The Curse of the Yellow Bus

The Curse of the Yellow Bus

How odd!  I was oblivious to the curse of the yellow bus as a student in elementary through high school.  The bus curse apparently did not take root until later in life as a young teacher and coach. The good news is that since I retired, the frequency and severity of recalling these fears and curses has faded through time.

Wayne Corle, of Corle’s Body Shop in Potter Creek and former bus driver will attest to my first encounter with a school bus as a teacher.   Imagine the smile on his face as he opened the door one winter morning at a stop along his route and there I was, a rookie educator, standing with the kids, waiting for a ride to school.  The reason my car was out of commission that morning was due to the fact that it was wedged in twelve feet of drifted snow, just up the road – a casualty from a mishap the evening before.  And the reason it was wedged in a snow drift is a story of its own, that I’ll suitably save for another time. 

Wayne’s laughter and that of the students on the bus was nothing compared to the howls from the faculty and staff as a few of them witnessed my departure from that bus a few minutes later at school.  

And when Driver’s Ed Teacher Joe Nastasi visited the roadside drift that afternoon with a crew of students, (equipped with shovels), his shriek rivaled the decibels of the local fire whistle.  To this day, he can’t recount that story without laughing hysterically.  And…No, they weren’t successful in freeing the car.  Wayne resorted to his wrecker later in the evening for that.

A couple of years later, as head track coach, I was returning to the team bus in the parking lot following the West-Central Coaches Meet in Altoona.  To say I was shocked that the bus pulled out without me is an understatement.  The kids thought I was going home with my wife and told the bus driver to go ahead without me.  Funny, no one even noticed that my wife wasn’t even there that evening.

Fortunately, I hitched a ride home with Larry Bulger, the Everett Area track coach, who was kind enough to offer a ride to his stranded counterpart.  We stopped to eat at McDonald’s on the way home, and while socializing with competing athletes and coaches did improve the situation that evening, I was still eager to get back home and get to the bottom of why my bus left the meet without me.    

Hoping that second school bus debacle would soon be forgotten was asking too much.  Sure enough, the following year, Dwayne Gochnour called Dale Batzel a day before the annual Altoona meet.  The two were athletic directors at the two schools at the time. Dwayne jokingly wanted to check to see if Everett should bring another vehicle along that year in case Northern Bedford’s coach required a way home.

The curse reappeared the following spring, too. Both the girls and boys track teams were sharing a bus on the way back from a meet.  Why a young female harrier decided to throw a knitted warmer, designed for a specific body part to the front of the bus, I’ll never know.  She purchased the gag gift at Spenser’s in the Altoona Mall and thought it would be funny as she proclaimed, “this is for you, coach Potchak.”

With all eyes on my red face, the kids waited with caution to see how I was going to handle this situation.  It was obvious that most of them knew in advance of the planned scheme. 

I tried to save what little dignity I had left as I tossed the souvenir back to the rear of the bus.  And today, I’ll set aside my self-respect and not reprint my retort to Loretta Corle Dodson (no relation to Wayne).  ** See below: Not printed in the papers**

The yellow bus frustration continued a few years later yet again.  This time I served as our school’s Eco Team Coach and I accompanied my two, well prepared teams to Raystown Lake where we were vying for a tri-peat victory for the first place trophy. 

The administration booked a substitute for my classes that day.  The kids were dressed in proper attire for the outdoor activity and excitedly boarded the bus with their lunch bags, pens, clipboards and note books in hand.  Some brought cameras and one borrowed his dad’s binoculars to assist with any identification tasks that might be asked of them.  Yep, following two months of practice, they were ready!

When the ranger at the gate stopped our bus and explained that we were one week early for the competition, I got a sick feeling in my stomach.  The sensation got worse as the bus driver, Bobby Batzel (Dale’s brother) turned toward me with a bewildered gaze. There was nothing else to do, but return to the school, where luck would have it that fellow teachers Joe Nastasi and Ralph Scott just happened to see the bus pull in and make the clock-wise loop around the building (passing by EVERY classroom in the school).

Completely out of control, they managed somehow to not collapse with laughter as they tried in vain to explain to their classes what was going on. If you think my face was red on the track bus, it felt a few degrees hotter, like an exploding supernova, this time, as I entered the office and explained our shortened trip to the principal. Embarrassingly, I had to ask Bob St.Clair for another sub and for permission to allow the students to miss school again the following week.  At least I got the date correct the next time.

Yes, the Beatles may have enjoyed their life together in 1966 in their Yellow Submarine but I’ve never felt completely relaxed in a yellow school bus since the mid 70’s. Can you blame me?   

 ** “Take it back and get a larger size Loretta. This one won’t fit.” **


My Roots - The Potchaks - circa 1927

My Roots - The Potchaks - circa 1927
From Left: Son, Steve - Dad, Frank - Mom, Anastasia (Makar) - Sons; John, Mike, Frank, Chuck (Author's Dad) - Twins, Pete & Mary - Daughter, Catherine. Photo taken in Wilmore, PA