by Michelle Fairorth

If you have a car and a driver’s license, I’ll pay you to switch lives.

I still have to ride the bus to school because I never bothered to take Drivers Ed. But believe me when I say I detest every grueling minute of it.

That’s not just my massive pride talking. I’ve been through enough embarrassing school bus-related incidents to be thoroughly traumatized for life. I’ve squatted in the aisles too many times to count because there were more butts than available seats. I’ve sat next to kids whose dandruff-to-hair ratio should have been illegal and endured a perpetual plague of radio stations with unbearable “music.”

Arguably worst of all, I’ve had to sit with the kids who apparently know nothing about personal space and think it’s perfectly fine to rest their incredibly bony elbows on your thigh like an armrest until your leg goes numb and that pins-and-needles feeling sinks in.

But, like everyone else, I dealt with it, however grudgingly, while continuing to bang my head against the wall every weeknight. But oh boy. Something awful happened a few weeks ago. It was uncalled for and mortifying, and I’m considering filing a restraining order.

I also realize I might be slightly prone to exaggeration, but that’s beside the point.

So here’s the deal: if you ever had to ride the bus home with a friend in elementary school, you know that the bus driver requires a note from the office. Turns out the rules are the same for getting off your own bus at a different stop. I know this because, although most kids whose parents live separately normally ride two different buses, mine live so close that both of their houses are on the same route, literally six stops apart.

Back in elementary or even junior high, that may have been a problem, but by the time you’re in high school, the bus drivers either trust you enough to get off at the right bus stop, or they really don’t care what happens to you. It’s never been a problem for me.

That is, until a few weeks ago, shortly after my bus driver was reassigned. When I found out the old driver was leaving, I was about ready to let the balloons drop and throw confetti into the air. He was the kind of guy who knew that the bus was bigger than the other cars on the road and that if we crashed, he and about 90 percent of the students would probably make it out alive. And, of course, no driver can be worse than that.

I realized I was wrong on Wednesday, when I tried to get off the bus at my dad’s for the first time since the new driver arrived. I say try, because as I was walking off the bus I felt someone’s hand gripping my arm.

The first thought that occurred to me was, “Whoever is grabbing my arm is going to seriously wish he hadn’t.” Then, “Wait a minute, who is that?” I turned around, and you guessed it, it was the bus driver. He was holding my arm with this look on his face like he’s just caught me red-handed for first-degree murder. This isn’t Criminal Minds, buddy; get your clammy hand off my sweater.

I decided to speak up.”Can I go? This is my other stop.”

It’s like the concept was entirely new to him. There was a long, pregnant pause.

“Your other stop?” Oh, he was onto me alright.

“Yeah, this is where my dad lives.” This isn’t exactly rocket science, dude, just let me go home, so I can make some ramen noodles and do my homework.

He gave me the once over, as if he fancied himself a mall cop or something, and if he wasn’t holding my arm, I would have smacked myself in the forehead. Or him, more likely. Look around you, buddy. We’re in a harmless, suburban neighborhood at 5 in the afternoon, not some sketchy chemical plant. What could you possibly think I’m getting up to? Let me go, and I promise no nefarious shenanigans will go down on your watch.

Apparently, he thought otherwise, because he frowned and said, “You can’t get off here. This isn’t your registered stop.”

Well that’s brilliant. In that case I’ll just camp out here on the bus for the night. Just what I’ve always wanted, really. Meanwhile he was still squeezing my arm with this ridiculous viselike grip that guys who drink beer use to shake hands.

Goodness, just call the cops on me already and let them drag me away.

By this point the other kids were starting to get suspicious, and they were craning their necks to see what was going on, and I just wanted to go home, and my arm lost circulation because his palm was still wrapped around it, and he was cutting off my blood flow.

Viselike grip, indeed.

An eternity later, he told me that if I want to be registered for two stops I’ll need to call Transportation Dispatcher. Which is wonderful, but it didn’t fix the problem at hand. You know, me not being able to leave. Do I have to go see the warden?

But it was cool. This guy was only doing his job, and I was glad he takes it seriously enough not to show up with a raging case of pink eye, squinting blurry-eyed through a tissue, like our previous bus driver. He and I could get along, really, if he would seriously let go of my arm, which I’m now in danger of permanently losing to amputation.

In the end, he told me he’s “on a tight schedule,” so we came to an agreement. He let me off the hook “just this once,” and I was free to go on my merry way breaking laws right and left if I promise to call transportation and sort everything out. Then, FINALLY, he let go of my arm.

I picked my jaw up off the floor and thanked him. And trust me when I say I practically flew off that bus.

The first thing I did when I got home was sign myself up for Drivers Ed.

* This article is reprinted, with permission, from (believe it or not) the quarterly magazine produced by students at Westlake High School in Austin, Texas, from which Nick Foles and Drew Brees, quarterbacks for the Philadelphia Eagles and New Orleans Saints, both graduated. Michelle Fairorth, 15, is the niece of an editor at the Local. By a stroke of sheer luck, her arm did not have to be amputated, so a lawsuit was avoided.

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