Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Sticky stops

Early morning buses are extremely critical for the riding public. Oftentimes, connections must be made where jobs and livelihoods are on the line. As a bus operator, it is up to me to make sure my bus is where it needs to be, when it's scheduled to be there. While pre-tripping the bus one morning I discovered sticky residue all over the driver's console, where commonly used controls are located. The good men in the service line took care of it and soon I was through the gates - eight minutes late. Fortunately the start point at Central Terminal is some miles from the garage, giving me a chance to make up some of that time. The minutes were dropping off like magic, I pulled off 95 to Broward eastbound, confident about starting service close to on time. A turn on 7th Ave, then another on 4th St and the terminal was in sight when red lights started flashing in the darkness. The ear-pounding bells of the railroad crossing began their clanging and I could only sit, wait, and watch as the time gains disappeared. The first inclination is frustration, but when you actually pay attention and look at the train you have to marvel at its strident persistence. It's been rolling on the same path through Broward County since 1896. We finally pulled out of Central Terminal, but the damage was done and we would never be on time this trip.

A 'ghost in the machine' was creating a peripheral distraction: The headsign would randomly go blank, the annunciator would occasionally stream out its usual technobabble ("Offset" this and "Bootloader" that) at a loud volume that couldn't be muted. Strangely the fare box was mute, confusing people when they swiped their passes and no affirmative tone beeped back at them. Those problems were minor and probably the types of things only an operator dwells on. Once we're in service, they take second place and our customers are the top priority.

About halfway in to the shift, we pulled up to a stop by a grocery store. A sometime-regular with beard and beret boarded almost backwards as he was looking back at something in the parking lot. "A fight," he explained. I wanted no part of that and was ready to leave when a young man in his 20s appeared from the rows of cars. In orange t-shirt and khaki shorts, arms hanging with grocery bags, we couldn't very well leave him in a parking lot brawl so I kept the doors open for one more passenger before we got out of there. With both feet aboard, he turned and yelled with fiery anger back from where he'd come, "If I had a gun I'd shoot you, bitch!" Now it was definitely time to roll. He slid his fare in the box and with the flick of an internal switch became a different person. In calm and gentle voice he spoke: "Hey, did you see that guy? He's a KKK."
I never did see that guy, we were already gone.

The bus is a moving ecosystem, however just like a stationary environment, the weather changes. The storm of that previous trip moved through and sunshine took its place. At Holy Cross Hospital, Minnie Rose and her owner boarded. Candace's senior dogs provide pet therapy for senior humans, and Minnie Rose is a sort of resident therapy dog on Broward Transit. Her social media is covered with the smiles of all those who happen to ride with her - including myself. The animals were well-behaved, sharing their instant friendship and reminding us how simple it is to be kind to one another regardless of obvious physical differences.

Life gets sticky at inopportune times. We clean it up as best we can and ride on to the next stop...

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Can't beat that

Ahhh, Sundays on Federal Highway. The slow day of the week, when all chaos and furor subside to give us a day of rest. This shift on the 10 meant starting with the rising sun, a hopeful time when the day is born anew. Pre-tripping a bus at the garage acquaints an operator with the personality of the machine he'll be operating that day. It doesn't matter if they all came off the same assembly line, they each have their own quirks and glitches. The ghost in the machine today presented itself as a permanently blank headsign and a rear door in no hurry to close. The first was no big deal, in fact I prefer it since it gives me another opportunity to greet my passengers. Their quizzical looks at stops shared with other routes are replaced with either a smile of relief when I announce the route, or wondering when the right bus is coming by. The second glitch becomes a frustrating time-eater, but everything else was operating fine and it was Sunday after all - the slow day of the week.

The streets were shiny from overnight rain, not exactly wiper weather anymore except for a brief moment while deadheading downtown. An overcast sky, but the clouds were bright in Broward County. Sunday service is more spread out, so I couldn't assume a missing leader bus as my cabin quickly filled. We were packed full by the Gateway Curve, including two folks in wheelchairs, less than twenty minutes into the trip. That snowball effect that occurs even in subtropical regions had begun, and the deficit in the schedule kept growing as we kept going north. Five minutes down, 7, 8, 12, etc. At the last stop in Broward before crossing the Hillsboro inlet into Boca Raton, a regular rider awaited by the edge of the curb. An older man, he can come across a bit gruff until you catch his brand of humor.
"Are you a bus driver?" He asked as he boarded.
   'I'm fakin' it! I got this uniform at Goodwill.' I joked back.
"I'm looking for a driver who can keep the bus on time every day."
   'On time?' I asked, reliving the delay-filled memory of the trek all the way up here.
"To the second!" His well-timed punchline was good-natured and included a beaming smile as he exited stage left into the cabin.

Another quirk of the bus revealed itself this trip: the kneeler did not work every time I tried to operate it. Also the ramp only opens with the bus kneeled, but I was able open it manually for a wheelchair passenger to roll on board.

Ample recovery time at the north end gave me a few minutes to get out of the seat before heading back south. About fifteen minutes in, a middle-aged man boarded cursing and blessing aloud in turn. The drugstore didn't have his prescription, which triggered his outrage, quickly followed with words of politeness. When he exited a ways down the road, I wished him well and hoped this trip had brought him to some relief.

At Sample, a group of men including restaurant workers stood impatiently. They'd been waiting a long time, and were wondering why. I explained this was the first bus of the day servicing that stop, though two earlier buses started a little south of here at Copans Road. They were thankful for the information.

We were getting back near the Gateway Curve again when a familiar figure seated at a bus bench motioned to rise. His impressively massive dreads and walker are part of his distinctive style. He is one of our homeless regulars, with a consistent kindness that can only come from strength of character in spite of the daily struggle he endures. It's a pleasure to have him ride with me, though others may be put off by inconsistent hygiene.
"Happy holiday..." he replied to my initial greeting, in voice quiet and clear.
   'Another exciting day.' I responded as I tend to, thankful for the moment.
"Another exciting day, huh?" He pondered. "Another day in paradise. Can't beat that!"

It was time to go north again, and this trip began to make up for the first, as we were able to more closely adhere to the schedule. We'd just crossed over into Pompano when my old friend the Penny Lady shuffled over to the curb as we approached. An encounter with her earlier in the year had left an indelible impression on me about the importance of service to our customers. I appreciate her for that, and also for her frankness - she lets you know how she feels. It gives us a chance to win her over with a kindness that she may not receive as she goes about her errands. She is an older woman and short in stature, so one request she makes every time she boards the bus is to lower it for her. I do it automatically now whenever she rides. Unfortunately for me, the bus kneeler chose this moment not to cooperate. No amount of toggle-jiggling would activate the lowering mechanism, so I could only apologize and ask her to be careful and take her time while boarding. She accepted the situation and we continued. About a mile up the road a man with a cane needed to board, and this time the kneeler worked. My penny friend immediately became loud and upset at this unfairness, accusing me in front of everyone in no uncertain terms of choosing when it would work. She took note of the bus number when she exited, telling me she would call it in. I encouraged her to do just that, as it could possibly help the problem get resolved.

Up at 10th St in Deerfield, a 3-man crew was applying fresh stripes in the crosswalks. The powerlines at Eller Drive were covered with flocks of starlings.

Our final southbound and we would soon be in the home stretch this fine Sunday. I held my breath when the Penny Lady came into view just past Copans. Would the kneeler work this time? Yes, it worked like a charm. Not only that, it worked a second time when she exited, pleasing her enough to tell me she wouldn't call it in since it works again. I would report it to Maintenance at the end of the shift.

By now church was out, people were awake, and the street was buzzing. Massive congestion around Best Buy was good for their business, but knocked us back five minutes before we could break through.

Well into the afternoon now, moving ever northward where I would be relieved on the road. Before that transition however, I needed to shift lanes on Sunrise Boulevard at the Gateway Curve. The relentless gridlock of sun-hungry beach goers inching eastward weren't giving us an inch, much less forty feet to slide a bus into. Eventually the bus gets where it needs to go, and long after leaving the congestion behind we were finally way uptown at Atlantic Boulevard. Someone was playing music without headphones, but low enough that no one seemed bothered by the classic Marley jam.
"Don't worry, about a thing..."

It was Sunday after all - the slow day of the week.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Annum Recognition: 3

Three years ago this blog was birthed from the boundless life flowing through our streets every day. A year later the famed dragon blood tree on Andrews Avenue downtown still displayed the mature, stately glory it had been for decades. The following year, this venerable rarity showed its age as nearly half the plant broke away. A valiant effort to preserve the remnant ultimately proved to be a losing battle against time and the march of all living things back into the earth. Our community is blessed to have a plentiful share of earth's wonders, and a large number of residents who appreciate them.

Our very presence here, on the end of this distinctive peninsula, is a wonder in itself. With a limestone bedrock laid down by untold trillions of microscopic sea creatures, a sandy topsoil deposited here in the distant past after eroding from Appalachian mountains that were once as tall as the Himalayas, and abundant rainfall that prevents the land from turning into another Sahara Desert (with which it shares the same latitude) - things just grow here.

Broward County's constantly booming population contributes almost 2 million residents to the tri-county total of over 6 million. Those numbers aren't getting smaller, and public transit is a vital service providing crucial support for our quality of life. With more people comes more everyday life, and that's what flows through my bus every day.

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This morning shift shift on the 10 was only a couple round trips. It was by no means the first bus of the day, starting downtown at the Central Terminal shortly before sunrise. New LED lights in the terminal lit up the rows bright as day until the real thing could take over. The city was waking up with a bubbling frenzy, and now the bus was right in the middle of it. My follower bus pulled in behind me, creating a brief moment of confusion for passengers until I waved them aboard my bus and we pulled out of our cloistered bay and plunged into service among the heaving pulse of the boulevard.

I pulled over to the first stop at Stranahan Park for a man waiting patiently. When he asked for "US 1" I had to make sure which part of US 1 he needed; the 10 services the part north of Broward Boulevard, the #1 services all points south. It was the #1 he needed and which he'd just missed, but I assured him another was on the way and he was at the right stop. From that point we have to get the bus over to the left lane before reaching US 1 a couple blocks away. As I signaled and gradually shifted lanes, a car behind crazily honked its horn far more than necessary. Although I could see him clearly and yielded for him, that motorist couldn't know for certain and was taking every measure to announce his intention. Such an attentive driver is much appreciated when we are routinely interacting with distracted drivers.

We made it through the congestion in time to get in line at the red light for US 1 before turning north. Ahead of us in the inside turn lane was a box truck for a bakery. The rear roll-up door was open, and the driver (a young man in his 30s) was out of the seat and tending to stacks of trays loaded with bread, hastily rearranging and strapping them down. A woman jumped out of the passenger door, hurried to the back to check on him, then jumped back in to her own seat before the light turned green.

Bikes were loaded and unloaded, someone told me "it ain't no good morning" after I'd wished them a good one, another asked me to let them know when we got to Commercial, still another said you couldn't pay him to wear those shorts, and the bus annunciator was announcing coded techno-talk during one of its updates. "Can you repeat that message?" an older man joked.

It was to be expected that we'd pull into our north layover a little late, but we still had a few minutes to stretch out before heading back south. Transit is a game of minutes, and sometimes seconds. A few blocks south of Sample Road, I noted an empty bus stop normally occupied by a young lady heading to work. I slowed and looked down the side street in case she was running late and it was a good thing or I wouldn't have seen her. She was winded as she hopped aboard smiling with gratitude. "Thank you so much! You got my back, man!"

The next trip north didn't have any exhibitionist bread trucks or snarky commentary, but the bus surely runneth over with sunshine. In fact, the lady I call the sunshine of Broward Transit paid a visit. In her cheery manner she shared her delight in the cool weather of the season and brightened the bus with her infectious smile. It was so catchy there was a double case of the smiles when we got up to Pompano where the two older Brazilian ladies awaited at their regular stop on the way to Boca.

All morning there had been a persistent sight at nearly every intersection: flocks of starlings. Immense numbers of them clouding the sky, covering powerlines and mast arms. This was not their daily ritual, but apparently it was the right time according to natural instinct. Starlings often remind me of the pin-feathered chicks I rescued awhile back. That episode impressed upon me how we are all like the little birds at some point, helpless and vulnerable in an overwhelming world.

Our final trip had only begun, we neared the Gateway curve to head up north one last time. An older gentleman boarded, his long white hair conjuring up the classic hippie image. He stood up front and in soft-spoken words shared his sadness.
"I almost committed suicide a month ago. The gun felt heavy, but I couldn't go through with it. If God could sacrifice his own son, who am I?"

I don't recall how I responded, though at the very least I listened with compassion and to make sure he was not a threat to himself or others. He was calm and spoke clearly. His pensive mood indicated someone at peace for the moment. Sometimes that's enough out here.

Light, dark, smiles, cynicism, and nature's timeless cycles. We are in the middle of it and there's no filter on the doors of the bus. This is the stuff of Life. And it's waiting at the next stop.