When the Carson City School District introduced the "walking bus" concept, it gave people of a certain age like me an opportunity to trot out those halcyon days of yore When I Walked to School.
Believe me, I would have preferred to ride, but we didn't have a choice. My father was a traveling salesman and he was on the road. My mother did not drive, so for many months of the year if we were going someplace like school, we walked.
Our entourage -- my two older sisters, younger brother and me -- resembled a Louisiana chain gang more than today's "walking bus." We weren't actually lashed together, but we might as well have been. Mother pushed us out the door and we trudged off to school. The older ones looked out for the younger ones at least until we escaped Mother's X-ray vision.
Since this was the 1950s, we never worried about harm at the hands of strangers, only whether we might kill each other before we arrived safely at school. Much is made by the "walking bus" proponents of how children can chat with their friends and develop socialization skills all the while walking to school and getting much-needed exercise.
Our little family walking bus was the kind of atmosphere that could have bred future John Gottis and Harvey Pittses. Family grievances were settled, deals were made, and coalitions created all in the space of the 30 minutes or so it took to get to school. Loyalties were tested if one of the four of us had some explaining to do by the time we got home. A half hour is plenty of time to create a plausible cover story if everybody remembers their lines.
Our four-passenger walking bus only lasted a few years. With four kids in a seven-year span, we attended the same grade school for just a little while. Once they were old enough for two-wheelers, my sisters rode into freedom, leaving me and my little brother to bring up the rear.
One winter day, though, while riding to school, my sister was knocked off her bike by a teen-age driver. He didn't do a very good job of scraping his windows and rolled his old jalopy right through a stop sign into my sister. She was OK, but the driver had to face my father who happened to be home for a few weeks. Depending on the time of day, he either got a beer or a lecture. I don't remember.
When I first heard of the "walking bus" concept, it sounded like a ripping Monty Python routine or something my mother would dream up to con us into thinking how much better off we were without the heat and comfort of a ride to school.
When I typed in "walking" and "bus" in a Google advanced search, I came up with 3,300 hits in a matter of seconds. Imagine my surprise to learn the British are all over this. I logged onto the www.walkingbus.com Web site and read about the "lolly" bus and "mums" and all our "z" words spelled with "s."
In Great Britain, each walking bus has an adult "driver'" at the front and an adult "conductor" bringing up the rear. The children walk to school in a group along a set route picking up additional '"passengers" at specific "bus stops" along the way.
The bus runs rain or shine and everyone wears a matching reflective jacket.
I was hard pressed to find anyone critical of it except columnist Jonathan Calder, who poked fun at the matching vests, and questioned the restrictions of the concept:
"The walking bus scheme makes a spectacle of its children being supervised, almost celebrating how in tune with our times the scheme is in restricting children's freedom in the name of safety. Children are losing even that narrow strip of liberty between home and school and the small pleasures involved, like calling for friends," Calder wrote in Spiked-online.com.
On the other hand, in cities like Chicago, the walking bus has made neighborhoods safe again for children to walk to school without threats from traffic, gangs, shootings and drugs.
We're not Chicago -- hopefully, we're not even close -- but the "walking bus" may be a good experiment to redirect the habits 75 percent of Nevada's drivers who commute every day to work alone, and their children.
Sheila Gardner is the night desk editor of the Nevada Appeal.
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