I rode the school bus almost every day when I was in school. Now, through Kindergarten to 8th grade, suffering the bus ride to and from school was an accepted fact of life for almost all kids I knew. The grogginess of the morning commute. The panic of finding someone with whom to share a seat when the bus is over capacity. The hierarchy of seating (troublemakers in the back, goody-two-shoes in the front, undecided milquetoasts in the middle). You ride the bus as a matter of course and you deal with all the indignities because you don’t really have a choice.
High school, and the independence which it affords, changes things. The popular and good looking begin figuring out the angles and hooking rides with older teenagers WITH CARS. The athletic and intelligent have demanding after school activities which would either put them on the “post sesson” bus (our high school’s term for the last bus to leave school for the day) or again, getting a ride with someone.
I was neither popular nor good looking, not athletic or intelligent… so I continued to ride the school bus and it was hell. You can imagine what type of rider remained, after considering the numbers of teenagers who had found better options then taking the school bus. At the time, the bus seemed to me to be filled with delinquents whose idea of a good time consisted of burning interesting shapes into the backs of the bus seats with their lighters.
Instead of trying to fit in with that crowd, I turned (as I often did, growing up) to books. Specifically, old paperbacks, caged from wherever I could find them. I read a LOT on the bus, both in the morning and in the afternoons… and that’s where I first read Ray Bradbury. It was The Illustrated Man I first encountered, the perfect school bus read.
Most of the stories in The Illustrated Man were about the length of one full bus ride (morning AND afternoon together)… and they were freaky. I was never a big reader of science fiction novels as a teenager- then and now, I’m more a horror/mystery guy. Those stories in The Illustrated Man… his writing was transformatory.
I had never read a book like that before. The stories were a wonderful jumble of emotions and ideas. Bradbury went from vicious (The Veldt) to hopeful (The Man, The Other Foot), to hopeless (The Long Rain, The City) and the bat of an eye. My bus rides were thusly fantasically changed by the tone and tenor of whatever wild concept Mr. Bradbury had to offer on that particular morning.
Of course, I went on from there; Fahrenheit 451, R is for Rocket, The Martian Chronicles, Something Wicked This Way Comes. I loved them all and could wax on about them for about as long as I’ve yammered about my problems riding the school bus here. It was The Illustrated Man that got me first. That’s the one that got me started. That’s the one that made those bus rides bearable. I’m far sadder about Mr. Bradbury’s death than I thought I would be for that reason. Even though The Illustrated Man was first published in 1951, he did a kid in 1994 a great favor by writing it.