Lyle the Bus Driver and the Duck Call

My companions and I were having a grand old time. That is, until our coach bus unexpectedly pulled over and Lyle started yelling. And you’ll never guess who it was that set him off…

It was early in the summer of 1996. I had completed my junior year of high school and had eagerly signed on for my very first mission trip with my church’s youth group. We were headed for Mexico, and if you have ever done short-term missions work before, you know that things rarely go according to plan.

Our first little adventure occurred six hours into our journey when our bus broke down, leaving us stranded on the side of the road in the middle-of-nowhere Missouri. While we waited for replacement transportation, we piled out of the bus, wandered around, took pictures of each other and the Missouri cornfields, and tut-tutted over the state of the bus’s now-exposed engine as if we knew what we were talking about (“Yep, you can see clearly that the discombobulator has broken off the defenestration flange, causing a back-up of ephemeral fluid…”).

8-10-2009 11;38;31 PMHours passed and darkness fell.

With the night obscuring our view of the scenic farmland, we climbed back into the bus, but not before several of our team members began to itch in earnest. As it turned out, among the other natural wonders of the Missouri roadside, some of our group had discovered a patch of poison ivy. This trip was going great!

More hours passed.

It was very late into the evening when our replacement bus arrived. Tired, but eager to move on, we unloaded our luggage, repacked it into our new bus, and settled in for an uneventful evening. This lasted until we got to West Memphis, Arkansas when we discovered that our current bus was not taking us to Mexico after all and that we needed to get off and load ourselves onto another bus. So we moved our belonging onto another bus and we waited…and waited. We finally learned that Bus #3 wasn’t taking us to Mexico either. Sometime in the middle of the night, Bus #4 pulled up and again we unloaded and reloaded.

We were all feeling a bit grumpy by this time, but our disgruntlement was nothing compared to Lyle. Now I’m sure that under normal circumstances, Lyle was a nice guy and the life of every party. But for some reason, driving a bus full of punchy high schoolers throughout the night to Mexico was just not his cup of tea. I can’t imagine why.

Before we set out, he made an announcement to the effect that if we sang, made noises or were just loud in general, he would pull the bus over and drop us off on the side of the road. We giggled nervously; he never cracked a smile. With that, we were off.

As a semi-mature adult who works with children of all ages, I often despair at kids who seem to possess three-second memories. You tell them not to do something and almost immediately they end up doing it. How quickly we adults forget our own youthful transgressions!

Not long after we started out, the person sitting next to me and I began to absent-mindedly whistle the theme song to the Andy Griffith Show. Why we decided to do this, I don’t know. Why does a sleep-deprived high schooler do anything? The person who joined my whistling duet will remain nameless here because 1) I’m no snitch, and 2) I, uh…can’t remember who it was.

But I digress.

We were coming up to the big finale of our song when Lyle shouted: “I’m not joking! I’ll pull this bus over!” The whistling abruptly stopped. After that, I vowed to be on my best behavior. This vow lasted for a good several hours. Again, for reasons that I do not remember, I started making duck calling noises with my hand, and like the big idiot I was, I kept making duck calling noises.

Suddenly, the bus veered to the side of the road and screeched to a halt. Lyle leapt from his seat and scowled at us.

“Who has the duck whistle?” He demanded as he began to stalk down the aisle. “Hand it over!” No one said a word, and what could I say? I didn’t have a duck whistle to hand over, and with the murderous look in the bus driver’s eyes, I didn’t really want to explain just what I was doing.

“Who…has…the duck whistle?” He growled again.

After a long moment of uncomfortable silence, a girl sitting behind me spoke up.

“My brother has a duck whistle,” she said trying to be helpful, “but he’s not here.”

This got a nervous laugh from the group; Lyle wasn’t so amused. After muttering curses, he finally turned around and headed back to his seat. Needless to say, the “duck whistle” didn’t make another appearance.

We had further adventures with Lyle as we continued our journey south, but having already poked the hornet’s nest twice, I was inclined to be an observer rather than a participant.

Grumpy old Lyle became a sort of folk legend with us after that night. Ever afterward, whenever our youth group took a trip that required a bus, we would always call the bemused bus driver “Lyle,” regardless of their real name and gender. I’m sure that if he ever discovered my role in that night’s shenanigans, Lyle would undoubtedly thank me for catapulting him to the fame that he now enjoys.

And to that I would respond: Quuuuuaaaaacccck.

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