It’s been a long time since I was a little boy running around the halls of Louis Pasteur Elementary School on the Westside of Detroit. But one of my favorite activities included our weekly music class with Mrs. Oneida Lewis — a small but mighty elderly woman known for having that Pied Piper personality that effortlessly attracted children to her side.
We developed an impressive repertoire under her tutelage and often acted out the lyrics. One song recently came to mind: The Wheels on the Bus. For those who may be unfamiliar with this Top Ten tune, the first lyric goes as follows: the wheels on the bus go around and around … all through the town.
I was going through the town on a Metro bus a few days ago as this song came on autoplay and wondered what would happen if the wheels weren’t round at all but were instead square.
OK, I know it’s a strange thought but stay with me for one moment.
The bus driver had a lot on her mind and she began to talk to me as soon as I boarded the bus. She’d obviously become exasperated by the traffic grid on Georgia Avenue which had occurred because of a sudden rush to the gasoline pumps. Rumors were swirling that after a cyberattack on refineries thousands of miles away, that there would be a shortage of gas in our region. The traffic jam was the result.
Somehow, after expressing her view of how ridiculous it all seemed, she switched topics to COVID-19. I really didn’t want to talk about it and would have preferred to go on watching people jockeying for position at the few gas pumps like drivers seeking to capture the flag at the Indianapolis 500.
But the driver continued emphatically.
She remained adamant that the entire COVID-19 scenario was something that had been manufactured by evil little men hidden away in government offices.
She believed that they wanted to rid the world of Black people, old people, gay people, homeless people, poor people, Latino people … the list went on.
She believed that anyone who chose to be vaccinated was simply inviting a foreign substance into their body that would either cause sickness or death.
She believed that parents who had their children vaccinated were being misled by higher powers and should know better.
She believed that we needed to wait for more proof, more empirical evidence, before willingly standing in line and getting the shot in our arms.
And for the icing on the cake, she said, God had her back and that He (or She) would take care of her and all of us.
I was dumbfounded but only for a moment. I tried to respond by deconstructing her conspiracy theory notion statement by statement. But she held firm. So, I dug in deep and went for the jugular, or so I believed. But she was not having it.
Even when I moved the context from America to India, where a reported 400,000 people are dying each day from COVID-19, she refused to accept the validity of the science.
I had tried and failed to understand the rationale of zealots who attacked the U.S. Capitol earlier this year under the pretense that the election had been stolen from their leader and “savior” Donald Trump.
Now, I once again found myself at a loss — unable to break through the bus driver’s fears.
In a sense, it was a wakeup call for me. Why? Well, the bus driver didn’t fit the pattern — my biased image of those who cling to “irrational and absurd” conspiracy theories. She was a Black woman driving her bus like it belonged to her — gray-haired, glasses, hair in a bun and intent on letting me know what was on her mind. Yes, even Black folks believe in conspiracy theories. And, why shouldn’t they?
Back to the scene.
We were approaching my stop so I was forced to end the conversation. But as I exited the bus and that song from my childhood began to play once again, the lyrics had suddenly changed.
The bus was having all kinds of trouble getting through the town. It was lurching backwards and forward and jostling its riders to and fro.
The bus driver, hell-bent on spreading the word of this latest conspiracy theory, had changed the tires on her vehicle.
The wheels on the bus … were now square.