By Andy Mitchell
In my first article about the romance of bus travel I alluded to those field trips we’ve all taken with our classmates, excursions to nearby historic sites, such as New Salem and Hannibal. For a rural area in the Midwest we are privileged to have significant national, even international, sites within an hour’s drive. People travel thousands of miles on their pilgrimages to the places where Abraham Lincoln and Mark Twain lived. When the Japanese students visiting Illinois College stopped into the bookstore, all their faces lit-up in recognition when they saw a copy of “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”. The kid who grew-up Samuel Clemens just over the Mississippi River in Missouri appears to be the one American author with whom they are all familiar.
Apart from these early field trips, I spent little or no time on a bus until high school, when, as an athlete, I clocked countless hours of bus rides, traveling to scores of games and meets. While my varsity experience was largely limited to track and cross-country, I did suit-up for basketball, first in Turner-green, when we were still the “Devils”, and then in Crimson-red as an underclassman. I am proud to boast that I made a basket in The Bowl, even if it was just one, and just in a J-V game. As I said, I suited-up. I didn’t say I played much. In high school I mostly warmed the bench. But back in Jr. high I chalked-up a lot of playing time as the “seventh man,” typically the second sub to enter a game, in this case after David Black, who was a bona fide “sixth man,” easily as good as any of the starting five. On the other hand, I was used more for defensive purposes. Which is to say, I wasn’t much of a scoring threat. But if Dad taught me anything, it was that defense was equally important as – albeit less newsworthy than – offense.
My seventh-grade season was a memorable one, one in which we were undefeated as we boarded the bus for Quincy. And what a magnificent bus it was. No ordinary school bus, this was a motor coach, specially hired for the big game against our rivals, the other “Devils,” dressed in blue. Boy did we feel important riding in those plush individual seats, little princes enthroned to rule and conquer. As we headed west, chasing the sunset and our destiny in luxurious style, our formidable opponents waited behind their fortress of discipline, confident of the outcome. Turns out they had good reason.
Our return trip was not so fun. Once again, the “Blue Devils” got the better of us poor devils, green with envy. We’d given them a good fight, but the wind had been taken out of our sails, our puffed-up sense of self-importance, deflated. It would be a long time before I experienced similar elation and deflation riding to and from a sporting contest. Still, the memory of that bus, that super coach, leaves me with a glimmer of youthful enchantment.