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Wednesday, September 8, 2010

A Step Too Far

So last year the bus stop was at our house, but this year, to save time and money on gas, the Dept. of Ed changed some regulations to consolidate stops. Regulations stipulate no child may walk more than one tenth of a mile to a stop. Good, good, all good. I'm behind it 100%. Fine. So this year, the bus stop is around the U of our street in front of somebody else's house. Okay, fine. Do I really care? Not so much, except when the weather is snowy and 3rd grader will have to tromp along in the slush on the sidewalk-free suburban streets. Okay, so we'll suck it up. After all, didn't we tromp along in the slush of New York City's streets day in day out for six years to get to and from school and every other activity we schlepped to, carrying snacks, violins, leotards, bookbags, lunchboxes, purses, and often strollers on our backs? Yes we did. We never lived far enough from school (one mile) to qualify for a bus. Furthermore, riding a bus of any kind in New York is exquisite torture. I'd rather walk in any weather any distance under three miles (by myself, not with a child under age 12) in NYC than ride a bus, particularly a crosstown bus. And I did.

Today was the first day of school, so we walked around the U to the new bus stop, chatted with the neighbors, took photos, let the dogs sniff one another. One of the mothers said the distance from her house to ours was over one tenth of a mile, she wouldn't want to have her child walk it in bad weather. Fine, fine, whatever, little seeds of doubt planted, but whatever. Then the bus came along the street. Came along the U my 3rd grader and I had just walked, sailed around the U, right past our house, and stopped at the designated bus stop. Fine, whatever, fine.

I'm sure my clever readers know where this is going. Seeds of doubt sprouting, bus sailing right past our house, disapproving mothers who know more than I. On the way home from running errands, I clocked the distance on my odometer. By gum, if it wasn't more than one tenth of a mile. Not a lot more, but more. Google Maps put it at one tenth exactamundo. Fine, whatevs. At dismissal time, the 7th grader, the dog, and I went outside to weed, or dig up chipmunk holes with our noses, and wait for the 3rd grader. I figured the morning's bus sailing was possibly just one of those things, the driver would work it out more efficiently; but no, it was no fluke. When the bus finally arrived, late of course, having those first-day kinks, it sailed right past our house again. I waved, the driver waved back. A few moments later, the child came walking around the U.

Reports of first day followed. Nice teacher (thank God), happy child, a new friend or two already, a cool planner provided by the school, complete with translucent cover. Lunch, relax, gossip: Still on the bus, last year's nemesis, M. M lives on the next street over, with another child my child likes. This other child, Olivia, according to my child, said that this year, she and M were supposed to wait together at M's house for the bus. They live diagonally from one another on the same street. But M and Olivia "are feuding" according to my child. So somebody's mother called the bus company, and now M and Olivia are waiting at their respective homes for the bus, as they used to do, on the same street, diagonally across from one another.

Is this not petty? Still, if the bus company will reverse itself over this silly 3rd grade enmity, how about over sailing past my house on the way to the designated bus stop?

Well, they wouldn't change the stop just because the bus went right past the house. The bus goes right past lots of people's houses. The orders had come from on high at the Department of Ed, and the Superintendant had to enforce them.  The woman on the phone was adamant, and a little peeved. Considering how long the phone was busy before I got through, I judged they'd been fielding a lot of calls like mine. But they would come and measure to make sure the new stop wasn't more than one tenth of a mile from the driveway. Okay, I said. Why not? I think it is, by a little.

So about ten minutes later -- I kid you not. This is a small town -- when I left to walk the dog, I met a man with a rolling ruler disk on a stick. (Somebody knows what those are called, but I don't). Looks like a giant pizza cutter. We walked the distance together, chatting about the very handsome dog lunging for acorns every step. My credibility on the line, I worried as he cut the corner to cross over to the bus stop. At the designated stop, he looked at his pizza cutter. 585 he said and turned back towards his yellow minibus. Huh, I said. Presumably one tenth of a mile is what, 500 feet? So I was right. I jogged after him and said, so what does this mean? He said, Means they're gonna have to change the stop back.

Now I'd done it. Now I remembered my child's reaction when I said she'd be picked up and dropped off at the neighbor's house: "Cool. You mean I can walk?"  I said to the pizza cutter, Can we just make it casual, that when the weather's bad, the bus can let her off at our house? No, they can't do that, he said, because that would confuse the driver, especially if there was a substitute driver one day. Have to follow the regulations said the guy. Guess you've been getting a lot of these calls, I said. He rolled his eyes and said, You wouldn't believe.

I went on a long walk with the dog. Shortly after we returned home, the bus company called. Same lady. You were right, she said, apologetic. The stop is too far. By just a little, I said. I mean, I really don't mind the walking, except in crummy weather. We're adding your address to the list, said the lady. Number 38 will be your stop from now on.

I hung up. Victory. Now I'd done it.


  1. Holy Crap, the regs say no child can walk more than 1/10th of a mile? No wonder our taxes are so high. There was an article in the Wall Street Journal this week noting that so few kids walk to school these days that those who do sound "Abe Lincolnesque."

  2. Love this! The whole bus thing is surreal after trudging around NYC . . .

  3. I know. Suburban entitlement attitude is contagious, alas!