Plan B, Lloyd And The Snowbus To Hell

December 26, 2009

The snowstorms hitting a wide swath of the country remind me of growing up and the presence of snow on the ground for long stretches of winter being a given.

The snow, though, also offered the possibility of the Snow Day which was a near-miraculous event, offering a glimmer of hope in the dead of winter. You slept in and only trudged out into the cold on your terms for your reasons.

As kids, it meant spending the day in someone’s den or basement playing Atari. Once we got our licenses, it meant the opportunity to do donuts in parking lots.

(there weren’t a lot of entertainment options in our hometown)

Of course, high school basketball had far greater influence than the primal forces of nature in the decision of whether school would be cancelled. The result was often the dreaded Plan B schedule – a tease if ever there was one – with school starting an hour or two later than usual in order to allow the games to go on.

Before me and my friends were old enough to drive, I’d usually get up early and catch a ride to school with my dad. If not, it was the bus. Plan B pared my options down to the latter.

We lived at the edge of our small town, where the terrain shifted from civilization – such as it was – to miles and miles of sparsely populated farmland. Our neighborhood was one of the first stops on our bus’ route. We would then spend nearly an hour rolling through the hinterlands on often narrow country backroads with hairpin curves, hills, and combinations of the two.

(the schoolboard obviously believed that the shortest distance between point A and point B ran through point Z)

Piloting the craft was Lloyd, a local farmer who had to be in his late ’60s. Always clad in denim overalls, a non-descript grey jacket and a hat from a nearby feed store, Lloyd’s enthusiasm for the job meant that some days he managed to stay awake for the entire trip.

(he might have been mute)

Adding a bus load of sixty or so screaming kids – disgruntled to have had a day off cruelly snatched away from them – to the mix of icy roads upped the degree of difficulty.

Throw in a couple of rickety bridges and the occasional white out and it made for a good time.

As the bus lurched along the route, often sliding to the precipice of wholesale disaster, we’d “oooh” and “ahhh.” Lloyd would cock his head ever so slightly, a gesture that assured us that, despite all evidence to the contrary, he was still alive.

From the back of the bus, we’d yell out advice to Lloyd as we traversed the barely passable roads. Our favorite unsolicited suggestion was a line delivered by Scatman Crothers in the movie Zapped which seemed to air daily on cable.

“Forget the horn. The bus is stalled.”

In truth, the trek was likely far more perilous than we realized especially as we headed down the forty-five degree incline of an icy “Suicide Hill” guided by a drowsy fellow with the hand-to-eye coordination of an arm chair.

(queue up The Sweet Hereafter on Netflix for theatrical proof of such perils)

Yet, somehow, we always arrived at our appointed destination.

In what may have been a feeble attempt to quell the natives, Lloyd usually had the radio tuned to Q102, a popular Top 40 station out of Cincinnati. According to Billboard’s chart for this week in 1982, here are some of the songs we might have heard playing above our din…

Duran Duran – Hungry Like The Wolf
from Rio

Since we didn’t have MTV in 1982, we didn’t see the videos for Planet Earth and/or Girls On Film, making Hungry Like The Wolf our first exposure to Duran Duran. Like the rest of America, we took to it, and, though some of them might have been goofy as hell – Union Of The Snake and The Wild Boys come immediately to mind – Duran Duran did put out some ridiculously catchy singles in their heyday.

Men At Work – Down Under
from Business As Usual

Men At Work had dominated the radio during the late summer and early autumn of ’82 with Who Can It Be Now? By Christmas, Down Under had become the Aussie act’s second smash.

I do know that my friends and I had seen both of those videos on Casey Kasem’s America’s Top 10 and been delighted by lead singer Colin Hay’s expressive antics and emotive nature. And, I do know that I received a copy of Business As Usual for Christmas that year which I wore out.

A Flock Of Seagulls – A Space Age Love Song
from A Flock Of Seagulls

I’ve expressed my childhood allegiance to Liverpool’s A Flock Of Seagulls and chronicled playing pinball with lead singer Mike Score. I still have great affection for their music from the early ’80s.

Though A Space Age Love Song didn’t get nearly as much airplay as I Ran on Q102 (or any of the other stations at my disposal), it was my favorite track from the band’s self-titled debut (which was also a gift that Christmas).

Toni Basil – Mickey
from Word Of Mouth

Mickey was massive during Christmas ’82. It was weird. I’d never heard the song until it popped up on American Top 40. Overnight, it seemed as though every Top 40 station in range added it and proceeded to play it dozens of times a day until we were all sick of it.

It seemed to take about three weeks.

It was a fun song that became grating quickly. I snagged the vinyl of Word Of Mouth last spring and noticed that several members of Devo played on it. It was quirky New Wave – fun, but nothing aside from Mickey standing out. I might have to give it another shot.