Given my advanced age, one might expect that I have a lot of experience walking to school. Not so: only one year did I actually walk the entire distance to school, and I missed nearly half that year due to an almost unspeakable illness. That year was 1960, it was my only year in government schools, and the nearest school was maybe a third of a mile away. And I wasn't going to be faced with trudging through the snow; snow was something you just didn't see in Corpus Christi. (There was an actual white Christmas in 2004, with about five inches of snow, but I was long gone by then, and by the 26th of December, so was the snow.) The distance from front door to actual school door was more like half a mile, if you measured it along actual roads; however, there was a vacant lot tucked into a corner which pretty much everyone, including me after one or two days, cut across, despite the height of the grass and the threat of unknown creatures hiding in that grass. (Worst thing I encountered there: sand burrs. Then again, there were a lot of sand burrs.) The afternoon trip was generally just as dull as the morning trip. I suppose there will be anxious types who can't believe that a seven-year-old child could possibly make this journey on foot without being attacked by [name of threat]; trust me, nothing happened. The source of my illness was several miles out of town.

Came the fall of 1961, and I found myself on the East Coast in a Catholic school, a mile or two from our temporary digs in public housing. There was a private bus company which contracted with the school. It wasn't too long before I discovered that if I was willing to risk crossing a busy four-lane road and then climbing up a makeshift stairway cut into a retaining wall, I could cut the trip down to half a mile. After a weekend test, I decided I wasn't willing to risk it.

In the spring of 1964, I was enrolled in a prep school in the next county over, located in an old Victorian building. Ten miles each way. The school operated its own bus fleet, but the "buses," at least early on, were Chevrolet Corvair Greenbrier wagons. As the enrollment increased, standard yellow buses displaced the Corvairs. This period marked some sort of high point for Top 40 radio, and since we had half an hour at least to kill on each trip, we sang all the hits of the day. Being the youngest member of my class, I drew what might be construed as a disproportional number of female leads. Never bothered me in the least.

The prep school stopped at grade 8, so I wound up back in the Catholic system, which operated two high schools, about a mile apart, a bit of absurdity which was justified by that wicked old bird, Jim Crow. I was looking at a 12-mile trip each way; clearly improvisation was called for. The outbound trip was outsourced to a neighbor. At the time, all I was thinking was that this was the mom of the kid next door; she worked downtown about four blocks from my school. Eventually the improbability of the situation sank in, probably due to weird glandular activity with which I was not at all familiar at the time; she had always been "Mark's mom," not "the tall redhead with killer legs and a GTO."

Getting back home was another issue, because there were no neighbors who could match my schedule at the end of the school day. The eventual solution: walk a little more than half a mile to the Holiday Inn, where the city bus stopped; ride the bus about eight miles to the Burger King that had just opened; walk the rest of the way, about a mile and a quarter. (The actual bus stop was for a nearby industrial park, but what better place to build a Burger King?) The separate schools were combined at the beginning of the 1968-69 school year into a single institution.

Which brings us, at last, to the spring of 1969 and the end of my high-school days. I would not be driving a car of my own for another six years.

The Vent

  8 October 2017

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