Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Make you smile

Delays and hindrances are the bane of many a bus operator, especially on busy routes with tight headways. The later we get, the more passengers we get who would otherwise be on our follower's bus. In those hurried moments, it helps to remember the wise words of a retired driver: "You're not late. You're right where you're supposed to be: in the seat, behind the wheel."

Any weekday afternoon on the 72 is notorious for its frenzied and relentless drive. So naturally, just such a run opened up for me to fill in one fine fall day. A straight eight hour shift sounded good to me, especially on the one and only Oakland Park Boulevard.

I signed out a taxi from the pool and positioned myself to relieve another driver on the road. The appointed relief time came and went, with no sign of my bus. Transit can be a game of minutes, so when it finally showed up eight minutes late I immediately took over and booked it westward.

That meant going through the busiest part of the route as traffic was warming up, and I soon found myself slipping further behind. A man not much older than me loaded his bike on the rack somewhere past Rock Island. His words boarded before he did. On the bus we're all instant friends, there's no need for tedious introductions. This sociable stranger was excited to tell me about his impending move to Virginia, with it's lower cost of living. About twenty minutes later my follower caught me and took over picking up duties the rest of the way to Sawgrass Mills at the end of the line.

I got to Sawgrass twenty-one minutes down. When I'm that late, there's no time to get out of the seat. Load everyone on and keep it moving. That meant another hour and a half of non-stop hectic activity: a packed bus, congested street, and all the other delays that work against us when we just need a little break. By the time this trip ended, I was ten minutes down and just in time to pull out again so I treated the layover like just another stop and kept it moving. No sooner did we turn off of A1A back onto Oakland than the drawbridge warning bells went off and we pulled into the line waiting for yachts to pass through the Intracoastal below.

We were only down two minutes at the next time point and for the first time in two and a half hours I was hopeful things would start flowing more smoothly. Then the Powerline Road back-up came into view. The height of rush hour got real quick, as everyone who clocked out at five tried to get on I-95 at the same time. With the highway on ramp only two blocks from Powerline, that intersection gets crushed. All three lanes were jammed, with an extra helping in the right lane, our lane.

The ever-advising marquee at Allied Bath was in view for quite awhile at this time, certainly long enough to read it leisurely since we weren't even moving:

A middle-aged man stood up front as we crawled our way to the light. Perhaps it was one of the utility poles beside us that reminded him of the horrific accident that nearly ended him. His buddy was driving and he was in the front passenger seat when they plowed into a wood light pole at ninety miles per hour. He was in a coma for ten days. When he emerged, he had to learn how to speak and walk again. His plans to become an aeronautical engineer were dashed. I could only tell him he was a Miracle Man. He shared some colorful stories about childhood summers with his fire and brimstone preacher grandfather. His father drove buses for Greyhound. He was treated for his injuries at Broward General, where I was born.
We lost ten minutes trying to cover a few blocks, and as soon as we cleared the highway overpass the railroad warning bells sounded and it was a train's turn to delay our forward motion. As bad as these delays were, so early in the trip, once we reached 441 we were obliterated. It never snows here, but we get the snowball effect on a regular basis. Once we fall behind to a certain point, there's no catching up. The time deficit gets larger and larger. Fortunately that's where teamwork comes in, and when my follower caught me at University Drive we did the Sawgrass Shuffle to put some space between us. Again I would have to stay in the seat and keep it moving for the next trip. It meant starting about five minutes down, but I would no longer be down double digits this shift.

The worst of the traffic was now going the opposite direction and I was able to make up a few minutes as we serviced each time point: University Drive, 441, Powerline, US 1 and ultimately Galt Ocean Mile. The Galt is our layover and for the first time in five hours I had a few minutes to get out of the seat.

It felt good to finally be on time when I pulled out for the next trip west. As we approached the last stop on A1A, I spotted a squat, brawny figure desperately running across the street to catch the bus. He dodged impatient cars across the few lanes and made it in time. This was the first time I picked this man up, but I knew him well. It was Ciccio, the artist whose airbrush murals are seen all over town, especially on the east side. He didn't recognize me, probably because my appearance had changed considerably from when we last saw each other years before. Back then, I spent a fair amount of time visiting him almost daily at the site of his most ambitious local project, documenting the progress of his massive mural at Jaco Pastorius Park. That project did not end well and the artist seemed to disappear from the scene not long after. Now here he was in front of me again, in shorts and a white t-shirt smeared with red paint, hyping his friend's new restaurant where he had just run over from. His high strung energy and loquacious sociability were still very much alive, and I didn't want to kill the vibe by telling him who I was and possibly reminding him of a painful time (though it was not my doing). This was enough for me, to see him alive and well and dynamic as ever, telling me about his recent return after a lengthy stay in Costa Rica (naming all the towns), and letting me know to check out Rainmaker microbrewery in the rain forest.

There may always be bridges, traffic, and trains to delay us. We may also be late - but the timing is right and we're right where we're supposed to be.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Looks like Sweden

The drizzle in the early winter darkness provided slicked streets for my shift on the 10. I pre-tripped the bus and hopped on the highway for my starting point downtown at Central Terminal. These Monday morning runs were sweet. Even rush hour traffic barely affected our schedule.

One thing that did affect all of us on the bus was an annoying glitch in the onboard annunciator. Maybe it was a software update, but that uncanny man's voice would randomly  - and often - repeat his favorite phrases: "BOOTLOADER MENU" and "OFFSET ZERO", along with relentlessly long numbers and other techno gibberish. There was no way for me to stop it or even mute it. We would simply have to endure the machine's insistence on providing us with useless information at the expense of not announcing the actual stops. I would announce them old school style with my bus voice when the opportunity arose.

We flipped it around at Camino as the world settled into its groove. A friendly retiree who hadn't retired from Life boarded, asking about my Thanksgiving and if it was traditional. I told her there was no calamari on the menu and she responded by telling me about her Spanish food feast, no turkey.

The intersections rolled by: Sample, Copans, 14th St, Atlantic. A regular in his 30s made his way to the front of the bus as we approached his stop. His uniform was a t-shirt, shorts, and a ponytail.
"Looks like Sweden," he opined with a still-sleepy voice as he got off for another day at the boatyard. The blanketed sky was gray and pale, as if the sun was phoning it in.

Our first round trip in the books, I parked the bus at Central Terminal and headed across the street for breakfast. My friend the German bus fan came out as I was going in. He declined my offer of a breakfast burrito and coffee, and caught me up on his current situation.

The next trip got us pretty far uptown before an unfortunate scene spread before us. A horrific two-car crash forced one vehicle onto the median and the other by the curb. Shards of debris stretched for a block. One of our lanes was closed, but I couldn't tell about the other side. The only plus side to the incident was the location: it was right in front of Imperial Point Hospital.

A familiar face for years on this route awaited at Copans. He swiped his pass, which the farebox couldn't read, and begged for a day pass since "Other drivers do it." I had to apologize and remind him that I'm not other drivers and can't just give out passes. He rode to the end of the line.

About two-thirds of the way into the shift and we pick up the older gentleman who earlier had a court date regarding an open Corona on the beach. Now he was on his way back to court to finally resolve the issue.

The messy accident at Imperial Point was cleaned up quickly and we passed through the same space that had been chaos and gridlock an hour before.

Our final trip, and relief would be awaiting me at Copans Road. The stop before Atlantic had two slight figures by the sign. They were young Asian girls, with a single Margaritaville beach cruiser between them. It was a team effort to load it onto the bike rack, each taking one end. Their bike brought some color into the colorless afternoon. It was also blue and yellow, the national colors of Sweden.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Homemade angels

Night shifts are the quiet time, when debilitating traffic abates enough to keep the bus from running late. Other reasons can arise to throw us off, however. This was extra work, just a single round trip on the lengthy #81 starting at Central Terminal. My old classmate Alvin seemed surprised when I showed up to relieve him. He gave me a good report on the bus and let me know about the detour on 7th Avenue. We used Andrews to bypass the closure, which threw us off a couple minutes. This route is an hour and a half from end to end so we'd make it up down the line.

At the Hill I pulled into the 36 slot as if that's where we belonged. It was out of habit after countless dockings there. The 81 slot was right in front of the 36, and the folks waiting there motioned me to come to them. I'd already popped the doors open so once everyone had exited, I swung out and pulled forward, slightly kissing the platform with some side rubber. A woman looked on with concern.
"Are you ok?" She kindly asked.
   'We're ok!' I assured her, explaining the mix-up.

We remained a couple minutes down while servicing Hawaiian Gardens, Inverrary, Deepside, and Sunset Strip.  After the last timepoint we were able to more than compensate as we cruised down University Drive on route to West Terminal.

The second trip was the last trip, pulling out of the terminal just before 10:30 pm. Though the hour was late, it was also the first of the month, so I shouldn't have been too surprised about the three baby strollers we picked up before we even got to Sunset Strip. We went back the way we came, again through the endless apartment blocks in Deepside, a last pass through the curves of Inverrary, and a slow crawl around the dark corners of Hawaiian Gardens. We serviced the correct slot at Lauderhill Mall this time, glided through the neighborhood south of the Swap Shop, and finally emerged onto Broward Boulevard.

This was the home stretch, 30 blocks till the end of the run. We crested the I-95 overpass and came to a stop behind a 22 bus waiting at the red light. A frantic woman on the sidewalk was waving her arms, first at the bus ahead and getting no affirmation, then my way. I never wave or direct someone to approach the bus through traffic, but she took the initiative and when she stood at my doors I couldn't just leave her exposed out there. She boarded with pass in hand, talking to no one special about a trip "way out to Bumfuck, Egypt". It sounded like an adventure. She rode to the end of the line downtown, and while shuffling off took a moment to tell me I was her angel tonight for getting her home safely. She gifted me a small card with hand drawn art: colorful praying angel on one side, the opposite side reading Love Joy  ♥.