Thursday, July 9, 2020

One good Saturday

The first week of the new pick was coming to a close, and after an epic shift on the 40, it would be nice to have a peaceful Saturday afternoon on a far quieter route. Route 62 fits the bill. It's a more or less east-west route in northern Broward County, but also has a considerable stretch of north-south coverage in the northwest part of the county. In many ways, it's a holdover from earlier years in Broward Transit's history, when routes were designed to cover as much ground as possible and weren't necessarily dedicated to a single main street. It promised to be a quiet day in a quiet part of town, a welcome reprieve from the brutal previous day.

The first hour rolled by smooth as you like, setting the pace for trips to come. Out where Kimberly Boulevard ends at 81st Avenue, I spotted my friend Francois on the opposite sidewalk, pointing my way. His beaming smile may have come from spotting me first, not exactly fair since I was in the most obvious vehicle on the road. But it always makes my day to see a familiar face when driving a route, so I pointed back and called his name out the window.

The next trip brought a little more excitement when the quirky older woman who I only run into in Coral Springs showed up. Slight in stature, and thus easily overlooked, I could only smile when her trademark barrage of nervous questions began coming my way. The majority of the questions don't require an answer, but my acknowledging them seems to put her at ease.

Almost halfway into the trip, I picked up a long lost regular from previous runs on the 60 in a much different part of town. He was my Jamaican friend who pushes train cars loaded with rock at Matco Industries in Pompano. Those days he tended to seem weary after the day's work was done, but today he was revitalized telling me about his newborn son turning two months old. He was out apartment hunting to find more room for his growing family. He used to have a car, but let the bank take it when they jacked up interest rates. When his boss heard about it, he gave his hardest working employee a scooter. Just needed to transfer the title.

The day was winding down, just a couple hours left in the seat when we got to State Road 7. An elderly man waited in a wheelchair, a medical boot on his left foot. The advanced years had given him wisdom on life, war, soldiers, and drug addiction. Oh, and a philosophy on love: "You just need one good woman." He talked and I listened the entire way to his destination on this one good Saturday.

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Small blessings (or, Open heart surgery)

[Intro note: It's been almost as long as it takes a baby to be born since I last posted a story here. I could make excuses about how I took a break during the holidays, then the world stopped during the COVID-19 quarantine, and subsequent social unrest. But I'm not one for excuses so I'll simply pick up where we left off. Sure, our world has changed dramatically in the intervening months, but our shared histories are still of great worth. So long as that's the case, the story must be told.
Hopefully any memory of the hiatus will be obliterated by this epic saga of a day on the 40, back when it was the stuff of legend. Take your time, don't rush it. There's no hurry. Enjoy and bless up, Broward County.]

Even though I drive the bus for work, I also ride it to work. This allows me to begin fresh-faced, relaxed, and prepared for the challenges that await. I chatted with my coworker Jacqui as she drove us uptown, confident it would be a straightforward afternoon on the 40. This was the first day of the new pick, when all that is old becomes new, and the route was familiar to me as it covered so much of my lifetime stomping grounds.

Checked into Dispatch, located the two other drivers I was sharing a taxi with, and headed down to Central Terminal. We arrived a little late, but still on time since this was the notoriously late 40 - and it would not disappoint today. It showed up about 15 minutes in the hole, I hopped in the seat, rolled up Andrews Avenue, cut a left onto Sistrunk Boulevard and was ceremoniously greeted by clanging bells and flashing lights. A travelling art gallery of graffiti chugged by on the rusty cars of a FEC freight train. With two engines leading the way, it looked to be a long one so I popped the parking brake to wait it out. The first hundred cars were piled high with their white mounds of Miami limestone, the second hundred were standard shipping containers with logos faded from sailing the world. I lost count after that.
"Oh my god. I could been there by now." A young lady in the back vented her frustration with the delay. Her boyfriend joined her by attempting to insult me with a personalized slur. It's not my job to infringe their freedom of speech, so I focused on the task of operating the bus, which was delayed even longer since the crossing arms remained down five minutes after the train had passed. We detoured to another crossing and got back on route. The girl apologized as she exited, and even wished me a good day. I told her to take care.

That fifteen minute deficit at the start of the shift had more than doubled by the time we got to the end of the line at Lauderhill Mall. That meant no break, just time to service the stop and begin the next trip east.

We were at the pull-in bus stop on 38th Avenue, barely into this new trip, when I heard the sirens. Looking all directions, but seeing no sign of a patrol car, I spotted a minivan in my side mirror. It was racing our way, swerving between other cars, the front banged up, and mirrors dangling uselessly. The van's windows were down, giving a wide open view of several teenage boys inside. They whipped a screeching turn onto 19th Street, and we stayed put. Hot on their tails, an unrelenting stream of police cars were in full on pursuit. Their department insignia said they came from Lauderhill, Fort Lauderdale, Broward Sheriff's Office and anyone else in the vicinity. When the caravan reached 50 units, it seemed like a good round number to stop counting.

The coast was clear, so we made the same turn and followed the action. At least for a few blocks. All the players in the drama we'd just witnessed had disappeared, but now a red car was parked in our lane just short of the next turn. Another car to our left prevented us from going around.The driver of the red car jumped out to taunt the occupants of the other car, and a heated argument ensued in the middle of the street, giving all of us on the bus a front row seat. An older woman on board lamented how dangerous it was "out there".

By some miracle we'd made up a few minutes on the way to Central Terminal. Not enough to give me hope of catching up, but at least it was the right direction. The route would soon regain those minutes, and many more besides. Any inkling of momentum was snuffed out by the chaotic congestion downtown.

This trip called for a side shot into Point of Americas off 17th Street, a cluster of condo towers at the inlet to the port. Not every bus goes in there, and this confused an older gentleman who wondered if the route had changed. I reassured him it hadn't.

The street transitioned into A1A, opening up to the beach, and the busy yet peaceful activity on this side of town was in sharp contrast to the frenetic madness we'd already encountered. Daylight was beginning to wane, the ocean was calm and gentle, freighters floated a mile offshore.

A young lady waited at Las Olas, speaking clear English with a vaguely European accent. The peace and comfort outside the bus followed her aboard as she walked through my door. She was going to South Beach, down Miami way. This was not a good place to start such a trip by bus, so I let her out at the next stop with instructions for catching a bus the other way.

Sometimes in our hurry we need to be reminded to slow down. The easy pace of beach life would have been sufficient, but our reminder came in the form of a bridge delay on Sunrise Boulevard, within sight of the end of the line at the Galleria. When we finally cleared the bridge, the bus was 40 minutes late.

Again, no time for a break at the layover. I stayed in the seat and picked up an older couple originally from Tacoma, Washington, on the other side of the country They were fond of ecotours, excitedly describing whale sightings in Alaska and alligators in the Everglades.

About 10 minutes down the road we caught up with the bus ahead of us. I passed her to help service stops. At Holiday Drive across from the former Yankee Clipper (now B Ocean hotel), a lively bunch of construction workers waited. Their weary clothes and trusty hard hats were coated with the dust of the day yet didn't diminish the excitement to be on their way home.

That other bus caught me a few minutes later in front of Pier 66. It turned out I was actually her leader and she'd somehow passed without my notice. I was still more than half an hour late and we needed to separate our buses, so I went into drop off mode. We started picking up passengers again about 20 minutes later, but the fact I was still half an hour down confirmed any attempt to get back on schedule was an effort in futility.

So again we got no break at the end of the line, just time to pick up everyone at Lauderhill Mall and head back east. At Central Terminal, a wide-eyed young woman boarded and we got out of there, trying to get some momentum going. Naturally, the Andrews Avenue bridge would choose that moment to go up and delay us a few more minutes. Once we finally got over the bridge, the woman asked another passenger if we were going to Lauderhill. It's a common mistake for people boarding the 40 at the terminal to board the one going the wrong way. Please ask the driver when you board, regardless of what the headsign reads. We finished the trip, and by skipping yet another chance for a break, were now only 20 minutes late to begin our next west bound.

Somehow the golden girl going to South Beach was waiting for us again after all that time. At least now she was going the right direction. She stood up front behind me, sightseeing. That's when the glorious chaos arrived. At Bahia Mar, that docking site of the infamous fictional Busted Flush, a crowd waited to board. Their bellies full and spirits high after a feast provided by the charitable chef Arnold Abbott and his Love Thy Neighbor crew, this salty sea of humanity swept in through the door. A wheelchair, a walker, rolling luggage all flowed in relentlessly. The blonde had no choice but to ride the wave into the cabin as the tide rose up front. An especially sociable gentleman brought up the rear, shook my hand, and made his way to the back row, talking to everyone along the way. The noise subsided and we got rolling again. A gentle voice whispered nearby, "I am here." It was the blonde again, laughing about the funny man.
"All these crazy people!" She marvelled.
   'Crazy people? Wait till you get to South Beach!' I tried to play down the rush of excitement, knowing full well this madness was a force of nature.

In short order we had a standing load, before A1A turned into 17th St. We got to US 1, the blonde exited for the next leg of her journey south, and the old Brit limped aboard. Still trim with groomed gray beard, he struggled more than usual thanks to some fresh wounds. He'd been assaulted recently and had several broken ribs. While he needed to talk about it, we needed to go, so I asked him to stand close and tell me what happened. There were no available seats anyway, so his options were limited. His shaky voice expressed disappointment and betrayal as he recounted the vile incident, adding that his phone was stolen the night before.

We followed the S-curve by Broward General, turned onto Andrews Avenue, and serviced the stop in front of the hospital. A middle-aged man wearing a patient wristband tentatively approached the open door, wanting to go somewhere uptown. He would have to take our bus to Central Terminal and switch to another. When I encounter folks released from the hospital, and they happen to be disoriented or unstable on their feet, I dial up the concern.
   'How ya feelin'? Did the nurses treat ya alright?' I inquired to ease his anxiety.
"Yeah." He finally answered, flatly. "I had open heart surgery."

The bus emptied out a bit at Central Terminal, workers making connections to the flurry of other routes passing through. In no time we were back in motion, now almost 40 minutes late. My follower caught me at the end of Sistrunk Boulevard, told her I'd stay in service till the end of the line at Lauderhill Mall and phone Dispatch from there. She booked it to get herself back on time while I continued picking up passengers.

On 38th Avenue, site of the earlier police chase and just blocks from the Hill, a young man about 20 with a puffball snowcap was waiting. He was on the phone, but was kind enough to pause the conversation to greet me.
"No fare. My girl left me on Uber." He tried to explain. We only had a few more stops so I told him to have a seat. Another passenger noticed and commended me for blessing the kid.
"Small blessings become big blessings, Drivah." He philosophized with a squeaky Jamaican accent.
   'I hope so.' I heartily stood in agreement.
The kid stayed up front, continually begging for a courtesy pass. Persistent, but not nasty about it. I asked if he was in sales with that persistence. He chuckled.

We finally arrived at Luaderhill Mall, the end of the line, but not the end of the shift. There was still a full round trip left on my schedule, but I'd been in the seat for more than six hours non-stop and needed to make a pit stop. After taking care of business I called Dispatch for a reset since I was nearly an hour late. I was instructed to deadhead to the Galleria, cutting out an entire eastbound trip. It didn't put me back on time, but it was close enough and the final trip was a breeze now that the frenzy of the day had subsided. The ocean lapped gently at the coast and the city settled down for the night.

When I got back to Lauderhill Mall, the kid with the puffball cap was still there hanging out. He asked if I could take him around the corner since I was going that way anyhow. Told him I couldn't, the bus was now out of service. There would be plenty more buses to take him where he needed to go, it was time to share the small blessings with them. This bus was heading home.

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Sunset on Sunrise

A bus driver can pick from a variety of shifts. I was back on afternoons nights with a mixed run for the week, or a "variety pack" as I call it. This keeps me in touch with various parts of town over the course of a week, preventing too much familiarity over the next several months.

This was Tuesday, still early in the week yet a kind of sweet spot where folks are focused on productivity. My day would consist of a ten hour shift going back and forth on Sunrise Boulevard, serviced by the notorious 36. Three of us drivers took a taxi from the motor pool at the garage and headed down to Lauderhill Mall to make relief. While there waiting for my bus to arrive, I bumped into my old classmate Vianca. We started with the County at the same time, and I have a fondness for all of those who were in our training class.She had long since transferred to the south garage, so this was a pleasant chance to catch up and wish each other well.

My bus arrived on cue, I hopped into the driver's seat, made my adjustments, and booked it out of there. We rolled west and thought I'd made out pretty good with the after-school crowd when I picked up over a dozen students across from Plantation High School. They smiled as I complimented their t-shirts and other signs of self-expression. Most were going all the way to Sawgrass Mills Mall at the end, perhaps for part-time jobs or just to hang out with friends.

The shift had barely begun and I had yet to do a full round trip since I'd taken over in the middle of the route. Now we could begin in earnest, doing a full trip eastbound from the mall. Still early enough that traffic wasn't a delay, but just in time to get buried by the second wave passing through the school zones. By the time we emerged into an open stretch, we had a full standing load. Our cabin at capacity, we skirted along Deepside before cresting the hill of the Turnpike overpass. Changing lanes at the opportune moment and letting the rush of gravity propel us downward, a sea of young eyeballs looked ahead, unblinking.

We pulled into the Hill seven minutes down, but thanks to the scheduled recovery time we pulled out back on track. Made our pick ups at the Swap Shop and other usual hot spots along the way. At 7th Ave, my blessed and highly favored friend awaited. His pronounced limp as we exchanged fist bumps didn't seem like much of a blessing, but he was still mobile and thankful for that.

A bridge delay at the Intracoastal set us back a little, but left me few minutes to get out of the seat after crossing from the Everglades to the Atlantic. That break would soon be a distant memory as we headed back west. This was the height of rush hour on a street infamous for its congestion. The next fifty blocks were three lanes of solid gridlock. The mass of cars and trucks finally broke apart and flowed better after Martin Luther King Jr Boulevard, opening up a stunning sunset vista. The flashy bright colors and glowing neon of the Swap Shop met their match in the vivid watercolor taking shape overhead. Wispy sand dune clouds stretched into coral pink streaks before our jaded eyes.We chased the receding sun to the end of the line at Sawgrass Mills.

Back on the road and heading east, the rest of the evening promised to be smooth since the earlier chaos had dissipated. At 56th Ave, where the countless back streets of Deepside spill out like an asphalt delta, a 30-something woman in a floral dress with spaghetti straps stepped on, sniffling.
"I just got out of jail." She greeted me, her way of both asking for and explaining why she needed a free ride.
   'Welcome back!' I replied, keeping the mood light and non-judgmental. She'd had enough of that from other civil servants, no need to pile on.

We got to the east layover and I finally had some time to catch my breath. At that time the regular layover stop east of the bridge and next to Birch State Park was closed due to construction, so we parked at a temporary stop west of the Intracoastal, across from The Galleria. I still had a few more hours so I took the opportunity to walk over to 7-Eleven for a snack. The petite girl at the cash register was friendly.
"Which bus are you driving?" She asked.
   'The 36.' I sighed.
"I used to ride the 36. I remember fights."
   'Tonight the fight was on the 60.' I semi-joked. She chuckled.

The break was over and we went west one more time. In the mall courtyard a group of guys in their 20s were smoking something especially pungent in the shadows. My 10:15 trip out of Sawgrass was a full seated load, becoming a standing load by the time we reached Nob Hill. The shifting colors of the sunset were probably over the Pacific right now, but the weeknight machinery on Sunrise Boulevard was not ready to shut down just yet.

Monday, July 29, 2019

Believe in now

The days of waking up in the middle of night and reporting for work before the sun rose were over. It was a good run, being part of the team that got the machinery of the city going again after a few hours of idling. To be the one getting my neighbors to work, school, and errands had been an honor. Now I would mostly be taking them from those places, and tuck the city into bed at the end of its long days.

One of the issues with morning shifts is they essentially require you to go to bed early the night before. That limits what you can get done after work and certainly eliminates any kind of night life. Being a night owl by nature, those endless mornings were a challenge at times. Since I couldn't have a night life off the bus, I'd work late and have it on the bus.

This shift was a split: a brief stint on the 31 starting after lunch, followed by a couple hours of unpaid break and finishing with an evening on the 19 till about 1 a.m. The first piece was a school tripper, a single journey south on NW 31st Ave (aka MLK Blvd, aka Lyons Rd depending on the stretch). It coincided with the release times of several large grade schools. Today was also Martin Luther King Jr. Day, so the stops were expectedly devoid of students in observance of the holiday. Someone else would have to provide the excitement this trip, and they showed up right on cue as we approached Oakland Park Boulevard. A couple dozen Bike Lifers swarmed the southbound lanes, threading between the stacked vehicles. We and all the cars around us were forced to sit still until the thundering storm of growling exhaust pipes and squealing rubber had passed. The traffic signals changed a couple times, rendered meaningless by the rule-breakers dominating the street. Perhaps they weren't breaking the rules so much as making their own rules; an advance guard of bikes and ATVs formed a road block clearing the way for their friends. The volume was deafening, preventing conversation or focused thought - all focus was on the storm as it veered on to the boulevard.

A substantial delay, but quickly made up by the time we got to Central Terminal. I was taking it back to the garage when I got the call to head up to Pompano and swap with another driver. It meant a shorter down time between pieces, and a little overtime.

Mid-split break was over, time to clock back in, and take a taxi to relieve a driver on the road. Traffic was crawling and I got there a few minutes late. No sign of my bus, I figured it was delayed by the congestion and waited for it to show. Dispatch called to inform me the bus had already passed and was waiting at the next light. This type of confusion tends to occur at the start of a new pick, until the wrinkles are ironed out and we settle into a routine.

Our bus was full, a hundred anxious eyes watching the transition of drivers, hoping it wouldn't take too long. An unfamiliar rider came up to the front. The cozy confines of the bus has a way of connecting strangers. His lament was for the masses of people around us, hurrying about in their motions. He spoke of God, Force, and Gaia.
"People have nothing to believe in now," he opined as he considered the lack of purpose in our ceaseless frenzies. There was no judgment, simply introspection.

"How's your holiday?" I was greeted at Oakland Park Blvd by an older man who occasionally rides, but is more frequently seen panhandling at red lights. He put what change he had into the box.

It was a late start to the shift, but we made it down to Lauderhill Mall just in time to pull out. Also at the Hill was my leader bus, out of commission and awaiting a mechanic. I took all his people in addition to mine, and now we had a fully loaded 60-footer going back north. There was a high percentage of sourpusses, no doubt from the extended wait after a long day.

Only a few stops in and a blast from the past appeared. It was Jaws, so-called due to his perpetual bared teeth. It limits his ability to speak, so at best my greeting gets a grunt in reply. Way back when, he used to load a small bike with a big chain onto the rack. Now the bike was missing but the familiar grunting remained as he sauntered on.

Under the spreading tree limbs of the Atlantic Boulevard stop, an impressive beard emerged from the shadows. An equally impressive smile spread brightly above it. Charming sociability covered his shortfall as he discreetly slipped a bill in the box.
"Another driver called me Gandalf when my beard was white." He continued his affable entry, commanding the spotlight. Homeless but far from helpless, he was going to Boca to hustle a duffel full of DVDs.
"Have you seen 'Peculiar Children'?" he asked as he switched to sales mode. Then again, perhaps he'd been in that mode from the moment we pulled up to his feet. Told him I'd never heard of it, and asked for a synopsis. According to him it was too bizarre to describe, except to say it was unsuitable for children. The layover at Sandalfoot eventually came into view, and with the hissing air of the doors the wizard disappeared into the suburban silence.

Another mystery occurred when my leader bus showed up while I was on layover break. He took the single passenger who'd been waiting there, and ran it late. That lateness meant a quiet trip for me heading back south. The bus was empty as I departed Boca Raton, and stayed that way until Turtle Creek. A bus without people is eerie and unnatural, so it was a relief when a gentleman boarded and I welcomed him with extra hospitality.
   'Any seat you like!' I offered, gesturing toward the empty cabin stretching back forever. 'It's good to have choices.'
"My own chartah! I can see that." The man exclaimed when he realized his good fortune. Fifteen minutes down the road and he was still the only one.
"I never seen anything like this!" He sat on the edge of the seat with delirious joy.
   'You better remember this.' I responded, for both our benefits.
A few blocks later a young woman boarded and the spell was broken, the surreal moment passed. It was good to be back in the business of transit, the natural state of a bus and its operator. So long as we are visited by wizards, there would be more magical moments in this space. Believe it.

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Over the bridge

Last days on a run can be bittersweet. It means being on new roads the next few months, separated from the developments and experiences of a part of town I'd snugly settled into. It also meant informing regulars so they wouldn't think I'd quit the bus when they didn't see me next week.

This last day was a Saturday on the 55, rolling east and west on Commercial Boulevard, making the big loop at the west end from McNab Road down to Oakland Park Boulevard, then back up to Commercial on Nob Hill Road. As an aside, Nob Hill is a lengthy street in its own right, but I have yet to find the hill called Nob.

I reported to the Dispatch window a little before 6 a.m. Supervisor Ironman was there, a welcome surprise since we generally only interacted via radio as he assisted with traffic control and break downs. He gave me the bus number assigned to my run, the same one I'd been driving every weekend. It is one of the older buses in the fleet, the type of old workhorse I describe as a Gillig Time Machine. Its age and mileage are so ingrained into every seat and stanchion that you are immediately transported back a decade and a half to the year it was manufactured. This beast and her rattling panels was in service the last time the Florida Marlins won the World Series. The team has since altered its name and been in their new stadium for several years now, while this bus goes about its appointed rounds. She may be aging, but she's still spry and I knew she'd see us through the day.

"Good morning, Broward County." I whispered my greeting to the dark-seated cabin before bringing it to life and turning on the lights. Many people other than myself were going to spend part of their day in this space, it couldn't hurt to fill it with a simple blessing.

Our pullout and starting point arrival were both timely, making for a relaxed start to the workday. The clock told us it was time to go into service, the brakes were released, and we slid into the suburban darkness. About a mile in, a young suburbanite boarded.
"I'm taking six buses today, is it better to get a day pass or just pay on each bus?" She asked.
I did the quick math aloud and she opted for the pass.

Midway through the trip, we approached Rock Island Road. A young man with short, bleached dreads stepped to the curb.
"I'm just going over the bridge..." He begged without going into lengthy detail, pointing meekly toward the upcoming curve where Commercial flies over the Turnpike. An undeniable strong baked scent followed him like a shadow - and it wasn't a loaf of bread.

We crested the overpass and glided down with the aid of gravity toward 441 on our eastward trek. Waiting at the end was the unintentional regular, who on previous Saturdays informed me that the bus ahead of mine never showed up. After too many weeks of waiting, he didn't even try to catch it anymore. He just adjusted his schedule for my bus.

At this time we were not laying over on A1A, but rather a side street along a shopping center close to Oakland Park Boulevard. The added distance ate into my break time, but I was still able to stretch my legs before heading west.

Leaving this layover, we go north on A1A to Commercial.  That intersection is the heart of Lauderdale-By-The-Sea, a slice of old coastal Broward complete with multipurpose Town Hall, seafood restaurants, family businesses lining the main drag, and Anglin's Pier jutting out into the edge of the Atlantic Ocean.

A young couple waited patiently at the first stop on Commercial. It was the cycling pair from earlier in the week when I was driving a different route. The lady who had been so inquisitive about bus driving back then was reserved today. Presumably I'd answered all her questions.

Another cyclist was waiting on the flip side, after we'd turned around. A self-described "old hippie vet" with a huge bike. It was his first time using a bus bike rack, and he'd perched it on there precariously. A little assistance from the driver, and he was a pro.

Once again we flipped it around, back west. Out at Pine Island, a horrific accident had the eastbound lanes completely closed. A compact car was wrapped around a tree. It didn't look good, and we could only hope for the best.

A call went out over the radio with detour instructions. The driver of the bus ahead called back with a slightly faster route. We'd just turned back on to Commercial after a scenic detour through the sleepy neighborhood to the south. A husky man was running from the other side, waving a closed umbrella to catch my attention. The landscaped median provided sanctuary for the crossing, thankfully since his other hand clasped that of his small son's. In another example of the thin line between win and loss, if we hadn't been delayed by a detour of unfortunate circumstance, they would have missed us and had a lengthy wait for the next bus.

Good time was being made, and it looked like I'd get a few minutes out of the seat at the Galt layover. Then the gates came down and crushed that hope.The long, thin white and red poles of the Intracoastal bridge gates made their horizontal descent to the piercing chimes of clanging bells. The delay added ten minutes to our schedule deficit, too much for the recovery time at the end to compensate for. I still took a few minutes to jump on to solid ground and shake the legs.

Our final westbound, only about five minutes down and every confidence of making that up once we got rolling. It was not to be. The same bridge that denied us on the way to the barrier island was now denying our exit. Something must have been going on in the Intracoastal below, since openings are timed to avoid such inconvenience. But there it was, an upright bridge, our immovable object. We were soon down by double digits on the clock. That, coupled with a train delay at the FEC RR, put us into a hole with no chance of recovery.

Still, sometimes it doesn't matter how late we are or what caused it, so long as we get where we're going. A woman with a scrutinizing look was happy to see us when she got on at 441.
"Pale kreyol?" She probed. Perhaps I'd greeted her with some limited vocabulary before.
   'Ki jan ou ye?' I responded. She laughed.

The simple moments override the frustrations of uncontrollable delays and obstacles that are part of life in general, and multiplied endlessly for those of us spending our workdays on the street. There had still been time through the course of the day to reminisce over landmarks of younger days (Sunrise Musical Theater), to commune with the ghosts of Broward bus drivers of yesteryear (and their goats), and to otherwise enjoy this day with people I would probably not be seeing on my new routes. I'd be shifting gears from mornings to nights, but I wouldn't be far. Just over the bridge.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Nuthin's gonna take my smile

Friday the 13th on University Drive. This would be my last eleven hour shift for the foreseeable future. As a bonus there was no school today, which generally promises lighter traffic. The streets were slicked by an intermittent drizzle, nothing heavy. The temperature was a welcome neutral, neither cold nor hot. The ridership going north out of West Terminal was a bit on the cold side, if only because it was lighter than usual.

Going south on the next trip was a continuation of the first, with light traffic and no delays to make us late. At Sunset Strip, an older woman who's a regular on this run boarded with a motherly smile and focused on the fare box.
   "Good morning," we both said simultaneously. She must not have heard my greeting or seen my lips move as she was looking at the box, since she repeated herself in a slightly sour tone. I gave her a few extra Good Mornings for good measure. She liked that and the smile returned.

In Davie, a man handed me some paper as he exited. It was a paycheck, uncashed and forgotten. It would be deposited with Lost & Found at the end of the day.

We got down to the layover in Miami Gardens with ample time to stretch the legs. A woman boarding there held up a French coin in my face, claiming it was worth $2 and asking if she could use it as bus fare. At that time we only accepted U.S. legal tender, so I politely declined her offer. After that, she found the proper currency.

We pulled out of the bus line heading west on 207th St. Vultures clustered in the middle, pecking at an unidentifiable red spot.

Traffic picked up around I-595, though it wasn't quite lunchtime. We rolled in to West Terminal with a few minutes to recover. Everyone could exit or board at their leisure, including a familiar regular.

An older gentleman with a Redd Foxx walk and a friend to everyone he met, for years he had been inseparable from an enormous flashy beach cruiser which was conspicuously missing today. To see him without it was like seeing an amputee.
   'No more bike?' I asked out of curiosity.
"No more bike. I fell down too much." He seemed wistful over his sporty wheels, contentedly resigned to keeping himself free from injury.

He settled into a seat near the front and struck up a conversation with a woman around his age. They immediately began comparing emotional battle wounds inflicted upon them by loved ones.
"My kids and grandkids went bad! My daughter hates my guts." He stated with the same resignation he showed for his beloved bike.
"My addict brother took advantage of my kindness." She responded. "Nuthin's gonna take my smile, not me, ha ha!"
The back and forth continued, all at loud volume so nothing would have to be repeated. When he exited up the road, I thanked him for bringing good vibes on the bus - and to stay safe out there.

Over time, we'd been up to the north layover at Westview Drive, and found ourselves all the way down in Davie on the last southbound of this shift. Still, I was only about two-thirds through the endless hours.

At Griffin Road, a red light caught us and held us. A Honda SUV glided to a long stop in the lane next to us. The driver's window almost lined up with mine, which is always open regardless of the temperature. The woman driving gave me a kind, knowing smile which caught me a little off guard. Did she need to cut in front of the bus? No motions in that direction. Then the rear windows, tinted black as a limo, rolled down. Inside were a couple children very excited to see the bus.
"Hi, Mr. Bus Driver!" They called out in squeaky unison.
   'Hi guys!' I called back, with an added wave before the light turned green and the moment was gone.

There were still hours to go before I clocked out, and unexpected encounters were sure to meet us on the way. But the cheers from our youngest bus fans would help me keep my smile for the foreseeable future.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Making our case

My days of working the morning shift were coming to a close. Very soon my schedule would be flipping upside down and I'd be back on nights, where I hadn't been for a couple years. The people would be different, and the familiar old streets would become new terrain when the sun set. For now I was still a morning driver, and my focus was not on the future.

A chill Monday on the 10, cruising Federal Highway from Central Terminal to Boca Raton. The temp was 51°, so at least we were out of the arctic 40s from the day before. This was getting old and we needed the warmth to return or it would be time to head south.

The glitch-prone onboard announcer was again mute when it came to announcing stops. Instead it would randomly interject our journey with an especially maniacal Max Headroom cackle
"Formatics bootloader AHAHAHAH..."
No microphone available either, only a stump where it had once been, before years of stress had separated the connection. We'd be announcing stops old school style today. Hopefully with enough volume to reach the back seats.

The day of the week and the unpleasant freeze seemed to have paralyzed our tropical activity. We'd nearly completed a full round trip without incident. The load was light and the traffic was easy.

On Broward Boulevard, half a dozen news crews camped in front of First Baptist. A hundred SUVs covered the little lawn, the sidewalks, the courtyard. It was the airport shooter's first day in federal court across the street, and made for a natural media story of the day.

We did our time at Central Terminal and were back on our way. The previously wide open road was now blocked at 5th Street by a construction crew. Located a safe spot nearby to accommodate passengers.

The next stop brought us the two Greek Spice Grill waitresses, one with striking angular facial features on par with any catwalk model. Both were preparing to work for the lunch crowd.

More construction underway in Boca, this time at the Tower 155 site just past Palmetto Park Road. A backhoe was excavating an enormous pit in the sugar sand. A truck waited nearby with a load of steel piles to hold that sand back.

Heading back south after a ten minute layover, I picked up another bus operator. He was on light duty and was on his way to an afternoon shift at Central to work the information table.

A couple loaded their bikes on the rack, she commenting that it should hold more as they boarded. I agreed and could certainly sympathize with missing the bus myself when there wasn't an open slot. They were both sociable, but he remained quiet whereas she was immediately inquisitive. She wanted to become a bus operator and grilled me with a pleasant Trini accent. When she said there were no openings listed online, I could only recount to her the process I went through and encourage her to be patient. These inquiries come at me regularly, and I wonder how many see it through.

A beloved regular awaited south of Atlantic: the Penny Lady. An older woman who could be both curt and kind by turns, I asked her to wait so I could lower the bus just for her. She had been poised to grab the door handles and climb on, apparently forgetful of previous times when she all but demanded that I kneel the low floor. Her outsize smile was all the thanks I needed.

Down to Commercial Boulevard, where an older gentleman took his time loading his bike. He wasn't struggling with it, and didn't seem unfamiliar with the process; in those cases I am quick to jump out of the seat and offer assistance. No, he was just on his own time and in no particular hurry. Just as the green light was also on its own time and decided to turn red to teach us patience. With my internal patience knob turned up to maximum peace and calm, the man finally boarded, hands in prayer and supplication.
"Hey brother, can I just get a ride to Sunrise? Thanks, man!"

Our final trip, going north to be relieved at Copans Road. The bike rack was full again, but there were no time delays.

Commercial came up again and my friend the Outlaw got on. That became his name after someone had a dream of him as Jesse James. When the criminal is also a folk hero, the comparison is not an insult. As far as I know, the connection is only as solid as a stranger's dream. This 'outlaw' was on a different path.
"I gave the homeless guy 70¢ to buy beer."
That stop is a popular hangout, and at least one man had no need for the bus.
"Like when my dad gave me $10,000 and sent me over to Israel. I lived in a kibbutz for five months, working the land. Also worked in a banana chip factory."

On the bus we all get our preliminary hearing whether outlaw, server, cyclist, senior - even bus driver. We leave the ghosts of the day there to deliberate among themselves.