Friday, October 16, 2015

Morning night

There is no place darker than the Sunshine State at night.

The last few months have been all about the a.m. runs for me. It's a definite shift for a self-confessed night owl to ditch any kind of night life for 3 a.m. alarm clocks. Now our new picks have begun, and I'll be doing morning runs for the rest of 2015. So I bid farewell to the 50, 20, and 60 -  and return to the 10 and 36. It'd be nice to see familiar faces from those routes, but I'm not counting on it since those were night runs when I last drove them.

When the sun rises, I say good night. -Villon

The pre-dawn hours in the city are a thing unto themselves. The people of the night are wrapping up their activities, and the people of the day are trickling into the streets. Heading from home to the garage, I sit at a red light with the windows down, playing a song from a favorite female singer. Among the sweet refrains come some foreign words.
'Hey, if I... will you give me 60 bucks' in similar dulcet tones to that of the singer.
The light turns green and the shadowy figure of a woman in long shorts and baggy t-shirt spins away. There had been no greeting to announce her presence, and I'm still unsure what the proposition entailed from this creature of desperation.
Later on the highway, I pass a stranded vehicle on the shoulder, its owner sitting patiently in the dark, the reflective stripes of his mechanic's tunic glowing with irony.

Heading to our starting point for the 20, there is the slightest sliver of moon hovering in the east, like a smile in the sky.
"You're late!" are the first words to start my day, coming from a grizzled, gaunt, and wizened homeless rider I haven't seen in awhile. I show him a schedule, he realizes he got his days mixed and that we're actually on time, and apologizes.
With the bus now in service, we're rolling down narrow 2-lane neighborhood streets. A car going the opposite direction drifts into our lane. I brake, lay on the horn, they drift back into their lane. Shaken but steady due to the averted disaster, I whisper a quiet Sorry for waking the neighborhood, and make a mental note to be extra aware of late-night partiers heading home.

Not all partiers are driving, though. I pick up one inebriated fellow who is obviously out of it, but seems harmless. He pays his fare and I wait a moment for him to seat himself since he is unsteady on his feet. Way up the line it becomes apparent he's not sure where he is or where he's going. He wants to get off at Goodwill, but there isn't one on this route. He wants to go back to where he got on, but doesn't remember where that is. I do; how can I forget.

We have our first layover at Central Terminal. One man, a 30-something with 6 inch dreads wanders in from behind a column anxious and fidgety.
"I'm high as a canopy right now" he declares wide-eyed, seemingly to himself.
He puts a crumpled bill in the farebox, which is promptly spat back out. But he has already seated himself and doesn't notice. Instead, another man has appeared behind him and proceeds to push the bill back in the slot successfully. This second man isn't waiting to board the bus, he wants to test the validity of a worn out old pass for a shy lady he points out to me about 50 feet away. It's no good.
I inform the rider as I exit that we'll be here for a few minutes and the rear door is open if he needs to get off. When I return, he is gone.

Heading east on Sunrise before heading north, an enormous formation of cottony clouds sits over the ocean, glowing pink from the rising sun behind. Florida's mountains are in the sky.
The morning progresses and all my regulars make appearances, everyone seems to be doing well.

There are also a couple irregular regulars on this run.
A fixture on the streets for many years, a homeless woman formerly known as Peppermint Patty boards. She was a regular when I drove the 10 during last pick, when she informed me in no uncertain terms she doesn't want to be called Patty anymore but didn't tell me her new name. She generally has a sharp memory, especially if she's been slighted, and regularly accuses our drivers of ignoring her. But she also remembers small kindnesses like the spare change I gave her awhile ago. At first she can come across as a belligerent personality, but shown a little basic respect she turns on a dime and becomes a sweet-talker. This morning she boards in a huff, tosses some coins in the box, and carries on about all the buses passing her up, and how she's overheating in the morning sun. She is stout in body so her physical well-being is a concern and I make sure she doesn't require medical attention. She's happy to be in the bus's a/c and starts to cool down. She has good news this day: She's planning to get an efficiency soon and get off the streets. I emphatically congratulate her at hearing this. She says she'll have to change her name again, maybe to Brooke Shields. The bluster and fire have taken a break, now she's comfortable and wants to talk.
"You married, Driver? I like you."

Another regular from my nights on the 10, a Jamaican woman with beautiful dreadlocks, shows up at Central Terminal near the end of my day.
"My favorite! I tracked you down!" She has a million-watt smile that immediately lights up the bus and banishes any dark clouds. However, the universe has a balance to maintain and we can't have too much of a good thing, so among the crowd boarding this time is a crude talking man apparently under the influence. He alternately sweet-talks a couple ladies, then curses them with vulgarity. This intrusion of ugly behavior has dampened the brightness Miss Sunshine has blessed us with - or not. She exits with a light touch on my arm, a brief pause of commiseration, and "God go with you."

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