A boy on the bus

“At least 15 people are dead after a crash between a tractor-trailer and a bus carrying a Canadian junior hockey league team, a tragedy that struck at the heart of a tightknit city in rural Saskatchewan and immediately echoed through the hockey world and beyond.”

– Washington Post, April 8, 2018

The bus was always my safe place. Well, all cars were and still are. I wasn’t born in a car even though it sometimes feels like it. From the day I was born, I’ve spent so much time in cars, reading, sleeping, talking, eavesdropping, eating, counting other cars, and being bored that cars have become my second home. 

Early on, my hockey bus trips were mostly short and infrequent. Maybe we took a bus to a camp four hours away, once a season, maybe not even that.

Back then, we mostly just played cards or read. There were no video games or even videos to watch. So we chatted and joked around and listened to music – if the driver was nice enough to put some on. Our parents were also on the bus, sitting in the front while the boys in the back of the bus, doing their thing. 

When I was sixteen, my team qualified for a nationwide league, so that we had away games hours from our hometown in the middle of the week, but by then, we also had walkmans and videos with us. Dad, who was the manager of an electronics store, had arranged for us to have a VCR and a TV on the bus. He had also cut a deal with the local video store so that we always had a couple of movies on the bus. 

We stacked a couple of hockey bags in the front, put the VCR on the hat rack, plugged it to the TV that was sitting on the hockey bags, gave the pile a shake to see if it held, and when it did, pressed play and leaned back.

We only had that one TV set, though, so you had to sit in the three, four rows in front of the TV to be able to see the movie which was just as well, because half the team was in the back playing cards anyway. 

On the first trips, when we were younger, there was a lot of UNO going on, but when we reached our teens, the games turned into poker, but with the smallest stakes possible. We played for small change, Finnish 20p and 50p coins partly because that was all we had and partly because our coach didn’t want anyone to get too upset about losing a lot of money before a game. On our way back, they didn’t care as much. 

Sometimes, I’d be lying on my back on the two seats, reading a book, my feet dangling over the aisle. Sometimes I’d be reading for fun, other times I studied for an exam. 

On many trips, as we got closer to our destination, the rink, I listened to my mixtapes, some – but not all of them – carefully designed to get me pumped for the game. In hindsight, some of my song choices seem somewhat peculiar, or at least surprising. Such as ‘Moonlight Shadow’ by Mike Oldfield, or Sheena Easton’s Bond theme song ‘For Your Eyes Only’. 

After so many years, most of the trips have morphed into one in my mind. I don’t remember which movie I saw on which trip, or where we traveling to when I won big with a royal flush. I don’t have vivid memories of the books I read, the homework I did, the sandwiches I ate, the jokes we made, the laughs we had, or even who brought Donkey Kong along – except for the fact that they all were there, and that all that happened.

The bus was always my safe place. 

Even when it wasn’t my happy place.  

One of my last road trips was also one of the longest ones on our schedule, to the west coast of Finland. The game had been a disaster for me. I hadn’t played much, and I didn’t like coach – there may have been a causal connection – and on our way home in the middle of the night, I sat by myself and listened to music, mulling things over.

Instead of a Bryan Adams album or one of those hockey mixtapes, I spent the entire trip home listening to a Twisted Sister tape Terry had left behind when he went back to Canada, and most of it listening to just one song on it. ‘The Price’.

I played the song, and then rewound the tape. I listened to the song, rewound the tape, over and over again, listening to the lyrics and wondering why I had never heard such a great song even though I had had the tape for more than a year. 

How long I have wanted
This dream to come true
And as it approaches
I can’t believe I’m through
I’ve tried, oh
How I’ve tried
For a life, yes a life
I thought I knew

Oh, it’s the price we gotta pay
And all the games we gotta play
Makes me wonder if it’s worth it to carry on.

I always took pride in being at school in the morning, no matter how late we came back from a road trip so the next morning, at 8am, like a moonlight shadow, I walked into the classroom as usual. 

But at 2am, a voice inside my head said, “maybe it’s time for you to do something else.”

I got off the bus.

How does that make you feel?