Title: The Wheels on the Bus

Author: Tinkerbell99

Rating: PG

Disclaimer: These characters belong to someone else. No harm is intended.

Summary: "Donna has this theory involving John Wayne…" Snapshots of conversations from a campaign bus ride.


"CJ, were we or were we not supposed to leave this demonic hell three hours ago?"

"It's a grade school, Toby. Control your wrath."

"I only ask because we appear to be three hours behind schedule and therefore three extra hours have been spent in the state of…wherever we are."

"Iowa, and I think it's important to remember we would only be two hours behind if not for the President's little corn-husking adventure."

"For which I'm blaming you," Toby said, as he climbed up the stairs of the waiting bus.

"I expected no less from - ouch!"

"Watch your head there, CJ."


"It's a great day for a bus ride, isn't it Leo?"

"A plane would be better," came the grumbled response.

"But then we wouldn't see the landscape! Did you know that the state of Iowa-" he was interrupted by Charlie's sudden arrival.

"The buses are loaded, sir. We're ready to go."

"Excellent. This was a great idea, Leo. Be sure to thank CJ for this!"

"Oh, don't worry," Leo sighed and sat down. "Charlie?" he asked moments later. "Where's everyone else?"

"On the other bus."

"You mean on this bus it's just -"

"Other than Mrs. Bartlet? You, me, and the President."

Leo settled in for a very long ride.


"I'm not too tall, the ceiling is abnormally low."

"The ceilings are higher on Air Force One."

"Okay, first of all, Josh, shut up about my height, and second of all, this is a grass roots effort to energize supporters. Jetting around the country on Air Force One isn't very grass roots.

"Ritchie gets to use a plane."

"Ritchie's an idiot -"

" -With that I agree."

"- and we're using the bus in the Midwest." She rubbed her forehead and lifted a bag. "Here," she said, handing it to Josh. "Stow my luggage."

"I still don't understand why we can't use the plane." He shoved the duffel over his head.

"Because jet fuel doesn't say 'grass roots.'"

"As opposed to diesel, which does?"

"Shut up, Josh." She sighed. "Carol? Get me some ice."


"I am taking comfort in the fact that this will all be over soon."

"It's a five hour trip, Toby. I'd hardly call that soon."

"Not if I kill all of you first." Toby settled in his seat and removed a pad of paper.

Meanwhile, Josh collapsed across the aisle and stared despondently out the window. "Nothing but five hours of cornfields and bad country music stations."

"There are good ones?"

"Country music stations? Probably not." His head hit the glass with a defeated thud.


"Mr. President, please. Five miles without the history of soybean farming in America is all that I ask."

"What's the matter, Leo? Not up on your farming practices?"

"Sir, I was simply requesting you turn your attention to someone else for a little while. Debate these issues with…" He looked around the bus. "-With you wife, or an intern, or Charlie. But not with me."

"Sorry, Leo. This bus is for debate! This bus is for enlightenment! This is my bus and on it we will discuss the merits of whatever I deem vital. Now," he grinned., "did you know that in 1473, eight years before the rise of the…"


"We're pulling over. Why are we pulling over?"

Donna peeked out the window. "Leo's getting off the President's bus."

Josh poked his head out as well and observed Leo trudging through the gravel shoulder with Margaret hurrying close behind.

"Didn't want to play mobile trivia with the President, Leo?"

His glare wiped the smile from Josh's face. "There's an empty seat on that bus right now. Care to switch, Josh? He's quoting Socrates. In Latin."

Josh sat in silence for the next twenty miles.


"Erase that."

"Toby, I was just thinking if we-"

"Erase that."

"If we approach the situations with -"

"Sam, erase the paper."

"I used a pen."

"Then throw it out the window!"

"If you give it a chance to -"

"You or that paper, Sam. One of you is exiting via the window and you get to decide."


"Yes! It'll be fun! Leo may have abandoned us, but you, young man, are sorely lacking an education in all the finer points of life."

"I'll let my professors know that, sir."

"As well you should. Now, just for argument's sake, talk to me about ethanol consumption."


"Go ahead, Charlie."

"I'm a little confused about the position I should take."

"That's because you don't know the facts."

"No, what I mean is - do you want me to argue for or against?"

"Pick a side Charlie, and when we're done with that we'll switch and I'll point out the fallacies of your argument at the same time. It'll be fun."

"Yes, sir." Doubting it would, Charlie took a deep breath and started talking.


"Hey, what is that? An amusement park?"

"It's a mirage. We're in a cornfield desert," muttered Josh.

"Beans, actually. And I mean it," Sam insisted. "It's huge."

"It's the Iowa 80," came Donna's voice from the front of the bus.

"The what?"

"The Iowa 80. The world's largest truck stop."

"How do you know that?" Josh squinted at the lights.

"My uncle is a trucker. Plus you could, you know, read the sign."

"Hey," said Sam, "Discounted truck washes."

"Sam," came Toby's warning growl.

"I'm writing. I'm writing."


"You shouldn't scowl at local landmarks, Josh." Donna eyed him with a disapproving glare.

Josh looked to Toby in despair.

Donna continued. "You either, Toby. They're very important. We're coming up on Herbert Hoover's home -"

"Oh, God."

"She's your assistant. You kill her."

"- local culture and traditions. You should both take it more seriously."

"Next time she rides on the President's bus."


"Say, Charlie, did you know Herbert Hoover was one of the…"


"Are we near anything that could possibly qualify as civilization?"


"No, Donna. We've been driving for three hours now. There's nothing here.

"There's Winterset."


"Winterset. Winterset, Iowa. The birthplace of John Wayne."

"Doesn't that make my day."

"John Wayne is an important American figure, Josh."

"John Wayne wasn't even his real name," Josh muttered, squeezing the bridge of his nose.

"He was a hero to a lot of people, Josh."

"People even older than myself."

"My uncle -"

"The trucker?"

"- once sent him two dollars to pay for an autograph, and do you know what he did?"

"I would imagine I'm about to find out."

"He sent it back. The money. He sent it back with a note that said friends don't take money from friends."

"Yet you take money from me all the time."

Donna rolled her eyes. "That's not the point, Josh. The point is he sent it back."

"Great. Good for him. We're still in the middle of nowhere."

"I'm just saying that if we followed those morals today, the world would be a better place. People pay good money for autographs, Josh. Actors, musicians, public figures. Do you think any of it gets sent back?"

Josh sighed. "I'm gonna go sit with Sam."

As he passed by her seat she repeated, "He sent it back."


"You're doing it again."

Sam looked up from his notes. "Doing what?"

"Using the passive tense."

"How can you tell? You're across the aisle."

"I hear your pen scratching in passive strokes. Give me the paper."

"Toby -"

"Give it here, Sam, or we'll add a new dimension to the phrase 'thrown under a bus.'"

Sam handed him the notepad.


Josh leaned back in his new seat, head against the cushion. "What are you working on?"

"I really don't know," came Sam's reply. "You?"

"Waiting for civilization to reappear." He scoffed quietly as he glanced out the window. "Donna has this theory that if people didn't pay for autographs, the world would be a better place."

"It would," Sam replied.

"How?" he asked, with some trepidation.

"The money could be used for healthcare, vaccines, any number of things."

"Yes, well aside from that, she thinks that those receiving money should send it back according to the wisdom of John Wayne."

Sam looked up from his notes. "Wasn't he born around here?"

He was quickly silenced with a glare.

The bus continued in silence for a few moments more, until a thought crossed Josh's mind. "Sam?"


"If someone sends the President money for an autograph, we…I mean, I'm sure we do, but…we send it back, right? Right?"


"So give them college credit for participation in urban renewal programs."

"A Ha! That's where you're wrong, young man. If we continued to give the -"

"Jed, will you leave the poor boy alone. You two have been at it for hours."

"And that's half the fun. I'm wearing him down, Abbey. Just like I did Leo before him."

"Leo ran from the bus in a fit of self-preservation that had nothing to do with your little game."

"Nevertheless, we will continue. Besides, Charlie's having a good time and he wants to date my youngest daughter. Right, Charlie?"

"Yes, sir."


"Josh, of course we send it back. Why would we keep it?"

"Right, right." Josh bit his lip. "But who's actually in charge of sending it back? I mean is that someone's job?"

"Sending what back?"

"Oh, hey, CJ." Without answering her question, Josh continued to think. "Or do they just enclose it again with whatever they do send?"

"Enclose what?"

"Josh," Sam tried, "I'm really not sure this is something to worry about. If it was a thing, it would have been taken care of long ago. Like around the time of Washington. Or Kennedy."

"If what was a thing?"

Sam turned to an increasingly frustrated CJ. "Josh is worried that-"

"It was Donna who had the idea!" he shouted, then muttered, "At least indirectly."

Sam started again. "Josh is worried that when people send money to pay for the President's autograph, we're keeping it."

CJ squinted, then spoke slowly. "We don't take money for the President's autograph."

"Neither did John Wayne," mumbled Josh.

"Yes," Sam continued, "But if people send it anyway, Josh is worried it's not returned."

"That we're keeping people's money," CJ clarified.


"That's…" CJ sputtered for words. "I mean, we wouldn't do that. I mean, it'd get sent back." Then louder, "We'd send it back."

"Which is what I said." He returned to his notes.

"If we didn't send it back," CJ muttered to herself, "then we're what? Storing it in the basement under the OEOB?"

Sam looked up in thought. "What is under the OEOB?"

"We aren't…" CJ shook her head, thinking it couldn't be true. "Someone would have complained. There would have been a thing and… The press would have got it and… Carol?" she shouted, heading to the front of the bus. "I need to make a phone call."


"But music has been shown to increase test scores in math as well, plus it allows a creative outlet for kids who might not otherwise have the chance."

The President smiled at Charlie's response. "You're right, but how do we fund it?"

"Well, Mr. President, if we sold those CD's you made me listen to we might have…" Charlie trailed off under the President's glare. "Still working on that one."



"Mmm?" He shuffled through some notes. "What do you need, CJ?"

"Leo, I was wondering if I could have a minute."

"What's on your mind?" he asked, putting away the papers.


Leo blinked. "Autographs?"

"The President's autograph, in particular."

"CJ," he shook his head, blinking again. "You see him every day. If you need an autograph, just go-"

"No, Leo. I - this is probably stupid - but if people send for the President's autograph, I have a question about procedure."

"They get a picture and something signed by the autopen or a stamp or something." He removed his glasses. "Really, CJ, if people have a problem with him not signing all the things himself, they need to realize we've got a country to run and the-"

"No, no that's not it."

Leo raised an eyebrow in silence.

"If they send money," she began, "what do we do?"

"Send money?"

"To pay for the autograph. Dollar bills in envelopes, piggy bank saving, personal checks. We return them, right?"

"CJ, we certainly don't keep them!"

"Right, right. But…they're all sent back, right?"

"CJ, we are not keeping nickels from little Timmy's piggy bank."

"You're sure?"


CJ nodded, her fears somewhat calmed.

"At least…" Leo trailed off, a puzzled expression filling his eyes. "I'm almost sure we mail them back…"


"But it wasn't in the passive tense!"

"It wasn't in any tense! That was the problem!" Toby sighed. "I'm getting off this bus now, Sam. I'm getting off and going to bed. In the morning you will show me another draft. Got it?"

Sam nodded.

"And so help me God if it contains a John Wayne quote…" he continued ranting until he entered his room.


"I expect you to remember these things, Charlie. The percentages of elements in our air, if off by even a fraction of those amounts could change the way we farm in our lifetime."

Charlie nodded in defeat. "Yes, Mr. President."

Making his way down the steps with Charlie at his side, the President stopped at the concrete, and turned with a smile. "You'll do very well for yourself one day. Better if you remember the Nitrogen percentage, but still, very well."

"I hope so, sir."

The President smiled proudly and almost turned before speaking again. "I told Sam something not too long ago. I was thinking that maybe I should tell you as well."

"Does it have to do with gaseous elements?"

"No, no," He took a breath. "We were playing chess late one night and I told him that one day he would run…" He trailed off and thoughtfully shook his head. "All in due time, Charlie. All in due time."

Walking across the lot he called, "You're done for the night. See you tomorrow, Charlie."

"Good night, Mr. President."


"Mr. President, did you have a good trip?"

"Why yes, Leo. I could tell you about all the things you missed when you decided to bail on the adventure, but instead I'll leave you in suspense."

"Thank God."

"What was that?"

"Nothing, sir. We need to look over the schedule for tomorrow, just a few things to clear up, and then we need to talk about autographs," Leo winced.


"Yeah, see…Donna has this theory involving John Wayne…"


(The End)


Note: I have nothing against the following: Iowa, the Midwest, corn, truck stops, truckers, country music, ethanol, diesel, jet fuel, buses, John Wayne, Winterset, autographs, music, urban renewal, or anything else.

It's just that I think the senior staff might. Feedback is love.