school buses, morning commutes, and drive-through communities

I’ve been  hitting the road by 6:45 on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday mornings. Okay, so I’ve tried leaving a little later than that, but since I find traffic unbearable, I’d rather go earlier and have a few extra minutes of breathing time. I am not a patient person, despite evidence to the contrary.

Here in Kentucky, elementary school students begin school earlier than middle-school and high-school students. Apparently studies have shown that high school students’ brains don’t function at 7 am, which explains a lot as far as I’m concerned. So around here the little tykes begin really early, so early in fact, that they’re waiting for the bus when I’m breezing through their neighborhoods on the outskirts of [Closest City to My House].

Lots of people avoid driving on the road I take to get to work/school–it’s a two-lane road, and the traffic gets bad with very little cause, and well, I don’t know why else, but a lot of people avoid it. I can’t talk myself into going another way, though, because it’s the most direct route into town.

I’ve been known to tell people that there isn’t anything between my little town and above-mentioned City, except for the liquor stores on the county line (my county is “moist,” which means you can only purchase alcohol in restaurants) and horse farms. But guess what? That’s not true (about there not being anything between them, not about the liquor stores).

Sure, there’s the “Kentucky Horse Park,” home to the World Equestrian Games in less than three weeks from now (which will not make my morning commute very pleasant), but that’s not what I mean.

The school bus for the elementary kids stops on this very busy, two-lane road, right during rush hour, and over the last few weeks, I’ve found myself sitting and waiting for little hordes of children to board and then find a place to sit on their buses.

I like this forced slow-down (then again, I give myself a half-hour cushion). I like the slow-down because it makes me pay attention. It makes me see the lower-income housing I’d otherwise drive right by, the shady-looking motels with weekly rates, the communities of mobile homes, the small, square cottages within ten feet of their neighbors, the restaurant that’s been under different ownership at least three times in the two years we’ve lived here (the most recent incarnation advertising “Karaoke and Cold Beer”). It’s a lot easier to see these places when you’re at a stand-still.

Most of the time, I drive right on by. I listen to my Over the Rhine at really loud volumes, singing along with Karin Bergquist’s smooth vocals, wishing I were as awesome as she is, and quite frankly, I don’t look around very much. Even the picturesque white picket fences, enormous horse barns, and blind-folded thoroughbreds (which, by the way, are in quite close proximity to patches of poverty, a juxtaposition that isn’t talked about very often in these parts but is striking) are lost on the drive.

But then the red flashing light of the school bus forces me to stop, and I see the little boy in the navy blue pants and light blue oxford button-down shirt (do they wear uniforms here?) is getting on the bus for the first day of school. His parents–a less-than-reputable-looking couple trying to hold back tears, I really could see that, as they wave and point at him as he makes his way to his seat on the bus–the parents hug as the bus pulls away and I drive by them, and I can’t help but wonder about this entire world that exists outside of my life.

It’s easy to drive through and ignore the life around us that doesn’t affect our lives.

But that’s community, too.

So let’s not drive on by, okay?

Let’s not.