Getting Home from School

My son goes to a private Catholic high school and he takes the bus home. It’s that or I have to spend an hour in the middle of the afternoon, away from work, to go pick him up. You’d think other parents would be in the same situation.

But then I took the bus home with him one day to show him where to get on and where to get off. Once we were aboard I noticed not one other student from St. Augustine was on the bus. It’s a school of more than 700 kids. They wear uniforms so you know them when you see them. Wouldn’t you imagine a clump of them waiting at the bus stop right after school gets out, and then sitting in the back and making trouble once they got on?

My son’s first day alone on the bus I called his cell phone to see how it was going. He answered and said where he was and it took me a minute to picture the coordinates. As I was thinking, he gave his phone to the bus driver — actually she may have snatched it out of his hand. She was a loud, cheerful woman who told me she had small ones too and she was going to make sure my little guy was headed the right way. Nicholas is 14 and not really that small.

I heard her get off the bus and lead Nicholas onto the sidewalk and over to the stop where he could transfer to another line. She hollered at some people who wanted to get on her bus, which was at its terminal stop, and told them to wait right there and have a cigarette because she had something to do. After she left him alone, Nicholas told me that she didn’t really have to tell him all that stuff. I’m sorry he wasn’t amused because I thought it was pretty funny.

I guess the other kids who go to Saints get picked up by moms or other relations, or maybe they are old enough and drove their own car. Shouldn’t be surprised. In San Diego, it doesn’t occur to most people who own a car not to use it in every situation, regardless of how inconvenient it might be. Nicholas and Sophie took the bus home occasionally from their elementary school last year, and it as if there was something wrong when other parents would see them waiting at the bus stop. “We can take them home. It’s really no problem!” they would say in their calls to us.

But I want my kids to learn some self reliance. And maybe I don’t want them to insist on having their own car as soon as they’re licensed drivers. Maybe I don’t want to live in a place that’s nothing but asphalt.

My parents are getting too old to drive and they live in a condo development on a hill above a tangle of four-lane streets and freeway entrances that are full of traffic that’s moving very fast when it’s not absolutely stopped. They’ve waded into that whirlpool for years but now their reactions are too slow.

The metal suit of a car is dress code for navigating the a city. But I hope for change, and there is hope. It turns out young people are much more likely than baby boomers take public transit. Take a look at Who’s On Board, a new survey from the Transit Center.

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