Held hostage on a big white bus…

(Originally posted October 31, 2010)

One likes to think that when a certain period in life is past, friends made during that time will remember you in a fond and positive light. However, sometimes little things happen that stick in peoples minds, and end up being the things most remembered. So it is from my college days…

I love road trips! Traveling down the highway with a bunch of friends, laughing, singing, being crazy, learning each others quirks and idiosyncrasies. This can be a lot of fun, right? Hmmpffh. If one of those idiosyncrasies HAPPENS to be that you have a bladder the size of a lentil, well, lets just say your status for an invitation to a devil-may-care collegiate road trip is questionable at best. Let me share one of those memories others seem to cherish so well…

Attending The University of North Alabama truly was one of the favorite times in my life! I made wonderful, life-long friends and we shared so many fun times together. Some of the best memories were with friends on mission trips from the Church of Christ Christian Student Center. We traveled to Wyoming, New Hampshire, and to Pennsylvania on several occasions. One of the Pennsylvania trips proved to be most memorable…especially for the one with the lentil-esque bladder….me.

On some of the mission trips, three or four vans would make a caravan. Usually I would serve as self-appointed travel organizer, planning day trips on our trips “free day,” and would attempt to make the travel time more pleasant by passing out homemade versions of Travel Bingo! (It’s amazing how many Brown Cows lying down you will see if you are alert, and needing it for a Bingo!) Of course, as we traveled, there would be periodic stops for restroom breaks, but sometimes regardless of the fact that we just stopped two exits back, nature would AGAIN call my name. All vans would have to pull off, and I would trot quickly into the McDonald’s or Shell stations men’s room. Returning to the van, I would profusely thank the group of perturbed travelers for stopping and sheepishly crawl back into the van to resume the quest for a bird sitting on a power line. I would draw my puckering string a little tighter as my Mama would say, and try not to let it be known that it would only be a few more exits until I would have to cry out for yet another stop.

Then came the year of the Big White Bus. In the late 80’s, most all Churches of Christ would have an old yellow school bus, repainted as a “Joy Bus.” Name festively painted down the side, it was used to bring children from nearby neighborhoods and trailer parks to church. Luckily (?) for the Christian Student Center, we became the recipients of a Joy Bus in its third incarnation (at least). We were so excited to have one vehicle to haul our happy band of collegiate missionaries! But then came the horns of the dilemma on which we were now perched: WHO was going to drive it? During the days of van travel, driving duties would be shared by us all. But a BUS? Nope, not driving that one!

The day of the next mission trip was drawing nigh and all were wondering WHO would be the driver of the bus? Our fearless leader, Tim Stafford, apparently had some experience driving a bus prior days, and for that we were indeed thankful. Then, one day, word began to spread that a new member of the Christian Student Center had experience driving a long-haul truck cross country! Tim was elated! Not looking forward to being the lone driver on the trip to Pennsylvania, there was hope now for shared driving duties! Woo Hoo!!

Up until that time, I had little knowledge, or appreciation for long haul truck drivers. Apparently they go HOURS, dare I say DAYS without ever stopping to go to the restroom! Let me add here that this newfound knowledge was not acquired BEFORE the trip.

Our newfound driver for the Big White Bus, Gordon, was a likable guy, nothing much ruffling his feathers. All were thankful that he had experience behind the wheel of a vehicle of this size. I liked Gordon. Really I did. Until.

My knowledge of the stamina long-haul truck drivers must maintain began to form early on our trip. Apparently, long-haul truck drivers see it as a badge of honor to stop as few times as possible on a long-haul trip. Normally, I would assume that on a cross country trip there would be one, possibly two people on a large diesel truck traversing the roads of our great nation. But here we were. 20ish college students on a Big White Bus. Traveling from Alabama to Pennsylvania. With a long-haul truck driver at the wheel of our Big White Bus. And there I was: held hostage, for 1,500 miles…me and my lentil bladder.

At first, it was light chatter, all amazed at how long-haul drivers could go for hours on end without stopping to go to the restroom. Then it became clear, that Gordon was bound and determined to get to Pennsylvania with only stops to refuel the Joy Bus. Let’s just say, that from that point on, there was little Joy on that bus between Gordon and myself.

Gordon was not amused when I would inform him that a stop was needed to go to the restroom. I would make it known that while yes, I know we just stopped an hour ago, I must request that we stop again. I would see an exit sign ahead, naively assuming that we would be pulling off at that exit. The exit would near. I could sense no slowing of the bus. I would again remind Gordon that we needed to stop. Seeing his eyes in the rear view mirror, they did not waver from the road as we maintained speed past the next exit…and the following exit… and the next. This was getting serious.

There I was, held hostage on a Big White Bus. Legs crossed, eyeballs floating, in pain and praying that we wouldn’t hit a bump in the road. Surely if we did, I would be embarrassing myself before all of my friends, at least those who didn’t drown. If I had not been in such dire straights, I would have climbed over the bus seats and wrenched the steering wheel from Gordon’s hands, and snatched him bald in the process, yet I knew it was not in the best interest of my fellow missionaries for me to move one tiny inch. I called out in earnest for the bus to stop, making it quite clear that I was NOT making this up! I HAD TO STOP! NOW!!

Then the words came out of my mouth that would forever be etched into the brains of one of my fellow travelers: “GORDON! IF YOU DON’T STOP I’M GOING TO SET UP AN INFECTION!!!!” These words were yelled, more likely screamed at our driver, Gordon. I was in pain, and let me note, that I was not the only one in need of a restroom stop!

Then, all bent out of shape, Gordon reluctantly took the next exit, pulled over at the first available restroom and I gingerly tiptoed away from the bus of doom. Glares were exchanged between me and Gordon as I returned to the bus. Gordon offered to get me a Dr. Pepper 2-liter bottle for the remainder of the trip. Recoiling in horror, I offered to let him live to see Pennsylvania.

As with most traumatic memories, we try and block them from our consciousness. I had not thought of this incident in years, until my friend Mark Chastain and I recently reconnected on Facebook. Mark, who was along on the Big White Bus that day, told me in our first conversation in years that he never thought of me without recalling my words to Gordon, “If you don’t stop, I’m going to set up an infection!”

Ah, precious memories…how they linger….

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