Thursday, March 7, 2019

Thanks for the floor show

Some days rate above average in a given friction cycle. Friction happens when things don't run smoothly. There is always friction to some degree, only the amount varies from moment to moment. No one said it would be easy, and by now we should know what we signed up for.

Morning pullouts from the bus yard are a flurry of activity until you pass through the gates, then it's a calm affair until you reach the starting point for the day. I was almost to the highway to head downtown when the telltale clanging bells and flashing red lights of the railroad crossing flared up. Fortunately it was the CSX RR and would most likely be a Tri-Rail commuter gone in a couple minutes. Something was amiss when a long, slow freighter appeared out of the windbreak, somewhat unusual for this time of day. The impenetrable moving obstacle was an early reminder to expect the unexpected and take each confrontation on its own terms.

Over the radio, another driver was reporting a man stalking a woman on the bus. It was happening in the north part of the county, but was eerily similar to a recent incident down south. Drivers are always looking out for the safety of our passengers, and request assistance as needed.

It was time to put this bus in service at Central Terminal. I'd already pushed the seats up to make room for my regular rider in the wheelchair, who prides himself in getting aboard as quickly as possible.

Only a few minutes into the trip northbound on Federal Highway, a quiet voice with an endearing Kreyol accent spoke up anxiously:
"I too short! I can't reach it!" It was as if her inner thought forced itself into an outer sound unexpectedly. She may have wanted the previous stop, but only realized in time to request the next stop.

A glitch in the bus tech caused the onboard announcer to go mute after Oakland Park Boulevard, except for occasional techno jabber: "Bootloader... Offset Zero... Formatics..." The headsign was blank all the way to Boca Raton. These technical issues are mildly irritating, but also provide an opportunity to interact more with passengers as the quirky announcements elicit curious responses and the blacked out headsign compels intending customers to get the driver's confirmation that this is indeed their bus.

We'd crossed the 14th Street Causeway in Pompano when we pulled up to a forlorn figure. A man in a hoodie, age indeterminate, with a loaded duffel.
"I'm sorry to ask, but... I was jumped last night and I've been walking..." Even the request was forlorn.
Tattoo ink spilled out onto his hands from under the hoodie sleeves, one holding up a cracked cell phone to verify the rough night. He didn't need EMS, just a chance to rest his weary feet on the way to Sample Road.

"Happy New Year, Boss!"A regular greeted me first up in Deerfield.
   'Bonn ane!' I well-wished him in return.
"Oh, pale Kreyol?" He grinned with delight.
'Piti piti. Et bon sante!' Why stop at one blessing?

The streets gleamed slick in Boca, but nothing was coming down.
Soon we were heading back down on the flip side of our orbit. The onboard announcer rediscovered its voice, but it was still intermittent, choosing to speak up when it felt like it. The morning rush was over, and all was quietly humming along at the north end. Apparently everyone was where they needed to be so it was just me and the temperamental announcer for a bit.

At times like this the bus may be moving slowly, but still running fast by the schedule. We had to burn off a few minutes at the Copans Road timepoint, where operators from connecting lines also waited.
   'Hej då!' I greeted one of them with bad Swedish, hoping it would process in his Norwegian vocabulary. It did, though we instantly went to English.

The friction cycle continued halfway through the shift when the farebox decided to join in. An error came up and it just stopped functioning. All attempts to resolve the issue were unsuccessful.

Maybe we were on Sunrise Boulevard, approaching Wagner Tire before easing north on the Gateway Curve. A man with old dreads was on the sidewalk, facing us. He held up his right hand, middle finger extended. It was paired with the biggest, sweetest smile of the day, an ecstatic display that may have captured the flavor of our journey through the city.

In Pompano again, a woman who may not live on the street but competently acts the part made her entrance onto our moving stage. Routinely spotted at various stops, but more or less along the same stretch, I welcomed her aboard. The familiar bleary smile found a seat and I returned my focus to the road ahead. The calm wore off with each passing block until her hidden fury had to erupt. She began cursing and yelling for no obvious reason. The trip was soon over and tempers abated, but it was an unexpected outburst and concerned me.
   'Why so angry?' I gently probed.
"Cuz I feel like it!" She blurted as she exited. It was as good a reason as any, and not to be argued with.
Another passenger who waited for her to exit stage left put the episode in a lighter perspective.
"Thanks for the floor show!" He commented as he made his way past my seat.

Friction cycles are always in play, some more sever than others. External forces pull at our inner tides, roiling otherwise placid waters. The grease that lubricates the chain also attracts the dirt that makes it squeak. A clam accepts whatever is irritating it and transforms it into a pearl.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Licking our wounds

The beautiful mess that is Broward County will leave a mark on you. It's a hungry town so unless you become an urban hermit, be prepared to leave some blood on its streets - or at least some sweat. Bus drivers thread their vehicles through the fabric of the city, passengers contribute their own energetic lines in the tapestry, creating improvised works of art daily. Like any fabric, it can leave a burn when you stumble.

We got a reprieve from the northern cold fronts that drifted too far south, the thermometer had risen back to the 70s, a nice warmth all over. I got to roll on the 10 this morning, one of my Top 5 routes. North and south on Federal Highway amidst all that it contains - and no train tracks to cross.

The bus was full from the start heading north out of Central Terminal. Looking at the standing load behind me, it was a welcome return to normal after the holiday lull. No traffic of consequence, so if anything was going to slow us down it was going to be the constant stopping. But that's what buses do: Go slow and stop a lot. I was thinking the route could use an earlier bus, but where's the fun in that? Perhaps an earlier bus would have prevented me from picking up the nice lady in Deerfield, hair both wild and straight.

A senior gentleman got on at Palmetto Park in Boca, his plastic bag bulging like an overgrown cantaloupe.
   "It's a ball from the Heat's winning season, maybe 1989," He explained when he saw my interest in the unusual package. At least that's what it sounded like he said. Considering how new the Heat as a team were three decades ago, maybe the number he told me was actually the collectible's value.
"LeBron spends $300 to $400 on coffee," he continued with curious trivia. "Cheer up, in 15 years you can retire. I did my 30." His encouragement as he exited was welcome after the busy trip.

Fortunately it would be the only busy trip of the day, which I couldn't have known so early in the shift as I pulled in to the north layover. trying to predict such things is tricky, however I already knew that what we may have lacked in quantity would be made up for in quality.

Who should be waiting on Camino Real but our friend with the distinctive shuffle and omnipresent cooler, wandering over to my front door.
   "You're a saint and a half. Happy New Year!" He cheerily greeted me. A fresh injury on his elbow had exposed some blood. He was surprised to see it when I brought it to his attention and told him we couldn't move the bus unless he covered it up. He rubbed it with a finger, deftly applied a bandage to it, and tossed the wrapper on the sidewalk.
Our wounds now nursed, we were good to go. He pulled the cord once we crossed the Hillsboro Inlet, an unnecessary move since he always requested this stop and he was the only one aboard. Sometimes there's a comfort in going through the motions.
   "Stoooop requeeeested." He mimicked the bus announcer in slow motion and with a higher pitch. "That's what it should say. Did you see me put on that bandage so quick and clean? I missed my calling. I should have been a paramedic!"

BCT's joking Weatherman waited for us at Sample. In a cheery mood as usual, jovial under a silvery crown when I asked about the forecast.

We flew by Pompano Citi Centre, an enormous flock of starlings peering at us from the powerlines above, their hollow bones unable to make the massive cable sag.

A few minutes later we were idling at Atlantic, directly behind a silver Prius with the most relaxed beagle in east Broward reclining in the rear window.

We made our trip downtown, flipped it around, and came back up this way. The ball collector from the first trip boarded again.
   "You must be getting tired by now," he opined, though it had only been a couple hours.
'I'm just getting started!' I replied with joyful rebellion. He was a treasure trove of BCT history, telling me about old route alignments. Also of a time before Central Terminal when County buses parked on the east side of Stranahan Park, city buses on the west - before the Main Library was built there.

Ben, a regular on the 50, was down at Central Terminal for our next visit. With his trademark scarecrow hat and skateboard, I blurted out a couple taps on the horn for him.

Pulling out of safe harbor at Central Terminal to service my appointed rounds, I had to share a couple more love taps when we crossed paths with a ghost crossing Andrews Avenue. It was Ciccio, the prodigal son returned to town and active in the local art scene after a prolonged absence. Wearing blue shirt and shorts, his salt and pepper beard trimmed neatly like the last time I saw him on the 72. The beeps interrupted his distracted jaywalking as he looked up, a little preoccupied going the opposite way toward FAT Village.

The day was calm and we paid our fares. The shuttle pushed through the loom and the threads pulled snug, making way for the next line.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Good afteryear

A cold morning on a New Year's Eve in Broward County. The weather app said it was in the mid-50s. The sun wasn't up yet so there was no need to run the a/c, but it worked if we needed it. The horn, on the other hand, wasn't uttering a squeak. This is an indispensable feature on a bus, so we'd have to trade in this unit for another.

Everything looked and sounded good on the replacement bus, but the delay meant pulling out of the yard nearly half an hour behind schedule. It was probably my latest pull out of the year - not bad considering it was also the last day of the year. A pretty good run, I thought on the deadhead to the starting point. Flocks of ibis headed eastbound for breakfast, higher than usual. Maybe it was warmer up there.

The first trip filled the bus nicely, many passengers understandably upset when this bus didn't show up anywhere near on time. That's usually not a good way to start the day.

A familiar man who is a regular on the route was frustrated when I met him at the other end. He'd been waiting for an hour for the previous bus, and reported that it never showed. I had no reason to doubt him, and this news made the concerns of prior passengers even more poignant. If true, then I had no leader bus that first trip. My sympathy meter switched to MAX when I thought of the excessive wait they endured due to two consecutive delayed buses at a crucial time of the work day.

Fortunately, the next trip brought reassurance when I spotted my leader for the first time, essentially where he was scheduled to be. I was still late, however the deficit was now cut in half since I hadn't taken a break at the end of the first trip. Our schedules have varying amounts of "recovery time" built in between trips.That recovery is for the schedule, not the driver.

A long line of people waited outside Fish Peddler East for the doors to open, ready to supply their holiday parties. When we got to 441 a woman boarded and pressed the back of her phone against the fare box. Her move stuck out as unusual on this route but is quite common on routes that service Miami-Dade, where they use tap technology. Often folks will keep their passes tucked into their phone cases. I just remind them we're in Broward County, and they pull it out and swipe.

By the time we got to Galt Mile for the third visit, it was just past noon and the morning coolness was gone. With the a/c now running, a young lady in her Pieology uniform boarded, dreads on her shoulders. The restaurant at 18th Ave was brand new, so we talked about it.

The sun had shifted along with our direction change, and was cooking the driver's area despite the blowing fan. My back was sweaty so I peeled it off the seat to do the bus driver lean over the wheel and let it breathe.

"Good afteryear!" The slight, sprightly senior greeted me as she hiked the big step up on McNab Road, way out west. Her graying braids did nothing to slow her energetic entrance. The excitement was contagious, but was soon tempered by a radio alert to be on the lookout for a missing twelve year old boy. We never crossed paths, so I prayed for his safety and trusted that search would end well.

With the Hiatus loop behind us, we headed back east for the final time. The sun was receding the other way and took the greenhouse steam with it. Our cabin cooled on the way to the relief point, where my shift ended. I passed the bus on to the next driver, saying goodbye to him and the old year.


Thanks for your support, Broward County! It's always an honor and a pleasure to pick up neighbors and visitors as we get around town.
My routes this Pick are: 14, 36, 60, 62, & 441 Breeze. Sooo good to return to my beloved 14 & 60. See ya out there!

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Perpetual vacation

The day after Christmas and I had a 13 hour shift ahead, a split with the 10 and the 114. Days like these will make you forget what your home looks like in the daylight, and your dog forget that you belong there.

The bus today had a voice of its own. Not the onboard announcer, but the brakes. Rather than the signature high-pitched squeal when released, they let out a low, baleful moan. Sort of like a sigh.

The first northbound was sweet as can be for a weekday, during this final week of the year. I made the Mizner loop in Boca and waiting at the very next stop was my joking regular.
"My friend! I thought it was Steve."
   'No, you're stuck with me!' I responded, not sure if it was good or bad to be in Steve's stead.
"I'm blessed to be stuck with you! God bless you and your entire family. Give me a second to sit down."
He was my only passenger the whole time he was on, just a few minutes over Hillsboro inlet back in to Broward.
"Where is everybody?" He squeak-asked  when he noticed the empty seats.
   'I guess they're still on vacation. Not like you, huh?' It was barely eight a.m., not exactly an hour for slouches.
"I'm on perpetual vacation." He ponderously replied after a moment.

On the radio an operator in south county was calling in a harrowing report. A man in a car with paper tags was stalking a girl on her bus. The driver saw the suspect brandish a knife and received instructions on what to do next. Her vigilance may have prevented a tragedy that day.

There was no such stress on my bus, the only issue in the early trips being a sticky transmission during the downshift, which gave us a noticeable jolt before coming to a complete stop. And the persistent sighing.

Across the street, the right lane was closed in front of the Mai-Kai. A forklift was in the street, dangling an enormous wooden Polynesian god by a strap. It would be installed right by the sidewalk, a tireless sentry keeping watch over the restaurant day and night without closing its eyes.

In Pompano I picked up a coworker heading downtown for a shift at Central Terminal. He was on light duty which involves assisting customers, providing schedules, and other low impact activities. He was itching to get back in the saddle. Arriving at the terminal in good time, I secured the bus and walked with him to the driver's lounge. The schedule gave me a nice little break before my final trip, something not guaranteed in this business.

Rolling back north, another disturbing call came over the radio. A driver reported Oakland Park Boulevard was closed near Deepside due to police activity. Apparently they were chasing a naked man running in the street.

Our quiet day continued as it had all morning: drama-free. I picked up one of my Brazilian friends and she wished me Feliz Natal.

At the Pompano Beach Cemetery stop, a slight older woman boarded.
"How much do I owe you?" she asked in a gentle voice.
   '$2 regular, $1 reduced for seniors, medicare, disabled...' I replied, counting those eligible on my fingers.
"Well, I am 72," she declared. Her nimble entry gave a far younger impression.
   'I never would have guessed,' I found myself admitting. 'You must be doing something right!'
"I am. I'm living for God." She explained as she found a seat. "I have a son who's 58," she added to remove any doubt.

The Copans Road relief point was soon upon us and the next driver waited to take over. He greeted me as "Driver of the Year" - certainly the most mild of the many playful jabs I'd received during my Operator of the Month tenure.

It was more than seven hours on the clock by now, the morning shift of the split completed. The afternoon piece was a trip to the Health District in Miami, a commuter route with lots of highway time. The District was uncharacteristically a ghost town, with no traffic to speak of. A world change from the typical daily crawl during the rest of the year.

A man in navy blue scrubs and glasses waited at one of the last stops before we got back on 95.
"Is this the 595 Express?" he asked. The headsign had reverted to NOT IN SERVICE.
   'Yes. The sign is acting up. Everything else works.'
"It reads SOUTH BEACH," he cracked, clearly ready to relax.
   'I was hoping for Key West! We'll just hop on the highway and head south.' It's ok to dream, even when you're going north.

After servicing the Sunrise Park & Ride at BB&T Center and dropping off the final passenger, the bus truly was out of service and on its way back to the barn. The Sawgrass Expressway took me through the coral hues of the setting sun flaming out over the Everglades. Sample Road took me east where the early evening darkness descended quickly. There was no hurry now, just one final mission to return the bus intact.

A surprise delay appeared while I sat at the University Drive red light. Police escorted a caravan that seemed to be a mile long as it slowly drifted south. Just about every car exhibited a lighted menorah of unique size and style on its roof.

Dusky dimness transitioned to night blackness, punctuated by this illuminating procession. Part of me tried to believe the day had been like any other, ending as it had begun. Part of me knew better than that, as the light turned green and our own caravan called it a day.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Flighty paths

Christmas happened to fall on a Sunday this time, which kept things smooth and avoided confusion. Had it been on a weekday, we would still run on a Sunday schedule. It was going to be an easy day with light traffic, no rush on the bus, and schedules adhered to.

I pulled into slot B-1 at Central Terminal where a handful awaited me. The regular with his wheelchair greeted me with a fist bump and a Merry Christmas. He rolled on ahead of everyone else into the spot I'd readied for him before leaving the garage.

Our first stop on US 1 brought us both darkness and light. An older homeless man who had become a regular on these Sunday mornings boarded with dejection. He had been beaten and robbed the night before, by an assailant who relieved him of two monthly bus passes and his cellphone. Now he had no way to stay in touch with others or report the theft. But he had a ride to church on our bus. His gloom was balanced by the boarding of our Island Sunshine. Her smile illuminates even the dimmest of bus cabins; her heart lightens our load.

We glided along the Searstown Curve, driving over tree shadows cast by the rising sun.

Up in Pompano, congregating around a pond along the edge of massive Community Park, were all manner of birds. Egyptian geese, white ibis, cormorants drying out their wings, and other species collected in abundance.

The Mizner Boulevard loop in Boca Raton took us around and directed us back south, though there are still a handful of stops before the layover on Camino Real. In that handful of stops waited another Sunday regular. A couple of obvious handicaps give him the appearance of being half-paralyzed, but it doesn't keep him down.
"Are you on a Sunday schedule since it's Christmas?" He asked as he carefully climbed on.
   'Yes.' My answer was simple, perhaps hesitant as I considered the coincidence of the holiday on a Sunday.
"Can you tell I'm awake? I know today is Sunday."
   'Oh, you're a joker!'
"Yeah I'm a joker, a toker, and a midnight smoker!" He squeaked out in a voice that pierced the silent street. Hunch-necked vultures peered at us from their streetlamp perches.

Other visitors joined us going south. A long time regular more commonly seen on 441 visited. A young lady was going to County Jail to visit her boyfriend. A young father had his hands full with two daughters and a son; they just missed the 36 and decided to take my bus downtown to catch the 40.

The nominal morning busy-ness dwindled as the day transitioned to afternoon. When we got to 62nd Street a few minutes early, we had to sit and burn off the time.
"How long? How long you gonna wait here?" An impatient man came up to ask.
   'Two minutes.' I answered, always giving the actual number.
"Can I take a puff of my cigarette? I'm kinda fiendin' right now," he admitted. He had time to get a few puffs in.

This scene could have repeated itself right up the line, thanks to the light traffic. I was in danger of running hot unless I crawled it up the street at 25 mph. It began to pick up again around Copans.

A regular who got on the previous trip and stayed on since he had nowhere special to be in a hurry decided to exit in Boca. Another man who'd boarded at Sample wanted to go to the 'Boca Mall'. There was a language barrier, so I assumed he meant Boca Town Center. Unfortunately that bus wasn't running today. I attempted to explain that to him, so he could find another way to get there. He got a nervous look, but I couldn't be sure if it was because of what I just told him, or because he couldn't understand what I was saying. Either way, he got off at the next stop, apparently familiar enough with the lay of land.

Shortly after beginning our final southbound, I helped a first-timer load his bike on the rack. He was visiting from Paris. They may not have bike racks on their buses, but they sure have great tattoo artists judging by the ink on his arms.

Down on Sunrise Boulevard one of Santa's elves played hooky and hopped on our bus. Flighty and animated - but harmless - he fed a handful of pennies and nickels into the fare box. He gave his remaining change to an old man just before exiting a few stops later.
"Don't spend it at the casino! Hee hee!" He cackled as he bounded off.

One of Broward Transit's biggest fans was waiting at Central Terminal for a different route. Francois is an instant friend to all of our drivers. We wished each other a Joyeux Noel.

Time for my final trip, when I would be relieved by another driver and spend the rest of Christmas Day with my family. First I had to help others get to their own families. At Central Terminal a man of about thirty boarded with a fresh haircut, trimmed beard, and full sleeves of colorful ink. A large, festively-designed tote bag was loaded with gifts for his kids, who he was going to visit in Pompano. He'd already been on a lengthy bus ride to connect to my bus, now he had a long trip to get north. About halfway there, he was on the phone and getting hot with whoever he was talking to. Mostly complaints and curses about how long the trip was taking. My hands were tied sticking to the schedule, and I sympathized with him. As we neared his stop he came up front, close by.
"My dad wrapped my car around a tree last night. It's Christmas and it's my first time on the city bus."
Another round of sympathy for the guy, and concern for his father. It looked like Dad would be ok, so that was a blessing. This young man was going to impressive lengths to deliver a memorable Christmas to his children. We reached his stop and I popped the doors, delivering in my own way a gift to his awaiting family.

Despite an inconvenient schedule, many routes had connected today. Though we eventually return to our own orbits, for these brief moments we share the same flight paths.

Friday, October 26, 2018

Catching whales

Saturdays found me driving the 55, serving the Commercial Boulevard corridor from Galt Mile by the beach to Hiatus Road in close proximity of the Everglades. Thanks to a sizable loop at the west end of the route, the actual starting point is at NW 94th Avenue, east of Hiatus. It was no longer raining, but the streets were slick and I had to use the wipers as cars sprayed mist on the windshield.

The sun rose on a quiet weekend morning. Ridership and traffic were lighter than usual. The first round trip came and went without event. It is days like this when the ghosts of Broward County past come out. The light slants low, the pace of Life is slow, and you get a glimpse of the laid back days when people had time to breathe. And time to care.

We were heading east, but still way out west at University Drive when a 30ish man boarded with a fishing pole. I'm a Florida boy so fishing is in my blood, and I asked if he had a good spot. He was going to Anglin's Pier in Lauderdale-By-The-Sea, forty minutes down the road. His expectations were kept in check.
"I'm not trying to catch a whale."

The pier came into sight not long after we crossed the Intracoastal, which meant it was time for us to turn south on Bougainvilla Drive and make our turn around at Galt Mile. This brought us back on to A1A going north, and to a rest at our layover in front of the Starbucks at 36th St. The wall of condo skyscrapers are all you can see to the east here, but the occasional whiff of salty air reminds you that the Atlantic is beyond them.

Time to go west again, and a couple of stops in we pulled up to a man with both hands cupping beside his eyes, as if to shield for sun glare while squinting at the headsign.
"Are you the 55? I can't see the sign."
The headsign had been blank all day so there was nothing to see there. We shared this stop with Route 11 so I assured him it was the 55. He told me a workplace accident had lodged a sharp object in his eye. He was on his way to the hospital to have it examined.

The next few hours slipped by in a hazy daydream of kids on playgrounds, people walking their dogs, shoppers tending to errands, and all the other activities that sprout on a sleepy Saturday.

My last trip was a short one, eastbound ending at 441 and passing the bus on to my relief. Last trips have a reputation for delaying the bus from a timely arrival. So naturally I wasn't surprised when I spotted an old man in a wheelchair giving it his level best to get to the bus stop. I was already there at University and saw him in the mirror when I was ready to pull away. Since it was the weekend and would be awhile till the next bus came, there was no way I was gonna leave him behind - especially after his valiant effort. He was so excited to catch the bus that he rushed the boarding process, catching his wheel on the edge of the ramp. Now he decided to watch the wheel, sticking his head past the side of the wheelchair perilously close to the door jamb.
   'Watch your head!' I advised him, as he was so focused downward.
"You ever try to watch your own head?!" His response was quick, as if he'd used it more than once before.

Our delay was minimal and I still got to the relief point on time. The bus would continue on with a new driver and new riders, picking up where we left off. They'd make their own shadows in the slanting light, hopefully taking time to breathe - and just a little time to care.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Two of a kind

Long routes can mean long shifts, so when you've got eleven hours on the clock ahead of you, it's best to just settle in and let the good times roll. The long route today was the 2, dedicated to nearly the full length of University Drive, a broad artery running through the swollen western suburbs. Generally straightforward and sedate, like any route it has its hairy moments.

The day's schedule called for a northbound start out of West Terminal a little before 6 that morning. On those dark weekdays when the city is still dreaming, most of those on the bus are the first sign of its awakening. There are exceptions, and one boarded at Oakland Park Boulevard.
"Is it possible I could get a ride to Commercial? I cannot find him," she asked with pursed lips. She held her hand out with rubbing fingertips. If there were coins there, I couldn't see them. Jail ink on thin forearms and dirty blonde hair were signs of more than one rough night. A light rain appeared soon after, growing heavier as we drove into it. She exited at Commercial, but not before spreading some cheer in the gloom.
"Happy holidays, everyone," she called out to the rest of us. "Shitruffenuff. Thank you friendbro." Her words were light, trailing her as she disappeared into the drizzly dark.

While she looked for 'him', we found our way to the north layover. A Breeze bus showed up and the driver shut it down. It was running slow and he'd be waiting for road service to check it out. Our 2 bus was going strong though, so off we went, picking up a waitress, talking about bus routes and long hours.

The Breeze is a limited stop route, and at every shared stop at least one person asked if it was coming. For those needing to go far down the line, the Breeze is the most direct way, with fewer stops and bypassing West Terminal. I could only tell them it was delayed, but would be coming.

The sun pushed the night out of the way and set to work drying the damp earth. Rain-weighted branches spread low on the poincianas, jacarandas, and mahoganies surrounding West Terminal. Flocks of white ibis pecked in the lawns around Westfield Broward Mall, grabbing fat grubs brought up by the saturated ground.

Down south at Pembroke Commons, an older woman boarded, her arms laden with bags and cleaning supplies.
"I'm going to put my things down," she informed as she walked by the fare box. Some people will put their things on the floor to swipe their pass, but for her "the bus is so wet, and sometimes they don't clean them. If I was cleaning the buses, they would be sooo clean."

We finished the trip a few minutes down, but still had ten minutes to stretch. Our next trip, going back north, was nearly two hours of driving bliss. It was that magic window between the morning rush and the lunchtime crowds. The road was a conveyor belt gliding us along unimpeded. It was the type of trip that becomes forgettable by its very smoothness. It was also the calm before a storm no one had forecast.

A middle-aged man was waiting at Wiles, barely into our brand new trip southbound.
"I need to get to University Hospital." A request like that prompts me to make sure EMS isn't required. Nope, he just wants to go to the hospital in Tamarac. Travis McGee fans will remember this hospital as the scene of Gretel Howard's untimely demise in The Green Ripper.

At Royal Palm Boulevard a young woman patiently waited with her toddler son and mother. They had a stroller which I helped stow as they had their hands full with the boy and accessories. Grandma was very appreciative: "You're the first one to be so generous and help!" Of course I'm not the only one, but it was a nice thing to say.

The day degenerated after that. A horrific two-car crash at 50th St created a serious delay which knocked us down by seven minutes.

At West Terminal, another bus operator spotted me and had to have some fun.
"Thank God the month is almost over and I won't have to look at your face anymore at the office!" My 'Operator of the Month' poster was still posted in the Dispatch lobby.

Massive congestion around the Broward Mall leading to the I-595 interchange soon proved to be an epic traffic jam crawling south of Broward Boulevard. This stretch is notorious for that, although today it had started way earlier than usual. There is no way out of it, so the only option is to inch along at glacial speed until it eventually thinned out. By the time we got to 30th St about a mile later, we were more than thirty minutes late. A student from NSU across the street must have been waiting for awhile when she boarded and asked, "Do you know what time the last bus came?" 'No, I don't. We're all backed up from the traffic,"I answered while pointing my thumb back. Here traffic was heavy but moving nicely south of 595, so from her vantage point she had no idea what we'd just endured the previous half hour. I spared her the details.

The clock said we were more than 40 minutes down when we finally turned on to 207th St in Miami Gardens. No time to stretch or even get out of the seat after that 2 1/2 hour grind. So I picked up, dropped off, and spun it back north for my final trip of the day.

On Miramar Parkway, I picked up the vet in the wheelchair, service dog on his lap. Customers impatient after the long wait skipped by him rather than let him board first. Inconsiderate perhaps, but we would take all the time we needed to lower the ramp and let him board safely. Along with the faithful pet he calls a brother to his daughters.

We were back on University moving nicely but not making up any time. After Sheridan St, another #2 going the other way passed us. It was the third one in the last ten minutes, an indicator that the morass we'd been caught in was still wreaking havoc. More surprising were the four #2 buses within a mile span after we left West Terminal. The accident at 50th St we'd gotten through earlier was still not cleared, and had grown out of proportion as early weekend traffic flooded the streets.

Long routes and long shifts can be exhausting, taking their toll on you even when you're letting the good times roll. You give it your all and leave a piece of yourself on the road. Sometimes that piece tugs on your heart a little bit, not wanting the good times to end.