85 / 365 – The Bus

JOHN CROSS

That second year, our senior year, we thought we were going to repeat as state champions. We were beating everybody. Then there was the game in Lakota where it started to come apart. And we were never the same.

The Lakota team was playing rough. Haraldsen was trying to get me riled up. He said, “Lakota — they’re like the sworn enemy of the Ojibwe, aren’t they? You aren’t gonna let some Lakotas knock us out, are you?” I hate that shit. People always try to make deep points by calling up my Indian heritage. They don’t know anything about it.

What did get me worked up was when they took out Mark Timms. He wasn’t that good at anything but passing, but nobody ever paid attention to him and he could really work the ball around the court if Finn got tied up. He made this great steal, starting flying up the court, was sailing up in the air like a bird and this guy from Lakota took a chop at his back and knocked him flat on his face. Bad cut on his forehead, they were worried about a concussion. Our bus driver grabs the coach’s car and runs the kid off to hospital in Grand Forks.

I was like a bull after that, just plowing through those guys. I almost never fouled but I ended up going out on fouls. I let myself get angry. But we were on a run. When I fouled out we were up by fifteen points. They never had a chance after that.

After the game we all pile into the bus, which has been left running outside, it’s about twenty below, maybe forty below with the windchill. We’re sitting there for fifteen or twenty minutes, all the cars clear out and we’re there all alone. People are joking around, whooping it up because of the tear we went on at the end, how we beat them by so much when it had been so close most of the game. There are a couple bottles of vodka or something getting passed around. Our bus driver never noticed stuff like that, you could practically take a sip while you were talking to him and he wouldn’t notice. But that’s when somebody remembers that our bus driver is in Grand Forks.

It’s just the seven of us left on the team, four or five cheerleaders, and the ten people in the band who are the pep band. People are saying, “Who’s going to drive?”  I had taken a sip of the booze, but only one sip. My mind was still hard from the game, from seeing Mark go down, so I had laid off it. People wanted Finn or Chris to drive, they were really the leaders, but Finn said he’d had too much to drink. I thought one of the cheerleaders should do it, but a bunch of the guys said they didn’t want a girl driving. So after awhile, somebody said I should do it.

I didn’t want to do it, because I knew there was probably going to be trouble about a student driving us home and it was likely to be worse if I did it. But nobody would do it so finally I sat down and got us going. I had driven farm trucks before so I thought I could probably do it. Everybody was yelling and hollering and I stopped suddenly and got up and they all shut up and I said they were going to have to be quiet if I was going to drive. The wind was blowing snow off the roof of the school and around the parking lot and people looked at that and shut up. They were quiet the whole way home.

The road was hard to see in spots with the snow blowing across it. A few times there was so much ground drift across the road the bus slid on it a little. I kept it down around 40 miles per hour. By the time we were getting close to town, they had realized we were missing. A police car picked us up about ten miles out of town. He pulled me over. He came into the bus and started yelling, what the hell was I doing hijacking the bus. Kids started telling him what happened and that we had been left behind. He told them to shut up and he started in on me again, said I was going to get arrested for driving without a bus license. I stood up and told him I’d be happy to ride the rest of the way to town, we just wanted to get home. He didn’t know what to do, it was just him, so finally he tells me I can drive the rest of the way. I drove the bus into school and parked it. Most everybody packed into cars and drove off. I got to go over to the police station and get a ticket. He told me there were other things he could charge me for, they would see about that.

The next Monday, at school, I get called in for school discipline because I had driven the bus. I kept asking people, “They asked me to drive and I did. What else should I have done?” Nobody had an answer for that. I’m sure if it had been one of the other guys, they’d have slapped their wrists, maybe, said don’t do it again. They were talking about suspending me. Finn said it was ridiculous, said he would try to get his dad to say something to the principal, Mr. Lee, but I guess he wouldn’t do it.

So I was going to get suspended for a week. Then they realized it might cost us a couple of games and the chance to play in the state tournament. So I got called in the office again, told never to do it again, and told that they were being generous and would skip my suspension if I didn’t get in any more trouble. I never got in any trouble, so that was stupid. I was pretty careful around that school, like I am now. I knew what was going on. I knew they wanted to do worse because I wasn’t one of them. And they were only letting me off because they cared more about winning basketball games than they cared about the rules that were supposed to be so important. It was ugly in both ways. Sometimes I’m surprised I came back

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