Wednesday, December 16, 2015

A certain slant of light

"Route 36 to Galt Mile," the on board annunciator chimes out each time the doors are opened. The curbside destination sign also reads Galt Mile. This all creates a little confusion for passengers since the 36 no longer goes to Galt Mile during heavy road construction on that stretch of A1A. Now we turn around at the beach end of Sunrise Blvd, and those heading north can transfer to route 11. There was a little confusion when the service change began and regulars soon caught on, though the technology hasn't.

This pick I drive the 36 on Saturday mornings. Since Daylight Saving Time ended last month, I still deadhead to my starting point at Sawgrass Mills in darkness, but head east with the rising sun. It is a stunning spectacle showcasing the power of light bringing the world to life. As we head over the 95 overpass, downtown is spread before us, illuminated by the sun peeking through a variety of clouds.

This is my easy piece of the week. The schedule has enough extra time built in that I actually hope for various time-eaters along the way to keep us from running hot. Wheelchair passengers are always welcome any day of the week, though the slower pace of a Saturday morning means I get to roll out the royal treatment by being precise about where the ramp will come down, kneeling low to the curb, and making sure they're secured if so requested. Then there's the FEC RR. The lights start flashing, the arms start dropping and we're stuck at the tracks. Four engines crawl by and we know this is gonna be a looong one. No problem, we got time. As a child, I used to count the cars for fun, often there'd be over 100. In those days, I vaguely recall there being a caboose at the end, not necessarily a red one, but still one nonetheless. I don't see cabooses on trains anymore. More often than not, people complain about the long train. I give the same answer as when they complain about cockroaches: It was here first. Like the natural rivers many confuse with man-made canals, the railroad is a vein of thriving life through the hearts of our eastern cities, an immovable highway connecting past and present.

Today we're on the 36, where we can see the great dichotomies of our community, the razor-thin margins separating luxury from poverty. On the east end is the Galleria, a gilt elephant for wealthy locals & visitors. At the west end is Sawgrass Mills, which seeks to wow patrons with its sheer size. In between we have the Swap Shop, with its endless dark alleys of hidden treasures.

A1A> Intracoastal> Galleria> Holiday Park> Searstown> Andrews> Powerline> Sunland Park> Dillard High> Swap Shop> Lauderhill Mall> Deepside> Sunset Strip> Plantation High> University> Sawgrass Mills

"Good morning, Boss Man! How are you this morning?" This is a regular, a young man dressed quite dapper in beige suit and tie. Always a beaming smile, a quick yet steady movement from entry to seat. His enthusiasm rubs off and I return the greeting and call him "Mister" even though he looks about 20. Any young person who takes the time to look like a future professor deserves a respectable greeting. And is he from the eastside, or the posh western suburbs? Nope, from the heart of Deepside, in clear contrast to the influences around him. Thank you, Mister.

"Do you meditate?" an older woman exiting at the Hill asks me. Maybe I present an introspective figure on these slow morns. She's an older woman with ink in fonts and locations typical of the neighborhood.
"I do sometimes" I respond, explaining how it's good for keeping stress at bay.
"God bless you" she whispers in a grateful tone, eyes piercing to the core. Her children are causing her grief and she's drained. Her hand rests gently on mine and I cover it with my other, encourage her to hang in there and stay strong.

While at the Hill, a man in work clothes and ski cap approaches. He's seems familiar with me, but with the headwear it takes me a minute to recognize him as a familiar face from earlier this year. He used to board with a fishing pole and try as I might, he'd never reveal his best fishing spots to me. Now he's set aside the fishing and is focusing on golf. Gives me some basic golf tips for beginners, and says he's recently returned from being out of town for work. He's generally reserved, but today he's open and has some thoughtful insights. Perhaps fatigue has loosened him up, since he seems tired and later on he appears to be dozing on the bus.

Near the transfer station, a young man with a megaphone is calling all listeners to repentance and to love one another.

After leaving the Hill, a group of ladies with folding carts boards. This is not unusual when we service the Swap Shop, but this is the stop near Lauderhill High and the carts are loaded with frozen turkeys and other Thanksgiving fixins being given out at the school. The line wraps around the building.

On another eastbound trip, I see a long lost friend. She just got off another bus and is rushing to mine as I pull into the stop. She's dragging two large garbage bags (clothes?) and she looks exhausted. As she boards, she's sure to swipe her pass, but doesn't look up at the driver. Still in her security guard uniform, her hair slightly mussed, and dazed stare all let me know that this lady's been working all night and is in a rush to get home. When I drove the 36 nights back in the spring, I'd pick her up and hear about her plans to work hard and make a good life for her baby. Now it's winter and it's clear she's kept her vow, finding the will to keep moving through the exhaustion. When she exited, the light inside her shone again, as she wished us a good day. These are the strong ones, spending of themselves to the last, the strength of character outlasting the frailty of body.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Work of art

Twice a week I drive a split shift, which means I drive one route in the morning, get a break for a couple hours and return to do another route into the early evening. I start with a 595 Express run from the BB&T Center to Brickell in downtown Miami. Yes, Broward Transit also services Miami. One good thing about this route is it gives me a chance to see all the changes which never cease in the Magic City without actually having to live there. It's a dynamic place constantly reinventing itself while struggling to respect its ancient history. So in a way the bus becomes a time machine as we roll down Brickell Ave.

Which brings up one bad thing about the route: Miami traffic. I jokingly say there is nothing 'express' about these runs since the designated express lanes on the highway are usually a parking lot by the time I make the drive down there. They're certainly better than the paralyzed gridlock on the local lanes for the most part, but only slightly. One recent rainy morning the traffic was more horrific than usual, and the express lanes were posted as closed to traffic. It is county policy that buses do not enter these lanes when posted as closed, and in fact drivers can be ticketed by FHP for failing to observe this. Nevertheless, we carry on through the grueling 20 mile parking lot and deliver everyone safely to their destination - 40 minutes late. One passenger, upset about the lateness, asks why I didn't use the express lanes. I explain the policy, but it seems he wants to use the express lanes no matter what - even though we would've been later had we used them. Fortunately the majority of the other passengers, mostly regulars, understand the nature of the commute and thank me as they exit. One woman needed help with an address, I was able to direct her, and received voluminous thanks and a radiant smile to ease the stress of the trip. Always a good way to end a trip before switching the headsign to Not In Service.

While deadheading back to the garage, I could see numerous tents set up in Wynwood for Art Basel events, and wondered what new masterpieces were being sprayed up this year. The reach of the festival is long, and would touch me again before the day was out.

The second piece of the split shift is the 441 Breeze, an exciting journey from Turtle Creek in Coral Springs to the Golden Glades Park & Ride in north Miami. This route is all about sheer volume and speed. It's the only route where I need an artic (bendy) bus. The whole spectrum of society rides this route and it never gets boring. One woman coming up from Dade and unfamiliar with Broward needs help with an address for the wake of a friend. She commented on how built up Broward is, and I joked that maybe she expected flowery meadows. With the sun down and the bus's lights turned low to reduce windshield glare, she nervously noted how dark the rear of the 60-foot bus looked and how "I gotta stop watching horror movies."

Earlier on a previous trip a young Jamaican man with a particular pungent herbal aroma boarded in a yellow Lion of Judah jersey wearing headphones and reciting random reggae lines. He's looking for a certain department store, but the Breeze doesn't stop there since it's a limited stop route. When he realizes he's on the Breeze and not the 19 which makes local stops, he mutters a calm "Bumbaclot" to himself, then a "Give thanks" when I told him we stop just across the street. As he exited, we fist-bumped and he offered up another "Give thanks."

Finally, my last trip of the day. Northbound and there is no longer the rush of previous trips. We don't want to miss anyone since the Breeze doesn't run very late and I relish counting down the stops:
Oakland Park>41st St>Commercial>Kimberly>Southgate>Atlantic>Coconut Creek>Copans> and as we approached Sample, the stop before the end of the line, I wondered who might be left on the bus. In the reflection of the windshield, I could see a pair of women's feet in slippers. Not wanting to turn around while moving, I figured I'd assess the cabin when we came to a stop. At the stop, anyone left on the bus exited, including the owner of the feet - a beautiful young blonde woman. In what I took to be a Russian accent, she approached and said she had a gift for me, while reaching into a tote bag. Secretly hoping it was her phone number, instead she pulled out a small brown paper container. She said it was a meat sandwich* she got at Arby's. That's what I thought I heard through the cute accent, and repeated it to her. She spoke again: "Artbase, the festival in Miami". For some reason it still didn't register in my mind what she was saying. Maybe I was distracted by other things. Later on, while heading back to the garage I realized she was saying Art Basel in her own inflection, I just didn't make the connection. Still, it was nice to end the second shift the way the first one ended: with a pleasant face smiling back.


*Curiously, the week before on the same route, a Vietnamese man carrying a pail full of spicy-smelling sandwiches also gave me one.

And while we're on art, some time ago I purchased this colorful piece directly from the artist, at Central Terminal:

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Good things will grow

The 40 seems to be the route that keeps on giving. Perhaps because it traverses such a broad section of the county, unlike the other routes I'm driving this pick. It seems like a lot of my recent posts are about experiences on the 40. Yes, I do other routes each week too, but they tend to be straight-shot routes that generally adhere to a single major thoroughfare.

10 - Miles and miles along a single street (US 1) until we turn at the north and south ends.
36 - A steady trek along Sunrise from one side of the county to the other; from the waves to the glades with a side trip through Deepside.
441 Breeze - A hectic, fast-paced bullet ride from north Broward to north Dade 99.9% on US 441/SR 7.

Like I've mentioned before, the 40 has many faces so I hesitate to label it. It's not strictly a neighborhood route since it also spends half the trip on 17th St and A1A. And any ideas that it might be catering to cruise ship visitors or beachgoers are quickly dispelled once we head west of Central Terminal. The best part is that no matter which segment you're on, passengers are very likely to be be sociable, inquisitive, and surprising.

This pick I drive the first 40 eastbound from Lauderhill Mall. I make the turn onto 12th Street with the empty bus and can see a few people milling about on the boarding platform. As I get closer, more people emerge from the bus shelters and from various spots further down the platform. By the time I pull into the bay, the pad is covered and everyone's anxious to board. We're scheduled to pull out of the mall at 7:40 am on Sunday mornings. By that time, the other connecting routes have already arrived multiple times. People need to get to work and church, so of course the first 40 is going to see heavy usage. If the route didn't have to enter the mall or Central Terminal, an artic bus would be the way to go since we'll have a standing load within 10 minutes of pullout, and we still haven't serviced Sistrunk, which is when it gets really tight. Fortunately that initial intensity is relieved once we reach Central Terminal and most regulars know this so they're patient during the momentary discomfort. Also while everyone naturally wants to claim one of the limited seats available, they're also routinely accommodating when a wheelchair passenger boards or an elderly person needs a seat. This is the route where people drop their pretensions and do their good deed for the day.

We're eastbound on Sistrunk, crossing 9th Ave. I can see a young man, maybe 30, on the sidewalk on the opposite side of the street. He's looking around curiously, sees the bus, and rushes across to the bus stop. As he boards, he's visibly sweating and flustered as he struggles to find his fare and slide a crumpled bill in the box. There's a vibe of anxiety here, and he hurriedly finds a seat. The bus is quiet this trip, maybe as folks anticipate the connections they'll make at Central Terminal.
The young man speaks up: "I love my kids, man. Broward County will f*** you up. Every time I get high...," apparently to another passenger, another young man. The worry and wondering is palpable. Whatever life issue he is going through has affected him deeply and he's reaching out for some direction.
"You need to stay focused on what you tryin' to do, and good things will grow," the other replied in a calm and measured way that bore the weight of hard-won wisdom. Direction discovered.

Incidents like this remind me of what's important in our interactions with each other, and I can't be reminded too often.

On my last trip to Central Terminal, where I'm due to be relieved by another driver, I'm extra attentive to the time points so I can make the relief on time while not missing any passengers. There's no leisurely driving on this trip, it's a full-focus effort to keep to the schedule. It's at those times the outside world intrudes into our little worlds. All of a sudden more people than usual need extra attention, or we hit every red light, or the train is crossing, or any number of things that conspire to throw us off schedule. If we're not careful, we may become resentful of these intrusions and behave less than our best. Or we can recognize the moment, not resist it, and see where it leads. Despite the possibility that I might be a couple minutes late to the relief after a long time at the wheel, I gave those who boarded the respect they deserved and attention they required.

As we approached Andrews, an older man I picked up at the west end of Sistrunk took a moment to speak to me as he exited.
"You're a good driver, man. Don't get jaded. Don't get jaundiced or jaded." Another moment of perfect timing and remindful encouragement. I thanked him.

On the 40 we learn we're all connected, and strength is shared for the hard road ahead.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

World's Greatest

His hair was dirty and his teeth were broken. Dirt was embedded in the grooves of his fingers, the fingers that made music out of nature and trains. He spent his last days roughing it at Holiday Park. Yes, the world's greatest bass player was homeless. I try to keep this in mind with our homeless community; you never know who that person once was or what they've done. Any one of them could easily be him. He who was the strongest taught us even in his weakness.

To me, he is a hometown hero. By realizing his vision, virtue, and vice he forever changed the world of music. He traveled the globe and touched countless lives, but still he always came home. The man and the place had become inseparable. Its influences shaped his sensibilities, then his abilities painted pictures in people's hearts. He released himself into the world, and part of him will always be here, walking the streets we all use, climbing the trees that once lined Andrews Ave, learning lessons of great value in the hidden places. But he is not hidden, the beat goes on all around us if we have ears to listen.

Much has been written about him, he continues to be honored, and his legend continues to grow as the years pass since his demise at the hands of another. Today there is nothing to add, only for us to enjoy the music he left us, music that will never die.

Happy birthday, Jaco.