Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Rosy in the rain

The sky apparently forgot it was Sunday because the drizzle and downpours had settled in for the morning. Rain is a blessing as it brings growth and keeps everything green, but it makes for sloppy days on the bus. Passengers have to keep their belongings covered and themselves sheltered as they wait for us to arrive. It makes for uncomfortable misery and a driver's patience knob needs to be turned up.

Florida's mountains are in the sky, and giant ones were on the horizon ahead of me as I left the garage and headed downtown to start my shift. Central Terminal had a sizable crowd waiting for my bus, another result of the wetness. Inclement weather alters regular travel patterns, causing unexpected surges in ridership. The wheelchair passenger from my previous stint on the 40 was among the couple dozen clamoring for the dry cabin. He finally had his new chair after so long on the waiting list, with slightly cambered wheels that no longer got jammed on the ramp.

Late morning and the rain was letting up. You can feel the earth come to life as light returns and everything leafy drinks up. This time the sunshine was adorned with dreadlocks.
   'Did you bring the sun? I noticed the clouds opening up.' I asked her.
"You know, I like it when it's like this because I don't get burnt out." She commented on the overcast.
   'Yeah, it's not blazing hot...'
"Did you go on vacation?" She changed the subject as she swiped her pass.
   'No, but they move us around.' I thought she was asking where I'd been.
"You have a rosy glow, dahling. Good to see you!"
I didn't look in the mirror, but I was probably blushing.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

All in the same bus

Sunday mornings on the 42 were over for me, now I was back on familiar turf driving Route 10. The 10 is a sweet route to start with, gliding up and down Federal Highway from Broward Boulevard to Palmetto Park Road in Boca Raton.

My deadhead trip to Central Terminal was sunny, but still early enough to give way to the shadows of downtown towers. We pulled out of the terminal to start our service on the least-hectic day of the week. At ArtServe, Dierdra was waiting under the black olives. It had been awhile since we'd seen each other over here so it was new to see her in a colorful shirt for a car wash up the street. She was working at Goodwill before and was excited about this new job.
"I worked 9 hours yesterday! Non-stop, it flew by."

A man in fatigues and both arms weighted with luggage stepped up to the curb at Wagner Tire, our last shared stop with the 36 before turning northward. He set one bag down by the farebox to remove his pass from his mouth and give it a smooth swipe before reversing the process and finding a seat.
   'We're all in the same bus!' I offered up out of recognition. Quite some time ago he coined that phrase in response to my tired recitation of 'We're all in the same boat.' At that time he had more luggage and created a minor delay for the bus as he got everything stowed aboard. He was apologetic then and I assured him of my patience since we all have similar predicaments from time to time. Now after recognizing him and his creative contribution, he drew a blank and didn't remember saying it. Remember or not, it was still true now as it was then.

In Boca Raton, we waved Good Morning at old man Mizner's pedestalled statue, with mischievous Johnnie Brown on his shoulder. Pulling into our north layover by the Publix, a regular there couldn't wait to board. Half-paralyzed on one side, this was his turf. Perpetually with a portable cooler in his good hand, he set it down to pay his fare and shuffle to a seat by the rear door. Painfully self-conscious, he had no patience for others on the bus.
"People always lookin' at me weird. Makes me sick to my..." He complained loudly with piercing squeaky voice.

It was easy time going back south, keeping on schedule. Someone requested the Greyhound stop.
There are bus fans, and then there are fans of bus operators. Francois is one of the latter. Exchanging fist bumps at Central Terminal, he talked about his favorite drivers as he stood in the slot for another route.

Even on the weekend, weekday chaos can make a visit. Approaching Copans Road, a fresh rear-end fender bender was sitting in the middle lane. Our timing was fortuitous as ambulances and police pulled up to the wreck while we sat at the red light. The bus squeezed through the flurry of activity before the scene was closed off.

Any return to the 10 would be incomplete without an appearance by a legend on the route, Miss Patty. This time however, she appeared in name only. Heading back to the garage after our shifts, the other driver in the taxi told me she heard Patty had died. This was the first I'd heard of it, and feared the worst since I hadn't seen or heard of her for longer than I could remember. Life on the streets toughens those who call it home, and also takes them away without warning. It was stunning news, but would be hard to accept without evidence. Time would tell more about her fate.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Sigh into Autumn

All good things come to an end, and these Sundays on Atlantic Boulevard had been good. The natural beauty of the ocean at one end and suburban calm at the other helped buffer the crudity of the city in between. Plus the route is shorter than most, offering more chances to get out of the seat.

Our first trip would turn out to be the busiest of the shift, despite the absence of several regulars. As he predicted the previous Sunday, the regular older man was missing at State Road 7.

   "Sir, is there any way I can get a ride to..." asked a stubble-faced man at Powerline. Where he was going exactly came out mumbled. "I been out here all night." His scruffy friend nodded and quietly voiced agreement.
'You have? You've had a rough night!' I sympathized with them.
   "Two buses passed me by." He added to embellish their hardship.
'This is the first bus. You can ride with us.'

A woman whose ample upper body nearly poured out of her clingy top boarded at the same stop, slid her fare in the box, then slid into an upper deck seat. She was grooving to some tunes on her earbuds, didn't hear my greeting, and gave the bus a loud, off-key karaoke show of '80s female pop songs. "Like a prayer..."

A familiar little old man found his way on. He was not a regular, but made an impression with his mute, sad smile and blurry serial number tattooed on his forearm. Small and weathered, his strong arms had no trouble lifting his bike onto the rack.

At least one regular would see me off today, an older gentleman who made his habitual trip to the Publix bakery for a fresh baguette.

It may have been a Sunday, but it was also the beginning of the month, and everyone with government benefits was out and about. The bus filled up and so did the bike rack. A month of Sundays wouldn't see it this busy. We finally got to the east end layover by Walgreens and a crowd was already waiting to get off the sizzling sidewalk and into the bus oasis.

The next trips would be much calmer and allow me to notice things beyond the task at hand. The ever-advising marquee sign at Furman Insurance had a new posting:

The smoker was fired up at Malvo's Chill Spot, set up every Sunday on the south side of the street just before the Intracoastal bridge, luring those looking to picnic on the beach with some jerk chicken and pork.

Back to the reason I'm in the seat, visitors in a lazy season paid their visits. The girl with the raining hair wasn't in her usual spot under the oak trees, creating immediate discouragement after so many months of pulling up to her feet. Things were made right when I spotted her a short distance from the stop, running late. Gave her a sign of acknowledgment, pulled over and waited, received her and the grateful smile.

In the middle of it all, at a stop never too busy but always occupied, boarded a young lady with the basic features that might make someone look twice in admiration. The area below her neckline was exposed, prominently revealing inked skin. Italicized block letters read: FUCK ♥ LOVE. A heart between the glaring words was broken.

The final stop arrived on time, my relief awaited me. It was someone else today, filling in. Usually I would take one of our taxis back to the garage with another driver also getting off his shift. Apparently some other arrangements had been made and he was missing also. It fit the pattern of the day with everything being off a click, not quite up to speed. As I drove back alone on this final Sunday of the pick, reviewing memories of all the Sundays before, I sighed and called it a day.