Going Gentry Into That Night
January 6th, 2018

Not everything I learned of value in high school was taught in the classroom. No, I also learned a lot while riding in Willie Gentry’s school bus. What I learned—what ALL of us learned—is how to sit still and be quiet whenever the bus came to a stop. Also, we learned to show up on time. The bus would be leaving on schedule, and if you arrived late—well, too bad. This actually happened to our choir director, Dorothy Brown, who found herself stranded in Logan with no way to get home.

Home was Carbon County, which lies on the far side of a mountain range that separates civilized Utah from the lawless outback. Now and again would arise an opportunity for us—the unwashed Carbonites—to go see how the better half lived. Highway 6 over the Wasatch Plateau was treacherous, one of America’s most dangerous roads, in fact. But with Willie at the wheel, you were perfectly safe. That is, unless you acted up.

Let’s say the bus was to roll to a stop at a railroad crossing and you foolishly continued to chat with your seatmate. Suddenly, you would feel a burning sensation; looking up, you’d catch sight of Willie’s squinty gaze reflected in the rearview mirror, and your heart would skip a beat.

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When the bus resumed rolling, you’d find yourself seated on the cold, hard steps facing the door. Make another peep, that door would swing open and out you’d go into the frozen wastelands of Soldier Summit. No more snickering for you and no more snickering aboard the bus—only deathly silence.

Nowadays, a bus driver would surely be fired for abandoning a music teacher or ejecting a couple of wise guys into a howling blizzard. But that wasn’t the case where I grew up. Let’s say the two miscreants somehow managed to survive the blizzard, and come spring staggered into town looking gaunt and wearing animal skins. First thing their parents would ask is, “Where have you been? We’ve been worried sick!”

“Willie threw us off the bus.”

“Well, don’t let it happen again.”

And you know what? It never did happen again. Which is why, as I sit here wondering how the heck we’re going to survive another year with Donald Trump in the White House, that my thoughts turn to Willie Gentry, whose humble upbringing in a dusty coal camp and subsequent training as a U.S. Marine, was so very different from that of the spoiled rotten Donald Trump. Bone spur? So sad, Donnie. I guess you’ll just have to hop home.

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-Richard Menzies