We travel frequently. My family lives in NJ, my brothers live in Washington, DC, and I miss all of them. I only drive back once a year though, at Christmas. The rest of the time I take Megabus. It’s cheaper than driving, and I don’t worry the whole way whether my 19 year old car will break down.
This time when we left NJ to go back home, it was pouring rain. We dashed from my dad’s car into the bus, and still got quite soaked. Fortunately though, we still snagged our favorite seats: the back row of the double decker bus, 5 seats in a row.
The bus driver climbed up to the top deck, and asked if anyone would be willing to take responsibility for a 12 year old. I took a quick second to realize she wasn’t asking for adoptions, just a token adult for some poor kid that needed to take the bus. No one else was saying anything, so I volunteered.
A woman and a girl got onto the bus. I think she was the girl’s aunt or something. The aunt made sure this was okay with me, and okay with the girl’s parent, and we were off (with copious thanks directed my way). The girl kept saying, “I was so afraid I wasn’t going to get to go!”
Apparently they were standing out in the rain while the bus driver told them she couldn’t ride without an adult. Apparently you have to be SEVENTEEN to ride the bus without an adult.
She sat in the back with us, and I asked her about her trip. She was from Atlanta, GA. This summer she had already been to Texas and Philadelphia with a day in New York City to visit family, and now she was on her way to see her dad in Pittsburgh.
She clearly would have been fine without sitting next to us, but probably had more fun this way with people to talk to and Caleb to entertain. I felt like I should have been hiring her as a babysitter. She was also able to use my USB plug to charge her Kindle Fire. She was self-possessed and well-spoken, not shy, not obnoxious. She had snacks and money and stuff to do.
All I could think about was that she would have been left in Philly if I hadn’t been on the bus. Our society’s mistrust of children is so great, that we think they need keepers at all times. How many kids her age would love to be able to travel around the country in the summer visiting friends and family? Parents have to work, but kids could visit aunts and uncles and grandparents that they rarely get to see, if only they were allowed out on their own.
Seeing the girl jump into her father’s arms when we got to Pittsburgh made me happy and sad at the same time. Happy that she got to go; sad that she was this close to being left. Maybe someone else would have spoken up (though the silence was deafening), but people think of children as a burden–people to be trained and managed, and certainly not to be trusted.
It also got me scheming to find a way around this ridiculous restriction for Caleb’s future sake. I fully intend to put him on a bus when he’s older to visit family sometimes without me. If for no other reason (since I can “take off” work whenever I want) than for him to have the experience of being on his own.
Maybe I could get there early and go up and down the line looking for a likely candidate to “sponsor” him. Maybe I could instruct him to fake an adult already on the bus. Maybe I could buy an extra seat and check in, but not get on the bus. Maybe I could work to change this rule by then.