BY DONNA HUSSEY-WHYTE Sunday Observer staff reporter firstname.lastname@example.org
A year after a Sunday Observer investigation exposed dancehall music-laced sexual behaviour among high school students on some passenger buses plying routes in Kingston and St Catherine, a new and equally disturbing practice has taken root on some of those buses.
Conductors have confessed to the Sunday Observer that the new craze is all-inclusive parties, labelled ‘Happy Fridays’ and ‘Happy Mondays’; and they feature heavy consumption of alcohol and energy drinks by students who skip classes to indulge in the revelry from which adults are excluded.
“We have party bus where we have real party. On a Friday we have Happy Friday, and if we feel the vibes we all have Happy Mondays,” a gleeful conductor on one of the so-called ‘hot’ buses which operates within the Portmore and Spanish Town areas told this reporter.
The conductor, who asked not to be named for fear of being ostracised by his colleagues, explained that students would contribute money in advance, which the bus crew would use to purchase cakes and alcoholic drinks for the bus party.
When the Sunday Observer spoke with three policemen assigned to the Spanish Town Traffic Department, they were all surprised by the ‘Happy Fridays’ development, especially after stating that there has been great improvement in the behaviour of bus crew and schoolchildren over the past year.
However, after a few phone calls, one of the policemen received confirmation of the conductor’s story from a female student.
“This is the first time I am hearing about it,” said the cop, who wished to remain anonymous. “What I will now have to do is pass this information by my superintendent so that we can deal with the matter.”
One of his colleagues, though, was not surprised.
“If they have ‘no draws’ Thursdays, then they will have ‘Happy Fridays’, yes! You think these school children easy?” he asked. “I have not personally heard of it (Happy Fridays) before, but it’s not strange.”
Loud, graphic and x-rated dancehall music is the preference of the students, and the bus crew are only too happy to oblige because of the money the parties earn them.
Speaking on condition that his identity be withheld, another conductor working a route in Portmore, St Catherine admitted that parties have been held on the buses on which he worked.
However, he denied that high school students were served liquor on his bus. Alcohol, he said, is reserved for the “bigger” students from community colleges, the driver and conductor.
“We can’t give [high school students] liquor. You want them go inna school drunk or go home drunk? No sah,” the conductor said, adding that the high school students are served a popular energy drink.
However, the Sunday Observer probe has uncovered that a range of energy drinks, rums and stouts are also among the popular drinks served on the party buses.
The bus parties appear to have surfaced after the Sunday Observer’s October 2009 report on the practice of ‘lapping up’ (girls sitting in boys’ laps) and other sexual behaviour among high school students, as well as between female students and conductors. The story prompted an intense clampdown by the police traffic department on buses carrying schoolchildren.
Buses were stripped of their heavy window tints, others were seized, loud and lewd music prohibited, and fines were levied on offending bus operators.
The police received high praise for their efforts and for a while it seemed as if they were being rewarded with what appeared to be compliance among bus operators. Students also seemed to have fallen in line.
However, the bus parties, according to some conductors, began last year and are more prevalent on the buses plying the Naggo Head to Spanish Town route.
“Taking off tints cyaan stop we,” one of the conductors bragged. “We just do we ting.”
In addition to indulging in the bus parties, the Sunday Observer also found that some students opt to take what they term a ‘spin’ — absconding from classes and staying on a bus while it makes round trips. Some students even stay on the buses for the entire day, one conductor revealed.
“Some children will pay mi all $1,000 and stay on the bus for the entire day,” the conductor on a hugely popular bus plying the Portmore route told the Sunday Observer. “Or some will do more than one ‘spin’, but they have to pay for each one.”
He said students from just about all the high schools in Portmore are guilty of the practice.
The allure of the music and the ‘vibes’ inside the buses are the main attractions, he said.
One of the policemen from Spanish Town with whom the Sunday Observer spoke said he was aware of students staying on the buses, as some, after leaving school at 12:30 pm, plant themselves on a bus until the evening shift ended at 5:30 pm.
According to a security guard stationed outside the gates of one high school in Spanish Town, he sometimes has to pull students from the buses as they prepare to ‘spin’ rather than go to school.
“You think dem easy?” he said to this reporter. “You hear the music? A dat dem want! Sometimes mi haffi literally drag dem out of the bus when the bus reach here so.”
The lyrics spilling from the lips of many students as they stepped from the buses at the school’s gate one Tuesday morning left two adults waiting at the bus stop at the entrance to the school shaking their heads in disgust. Three male staff members were at the gate busily trying to get the children into the schoolyard as soon as they disembarked the buses in an effort to prevent loitering. A security guard blocked the entrance, searching some students and ensuring that their uniforms conformed to school rules.
At times, the music coming from the buses could be heard in the distance, but for the most part was turned down or turned off abruptly as the buses pulled up at the school gate.
“Jeesam! Dem yah pickney yah nuh easy. Listen to the song dat deh little bwoy a sing,” said one woman. As discovered in our investigation last year, dancehall artiste Vybz Kartel was still the deejay of choice, and his recording Dumpa Truck was now the new ‘schoolers’ anthem.
With pride, the boy chanted the lyrics of what is termed the ‘raw’ version of the Kartel recording:
“Set good like di ice inna freezer
What a p.... tight it a squeeze like a tweeza,
Baby oil mek di f... more easier,
If you p.... lucky mi will get back mi visa…”
The lewd music is obviously not the only lure for students as ‘lapping up’, though not as common as in 2009, is still being practised.
One conductor, who claimed his bus was among those identified as one of the ‘hot’ buses in the October 2009 Sunday Observer report, said ‘lapping up’ still happened among schoolchildren, but was in no way sexual.
“It don’t have nothing to do with sex; nobody not having sex on our buses, is just the vibes,” he declared.
He said that ‘lapping up’ was due to two main factors — many buses refused to carry schoolchildren because of the reduced fares they were forced by law to accept from students, and because the bus crew had to meet the daily revenue targets set by their bosses.
As the Sunday Observer watched students being packed into a minibus at the gate of a high school in Portmore, the ease with which one female student hopped onto the lap of the conductor (the only person left in the bus without someone in his lap) made it appear a natural act for her.
“You see because nuff bus nah carry them, we ‘lap’ them up and charge them $40 each. Normally is $50 for schoolers and $80 for big people so when we ‘lap’ them up we still get back the adult fare for one seat,” said the conductor.
He said, too, that while the small minibuses are licensed to carry 15 persons, when they ‘lap-up’, they can accommodate up to 45 passengers. In the end, they make more money than if the bus carried 15 adults.
The Sunday Observer investigation also found that contrary to our original belief that the practice of ‘lapping-up’ was taking place only among the evening shift students who leave school at 5:30 pm, it was also happening during school peak hours, from as early as 6:30 am.
One of the Spanish Town Police Traffic Department cops said, however, that improvements have been made since last October when pictures appeared in the Sunday Observer showing schoolchildren from a high school in that town refusing to board buses that were not heavily tinted and that did not offer blaring, lewd music. This school, he pointed out, has been one of the trouble spots.
“I have not been seeing buses with tints, students behaving badly nor hearing the loud music on these buses anymore,” the policeman said. “But I wouldn’t be able to say if they turn down the music when they are passing the station or when they get into the town.”