Wednesday, March 22, 2017

On time for my execution


The last day of school, a chance to wish all my regular Coral Springs High students a good vacation. Rainy season's drizzly, damp overcast was in full swing that morning on the 34. The weather was primed for misery.

The kids are in school, the grown ups are going to work. At the first stop after turning onto Coral Ridge Drive, a man boarded with his McD's bag. His short, gray-flecked beard suited the occasion.
   'How's it goin' out there?' I asked as he escaped the precipitation.
"Rough, rough. It's a dog eat dog world."
   'Hang in there, things will turn around.'
"I work in a shop painting metal, then we put it in a hot oven to cook and I just don't like it."
   'Is it cooking you?'
"Yeah."
   'There are other opportunities, you don't have to stay there forever.'
"Exactamundo! I'm glad you have a positive outlook."
   'Well, I don't wanna be miserable all day.'

On the flip trip, I pick up the regular who runs the pickle shop at Festival Flea Market. He goes over his picks for the NBA playoffs, and reminds me to come by for some pickles.

At Turtle Creek, a 20-something guy is waiting.
"Can I have a ride to the next bus stop?"
That section of Sample has the 441 overpass, creating a long stretch between bus stops. He's a sociable sort and is eager to talk about his morning.
"Man, I had a court date for some fines and was late. I don't want to be on time for my execution, I want to be late."
   'That makes sense.'
"My family don't understand and they tell me to be early. I just say I got this."

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Tough in Florida

Let's go back in time to a little year I like to call 2002. Actually, it was 2016 and the bus was from 2002, a Gillig Phantom. Every bus that's been in service this long is bound to be full of phantoms and ghosts, with so many years of life within its space. I call them Gillig Time Machines, rattling around town while faithfully getting us to the next stop.

On one 10/50 split shift I rolled out of the garage in this '02, ready to fill it with more stories. The heavy overcast above was a gloomy way to start the day, but not unusual during rainy season. A late pull out time for this trip, it was the height of morning rush hour as I headed to Camino Real in Boca. At Hillsboro and Dixie, I was a bit startled to see the red caboose was missing. It had been moved slightly a couple weeks before, but today I couldn't see it in the vicinity. Finally I spotted it a considerable distance south and all was well.

In service now, heading south on US 1, we stopped at Sample for the normal crowd. Two Haitian women began to board, one with a folding cart loaded with a rainbow of Gatorade bottles. Her dreary demeanor matched the sky and her tone as she said "Good Morning".
I repeated it back to her, then had the inclination to toss in a little Bonjou. With that, her face lit up. When I followed with "Ke gen ou ye" she went ecstatic. "M'bien mesi!" she laughed with her friend as she took a seat.

At 6th St, a regular boarded and began feeding quarters rapid-fire into the fare box, alternating between both hands and delivering the coins like Chinese throwing stars.

At Commercial Blvd, with swarming traffic surrounding him, a homeless man sitting at the bus stop in vintage teal Marlins cap was beginning his day. He didn't want the bus, this was his intersection. With a black Sharpie marker, he carefully lettered a piece of cardboard. So far it only said "I'M DOWN".

At 15th Ave, an older woman was putting out great effort running across the Walgreens parking lot to catch the bus, as my laughing Haitian friend exited, presumably to catch the 36 and dispense her cart of rainbows at the Swap Shop. A younger woman waiting to board kept shifting her position, deferring to the others. She was a few cents short on her fare and put it in silently with some delicate finger gestures. While this was going on, I could hear a female voice calling out. Looking to my left, there was one of my favorite customers in the median, someone who always lights up my day. The older lady who was running a moment earlier was now on board, buying a day pass and advising me not to get old. By now the light had turned red, so my sunny friend had time to cross over to us.
"My favorite! Now I know it's going to be a good day. Thanks dahling."
At Central Terminal, I thanked her for bringing sunshine on a cloudy morning.
The mute young woman who was short on her fare suddenly became talky, revealing that she was homeless. She told me about her thrifty clothes shopping, wisdom from her father about doing the right things in life, how someone stole her bag while she used the restroom. She shared a bit of good news about securing a slot in a women's shelter. When she mentioned she hadn't been in a relationship with a man since 2002, I could see this was going down a strange path and gave her an emergency pass to get to the shelter.

The morning trip on the 10 was fairly busy, and a few more wrinkles were added to that old bus. The afternoon shift on the 50 was sedate in comparison. A different bus of course, slightly newer.

Picked up Mr. Mercedes at the usual spot. He's looking for a vintage-style spotlight for his bike, a perpetual creative work in progress.

At 54th Street, Iron Chef boards. A regular who always looks exhausted, but like the rest of us perks up when he gets to talk about what he loves. And he loves to cook. He cooks 6 days a week and wants a second job - cooking. He's worked at Boca Raton Resort so he's got the skills. Now he wants to open his own restaurant.
"What kind of food will it have?" I wonder.
"Italian, American, everything." His answer is broad and unlimited. I think he's looking for investors.

A young man who'd gotten on awhile earlier came up as he readied to exit. He felt compelled to throw some sweet talk my way, which tends to induce cringing. This time it impressed me.
"You're one of the coolest bus drivers, one of the best I've seen. You've got character, that's tough in Florida."

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Kissin' cat's eyes


Mid-morning start for a Sunday on the 34. Headed to the start point at Coral Ridge Drive to wait for my pullout time. Once there, still in the seat, front door open, spot a woman on the sidewalk winding up her morning jog. Her long-sleeve light blue running shirt was an eye-catcher as she strode up to the bus, cell phone in right hand by her side. Rather than keep walking, she leaned into the open doorway, her empty hand balled up in a fist and outstretched toward me.
"No a/c." There was a note of disappointment in her voice, hoping for reprieve from the heat she'd worked up.
   'Little bit inside.' I thumbed back into the cabin, knowing the a/c hadn't had time to fully chill this space.
"See you later." Her flirty glance was welcome and her impeccable short dreads stayed put as she continued her long stride cool down. A nice way to start the day.

The bus stayed empty till University, where we connect with Route 2. A handful of people waited patiently, including a regular in her Toys R Us uniform. She'd given me a store coupon recently and was upset I hadn't come in to visit.

Further down the road, a wood pallet flew off the bed of the pick up truck in front of us and landed in the next lane. You never know what's going to come at you next.

First westbound trip, the morning was now warmed up and people were getting active as the Sunday sleepiness wore off. At the east layover a Broward legend appeared, Tony Montana. Not Scarface reborn, but a long-lost namesake. Proud of his 76 years and irrepressible wiry energy, he and his 89-year-old brothers swear by Texas Superfood, though he needs a sleep aid at night to keep that energy in check. Blurring green tats on his forearms and a stallion peeking out from his half-buttoned shirt testified to a hard life, softened by a scarf around his head and women's reading glasses studded with rhinestones. Before long, the blustery bravado makes its insatiable return.
"I cleaned all the homeless out of Deerfield. I have a 160-0 fight record, like Kyle's 160 kills. I need one more to break the record."
Then veering off onto his epic daily bike mileage, while wearing a backpack containing 20 pounds of sand. The sand itself is a weapon, blended with the maximum amount of cayenne pepper still legal to carry in public.
"I can hit someone's face at 10 feet." The boasts came quick and loud, a verbal force field keeping everyone at a distance.
"All the cops know me."

Around the corner after pullout, my pal Al was an unexpected visitor on this route. He gets on sweaty and ready to cool down on the bus after cooking in the morning broiler.
"It's hot outside."
   'That's how we do it in Broward County.'
"I'm going to Costa Rica, where it's just as hot and nasty."
   'Hope they have a/c down there. Send us a postcard: Wish You Were Here.'
He didn't say if they have a/c.

At the west end in the industrial park, a young man with an umbrella boarded, visibly upset. I can only guess he's been waiting for awhile, since Sunday service is notoriously spare with only a few buses on this route. We arrive at the layover a few minutes later, and his frustration intensifies when he realizes we're parking. He's trying to get to University, a mere 10 minute ride - but we have a nearly 20 minute layover.

Those first couple trips were blazing hot, now we're getting some relief as cloud cover thickens at the west end. Our next eastbound leaves the clouds behind as we drive into the sun. Street reflectors on the Turnpike overpass are angled so they catch the light and gleam like diamonds. I kiss the cat's eyes with the curbside tires, a skills test to skew the bus as far as possible from neighboring traffic without the thumpthumpthump of driving over them.

At Dixie, a man boards in a blue t-shirt sweat-soaked through from front to back, clutching a bottle of sweet tea. At the east layover he asks in a Haitian accent about a ladies dance club on 441 in Margate, which means he needs to head back the other way. I'm not familiar with the place but it sounds exciting, so I ask for the address to help him locate it. I can see he'll need Route 19: dix-neuf. He was speaking Spanish on the phone a moment earlier, so he's clearly multilingual, and gives me a language lesson.
"French, the mouth is closed; Creole, mouth is open."

Underway now, our friend who was previously getting lost was found again at his usual stop. He's holding a massive SAT study book today, presumably in pursuit of a teaching gig. Coincidentally he's studying French and recites some roughly yet clearly.
"Both of my parents are either bilingual or trilingual, but I only speak English. When they came to this country they thought it was best if I was raised to know only English."

At Turtle Creek, a man in his 20s loaded his bike on the rack but held the seat separately. He pointed out the seat post on the bike had bent and broken, so the seat fell off. It had happened while riding, and the lever to tighten the seat had torn a huge hole in the rear of his camo shorts, exposing his underwear. I didn't even know what to say at the situation, bizarre as it was. He took it in stride, laughed it off, and kept on going.