During the 1970s and thereafter students travelling to school along the East-West Corridor were familiar with George bus. Every morning at about 7 a.m, George would arrive in the vicinity of Tunapuna, having driven from Arima, picking up students along the way. In this the 50th year of our Independence, I am reminded that there are many persons whose contributions ought to be recognised. George is one such person.
In those days there were very few school buses available and there were no maxi-taxis. Either you splurged on a (regular) taxi or waited for a bus which was less than half the cost of the taxi fare. In any event taxi drivers preferred doing short drops as this was clearly more financially beneficial to them. Thus along the East-West Corridor things were particularly difficult for the travelling secondary school student.
While most children went to primary schools near to their homes and could walk to school, there not as many secondary schools as there are now.
There were few government secondary schools at the time and so most students, on passing the Common Entrance exam, were assigned to the existing denominational schools. For those of us along the East-West Corridor if you did not go to Hillview College (boys) or St Augustine Girls' High School/St Joseph's Convent in St Joseph, the other options were mainly the schools in town.
Students therefore travelled along the Arima-to-Port of Spain route every day in their hundreds. Some were fortunate to have a relative drop them off and in respect of others their parents made special travel arrangements. By and large however there were those of us who had to face the uncertain early morning commute. While sometimes there was an early bus (6 a.m. at El Dorado) this was not always reliable and it was not a school bus.
It was when I missed the 6 a.m. bus that I learned of George bus. This bus coming from Arima arrived in my area at about 7 a.m. It was driven by a man named George (hence George bus). He must have been in his early 30s or thereabouts at the time. At any rate he looked like he could be the age of somebody's father. George was what we would call Afro-Trini today, brown-skinned and tall. He had with him a female conductor who dispensed tickets.
The first thing you noticed about George was his good humour. He would stop the bus—you coming with us? Then if you were too shy to answer he would call out to the student passengers behind him, "make room, make room" so you could see that there was room and your response would follow. George never left a student behind.
If the bus was filled (as it often was by my stop) he would say "don't worry, X, Y and Z coming out at Tunapuna or St Joseph," as the case would be, so we will have space just now". When the bus stopped at Barataria for the St George's students to exit it was a relief to be able to move and maybe even get a seat. Before that exodus the bus would be jam packed.
George never left a student behind. Even though there were regulars, students who travelled on his bus every day whenever other students sought to stop his bus, perhaps because they had missed an earlier bus or maybe their other means of transport, George accommodated them.
Sometimes it would be so crowded in there that he would stop the bus, get out and walk outside the bus to the back and direct students to move back or make space in a seat or allow someone to stand alongside the seat—so more students could fit. And fit we did.
Fortunately the bus was a big wide one and at any given time it accommodated about 200 students. So adding those who dropped off before Port of Spain I would say that he transported anywhere in the vicinity of 400 students every morning.
The students who travelled on George bus knew that he would tolerate no obscene language and no quarrelling. He knew all of our names and where we got on to the bus. Sometimes if a student was not at the stop where he/she usually got on George would say, "Where, Dulcie (or whatever was the name), she must be late" and he would wait a couple of minutes.
Ten to one Dulcie would come running up at the last minute, apologising for being late and reeling off the excuse.
Some students who had problems would even stay to the front of the bus so that they could confide in George and he could be heard dispensing advice. The next day he was sure to ask the student concerned what happened or how it went.
The "George bus students" considered themselves almost like a club and many friendships were formed in the years various students travelled in that bus. Students from different schools who might never have known each other were able to relate and associate.
Students from schools that were rivals actually forgot about that rivalry while travelling in George bus or were able to deal with it in a friendly way. In short, George bus was like a positive institution for secondary school students who travelled west along the East-West Corridor in the 1970s and I daresay in the 1980s.
When I left high school I took with me many happy memories of travelling in George bus and in later years I would see many persons with whom I became acquainted simply from travelling in that bus. As for George, I saw him a few years ago and not only did he remember me but he called out to me by name. He looked almost the same.
Thank you George, for being a positive role model during my secondary school years.
• Dana S Seetahal is a former independent senator