Read Niskayuna author Paul Busse’s story here.
This is a sometimes true tale filled with rumors, innuendos, and just one bad dream about an actual school bus that appeared in a small Upstate New York town in the 1990’s. No one knew where it came from, even though it had a number 97 on it and it was found parked in the bus garage. A few years later, after many hours of research, it was found that this mysterious bus was put together from stolen or discarded parts, and that the engine sounded more like a heartbeat than a motor. This is what we have learned about that strange school bus, called the Golden Zephyr, that was never early, yet not quite late.
The Golden Zephyr of Niskayuna
By Paul Busse
On a cold, dark Halloween night, something was wrong–nothing felt right. As it came from the depths of an unearthly cave, ‘It’s alive!” howled its maker; ‘It’s alive!’ howled his slaves. Its skin was still murky and slimy like mud, then came its color, like old yellow sludge. Its shape and suspension came from an old cattle car, so take my advice and don’t travel far. It was made from the parts of discarded old wrecks and those seats, well, they came from a sunken pirate ship deck. Now the engine was taken from an old pig farm tractor, and the transmission was stripped from a broken weed whacker. The place that it came from had enough heat, so the heater they used, well, it won’t warm your feet. The wheelchair lift, they put it much later, they snuck it at night from an old grain elevator. Yes, it started right up with a screech and a growl, and it grumbled and stumbled, and the smell was quite foul. And I must say again, if you please, well–it smelled a lot worse than Limburger cheese.
Now, we know that on a highway to keep us alive, a school bus must go faster than just forty-five, but to be perfectly honest, between me and you, the Zephyr’s top speed was just forty-two. When you were on a long run, no turn-off in sight, and you hit a small bump like a leaf or a mite, the lift door alarm would screech, roar, and scream. It’ll holler and growl and would not stop at all, but then it would stop if you yelled a bad vowel. The AM radio on the dashboard, well, it only works when there’s no one on board. So the only sound that you can possibly hear is that door buzzer’s screech as it destroys both your ears. Now of course, the Zephyr is going to need fuel, so you stop at the pump and turn it off like a fool, because that bus refuses to start at the pump, just to make the driver look like a chump.
When it looked like our prayers were suddenly answered and the Zephyr was felled by a fate worse than bus cancer, as the engine gave out as it screeched, then just died, the drivers all smiled and nope–nobody cried. Yes, the Zephyr was dead but the stake might have missed, like its more vital organiz where the serpent had hissed. It did rise again, with a brand-new disguise, with a brand-new skin, and bright, shiny insides, and an engine that purrs till it hits forty-five. Now they say the seats were planks from an old pirate ship, where it was said many sailors walked a short trip. With bench-style seats all slippery slick, the Zephyr could slide you with its very own trick, so with kids on the bus, the Zephyr would make them all squirm, with a scary wild left and a fast right turn. The kids on the bus loved that left turn slide, why, they loved it better than a county fair ride. Now we don’t really know if the Zephyr really could smile, but when the kids laughed the lights twinkled for a very long while.
Well, one Halloween morning the Zephyr was gone; we looked for the Zephyr past the break of dawn. We looked all over the old bus garage. Could this all have been a dream, a school bus mirage? Well, we never found the Zephyr during that Halloween day, but that night around midnight we were blown away. Up in the sky above the main road, we saw a flying school bus that had a big load. And I can tell you quite a bit more: it was the Zephyr all right, going just forty-four. Well, you may not believe this or even believe that, but that driver was wearing a real pirate’s hat. It seems that the bus was full of drivers well past their life’s story. Could it be they were on the way to a bus purgatory?
So beware all you people with innocent faces, ‘cause when the Zephyr drives you, you’ve lost all of your aces. The Zephyr may return from the land of the neter and it is you, yes, you that could be driving it–maybe forever. So be aware, all you drivers, no matter what town: someday the Golden Zephyr may just look you down.
Editor’s note from Paul Busse: This is a true story taken from actual events and the bad dreams of drivers created after driving bus number 97, a.k.a. The Golden Zephyr.