantly. She was the Cinderella of the bus driving world. When she stepped outside the bus, all manner of woodland creatures whirled admiringly about her, but when she was on the bus, she was all business. My other teacher doubled as a security guard on campus where he could be seen patrolling from the front seat of a golf cart. He was a large man and went by the name “Duck” for reasons unknown to me.
“Now put it into third,” she would say before trilling into an arpeggio from the seat behind me. “Good.” Somewhere behind her, Duck would crack a joke about a driver picking her nose in the car beside us. I would grab that giant stick shift that came up out of a shaft on the floor and grind it into submission all the while thinking about how I could use that move on Scott once we were married and in our $160 a month student apartment with curtains.
Over time, I learned my new craft. I could perform a complete safety check on the engine, replace those derned lug nuts when needed and park that SOB backwards into a space so tight it would require a tub of Crisco to dislodge it. Scott and I got our CDLs, passed our busdriver tests, and started our intern routes. Everything was going along smoothly until one day, Scott was turning left at an intersection and crunched the car next to him like a can of grape Fanta.
Mr. Trumbell was level headed about it, but explained to him that he couldn’t have brand new drivers on his payroll who had already had an accident involving kids. He let him go. Scott was real cool about it. He never let on for one second that this might postpone a chandelier swinging encounter or two. No worries, I thought. Scott would get something else by way of work, and I would pick up the slack. With only one month before we could strap harnesses onto ourselves and swing naked like Julianne Moore in The Big Lebowski over the canvas of our love, we were not about to let this little roadblock stop us. Finally, the day came for Mr. Trumbell to hand out our route schedules for the following year. He called me into his office and had me sit facing him, his Marlboro scented Folgers breath reaching out to me across his desk like tentacles.
“We just ain’t got nothing for you this semester,” explained Mr. Trumbell. “And anyway, I got plenty of drivers on a waiting list already. Ones who ain’t been in no accidents, neither.”
I sat breathing through my mouth, blinking at him.
“But I wasn’t in an accident. Scott was.” He shrugged.
“If I can’t give him a job, then I can’t give you one, neither.”
I was stunned. I walked away, tears burning in my eyes. Our teen wedding was planned and waiting for us upon our return home and we weren’t going to be able to afford peanut butter, let alone oysters. It was a disaster. What was I supposed to do with all that training? What use were lug nuts and stick shifts without curtains and a front door?
This was all Gloria’s fault. Gloria, with her nails that looked like Fun Dip and her huge hair that had to be held into place by industrial size hair spray cans. I had tried not to inhale, hiding under the sheets in the morning while she got ready to filter out the fumes, but those sheets were only 100-thread count because I couldn’t afford higher.
And who is to say that better sheets would have helped, anyway? Would they have truly filtered out the madness? Would Egyptian cotton have saved my soul?