Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Easier kept than recovered

Our Sunday morning service starts after the sun has risen. The darkness of the night before is gone, when a full moon brightens the world with its gentle glow. A remnant of our waning satellite hangs low in the white-blue sky. Wispy clouds and the silhouette of a southbound flock of ibis create an active scene above Atlantic Boulevard, pleasant silence in their motions.

   The moon isn't the only thing holding over from the night before. Halfway into our first trip a drunk couple are hung over and nearly collapsing as they drag into the cabin.
   "My crazy wife kept feeding me beers!" He announces in her hearing, jokingly proud of his catch.

   Things mellowed out for the church time stretch, mostly just folks heading out to shop while stores were less likely to be busy. We'd finished our first round trip and pulled into the west layover, by the fire station on Coral Springs Drive. That stop gets very little play at that time, but today was different: a dozen young men, Brazilian by their speech. Way out here, spitting distance from the Everglades, and all were dressed for the beach. This is about as far inland as you can get in this part of the county, and they had a 45 minute bus ride ahead getting to the part that falls into the ocean.
   Late morning now, things were heating up when all three slots on the bike rack were loaded by Rock Island. The rack was full, but the bus wasn't so when we pulled up to a fourth bike we let him hold it inside by the exit door. His earlier look of dejection at the prospects of either riding the bike or waiting an hour for the next bus was replaced with relief.
   Yes, the day was heating up as people bounced around town. At the stop just before the CSX tracks, a woman boarded with a disturbed look, giving an odd description to someone on the other end of her phone call. Something about hair and clothes color. Her gaze looked past me, so I turned to the left and saw what the disturbance was about. Across the street, in front of a bus stop shelter, a slim, leggy woman with long brunette hair was strutting back and forth in her pink underwear. Her bra was pulled down, the body parts it was supposed to be supporting were bouncing about for passing traffic. This topless exposure had the Brazilian boys in the back going wild, falling over each other to get a look at what would normally be reserved for the nearby strip clubs. Despite the initial excitement of the display, this manic behavior by someone's fallen daughter was a sympathetic scene.
   Her impact lingered as we serviced the transit center and crossed the FEC tracks, new passengers unaware of the reason for the excited chatter in the back of the bus. The distinctive Furman Insurance building rose beside us, the frequently changed marquee sign stoically advising "Character is much easier kept than recovered."
   The bus squeezed through the relic bridge over the Intracoastal and everyone exited on the sandy sidewalk as they shuffled over to the pier. Fortunately I had some good recovery time at the layover so I secured the bus and headed over to an empty beach lot to breathe some salty air and ponder the previous trip. A woman parking on the side street asked me if it was ok to park here; this has happened there before, the blue uniform makes people nervous. Once I set my sights on the endless ocean, everything floated away like driftwood on the silver ripples.

   The shift was half over when we rolled back inland, fluffy gray-bellied clouds growing by the block. A man in military fatigues hawked American flags during the red light at Powerline. From there, the road curves around Palm Aire's massive property before a steep overpass at the Turnpike. Lyons Road lays at the bottom of the overpass and due to the intersection design it is a long stretch between bus stops. The stops there are lightly used that time of week and I was gearing to glide by since no one was waiting on the other side. Some movement behind the bus shelter caught my eye and I slowed. A shirtless man had been laying in the grass and jumped up when the bus approached. He pulled a green Hulk t-shirt over his dirty, lanky brown hair and presented me with a transfer from Miami-Dade Transit. Pompano is about 20 miles from Dade County, so a transfer between the two transit systems was a bit of a stretch.
   "I've been trying to get to the terminal for 3 days, I need to get to the airport." He didn't know which airport, so he opted to go along for the ride. He wouldn't have to sleep in the weeds this way.

  Random people and objects make their way on the bus every trip, and the next one gave us someone's stinky feet, an acapella concert, scabby skin conditions, a jedi, a dwarf, and a white-washed mountain bike (probably camouflage). Just before the Intracoastal, the gate arms came down, the bells sounded, the lights flashed to indicate the drawbridge would be opening. It's a frustrating thing when the end of the line is so close. Fortunately we were at the head of the line and would be the first over when the yachts were finished passing through. We lost our place however, when four crotch rockets pulled in front of us, parked their bikes, and showed off for selfies. The boats floated by, the bridge creaked back down, and we finished the trip with enough time to get out of the seat. At the last stop, the lost traveler in the Hulk shirt asked about the beach and exited. Guess he decided against trying to get to the terminal, or the airport.

   Finally, the home stretch had arrived where I had half a trip left and would get relieved on the road. The east end was sunny, but as we headed westward the clouds massed into solid cover. At Powerline a young latina boarded. Her engagement ring was lovely but for one crucial detail: there was no polished stone in the empty setting.

   A hunched little old man loaded a small purple BMX bike on the rack with his wiry strong arms. Where he boarded eludes me now, but I had picked him up earlier that morning going the opposite direction. He was an occasional regular on these Sunday mornings, we always greeted each other with smiles though I don't recall him actually saying anything. On his inner forearm, the blurred digits of an old tattoo are all the more visible since it sits there all alone. Not being familiar enough to inquire about it, I can only imagine the path that led him here today. My shift was nearly over, and this man's quiet migrations were a reminder that none of us knows what Life will bring at the next stop.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Everlasting arms

"I was a celebrity's girlfriend, now I'm alone." Her worry wrinkles and crow's feet glistened a little more behind the glint of her glasses. It was awful early for confession time, a still dark morning somewhere along the 2 route. At this time of morning-night, on this stretch of road, and with a rolling suitcase clasped in a rear-stretched arm behind her it was obvious she'd spent the previous hours out here. A lavender shawl shared its color when she crossed the threshold into the bus.
   At Stirling, our friend in a creative t-shirt boarded, and it looked like sadness was going to be the theme of the day. His battle against discouragement would be ongoing, as it often is.

   Had a nice layover at 207th St, flipped the bus around to head back north with a new trip and a new direction brighter than the first one.
   A young man was unfamiliar with the area and was looking for a particular street. He was afraid of missing it and stayed close by while I assisted him. The section of University Drive just north of Pines Boulevard is paralleled by a canal, with a sidewalk in between. Protecting the sidewalk and potential detours into the canal is a lengthy guardrail, with occasional cut outs for bus stops. While helping out the young man, the stop request bell chimed, I registered it, but still missed the next cut out. An older woman had pulled the cord, and with the guardrail preventing any kind of safe alternative exit we would have to proceed a bit further. This inconvenience triggered a tempest.
   "You need to pay attention to the signal, that's what it's there for! You missed the stop, Driver!" A voice that shook the entire bus raged from her deceptively small form, and things got dark again as she lit into me. I immediately apologized with sincere contrition.  It had been a long time since I got that kind of treatment, and I was surprised by it.
   Just past Broward Blvd, the former Plantation Fashion Mall was a demolished pile of rubble. The old was being cleared to make way for the future quite different from its past.

   The shift was nearly half over and so far it was skewing decidedly downward. Into each life some rain must fall, and we weather the storm trusting growth will result on the other side. A bus driver spends a lot of time in the bus, moving through wildly different settings and interactions. It is a comfort to consider that every trip we're "reborn" and get a fresh start. Pulling into the north layover at Westview Drive brought this trip to a merciful end. Before the bus came to a stop, a large man with trim graying beard rose from the bench and headed for the entrance steadied by a wooden cane.
   "Can I come on during your break?" He inquired politely, and of course I welcomed him aboard while he commented on the heat.
   'That's how you know where you are. Rub your finger down your back. Most of the world wishes they were here.'
   "You know it's a right for those who live here to bitch about Florida." I couldn't argue with that logic, and it made a natural transition to discuss New Yorkers who say their city is the best, yet moved away. He too was from there, but far more effusive about his year in Hawaii among jumping humpbacks, cruising dolphins, smoking volcanoes, and giant Samoans. Some people are travelers, not tourists, and he was one of those who absorbed everything in his environment and could talk about it in a thoughtful manner. He only went a few stops down the road with me, but somehow we covered thousands of miles before he exited with an Aloha and Mahalo.

   The empty space left by the thoughtful traveler was soon filled by my friend the Afghan. It had been some time since he last stopped by, so I asked about the trip to his homeland. He hadn't gone after all, citing the high cost to do the journey right. His accent is heavy but refined, and pleasant to hear and decipher. I reminded him to send a postcard.

   Sometimes our uniqueness is our blessing, and such a person showed up on cue with hers. Always giggly and ready to laugh, she has special needs yet still gets around independently, excited to be off on her errands. Simple joy is a powerful antidote for complex stressors.

   Later in the shift, and we were in the home stretch. A man entered with a horribly scarred forearm. Doctors wanted to amputate, sure the damage put it beyond saving. This man was not ready to give in so quickly, though the pain must have been immense when it occurred. The fingers no longer closed, something he would remedy with therapy. Numb nerves meant he felt no pain whatsoever beneath the healed wounds. We were looking at a miracle, reminding us of a strength beyond our hands.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Back to normal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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