08 October 2012

2012 Camp Bus Story


That's the sound a bus makes when it's got a flat battery.

When a bus goes "rurr-rurr-rurr" in an unfamiliar place at 9:00pm in the cold, wet weather and the bus is filled with tired, frightened children, the "rurr-rurr-rurr" sounds a little more sinister than I can make it look on the screen.

Mr de Elba, Justamum and I had taken seven children to have a fabulous night ice-skating and tobogganing, and we'd stopped at McDonalds to get 30c cones for the children on the way home.  We clambered back on the bus to make the 20-minute drive back home when the "rurr-rurr-rurr-rurr" changed our night from Fabulous to Potentially-Very-Bad-Indeed.

Mr de Elba kept his cool as he turned the ignition key again and again, but the bus didn't give any hope of spluttering to life.  One by one the children sobered as they realised what Justamum and I had realised in the darkness of the bus: we were stuck.  Justamum and I said little prayers while the girls cried and the boys prophesied doom.

Baby Rex decided he was hungry but he didn't want my milk, an impossible scenario he sometimes presents me with.  He alternated crying with screaming and I took him up the back seat of the bus, as if that would somehow minimise the noise for the other passengers.

As I sat there offering milk that was somehow offensive to a person smaller than my arm, I considered our options.

How to start the bus? No idea.

How to evacuate the children while someone cleverer than I worked out how to start the bus? Ah, there were several options there, each more unsatisfactory than the last.

I could call my Dad to drive our car (complete with baby seat for Rex and boosters for the others) to pick us up and take us home ... but he didn't have our house or car keys.

I could call Crazy Sister's husband who had the benefit of living close to where we broke down.  But he would have had to make several 40-minute round trips to take us all, and didn't have the requisite child restraints in his car.

Also, when I invited Crazy Sister ice-skating, she said with her characteristic charm that it sounded "damn nasty" and that she "just spent what feels like most of this year waiting for winter to finish."  Dragging a Crazy Family member out into "damn nasty" weather that felt a little like the winter that had finally just finished seemed defeatist at best and humiliating at worst, so I abandoned that idea.

The third option was "Panic Now."  But by that stage, we were too tired. Instead, we and the children said, "Dear God, we pray the bus can start, amen."

I hadn't noticed that a kind bloke with a really nice new ute had asked if he could give us a tow, so we could try a rolling start.  Mr de Elba had to back the bus up by allowing it to roll backwards down a slight incline.  My job, since Rex and I were sitting in the back row, was to tell him when to stop so that he didn't smash the car parked 10 metres behind us.  That was when I started to sweat a little.  "Panic Now" seemed a good option.

We rolled backwards without incident, the tow cable was attached, and we were slowly towed out of the carpark.  Then we started going faster to get up a fair speed before trying a rolling start.

"Rurr-rurr-rurr!"  No luck.

They tried again in a different gear.  Rolling slowly, rolling faster, rurr-rurr-rurr, no luck again.

A third try - much the same.

Fourth try, and they went much faster.  It was then I realised how difficult it must be to concentrate on getting up enough speed to start the bus while watching the ute's brake lights so that you could stop the bus quickly enough on the wet road so that you didn't smash into the back of the Good Samaritan who was trying to help you.

Then all of a sudden: BRAKELIGHTS-EMERGENCYSTOP-SKIIIIIIIIIID-stopjustintime!

We'd just avoided rear-ending a really nice, new, expensive ute with a really old, unreliable, shuddery bus.  "Panic Now" was instigated.

My choice would have been to pull out then.  No more tries, no more potential rear-ending of the Good Samaritan for his kindness.  However Mr de Elba decided to give it one more shot.

Rolling slowly, rolling faster, rurr-rurr-rurr-rurr-rurr, splutter, cough, START!  It had worked!  We were running again, and as often happens in these situations, the Good Samaritan congratulated us, we thanked him profusely, he said goodbye and then he disappeared into the night.

"Thankyou God, the bus has started!" we said together.  Girls stopped crying, boys were perhaps a little sad that the eventual doom didn't transpire because it seemed to have been quite an adventurous possibility, baby Rex had cried himself out and fell asleep slumped across my arms, and Justamum and I laughed silently in the darkness.  Because what else could you do, really?

And as we drove home in the dark wet night, we wondered what the ending of this story would be - the story whose beginning involved being stranded with a flat battery outside McDonalds late at night and whose middle involved driving that very bus packed with 20 excited teenagers three hours to the beach for a week-long camp.

Woody had no such qualms.  He sat happily beside me saying over and over again, "Fank God da bus has start."


Justamum said...

"Fank God da bus has start"

Sue Ellen said...

This is the kind of thing that makes a great blog post. Later. At the time, slightly less than great. Very glad the bus started. But I must ask, why was calling the RACQ not an option?

(Also, those quote boxes are great. I know, I'm a nerd.)

gartcott aka Penny Hannah said...

Fank God for Good Samaritans too and maybe a shiny new battery would be a Good Thing before the camp excursion, Although there should be plenty of teenagers to push if the occasion arose.

Crazy Sister said...


Your sister really does sound charming.

Perhaps she MIGHT have braved the elements if she'd known any of this..?

Tracy P. said...

We could all stand to fank God a little more often, Woody! :-)

Givinya De Elba said...

But would my sister push-start a bus, particularly if the weather was damn nasty?

I think the RACQ was on the list of things to try, but it might have cost the earth. We don't think the bus was covered for roadside assistance, and the owner of the bus is impossible to catch on the phone at NORMAL times of day, let alone at 9:00pm. But it was a possibility, just an expensive and time-consuming one.

Crazy Sister said...

I know a friendly mechanic who lives close to where you were. I'm just saying, if you HAD called me, my level of assistance may have surprised you.