Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Warm 40

In a previous post I chronicled some of the relentless grind of the 40. Those experiences were in the afternoon, unlike my current pick when I drive the 40 on Sunday mornings. This route of many faces continues to surprise. As you might expect, at that time we don't have to contend with school zones, commuter gridlock, and other things that go along with a weekday afternoon. Instead we transport a large number of worshipers and workers.

Houses of worship come in all shapes and architectures. The faithful gather in their Sunday best whether they're at a fancy coastal sanctuary, or under the vaulted ceiling of a steeple on MLK, or the utilitarian space of a warehouse in Shallowside. Some meet under a cross, others a menorah, others under the crescent. Some are sweaty after attending the church of the body, their gym.

As the morning progresses, many riders west of Central Terminal head to the Swap Shop, folding carts in tow. Young mothers board smoothly while deftly folding a stroller with one hand, holding their little one in the other, and their bus pass between their lips. Old men slip their bill in the farebox as they head out to have coffee with their buddies. At a certain hour, Sistrunk becomes the most mouth-watering aromatic place in town as the BBQ pits fire up.

East of the terminal, cruise ship tourists ride back to the Port ready to set sail. A Chinese couple with workable English who recently landed at the airport with oversize luggage show me a Google maps print out with Bahia Mar as the destination. The curious daily shuffle the homeless guys do between downtown and the beach gets underway, in both directions. A service animal named Gracie rides without making a peep.

Most of our trips are kept on time, except for the times when a bridge tender in his observation room stops street traffic to let yachts cruise down the New River or the Intracoastal. These interruptions on our journey are inescapable delays.

The only trip that might resemble the chaotic 40 is the very first eastbound out of the Hill. Before I arrive for pullout there is a large crowd waiting to board, so that before we've even gotten to the Swap Shop we are at standing room only. Fortunately we have a lot of good people on the bus this morning, willing to give up their seats so a man in a wheelchair can board. I praise them for their generosity, which helps keep everything rolling. Our Sistrunk passengers squeeze in and find something secure to hold on to while standing. Perfumed women in impeccable outfits don't complain despite the cramped quarters adding a few wrinkles to their skirt lines. I am concerned for everyone's comfort and safety as the cabin gets tighter and tighter, but the best thing is to keep it moving safely and get to Central Terminal. Keeping it safe means lurching to a stop at each railroad, first the Tri-Rail/CSX RR with the bumpiest pavement that demands slow passage just to keep everyone intact. Down the road, the gate arms are blocking the FEC RR, countless empty quarry cars heading south to be filled with Dade County limestone. The cars are empty but the bus is full to the brim and the sooner we get to the Terminal the better, where the bus will empty out and everyone can breathe again.

Or maybe we'll get that breath early. Before the tracks we have a special visitor, the last person to board before turning on Andrews and arriving at the Terminal. Sporting a white cowgirl hat bedazzled with rhinestones and carrying a thick plastic Broward Health bag, he gets on with a flamboyant entrance, excited and energetic. Immediately he kicks into his little routine, like someone accustomed to being the center of attention.
"BCT. Our best. Nothing less" he chimes out loud while buying a day pass. "All haters please refer to your timetables." His shtick is imitating the bus's announcer messages, putting his own spin on them.
We roll over the tracks while he occupies the last available standing space up front and continues his performance.
"Now approaching Andrews Boulevard, connecting with 60." Never mind that it's actually avenue, not boulevard, his one man show has lightened the compact tenseness on the bus, and laughing can be heard throughout, even from those who probably can't see him from their seats.
Thankful for his perfectly timed arrival, I let him know he's awesome - but he already knows he is.
We finally pull into our slot at the Terminal and everyone spills out. Our entertainer soon returns though - he's lost the pass he just bought. Fumbling in his bag, digging in his pockets he pulls out the now crumpled pass, looks into the cabin at the remaining passengers waiting to continue eastward, and blurts out "Route finished. Thank you."

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