Friday, October 20, 2017

Back to normal

Some extra work on the 42 had begun with confusion when I was given the wrong info for my run assignment. We sorted it out with no appreciable disruption in service. This piece started in the middle, so half an hour later we were at the west layover. The bus was empty but for a sleeper in the rear, woke him to make sure he was ok before riding back around.

At State Road 7 an unhurried early afternoon crowd deferred to an older couple connected at the hip.
   'Careful there, nice n' easy. Take your time...' I coaxed them with all due care. The old woman's smile was bright and true as she helped her old man along, the thin bracelet on his wrist indicating his recent hospital visit.
"We're married for 46 years. And we love each other." She was their voice and strength this day, surely just one of her many turns in those many years.

We pulled out of the Northeast transit center a couple minutes down, and things were looking good for a timely arrival at the east end. No sooner did we exit the center and pull up to the light on Dixie, when the adjacent FEC RR lights started flashing and we had to yield to the original mechanical transport, that old iron horse squealing on its thin metal ribbons for the past 120 years. Two minutes turned into ten.

A short break and back to the west we went. At 27th Ave, three young men sat in the bus shelter, smoking a heavy lazy smoke. One boarded while the others stayed behind with the smoke. The pungency of what he was smoking reached me before he did. His dollar bill didn't want to go in the box, prompting one of the friends to giggle crazily.

This trip was rolling smoothly, too smoothly for an afternoon on Atlantic Boulevard. The reason was obvious when my leader came into view short of the west end. She'd been taking the brunt of the increased demand. About this time a guy sidled up to me. Bus drivers can also be sounding boards when someone needs to talk. He told me how he'd been homeless on the streets for 6 weeks now, and it wasn't easy.
"I'm trying to get back to normal." He stated with surety.
   'You'll get there.' I encouraged him.

Heading east again and the sleeper is still aboard. Apparently homeless, with his collection of bags holding all his belongings. He used his backpack as a body pillow, hugging it close to his chest. Another tote bag sat nearby, a long umbrella handle sticking out. A white styrofoam cup hung upside down on the handle, perhaps to deter the quick grab or as a sign of surrender.

The after school crowd is joining us now, from the large middle and high schools in the suburbs. I caught my leader again at the east layover. She's having a rough day and is losing ground by the minute. She gets a reset and deadheads somewhere down the road, leaving me to do the picking up.

It's a weekday, but a face from Sunday is waiting for me under some shady oak trees. It's the Indian girl with a snaggletooth smile.
"Half hour late!" She complained through her smile.
   'Sorry for the wait!' I apologized. My bus was on time, but she was late to work and no explanations would change that. As she exited at Dixie I encouraged her not to let it ruin her day. The kind smile returned.

At Lyons Road there was my leader yet again. I leapfrogged her to give her some relief. She was so busy dropping off she never caught us until we got to the west layover. She got another reset and booked it to the Northeast transit center.

Now it was my turn to work. We soon had a standing load, with the usual complaints about long waits. Unfortunately the bus is at the mercy of a million time-eaters, and this time of day calls for an extra dose of patience from all of us. The drama, the chaos, the energy, the urgency keep us from getting bored. Anything else wouldn't be normal.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Good medicine

In between ridiculous crawling traffic and frustrating red lights are the little moments that make one take pause. If you blink, you'll miss 'em.

A morning run on the 60, rumbling over the ruts leading out of downtown. My regular with the strobing headlamp at the Lighthouse for the Blind stop wasn't there, leaving a dark void as we crested the FEC RR. It may be darker than the bottom of the ocean out here, but this first bus of the day is a popular one. We've got a seated load by the time we get to Prospect, with a few standers. The earliness means few cars on the road and we make good time all the way. At Dunkin' Donuts it becomes clear the ladies behind the counter know me well, preparing my breakfast by heart.

Back in service, and now the city is waking up. If we don't have moving obstacles, we have stifling congestion. The Jamaican regular who navigates the mountains of rock at Matco hops on, ever cool in sunglasses. I ask him what he works with over there. "What do I work with? Locomotives, pushin' those cars around." Now he's Superman to me, moving the earth.

We're pushin' 10 minutes down by the time we exit Cypress Creek Tri-Rail Park & Ride, a notorious time-eater. Climbing the I-95 overpass gives us a clear view of the commuting chaos on the highway, and I count my blessings to be running late on old Andrews Avenue. Folks are rushing to get to work so I can't help feel a little bad being late to pick up my next regular. For some time I'd been calling him Amigo, thinking he was Hispanic. When he boarded with a smiling "Bom dia!" in Brazilian Portuguese it froze me to my seat.

Things thawed out quickly and we made it to Central Terminal with a couple minutes to spare. My friend who works at Catfish Dewey's was waiting to head up there and do his thing in the kitchen. Now we were in the thick of it, flowing with the heavy, slow traffic all the way to Northeast transit center.

Not everyone heads to work in the morning. At Commercial a woman with a bicycle was awaiting our pull up.
"Is there any way I can ride to the clinic to get my medicine?" She forced the request out, barely functional and reliant on the kindness of strangers. Getting the go ahead, I assisted her with loading the bike since she was having difficulty placing both wheels in the same slot. More than a year earlier, I'd picked her up on the 10 over by the Florida House Experience. At that time, she had been bright-faced and vivacious. Today, either the early hour or an unfortunate relapse had discolored her into a haggard, strung out low point.

The roaring morning had settled into humming calm as the machinery of life spun its wheels, and lunchtime approached. At Central Terminal for my last trip north, a couple with all their belongings in bags came over in the usual way.
"We just need a ride to Sunrise, to a church."
A block past Sunrise and the green building came into view.
"Next stop, driver." The woman's voice drifted up.
   'Ok, the meatloaf church.'
"Ha ha! Every 60 driver knows the meatloaf church! Here just in time to grab a tray!" The man joked.
   'Now you're makin' me hungry!' I half-joked, part of me wishing to join them, part of me wondering what the next stop might bring.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Getting called out

The names I get called by my passengers continue to amaze me. The vast majority use the old standbys like Boss, Sir, Man, so the list of new names continues to shrink, or perhaps I forget to take note when I should. It generally takes something audacious to catch my ears, something out of the ordinary. Below are a few more on the ever-growing list.

List Three
-Billy Bob Thornton
-Dumb Ass Cracka
-My Potna
-Bubble Burster
-Clark Kent
-Big Bo
-Mr. Driver
-The Man

List One
List Two