The Just-Like-in-a-Hollywood-Movie Experience

School bus in rural Ontario, 2010

School bus in rural Ontario, 2010

As usual, Mark is busy playing and he doesn’t notice when I step in. I stand there, in the middle of the room, observing, relaxing, planning the evening. Another kid give him a nudge: “Mark… your mommy here.”

So much for filial instinct—isn’t he supposed to feel I’m about to come before I’m even here? Mind you, I was 100% sure I was having a baby girl, so maybe human instinct is overrated after all.

Finally, he sees me.

“Mommy! I went to the farm!”

I know. I signed the authorization slip and wrote the cheque.

“So, so, so… How was it?”

“I had a ham sandwich!”

I know that too. I made the sandwich the night before and put it in his lunch box. What I really want to know is…

“It was stinky.”

“Stinky? What? The sandwich?”

“Yeah. No. The pigs are stinky.”

“Ah, I see. But how was the…”

“And there was poo-poo and mud everywhere and…”

“Maaaark! Did you… did you take the bus? The yellow bus?”

“The what? Bus? Oh, yeah.”

I can’t believe how casual he is about it. It’s the bus! The yellow school bus! The magic bus!

Or maybe to Mark, it’s just a bus, and I’m projecting.

But I can’t help being fascinated by these yellow school buses. They are among the many cultural discoveries I made when I first came to Canada. On a early morning of 2002, I woke up to the sound of kids’ chatter and  loud idle engine noise. I look out of the window and saw parents, standing at the corner of the road, waving kids goodbye as they were getting into a giant yellow school bus. “Oh my God!” I giggled. “Suburbia and a school bus—this is just like in a Hollywood movie!”

Nothing says “North American schools” like the iconic yellow bus, except maybe these rows of lockers. For some reason, in U.S. series, students seem to spend their time hanging out in hallways, stuffing something (or someone!) into their locker while some drama unfolds—arguments, after-school plans or budding love stories. We were jealous—in France, we had to walk to school or take public transportation. We didn’t have school buses or lockers, just basic learning tools like the complete works of Victor Hugo in twelve volume to lug around and packs of cigarettes to smoke in the cour de récré. Life is so unfair.

Hollywood movies resort to so many stereotypes and overuse so many clichés that I had half suspected school buses didn’t actually exist or were anecdotal, a bit like not every French man is cheating on his wife and not every Parisian family lives within a five-hundred-meter radius of the Eiffel Tower or the Champs-Élysées.

Much to my initial surprise, school buses do exist and make billions of trip every year. And sometime, they are used for various school activities.

Over spring break, Mark’s daycare planned a special week of fun, including the dreaded “let’s pretend we are at the beach” day. Two field trips were also scheduled for pre-schoolers: one at the Aviation and Space Museum and one at the Experimental Farm. If you ask me, I think you have to be insane to volunteer to take a bunch of preschoolers for a day out at the museum but hey, I happily paid $15 to let Mark join the fun. Of course, he was excited to go to a museum (although I suspect he would have been happier to hit all the worship places in Ottawa…). “And you’re going to take the yellow school bus!” I added, already expecting a full report on the experience.

Technically, I rode these school buses too, although I took the “chicken bus” version, these refurbished Blue Bird buses that make up the transportation network in Central America. Foreigners nicknamed them “chicken buses” because you often have to ride with locals heading to the market with goods to buy and sell, including chickens. These buses are painted in bright colors, windows are wide open, they can carry up to a thousand passengers (no room? Ride on the roof!!) and they stop every two meters. Yes, I can picture these buses, three passengers or more per bench on seats designed for children, squeezed together, the ticket guy making his way up and down the crowded aisle, collecting fares, the driver screaming the destination to whoever want to join the party, the stereo blasting music, the food vendors selling snacks for the long ride…

On the other hand, what I cannot picture is kids riding the school bus. It feels… weird. To me, this is a true North American paradox. If you drive your own car, you have to strap your precious snowflake in bulky death-proof age-appropriate devices—rear-facing car seats, forward-facing car seats, booster seats. But you can totally let your child ride a giant bus without seat belts, driven by a stranger who works part time as a bus driver, part time as a Tim Hortons employee and probably smokes pot to carry both duties days after days, kind of like Otto, the school bus driver in The Simpsons.

Go figure.

Maybe I’ll volunteer for the next field trip, just for peace of mind… and mostly for the experience.


About Author

French woman in English Canada. World citizen, new mom, traveler, translator, writer and photographer. Looking for comrades to start a new revolution.


  1. I hated those buses growing up. I chose to walk to school in the snow and cold to avoid the trauma of dealing with my bullies on the bus.

    My heart would pound when I had to walk in front of the bus to cross the street. I tried to avoid it by walking to the back and crossing behind the bus, but the driver told me I had to walk out front where he could see me.

  2. The magic bus ! the magic bus !! awww memories !! I love the TV show ! I wish it could come back.
    Sorry got distracted ! When I went to high school in Baltimore, I took that bus once for a field trips and it was meh. I remember looking at lockers in movies and wishing I had one. And I finally did, I hated them !! Rememberin the locker combination was a pain in the ass!

    Oh well our kids will experience all of those things and it will be the new normal for them.

  3. I remember when I first saw those yellow school buses! It did feel like being in a movie haha
    And I never thought of the car seat paradox but you’re absolutely right! One of my friends actually drove one and she was a lovely lady, mother of two. Didn’t smoke any pot but like a good English lady she loved a drink at the end of her day 😉

    • Oh la la, faut que je me renseigne… je sais, c,est sur ma liste des choses à faire. Je crois que c’est psychologique, comme ça va à peu près avec notre garderie, j’ai peur du changement!

  4. I remember, my wife and I, stared out of the window at the yellow school bus that comes and gets the kids and then drops them off later; I know what you are talking about. I used to cycle to my school and before I could cycle I used to go to school in a cycle rickshaw (exactly like here:

    But these yellow buses have a charm to an outsider like me, and my wife, I remember this one time we both were looking at the bus and kids were getting in, I murmured “little Lisas and Barts” 🙂

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