Thursday, December 8, 2016

Wax on

Ah, how I miss the 50. Virtually the entire length of the route is a trip on Dixie Highway and its baked in layers of life. Since the last round of service improvements it now runs like a dream with far less bus-bunching than before. And with extra recovery time at the layovers, the more senior drivers understandably snatch the runs for themselves. Most drivers seem to steer clear of picking it due to an undeserved reputation as an unpleasant route. For those of us who feel at home among the persevering strugglers, the rumble of the railroad, and a built environment that fits like an old shoe this is the place to be.

The waxing moon would be full tomorrow, a signal to be extra aware and patient. Not all full moons create the same effect on people, but the relation between our closest cosmic neighbor and bizarre behavior is too frequent to chalk up to coincidence.

An ominous dust storm billowing from the vicinity of a concrete plant and inconvenient lane closures would be the least of our encounters today. Strange trade winds were blowing.

"Prince just died," the cyclist announced by way of greeting as he boarded, eyes glued to his device screen.
"Who, the musician?" I responded after a moment's hesitation, at first thinking of British royalty.
"3 minutes ago."
It was a bit stunning, after David Bowie's death three months earlier. We lost a number of creative giants in 2016.

Up around Copans a variety of streetwalkers are loitering in skimpy fashions and garish colors to draw attention while also distracting from their vapid, lost stares.

At Five Points a long train is preventing cars from turning, and keeping us stuck at the light through a couple cycles. It's frustrating to have a green light so close yet so far away. A gentle reminder to be patient. The train was here first and takes priority.

The moving yet immovable obstacle and its mindful reminder was timely as not long after we approached a stop and were met by a 20-something young man with a distinctive style. An eccentric hipster clad with gloved right hand and top hat he limped forward with the support of a wooden survey stake, complete with two colors of streamers.
"Whoa, whoa, what's that?" I asked, pointing at his makeshift cane to determine whether it was safe.
"I sprained my ankle. It's not been a good day."
"Hang in there, man, it's not the end of the world." I consoled him as he put his fare in the box.
The encouragement seemed to work as he piped up with some R.E.M.:
"'It's the end of the world as we know it...' I love the oldies. Remember that? What's wrong with music today?"
"Not a fan of Katy Perry I take it."
Pause. Head shake. "Blah wa wa."
He sat down and tried out some bad Creole with some Haitian guys, and got no response.
As he put on his show, an older woman came up front for the next stop.
"Tonight's a full moon you know." Perhaps she was trying to explain the man of the hour.
"I know. I was just waiting for it to start. There it is." I agreed in low volume for her ears only. Her volume had not been so discreet, a passive-aggressive insult he quickly latched onto.
"You ain't seen nothin' yet!," he announced.
"Honey, I've seen it all."
"Wanna bet," he slyly replied, tossing in some playful kissing sounds.
She exited and wished me a good day.
Our showman stayed on a bit longer as we passed through another dust storm, this time from the Eastside Village construction site. When his time came to depart, he looked back over his shoulder and made a prophetic promise:
"Remember, it's a full moon. I may be the first, but I won't be your last."

As it turned out, he was the last that day. The shift ended predictably enough with the Rhymer on our last trip.
"Whatcha gonna do, Lou?," he asked in a way that didn't require an answer. I gave him one anyway.
"Shake a leg, Greg."

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

No angels

Sunday mornings on the 60, a chance to truly enjoy this route without the brutal onslaught of rush hour traffic. The schools are closed so everyone gets a seat rather than the usual standing load coming out of the college. The route itself is one of those dual-personality routes like the 11 and the 40. It stays on one road through east Broward (Andrews Ave) for a long stretch then decides to switch things up by veering out west through Pompano, Coconut Creek, and Margate. The purpose for this is obviously to maximize connections for passengers wishing to hop on other routes. This year, the county straightened out the hairpin curve on Andrews at Atlantic; it required cutting a section out of a warehouse sitting in the way. Now that the road is updated there, the flyover is complete, and widening up at Copans are done perhaps the planning department can look at having the route go straight up Andrews and Military Trail to the county line. On second thought, scratch that idea. Without the western leg, this most colorful and exciting of routes would be just another boring north-south line on the map.

Our first trip we came rolling down the Turnpike overpass, made our turn onto 31st Ave, and pulled up to the first stop for an awaiting trio of men. Two of them told me they just got out of jail, a common confession at this stop across the street from the detention facility. They want free rides, and they have the universal bus pass of the just-released: "I can show you my paperwork." One fumbled some papers in hand, then added with a quiet afterthought: "It's nothing to be proud of."

We made the horseshoe turn onto 27th Ave through the still-sleepy Collier City. A birdman was crumbling biscuits on the sidewalk, but there were no birds.

That first trip tends to be the busiest. Sunday service starts later than weekdays, but people still need to go to work so we're packed now, but it will lighten up as the morning progresses.

The next trip is northbound. At the Prospect red light, there's a loud thud sound. The solid impact two cars make when colliding is a mystery to me. With all the glass and metal and plastic involved it seems like there should more of a shattering, scraping sound. Even so, it's always a similar sound: thud.

We make the turn off John Knox and onto Dixie. A slight curve in the road lined with auto garages leads to the first of two stops before the Transit Center. The stop is empty and my heart sinks a little. Ordinarily there is a group of five or six day laborers waiting, immigrants speaking little English and dressed in their Sunday best: clean jeans and t-shirts. Without so much as a peep after we exchange Good Mornings, they make their silent pilgrimage to San Isidro, patron saint of farmers and feeder of birds. Always paying their fare, camping out in the back of the bus, and pulling the cord on cue, I find them to be a source of steady and reliable strength. Maybe they're whispering back there, but I hear only silence. It can't be because they're not familiar with English, we get all languages talking on the bus at all volumes. They are mysterious in their presence, and today they are mysteriously missing.

Pulling out of the Transit Center, we began our westward trek on MLK. Soon there was a woman in a red sedan in the lane next to us - driving the wrong direction. At this section of street there is a landscaped median which meant she was between it and the bus. I slowed down to a crawl and may have come to a stop in awe of what I was seeing. She continued on her way without causing harm to herself or others.

After that, a familiar face in the neighborhood boarded. With thick graying dreadlocks hanging out of his ski cap, he cuts a distinctive figure. This philosopher is always ready to drop some knowledge on me and I'm always ready to listen. Today he theorizes that the government should better maintain housing projects to keep people's spirits up, then transitions into the concept of helping others. A vague example of him sitting down, asking for help, and not putting in any effort seemed clear at the time but now I'm not sure.

Finally making our way back up 31st Ave on the final leg of this trip, a rider we picked up awhile back makes his way up to the front. Sporting a Cheetah Pompano shirt and lunch tote, he must work there since it's too early to be open.
"Off to work," he said with resignation after an audible sigh.
"Another exciting day?"
"Yeah." No enthusiasm.
"There's gotta be something exciting, something's gotta happen." It was trite encouragement, but it's not like he was looking at a day of drudgery in an office.
"When you seen one, you seen 'em all."

Late morning has arrived, we're on our second southbound going through the college when who should board but my pal Al. He's on a mission to feed some feral cats and dogs. Regaling me with military adventures in Costa Rica, this guy's been places.

We're back on John Knox going the other way and I can see my old regular Louis rising from the bench when he spots the bus. This is the rider who threatened to fire me awhile back. Now he's a bit miffed because a coworker quit at the gas station and he got called in. Forced to nix his plans to attend a charity wrestling match at Mickey's Bar, it added insult to injury as we passed by and could see the ring set up in the  parking lot. Already surrounded by several dozen motorcycles, he said all the biker clubs would be there. When I hinted that might mean trouble he laughed it off.

Maybe angels can be found in the unlikeliest of places: prison, strip clubs, biker bars, even bus stops.

Thursday, December 1, 2016


It's that day again, his day. Jaco Pastorius, one of Broward's own who pulled music out of the air. He said the music was in his hands. For many of us our livelihoods depend on our hands, and occasionally for a brief moment, the stuff of Life passes through them.

Sometime in the past few weeks a passenger and I were discussing the bus we were in. Every bus is different and has its own set of glitches and quirks. I don't recall the particular ghost in the machine we were dealing with that day, but it prompted an excited response from the passenger and he christened it the Bus of Doom. Instantly there was one degree of separation from Jaco and his Bass of Doom. We all use various tools to ply our trades: wrenches, pens, scalpels, computers, and even buses. Jaco bought his in a Margate pawn shop, popped out the frets, and the rest is legend.

Below is an essay I wrote 10 years ago about heroes and Jaco's place among them. It could probably use an editing update (especially since he now has a dynamic park bearing his name), but the substance of it is still true and so I present it here as a sincere and simple offering to the World's Greatest.

Happy Birthday, Jaco.


Jaco the Hometown Hero

Many years ago, I thought about the great men I admire and asked myself what made them so great. Artists, explorers, inventors, and all the other titles we bestow upon those we call 'heroes.' As I compared the lives, personalities, and qualities of each one I realized there are three fundamental aspects to all heroes. I call these aspects The Three Vs: Vision, Virtue, and Vice.

Vision is what separates heroes from non-heroes. In the case of an artist, vision is that creative spark always pushing outward, seeking expression, and often building to an intensity difficult to bear. Jaco had Vision to spare, as evidenced by his incessant drive to express the music he had within. Those with a sensitive temperament, that is those who are sensitive to the influences and impressions of the world in which they live must be able to express themselves in some way. Impression without expression equals depression.

Virtue is that part of us that is compassionate, generous, honest, and self-sacrificing. Jaco showed his Virtue in several ways: encouraging other musicians, giving to the homeless, and especially by his love for his family.

Vice is the aspect of ourselves which is the opposite of Virtue. It is dark, cruel, and selfish. Jaco's Vice was revealed in alcoholism and drug abuse.

Essentially everyone has Virtue and Vice; only a hero has Vision as well. Jaco had all three.

Jaco is still considered a hero to bass players internationally. On a smaller scale, he should be a hometown hero for everyone who was raised in South Florida, as well as for transplants who have an affinity for the region. Jaco himself was a transplant from the North, though it was at a young age and he immediately felt at home in the new environment. He heard music when the train rumbled through his neighborhood wailing its lonely cry in the night. He never met a tree he didn't like to climb. He felt the power of the ocean when he went to the beach. His hometown shaped him as a person, as all hometowns do, and today he is inseparable from South Florida, as much a part of it as the flora, fauna, climate, and landmarks that define it. He often mentioned its influence on him in interviews. He performed around the world and back again, visited dozens of countries and spent a sizable amount of time in New York City, but always returned home to the Fort Lauderdale area. Ultimately he was laid to rest in the place where he spent most of his life.

My personal heroes include some of the great writers of the world: Cervantes, Villon, Dickens, Dostoyevsky, and especially the American writer Thomas Wolfe. Originally from Asheville, NC, his hometown shunned him for his writings and he spent the rest of his life looking for 'home,' never finding it. He had an insatiable hunger to know, see, and experience all things. He died of pneumonia at age 37. His hometown now holds an annual festival in his honor, and the last time I attended I spoke with a teenage resident who was ignorant about his city's most famous native son. I told him his ignorance was a shame and I would be proud to say Thomas Wolfe was from my hometown. Jaco is Broward County's Thomas Wolfe, and I am proud to say he is from my hometown.

The widespread ignorance about his very existence, much less his accomplishments, is a shame and must be remedied. Something must, and will, be done to honor this shining light in the place he felt most comfortable. He passed away in 1987 and still nothing substantial has been done to honor someone who deserves so much.

If you listen close to everyday sounds you can hear Jaco even after all these years. When the ibis flock overhead, a whisper in the breeze, when the sky roars, when the mockingbird sings at midnight, and when the train rumbles through the neighborhood.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Pinhole viewer

Spring time Saturdays in Broward County, what could be better. Cool temps, still too cool to roll up my sleeves. The rising sun has turned Oakland Park Blvd. into a street of gold. Yellow tabs in bloom. Ibis pecking for grubs. The light is clear and golden.

A guy in a Piney Grove Baptist shirt, glasses, and snaggle teeth. On his way there now for a health fair. A friend goes there, I ask if he knows him. Yes, he does.

"Thanks for sayin' that, my mind was gone." The middle-aged man in pink-themed outfit thanked me for announcing the stop. There's no annunciator or PA on this bus so I'm doing it old school and hoping folks can hear me at least halfway back into the artic. It's good to know someone's listening, we all need periodic reminders of where we are at this moment. His statement reminded me of my own experiences staring out a bus window, both locally and during the Gypsy Years. Whether the view is familiar or strange, this time-defying act can transport the imagination beyond the bus and down countless side streets, countryside paths, and glimpses of Life.

"How's it goin' out there?," I asked one gentleman as he paid the box. Even though the bus is out there too, it's always on the move like a planet unto itself. Since it's a long road with ever-changing dynamics, I like to find out what's going on with people at various points along the way.
"It's goin' nice. How's it goin' in here?"
It's goin' nice in here, too, Sir.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Getting caught

An early morning express run on the agenda, I deadheaded to the BB&T Center for a tripper to Miami. On 595 there was a horrific accident closing down the east bound lanes and traffic was already backing up for miles. This was going to create a problem when I went into service. Fortunately the road supervisor developed a detour for us and we got to take a rare scenic-route trip on surface roads to the Davie Park & Ride. So while the buses ahead of us gave radio updates of their progress crawling through the accident scene, we bypassed the mess and made good time.

The afternoon piece on the 50 wasn't meant to run as smooth. A detour around the line crews closing lanes would have been nice, but that wasn't an option as we inched our way along.

A passenger came up to me wanting 10th Street in Deerfield. With Spanish accent he said he was from Miami and hadn't been in this part of Broward in 15 years. He looked lost as he commented how everything changed. I had to agree with him, though that stretch of road probably hasn't changed in decades. Sure, signage changes, businesses come and go, landscaping gets replaced - but the physical buildings on Dixie are stuck in a time warp untouched by the rapid gentrification on other thoroughfares. Change is good and necessary and unavoidable, but there's a simple reassurance knowing some places aren't turned upside down and torn down. It anchors the roots as the tree spreads upward and outward, successive years adding expanding rings of hardwood to withstand the stormy times.

Something was in the air that day as another passenger, a woman in scrubs wandered up front, scanning out the window with a dazed look. She was from New Jersey and lost. Were the scrubs the uniform of an exhausted nurse or an inpatient?

We hit the end of the line and headed back south, passing Satchmo's BBQ on 4th St, with his enormous smoker set up on the front lawn of an abandoned shell of a house. The smoke of comfort food is a welcome sight and smell on this lonely street, mostly populated by the ghosts of Pineview Cemetery. A couple love taps on the horn and up goes the master cook's arm in waving response.

Our next northbound we got slammed. The bus was extremely full, presumably from my leader running a few minutes hot. That meant I was picking up people waiting for the previous bus, which leads to complaints about the bus being late though we were actually on time.

The trip after that things got really bogged down. Traffic was congesting and we kept getting later until my follower caught me. It doesn't help anybody to have buses bunched up, so I got instructions to drop off only and put some space between us.

The following trip the tables were turned when I caught my leader and she went into drop off mode.

At Sample a nurse in scrubs boarded after a long shift.
"Save any lives today?," I asked.
"Just one," she replied with a satisfied smile.
"That's enough."

Finally, we pull in to the north layover for our last trip and the rhymers are waiting.
"What's the con, Don?" The young one threw out there.
"How you like the hat, Matt?" The older gentleman tossed up while profiling his classy headwear.
I couldn't drop the ball this time and had to up my game.
"Keep it loose, Bruce."

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Epic day on

Lest I start thinking it's only my days off that are eventful, life reminds me that every day brings its own surprises. As long as we keep moving, our next stop will be Life and all that it contains. Occasionally those stops come at us rapid fire and it's all we can do try to keep up and take some notes along the way.

An otherwise predictable morning tripper on the 10 started out predictably enough. The Palm Tran driver whose layover coincided with my starting point at the Publix on Camino Real was coming out of the store as I was going in. With a fluid gait, dead-weight arms, and before I could say Good Morning he announced with deadpan disappointment, "No croquettes!" Not needing a pit stop (and not caring for a patty) I too turned around.

Settling into our trip to Central Terminal, we picked up the NFL guru, a regular whose extensive analysis of football history and predictions I must always defer to. Football's not really my sport, but talking with him makes it fun to discuss.

Then the ghost reappeared. Not one of those bus glitches that appear without warning, but rather a rider I hadn't seen in well over a year. A bit more gray above the ears than before, but no less dynamic than I recalled. A tireless talker and inveterate socializer, his New York bravado and invasion of personal space demands constant engagement from anyone in his orbit. Frank the street preacher keeps you on your toes, a relentless challenge to apathy. With a curled copy of his autobiography in one hand, the other holding onto an upright stanchion so he could sway in the aisle rather than sit and aggravate an injury, the trip from Pompano to downtown was out of the ordinary. Between countless entreaties of "Jesus have mercy" every few blocks, he explained how he was on his way to court for preaching where he wasn't wanted, resulting in a trespass charge. As we passed the sky-high steeple of Coral Ridge Presbyterian gleaming in the morning sun, he pointed it out and proclaimed aloud, "I need to preach there!" With enthusiastic soulful inflection, he told us how he started in the black churches, then the Haitian churches. That last bit perked my ears.
"Sak pasé?" I asked, hoping to work on my Creole.
"I don't even speak French." A dead end for my language education, but at least I wouldn't need a translator for this sermon.
We approached Barnes & Noble, which prompted another proclamation while sliding his hand across the sign: "I see my book there. Nine million copies sold."
That kind of success requires some promotion, and I advised him to digitize his book, then go to the Art Institute and find a film student to follow him for a day. I'd watch that documentary.
As we neared the end of our trip, he let it be known he was looking for work. A car salesman for 20 years, he was let go recently after only a month at one dealer, "Even though I was the top salesman." Lamenting past mistakes that have set him back for lengthy stretches, he quietly resolved, "I need a godly organized woman." Just before he exited, he offered to sell me his mangled book; I decided to leave some things to mystery.

Trips like that can be invigorating and exhausting when you're not expecting them. It was a good warm up for the afternoon run, after a break between shifts.

* * *

It must have been at the Whole Foods at Copans when the lady boarded with a dozen eggs. It was an irresistible intro, so I asked if she was going to throw them.
With concern she flatly replied, "No. I need to eat them."
A man boarding behind her got my yolk joke and kept it going by saying, "I might do it."
"Let's make an omelet!" I suggested.

Closer downtown, our Special Olympics regular awaits, still wearing her big number sticker from the weekend race. She's excited and hopeful about going to State Finals.

Pretty sure it was at Central Terminal where the down-on-their luck couple boarded. These two were visiting and had to get all the way up to West Palm for a friend's wedding. They had limited funds, but enough for the fare to Boca. Hopefully they gave themselves plenty of time for the trip, I've taken that journey by bus before and it's a looong one.

In Pompano a newer rider stows her bike on the rack. With strong facial features, she boards waving a $5 bill and explains with a Slavic accent she doesn't have change. She got behind the yellow line, I kept the bus moving, and she returned with change after asking the other passengers.

Next the familiar Stander boarded. A bag lady in the truest sense, she hauls about a half dozen full bags around. A couple weeks earlier she'd made a morbid comment the day Brussels was attacked. Now, as then, she preferred to stand and let her "bones grind together." Perhaps unable to keep her thoughts silent, she continually talked out loud to herself, missing her stop and getting upset at herself.

Promising progress on Sunrise Blvd: finish coats are being applied, hopefully wrapping up an insane project which has been stifling traffic flow for months at the worst time of day.

Shortly after our next trip out of Central Terminal, we pick up the "visiting" Jamaican lady. I've picked her up several days in a row on other routes, she's always surprised to see me and never has the fare. She'll intently focus on me, whisper her request for a free ride so quietly it's the same as mouthing. We hear a lot of sob stories on the bus, but hers is a consistent one involving domestic trials and travails. It's not difficult to extend a courtesy to the suffering.

Uptown, the regular with the Peru hat boards, I lower the bus as he limps on with a cane. He's getting more mobile as he heals, and he'll be walking without it soon. We approached Atlantic Blvd, and he took the Pompano Cemetery stop. As he exited, I advised him to turn and not walk straight ahead.
"Ha ha, not yet, I got a few more years!"

Somewhere in Deerfield, a woman prepares to exit, but not before swiping her pass. I'd forgotten she boarded, but recalled it was way downtown and at the time she struggled to locate her pass. A classy lady with a sweet voice, she seemed tired after a long day so I told her to have a seat and just come back up when she found it. Wearing a Broward College lanyard, she mentioned something about working with 20-40 year olds. Bus drivers work with all ages, so I couldn't quite relate to the age reference.

Just before picking her up, a long lost couple boarded at Central Terminal. I used to pick them up every Saturday back when I drove the 20. He looked beat and dazed and didn't seem to recognize me, she was beaming with a huge smile and wide eyes behind cute glasses when they got on.
"Hey guys! How's it goin' over on the 20?"
"He's an older driver..." she bit her tongue. "God bless him."
They both seemed world-weary when they exited all too soon.
"If I could only keep myself out of trouble," she sighed.
"We know the right thing to do but we don't always do it," I concurred.
"We make choices..." she continued as they drifted away.

Oh, on that last northbound trip we picked up the NFL guru again, the same one we picked up that morning. He was a bit surprised that I was still driving so late. It's funny how things come full circle sometimes, even after a shift change.

Up at Hillsboro a longtime gas station was leveled. An earthmover with monstrous claw was steadily tearing a giant black olive tree apart, reducing it to toothpicks.

On one of our earlier trips, a northbound at Copans, we were parked at the red light when I looked to the left and saw a woman in the vehicle next to us aiming a camera with an enormous Nikon zoom lens directly at me. I didn't mug for the camera or otherwise acknowledge it, but it felt weird. With a lens that large and that close it could probably see into my pores.

Finally, another familiar face appeared. This time it was incomplete, since up till now the gentleman always had his lady friend with him. Odd to see him solo as he regretted their break up. On his way to the Swap Shop to sell his phone for some extra cash, he too needed a free ride.
"What would I do without the good guys?" he pondered aloud as we all made our way down the road.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Silverbacks and cherry tops

Our 595/95 Express routes generally use dedicated commuter buses with features not available on local route buses. The first difference that is obvious is the outside appearance. Taller, longer, and more curvy, many of these models are decorated with either a silver or red roof and a large spaceship entry door. Inside, the seats are plush and padded, and the wifi always works. Although designed for rider comfort, a few of the older units have developed an unpleasant surprise for unsuspecting drivers: a rain reservoir that drains when the bus is in motion. Ok, so into every life some rain must fall, sometimes it happens to drip on your lap while you're on the turnpike. Soon enough, the dashboard's Stop Engine light and attendant buzzer sound activate, presumably in protest to the uninvited moisture behind closed panels. After pulling over briefly, the warnings relent and we continue our tripper to Miami.

After that morning run, I get a couple hours off the clock before returning for an afternoon on the gritty 50. The buses on the 50 run the gamut, from ancient time machines to brand new models unsullied until the fresh bus smell wears off. The previous driver seems to bring me a different bus each time I relieve him or her, and today I get a newer one which means everything is probably working ok. A good bus covers a multitude of ills and we're gonna need any edge we can get for the road ahead.

Prior to the bus arrival, an older woman also waiting made some comment and we joked around. The levity was to be short-lived soon after we boarded and departed the Pompano station. She set up camp in the middle of the very back row and not long into our trip I could hear a row brewing. As she yelled and cursed, others began arguing with her. In rough shape, with a bruised face and no sense of self-control, she let loose her entire obscene vocabulary. Difficult to determine if the behavior was due to drunkenness or derangement, I'm very patient with these episodes since the offender will exit eventually. As distasteful as crude language may be, it's still just talk and she never threatened physical violence toward anyone. It was only a short distance to our north layover anyway, where I assumed she'd exit. Never assume. She decided to stay on and ride back around, continuing the abrasive performance without tiring. When we returned to the Pompano station, the security guard escorted her off - right where she'd gotten on in the first place.

The rest of the trip was a breeze after that, but the afternoon was progressing and we got slammed on the next trip. Packed bus, wheelchair, bikes, slowpokes, and a suspicion that my leader bus went down.

At Sunrise I picked up a regular rider, an amputee in a wheelchair who's been riding Broward Transit since before it was Broward Transit. He can come off as bitter and cranky at first blush, but in time reveals a keen intellectual brand of humor; no cheap one-liners here. Totally independent, he inspires awe as he maneuvers the chair backwards up the ramp, the rear of which is heavy laden with a collection of bags common on the streets. No assistance required, my offer of securement declined. Way up the line an old man boarded cautiously, hands feeling before him. I've carried him occasionally, every time he's sure to tell me he's blind and where his stop is, and that he's 91 years old. Every time I congratulate him and make sure he gets his stop. He held on the stanchions to make his way into the bus, and was snapped at by the passenger in the wheelchair who preferred not to have someone sitting on his lap.

"Appreciate your help, you guys are a lot nicer than the bus drivers in Boston, where I'm from." No, this didn't come from an older passenger thankful for my assistance, but rather from a young man looking for an address. More mature folks tend to be profuse with their thanks, but I hear it from all ages and it's appreciated.

"Are you new?" a man asked at the Pompano station. I hear this question a few times a year and I usually reply the same. "New to you!" and a smile.

The afternoon got later and we picked up the pet vet. I asked him what exotic animal he worked on today since he's mentioned treating rhinos, lions, and pot-bellied pigs. Today it was nothing exotic, just a toy poodle with an owner resembling Arnold Schwarzenegger.

On this trip a pattern is developing: I'm getting reports from passengers that my leader passed them by. Most likely that bus was instructed to go out of service and get back on schedule, but passengers don't know that. Even I didn't know that, but it made sense of my earlier hunch.

The ongoing lane closure north of Sample is in effect today, causing a traffic crunch at the worst time of day. We're all wondering why the line crews can't do the work at night.

The weather's nice and the street walkers are out in force, hustling the blocks south of Copans as the daylight wanes.

At our final north layover, the rhymers arrive, hurrying over from Hillsboro. I'm stretching my legs on the sidewalk.
"What's flyin', Brian?" the young one gets the ball rolling this time.
"What's the deal, Neil?" the older one follows up with his nugget.
I'm ready this time. "What's the hurry, Murray?" directed towards both of them, followed with a smooth spin into the bus.

We're well into our fall/winter pick. You'll find me on another variety pack like usual, this time on the 2, 10, 34, 55, and 114. All over the county, let's ride together...

Saturday, October 29, 2016

We do our own stunts

Sunday morning on the 60, a bus stop on 31st Ave in Collier City. The thin lady sporting a black cowgirl hat stood out as unique in that place. The sunglasses made sense, but the skateboard didn't quite fit. The assuming type might notice that the Cheetah was one stop away and figure there's a connection post-Saturday night.
"You do stunts on that?" One of my go-to intros when I see a board.
"It's a stunt just being here."

Friday, October 28, 2016

At business

"Do I have to get off, or can I ride around with you all day?" she asked as she exited at Sawgrass Mills. It was a sweet way to say bye and made me more aware of the good trip we'd just had along with several other riders. The mood was relaxed and bright, then again sunny Saturday mornings have a way of being like that. The previous trip had featured a low rising sun that made the blacktop glow like gold - that glow continued inside the bus.

At the mall, I took a quick break and headed back to the bus. A wide-eyed young man waited at the bus stop, awkwardly focused on me, looking for a cue that it was ok to board.
"Are we at business?" At first I wasn't sure what he'd said, there was an unfamiliar accent that prevented me from recognizing some key syllables. I strained my ear toward him, closed my eyes, and he repeated the phrase several more times until I finally got it. Unfortunately even then it didn't make sense to me. Was he asking about a particular business in the mall? Perhaps a clue would decipher the riddle.
"I've never heard that before. Where are you from?"
"Here," came the simple answer, explaining nothing if not adding more mystery to the situation. "My dad says it all the time."
That was the clue I needed. It occurred to me that his father was fond of a variation on the "Now we're in business" expression. I explained the difference to this young fella who by then must have wondered at the denseness of bus drivers and let him know that yes, we were in business. The rest of that day I found myself using the catchy line.

Not too long into the trip, an older man boarded and proceeded to feed coins into the box. One coin was rejected and dropped in the coin cup. He repeatedly inserted the coin, with the same result.
"Must be a foreign coin. The farebox knows, don't worry about it." I assured him it was ok to have a seat.
He laughed and in a crystal clear Jamaican accent exclaimed "It's like a blind woman who knows what bill she's holding!"

"Nice crystal." A man and his lady boarded and I had to comment on the large stone held to his necklace by a green thread. Very DIY. He perked up at the compliment and described how the dark-colored quartz with flecks of garnet absorbs negative energy. That can't be a bad thing. The education continued as he let us know light-colored ones send out positive energy. We need more of that.

Nearing the halfway point of our trip, a regular older gentleman boards. Usually toting a cue stick case on his way to the pool hall, today he's empty-handed. He mentions the Brazilian pool sharks who always win the top two slots, leaving everyone else to play for third.
"How do you beat guys like that?" I threw out there, grasping for tips.
"Hide the ball." The answer was short, direct, and sounded resigned to 3rd place.

At the east end somewhere around US 1 one of our homeless crew, bone thin and emitting strong alcohol fumes swayed at the open door, mouth open but silent. Two friends came from behind to prop him up and ask for a ride to the beach where they could use the showers to wash up. No problem, just a short ride. I made sure they were seated and steady before moving forward.
"We're gonna clean ya up, you're gonna look like a new man! The cops won't even know who you are, you're gonna look so good!" His friend encouraged him as we rolled on.
"Like a movie star" came the next line, not sure if it was the other friend or the man of the hour himself.

Ambition, curiosity, excitement, and competition come in all flavors. Now we're in business...

Tuesday, October 4, 2016


Every April 1st I wonder ahead at what pranks may come my way that day. My keen analytical mind would like to think I can anticipate whatever cheap shots are thrown at me. Unfortunately too much navel gazing blurs the big picture and we can miss the significance of the moment at hand. The everyday routines of work and life can lull us into a false sense of order. A 'forest for the trees' analogy comes to mind. It's especially important when pre-tripping a bus; best to start with an overall glance so as not to miss the broken window.

This past April Fools' Day found me on a split shift with the 114 in the morning and a long afternoon on the 50. The 114 is a 595 Express run to Miami. It's only a tripper but maneuvering a bus through highway traffic in the morning isn't the greatest way to start the day. Fortunately the run went smooth until the end as I made my escape from Miami. 10th Ave was extremely congested, as if other streets were closed and detouring over here. The bus was a thread poking through the needle's eye of semis, cars, and one guy parking right in front of me so he could grab a cafecito at Omar's, with buckets of foggy-eyed red snappers on ice spared from the chaos. Inching northward over abandoned train tracks, the street is a glorious mess of warehouses, schools, food trucks, corner stores, apartments, auto shops, water works, and front lawns. It was a bittersweet relief making that right turn back onto the highway.

In the afternoon I arrived at the Northeast Transit Center to relieve the morning driver. While waiting for my bus, I talked with the new security guard. It was unusual to see someone other than longtime stalwart Officer Lewis, who I always greet as my hero after his death-defying heroics the day an out-of-control naked man was confronted in the bathroom there. This new guard was excited about joining BSO and patrolling Pompano.

When the bus pulled in it wasn't our usual model, instead a much older one. I joke about these Gillig Time Machines, where everything rattles and you feel every bump. This one had no announcer, and no PA for me to use; these units have no vocal chords. No problem, we'll just go old school and use our bus voice to call out the stops.

On our first northbound we approached 10th St in Deerfield, the light was turning red, and the intersection was too big to clear on short time. Judging that I could stop safely, I applied the brakes a little shorter than I like to. I'm all about the smooth ride, especially on these time machines, and it was smooth - but short. As I came to a stop, I heard running footsteps behind me coming forward. A young lady had been standing in the aisle and used the momentum of the stop to run forward and stick a perfect landing at the front of the bus.
"Hold on!" I begged, wanting to avoid an injury.
"You good. I wasn't expecting that." A smile of accomplished satisfaction lit up her face. She didn't fall or even bump into anything.
"You've got good balance," was all I could say to compliment her skills, although inadvisable to attempt on the bus. Most of our buses have frequent service announcements reminding riders to hold on while on the bus. No such reminder on this mute time machine.
"Thank you. Track star."
At that moment she got a text from her brother saying he was in the hospital in critical condition. Her elation was instantly gone and she looked about to collapse from the bad news. A follow-up text qualified the previous one as a prank and she let it go.
"Blue for autism tomorrow," she said while exiting, after asking if I was working the next day. I was, so I wore blue like every other driver.

After our north layover, we headed down to 4th St, cutting a left through Pineview Cemetery, which is neighbored by cozy little homes. One lot has an abandoned unfinished house on it, a bare concrete block shell with no roof. In the front yard, Satchmo BBQ sets up shop, an enormous smoker piping out mouthwatering aromas for hours, laden with half a dozen full racks of baby backs. A couple love taps on the horn elicits a glance over the shoulder and a wave from the pitmaster.

The Burper is on the radio today. Presumably a joker in possession of a radio and our bus frequency, his repertoire consists of deep, guttural burps over a lengthy period. Nothing good about this; it clogs the airwaves when they are needed for important business. There's also an embarrassing component: if the volume is right, passengers may think the driver has a gas problem.

Thursday, September 29, 2016


Communication comes in all sorts of formats: verbal, visual, venal, and even vapid. As we communicate with the world around us in whatever way we have become accustomed, those signals can be misinterpreted, misunderstood, or worst of all just missed. As connected as we are by invisible tethers of gravity, the truth of our isolation returns when distractions cease.

The cradle of desolation and need which the 50 runs through requires us to scratch the surface to find the treasure. Once we commit to put our hands in the sand, the hidden value reveals itself. Not in buried pirate's loot which birthed the name Gold Coast, but in Life.

The first southbound trip started out with an indication of the direction the day would go, and it had nothing to do with the compass. A trio of two women and a man were standing at a corner, not near a bus stop zone. Engaged in conversation, at the last second the man looked up at the bus and put out his hand in a half-hearted hail attempt. It was too late to stop safely and not a bus stop anyway, but the trio seemed to be a little out of place on that stretch and I try to assist when possible, especially if there's a bench or street sign that visitors may confuse for a stop.

Soon enough, we pulled up to a stop where Smiley was waiting. With his perpetual grin and near-mute vocabulary, he plunked some change in the fare box and drifted aboard. It was unusual to find him this far from his normal turf, even though it's on the same street. He generally could be found floating in the vicinity of the Northeast Transit Center.

At one major intersection a sizable group was waiting. Among them was a vaguely familiar face, but I couldn't place him as a regular on this route. The time wasn't much past noon, but he boarded with the dejection of a weary man. When he mentioned his aunt was a bus driver for 32 years, I immediately remembered him as the exuberant young man on the 441 Breeze about 6 months earlier. Now he was boarding short on fare and with news that he lost his job at the car wash when business slowed. Back then, he'd been so excited about applying to become a bus driver. This time as he explained he hadn't heard back about his application, I could only suggest he be patient and in the meantime look for other positions to get him through the lean times. His voice noticeably choked as he mentioned his teenage son.
"I haven't been able to do for him like I would like to..."
It was clear his driving ambition was not merely about himself, but rather for the benefit of another. The lament over the merciless passage of time revealed this young man to be not so young after all.

Eventually the tide rises and it did so on our follow up northbound trip. Like clockwork, a slew of recent Haitian immigrants board after school. This group is truly young, almost all teenagers still trying to grasp their new language. In the beginning they would enter single file and orderly, each slipping in a dollar bill. As the semester progressed they grew impatient, skipping each other to get a seat, greeting me with What's Up and a fist bump. These kids learn fast. Always with bright smiles, polite, and never any trouble; that may be the true culture shock.

On our next southbound a lady was waiting near one of the countless used car lots along Dixie Highway, it's perimeter lined with sun-faded and tattered American flags. She boarded with a confused and imploring look.
"I don't have change." Four words not uncommon to my ears, but I decided to go down the rabbit hole.
"How much do you have?" I replied with joking curiosity.
"$900." She shared in hushed tone. "I don't want to wait on Dixie with all that cash. It's a down payment for a car, but I should've known this place was shitty when I saw all the flags."

Finally, at our north layover just before pull out our old friend the name rhymer comes scrambling over so as not to miss us. He's wheezing from the exertion.
"I ran, Stan!" He squeezed out between gasps for breath. "Thanks for holdin' the bus, Gus!"
As we approach his exit, he makes his way up to me from the back of the bus.
"See ya in awhile, Lyle!" He slyly threw at me as he hopped off. When he paused to measure my reaction I delivered my offering in classic deadpan.
"Good night, Dwight."

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Then we lose our name

The anniversaries keep on comin'. First it was the annum recognition for the blog, now it's time to update our name list. These are some of the monikers gifted to me by our ever-creative passengers. Among the countless greetings of Sir, Boss, or Bro some gems manage to shine through.

Good boy
Bus man
My baby
My boy
Boss man
My brotha
Big man
Big fella
Young brotha
My main man
Doogie Howser
Johnny Depp
My son
Mr. Bus Man

Ranging from commonplace to comical, it always makes my day to hear a new name. Looking at the variety on this list and the abundance of aggrandizing (if not affectionate) titles, I can see my riders like to have fun with their bus driver.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Up and over

We're frequently presented with obstacles and deterrents as we move about. In fact, these are signs we are moving, unless we capitulate and stagnate. Schedules real and perceived influence our actions, though we are each in our own orbit and necessarily on our own time frames.

One of the most vexing parts of the 10 earlier this year was during a protracted period of utility work beneath Sunrise Blvd. The half-mile stretch shared with US 1 presented a daily time-eater at the worst time of the day, late afternoon. Lanes would be closed down to two or even one, paralyzing traffic that is regularly congested even when all lanes are open. The passengers and I would often wonder why this work couldn't be done in the overnight hours. Never did find out.

Eventually we emerged from the downtown stranglehold and were bookin' it uptown. At his usual stop stood the hunched figure of the Weatherman, and I was counting on him for a moment of levity after the exasperating futility earlier.
"Hey, there he is! The Weatherman! What's the forecast today?" This has become my way of greeting him and getting him to open his bag of jokes.
"What did Mr. Light bulb say to Mrs. Light bulb? Baby, you light up my life!" The corny jokes began coming rapid fire, built up since our last ride. There are times when the simple jokes are best, no in-depth analysis needed. On top of it, he stood up front and his voice projected loud enough that the rest of the bus could hear his contagious humor. Suddenly his tone changed, he edged in closer to me and lowered the volume.
"What did the hurricane say to the coconut tree? Hold onto your nuts, you're in for a big blow!" This triggered a guffaw and return to the loud volume.
"You're a bad man!" I replied with mock judgment, which only encouraged him to continue laughing, right off the bus.

Shortly after dropping him off, we passed the Publix plaza north of 24th St in Pompano. Normally it's one of those nondescript places you don't notice unless you're looking for it. Today something caught my eye: the fountain near the street was frothing and foaming as if someone had dumped a bucket of soap in it. The masses of suds were drifting along the ground into the street, lighter bits breaking away and going airborne. If only all things that came at the bus were so benign.

Somewhere on a northbound trip a cyclist who only rode a short while stayed up front, hanging onto an upright stanchion. Guess he didn't want to get too comfortable and miss his stop, but he also had a pensive stare into the distance.
"Imagine what this place is gonna look like in 10 years, it's all gonna be underwater." It was a different take on weather small talk, decidedly more long range.
"Hmm, we'll probably build on stilts, or abandon the lower floors of buildings, or build a wall at the beach to block the sea." I worked on proposing solutions to his dire statement, trying to spin it in a more positive, hopeful direction. My contrary nature just couldn't accept defeat so readily.

Up at Commercial, a homeless regular was ambling among the waiting cars, working the last throngs of the day for handouts to get him through the night. He spotted me and grew a grin as he approached my open window.
"Why are you on my bus?" His light-hearted inquiry expressed a level of comfortable familiarity.
"I'm borrowing it." The familiarity went both ways.
At that, he flipped his ratty cardboard sign with generic marker scribbles asking for help to show me the opposite side: Trees & beer 4:20.
"You working till 11?" he asked, presumably letting on when he would be heading back downtown.
I shrugged, not letting on either way as the light turned green.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Annum Recognition: 1

You may have to remind me how this works. This blog is a year old. I'm not one big on birthdays, as anyone who knows me can aver.  Hence the title of this post, co-opted from my brother-in-law - a term he coined as a loophole to observe my day. Here's the paradox: I'm not big on my birthday, but love to foist thoughtful gifts on others for their day.

There are personal reasons for this as you may expect, and the simple one I usually respond with is that birthdays are for the very young and the very old; when young since every day is new, when old since every day counts. There may be some faults in that logic, but also some sense. Besides, I'm more a fan of the Unbirthday concept, where every day is a chance to appreciate the presence of others.

Now this little online journal is growing up, learning to walk, and hopefully past the spit-up on your shoulder stage. It may make the occasional detour, but generally remains true to the route map. It is always looking for areas to improve service, based on the needs of the community.


"It's my birthday, do I get a free ride?" He was sweaty and panting, having arrived at the stop a moment before on his bike.
"You still have birthdays?" I had to ask. He was neither very young nor very old. "Happy Birthday! No fare?"
"Not on my birthday!" Perhaps this was an annual expectation of his, like free dessert at the restaurant. "I'm 56."
"You're kidding, what's your secret?" He looked far younger than he claimed. "You must stay active."

That was the secret, and tends to be when I ask older folks for tips on staying strong as the years advance. An old landlord had a pithy saying along this line: "Never stop moving. The day you stop moving is the day they put you in the ground."
It needn't be strenuous, though often we push ourselves to know where our limit is. It needn't be fast - slow and steady wins the race. Never stop moving.

Thursday, September 1, 2016


A slow day on the 50: picked up the animal vet who gets to work with the most unusual patients. This day he was doing radiation treatment on a 350-pound pot-bellied pig. He looked tired.

Followed up by a lengthy convo with another passenger about good meal deals around town: Mai Kai, Shooters, Benihana, Ruth's Chris, Alegria Taco, etc. Prime bus belly material.

Finally, the name rhymer showed up on cue at the regular time.
"You ready Freddie?" I greeted him. He wasn't.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Epic day off

The White Cliffs of Dover at night. Ferry swaying. Please, Rob, don't barf.

Figures I'd come to Brussels on a holiday. The streets are empty, but what does that matter to me since I've hardly left the bus station.

The attack in Brussels earlier this year brought to mind an ill-advised journey from England to Belgium via bus. A bus trip across the English Channel may sound illogical, yet travel notes from the Gypsy Years only confirm a quest well-intentioned though ultimately fruitless. I was there to trace my grandfather's wartime footsteps across farmlands once hosting airfields and left my own aborted trail in the process. Weeks of trudging British highways bearing a backpack which seemed to be growing a library at each drizzly high street had taken its toll.

Even when I sit still and don't move, the pain simmers & shoots its claws where it will. If I move my head, that is asking for punishment. How to move my bag?

On that day of terror in Brussels I was scheduled to be off, but had signed up for extra work. Working on regular days off can be a refreshing change of pace, though the pace may also be exhausting. The previous driver delivered the bus extremely late and in no time my follower had caught us. We shuffled some passengers to get the buses back on time, and I settled in with my remaining passengers.

"I made a tragic error moving here." The Brooklyn accent and eccentric combo of large sunglasses and colorful prints marked the return of an infrequent though distinctive passenger. Entering old age rather ungracefully, she exuded an air of personal pride and cultivation, a sort of East Coast Norma Desmond.
"You don't like palm trees?" I inquired, hoping to steer her toward something to smile about.
"Oh, it's gorgeous here. It's just that Florida has jinxed me." Her radiating bitterness was certainly not a great way to start my shift, and I wasn't buying that relocation was the sole source of her discontent. She continued with great detail about family health issues that have brought her stress while indicating an endearing motherly affection for a particular nephew. Eventually her ruminations led her to the source of many health problems: aging. A former beauty queen, she regaled me with her competitive exploits in that arena, before lamenting her lost youth.
"I was spoiled. Better to be born ugly."
When she requested the next stop without pulling the cord, I gave this dejected woman the closest thing to the red carpet a bus driver can: pulled in close to the curb, lowered the bus, and asked her to watch her step. That simple kindness - and perhaps the earlier confessions - paid off with her gracious gratitude and the hint of a smile.

And it's all the more painful because there's this perfect & lovely creature in the bus station. But all I can think or worry about is my damn back.

"Have a nice day, no more mutilation. Guess you could get mutilated on the way back." This from a familiar bag lady who never took a seat during her trip though there were plenty of seats. She'd held onto an overhead stanchion with both hands the whole time, before exiting with the unfortunate comment which may have been meant to show compassion for the victims overseas but which I took as a reminder that things can turn very quickly. Sometimes intent is lost in translation.

Here I am in Brussels in extreme discomfort & half the people speak French (the other half speak Dutch).

As the evening progressed, the traffic subsided and the earlier chaos was replaced with something I assume was routine for that run. Many new faces I normally wouldn't cross paths with on my regular runs were peppered with regulars that go way back.

An extra-super-hyper rider from Boca gave me health tips: brown rice cakes, Gatorade protein bars, stay hydrated. It was the end of the day and this guy was still going strong. Sometimes after hours in the driver's seat we can start dragging, so I had to know his secret for such vigor. Aside from water and protein, he shared a cautionary tale about what happened when a certain energy drink leaked onto the concrete floor of the warehouse he managed as a distributor; it had eaten into the rock hard surface.

In Boca the infamous Patty stormed aboard with a Palm Tran transfer but kept the change she had in her hand, irate about three buses passing her by. Smelling especially ripe, once ensconced in her customary spot she mellowed and begged others for money and soda.

At Central Terminal I picked up Grandma Maria. At once both a heartbreaking yet inspirational figure, she's impossible not to love. The smallest mercies extended to her come back tenfold. She always calls me Sweetie and though normally I would recoil at such cuteness, coming from her it makes my day. It is a regular sight for strangers to leap to assist her with her luggage. Unfortunately the woman who is an angel was forced to show a tougher side when an inebriated gentleman poked fun at her characteristic raspy voice with an exaggerated imitation. She became very upset and fought back with a verbal defense.

A few hours later at Central a mature woman boarded, talky with a nervous excitement. The sun had long since set and the a/c on the bus was nippy. A number of passengers waited outside until pullout time, but she didn't hesitate to board.
"I'm premenopausal so I'm always having hot flashes. My dogs love it."

The trip is nearly over and I've squandered my opportunity in such a horrid fashion that even I'm repulsed when I think of it.

Finally we reached the home stretch, waiting at the Boca layover to make our final trip before heading back to the garage. This was also the last bus of the night so I wasn't surprised to see a man show up moving quickly lest he miss it. Sporting an impressive long braid yet looking sharp in smart glasses and suit, the six pack of beer he toted showed he was ready to unwind. We still had a couple minutes so he took the opportunity to chug a bottle in record time before boarding. He offered me one which I politely declined and away we went.

Pretty soon into the journey, I saw a miracle. A woman who I'd previously picked up several times in a wheelchair was now waiting at the bus stop - standing on her own two feet. She boarded with her usual flair, sociable and smiling. For some reason I don't recall discussing this incredible new development with her as she stood up front to talk with me. She commented how the last bus on week nights like this was quiet, but on Saturdays it could get wild.

While this conversation went on, we pulled over to pick up a middle-aged man who had clearly enjoyed a few drinks already.
"I'm so broke right now..." came his entreaty for a free ride. Mr. Ponytail leapt to the rescue with some change to contribute, but I blocked the box and asked our newest visitor to take a seat. Not too long down the road, the two men were sitting across from each other and began to argue. It started small and kept growing, a little flame stoked into an inferno. Soon the whole bus was focused on these two grown men freely exchanging expletives, insults, and implied threats. At no point did it become physical, and no one requested the police, so we kept it moving.

"I hate plastered people," the miracle woman whispered, her first words since the unruly duo made conversation impossible.
"Welcome to my world.  And you said week nights are boring!"
When the two men exited at the same stop, she burst into laughter.
"This is real entertainment!"

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Return from the void

This past Easter Sunday I returned to my regular run on what I call the Sweet 60, a route near and dear to me for decades now. First it was important to me as vital transportation when I was a rider, now it boggles my mind that I'm an operator on this special run. This is the route that is most familiar to me, it was part of me from the earliest because it goes through the heart of my streets and carries my people. Other drivers are sure I'm joking when we discuss routes and I can't help but smile when the 60 comes up. They don't seem to understand how anyone could claim to 'love' a route where many of the passengers are patrons of the county lock up, frequent the food banks, probation kids, working girls, addicts, day laborers, and garden variety homeless. The route is a study in everyday survival and deserves a comprehensive treatment on its own. It is a journey through visual extremes at the deep end of the societal pool, especially Collier City in Pompano, maintaining balance with its mix of neighborhood churches and strip clubs. Nothing garden variety about it.

On that resurrection morning I pulled into my start point to go into service and was promptly greeted by a man who was probably middle-aged on paper but physically much older after years of sleeping rough. An extended hand came along with the polite greeting on that quiet morn, and seemed to call for an equal show of respect rather than the noncommittal fist bumps we give every day. The latter is probably a more hygienic and preferable way to start the day, especially when one of the palms involved has spent the night laying among the Sunday-shuttered auto repair shops lining 15th Street and there will definitely be dirt shared. He told me where he needed to get to, which wasn't where my bus was going, so I directed him to another stop nearby and he started trudging that way, hunched under the fully-packed bag slung over one shoulder. Then he stopped, and turned.
"Are you getting off in time to have Easter dinner with the family?" he naturally inquired.
I gave him a Yes, with a clear vision of the 'family' he'd be rubbing elbows with later that day at more than one soup kitchen.
"God bless" he closed, apparently satisfied that I'd be ok.

In service now, we were met with heavier than usual traffic and ridership. Then one of the ghosts that inhabit older buses presented itself: every time the rear exit doors were opened I would get a wheelchair stop request, though no wheelchair was aboard and no one was pranking me.

CSL Plasma must have been offering a promotion that day, because the usual trickle of donors was now a flood. There are very few non-intersection stops I call out when the announcer isn't working; CSL is a called stop. On every trip that stop gets serviced - both directions.

As I mentioned at the beginning, this day was a return for me. I had missed the previous two Sundays due to schedule conflicts. Up to now I didn't think anyone had noticed.
"The next time you take off without telling me, you're fired!" came the excited declaration from a regular as soon as I opened the doors. He works at a couple gas stations which means he has some stories to tell about meeting famous pop stars and hanging out with biker clubs. After ratting out my fill-in driver for not using his headlights, he too noticed the poltergeist aboard with its persistent wheelchair stop requests. Suddenly the gruff guy was gone, replaced with a problem-solver and some almost-compassion for my having to continually listen to the repetitive refrain. Riders may be annoyed by such malfunctions only briefly until they reach their destination - drivers are a captive audience.

At Central Terminal, I'd had enough and put the bus to sleep, turning off everything in hopes of rebooting the glitch away. We had a few minutes of layover time so I hung out with the bunch waiting to board. Most times, drivers will secure the bus and disappear, leaving passengers to grumble at not being able to board. When the crowd saw I was staying with them and explained what was going on, they relaxed and were patient. After some time, I revived the bus. From a dark, lifeless rest it roared back and we were on our way.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Which way the wind blows

It was my last trip one early afternoon on the 72. We were westbound approaching the stop before Powerline. As we serviced the stop, a cyclist came out of nowhere on the sidewalk and hit the brakes. He motioned to me that he was boarding and proceeded to stow his bike on the rack.

"Wow! I can't believe I caught you! You'll never believe how far I came," he breathlessly exclaimed as he swiped his pass. He was clearly gassed from a strenuous ride, yet also exhilarated by the achievement of catching the bus.
"Whoa, catch your breath! I didn't see you back there, were you trying to catch the bus?" I asked, concerned for his immediate well-being and also tentatively apologetic if I had somehow missed him at a previous stop.
"The reason you didn't see me is because I was way up at 38th Street when you passed Andrews. I didn't think I had a chance to catch you, but there was a strong wind at my back and I was flying. When I got down to Oakland Park I could see you up ahead and knew I had a chance if the light turned red at Powerline. See, I told you you wouldn't believe it," he excitedly related his unlikely journey of some distance that was made possible by determination, timing of traffic lights, and a windy day blowing his way.
"I don't know what to say. It doesn't seem possible, but I have no reason not to believe you," was all I could say as I pondered his story.
"What's weird is this time of day the wind is usually blowing the other way," he continued, wondrous and alive thanks to this experience - and needing to share it with someone right away.

Maybe that's a good sign, when the wind changes direction and carries us farther than we could on our own.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Express yourself

It was an early morning run on the 114 Express from the BB&T Center to Civic Center. There was a calm yet uneasy glow in the darkness of those predawn hours, a shadowy half-illumination from an unseen source. While deadheading to my start point, my leader was on the radio with bus problems but this was quickly resolved and things were back on track.

"Did you see the moon?" one of my regulars asked while we stood on the platform waiting for our departure time. She was excited about the full moon, and I had a moment of disappointment since I'm a big fan myself and hadn't yet seen it. A heavy cloud cover had obscured it earlier, though some of its pale light had escaped to dimly color the landscape.
"No! I was looking for it on the way here but couldn't see it."
She went on about its grandeur though I had to take her word for it since the clouds had moved back in and there was no trace of our pock-marked satellite. At some point a glint caught my eye, I shifted a few feet over to see what was hiding behind the bus, and sure enough there he was: Old Man Moon.

He has inspired me over the years: he dares to smile, knowing that smile was created by violent rocks as big as a house. Can we react the same after such harsh treatment? He sits out there isolated yet on display before half the world.

Down at the choke point that is the Golden Glades interchange, another express bus ahead of me pulled back out of courtesy and let us pass so we could make our way to the I-95 express lanes. This common practice involves staying in the right lane which feeds the 826, then switching lanes before the dotted lane marker goes solid, allowing us to bypass an incredible amount of waiting traffic. Since traffic is so congested at this point it is no quick operation to make room for a bus and vehicles behind are necessarily delayed trying to continue to the 826. As we completed our maneuver, a motorcyclist apparently upset with the delay squeezed himself through the tightest of margins between the two buses so he could get an obscene gesture in before he sped off. Although he was nimble on his two wheels, we were going in slow motion so we could adjust accordingly, but had we been less aware of his presence things could have gone another direction. He had something to say, though, and sometimes you've gotta express yourself.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Bend it

A couple picks ago I was doing a split 10 - a single trip on the 10 in the morning, then a few hours on the 10 in the afternoon. The 10 could stand to have a few artics during peak hours, however it serves Central Terminal, which was built before the County had any artics in the fleet. Even those early ones were used out on 441 so didn't have to try and maneuver in the terminal.

For the morning run I was assigned a bus and went out to the yard to inspect it. It was an artic. Hmm, I thought, will this work? This was the first I'd ever heard of an artic going out on the 10. It was one of the newer New Flyer models which drive like a dream so I was looking forward to it. After making sure with dispatch that this was the right bus to take out, off we went.

My starting point was the north layover by the Publix on Camino Real, and I got into the habit of getting a couple spicy Jamaican patties there. It was early and they were hot and fresh. It was not unusual to cross paths with a Palm Tran driver who also had a layover at the same time, however it was invariably too early for his breakfast snack of choice.
"No croquettes!" he would decry with arms gesturing resignation.

My suspicion that this bus was out of place on US 1 was confirmed all the way down the line, from the perplexed looks of waiting passengers unsure if the headsign was correct to the incessant comments I received as they boarded.
"Is this the speed bus?" a woman in Boca asked.
"Is this the Express?" a man wondered, coming up to me after he'd been on board awhile.
Now, the US 1 Breeze north of the Terminal had been eliminated more than a year earlier so perhaps he was thinking about that service.

At McNab a regular with a bicycle grew a dejected expression as we pulled in to the stop; all three bike rack slots were taken. Fortunately, we had extra room this morning in the rear so I popped the back doors and instructed him to hold onto his bike in the spacious low floor door well area. He was grateful he'd be able to stay on time that morning.

Finally we turned into Central Terminal. Even when the onboard announcer is functioning, it never recites where we are, only to say "Route finished. Thank you." Out of habit, I always call it out. It signals the last stop, wakes up the sleepy riders after a long trip, and is just fun to say. It's a reminder that all roads lead to Central Terminal, where there's a place for every misfit - even oversized buses.

Thursday, June 30, 2016


Sunday mornings are generally one of the best times to be on the bus. Everyone tends to be more relaxed, not in such a hurry, only out because they want to be. The reasons for moving about are the same as weekdays, it just takes a little longer to get things rolling. Sunday bus service is also notoriously slower, requiring more time to get from one point to the other than the rest of the week. For this reason anyone other than the casual traveler is advised to plan ahead to ensure timely arrival to their destination.

Over the course of a trip innumerable situations arise intent on slowing down the bus. We may have some passengers who move a little slower than others, or a lengthy process to board a passenger in a wheelchair, or hit a succession of red lights and spend a lot of time going nowhere. One particular passenger was vocally annoyed with this slower service. In his defense, we were running a little behind schedule. He had a lot of ground to cover and wanted to catch the train. Unfortunately, he was going in the wrong direction on this late-running bus and needed to catch two more buses to get to the train station. I sympathized with his plight since I've been there once or twice in my travels. It would be nice to just be able to hop on any random bus and somehow arrive where you need to be, but in the meantime I let him know how to get where he needed to go. The extra attention wasn't placating him at all, and each red light only added insult to injury. Soon enough it became clear we'd reached the end of our road together and he exited.

On another trip a Haitian woman with a bike boarded. She stood up front near me, had a habit of talking to the air mostly in Creole, and wore her bike helmet the whole trip. Her English was heavily accented which made it difficult to understand, but I'm pretty sure as she exited she wished me life and love.

At the Central Terminal I bumped into Gemini, a bus fan I hadn't seen for awhile. I love bus fans. They know all the trivia and intricacies of the buses and routes on a higher level than most of us drivers. They are a tiny fraction of the ridership, and their encyclopedic memories are impressive. She let me know she was going back to her home state until she made a success of herself to support her "boyfriend", a bus operator she had an affinity for. An awkward hand shake, well wishes, a request to send us a postcard - and she was gone.

Do constellations know they're connected without being connected? They are separated by unfathomable distances, yet to our eyes they travel together. They didn't choose their travel companions, or their orbits, though somehow they coalesce and are greater than their parts. We are all individuals as well, each of us a beacon in the void, moving together.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

The natural way

The good folks over at Allied Bath on Oakland Park Blvd between Powerline and Andrews have a sign. A sign of predictable dimensions fitting within city guidelines, with a glossy dark color scheme, and a stylish logo. That's the boring part. Directly beneath this sign is a smaller marquee style sign, regularly changed with inspirational quotes, thoughts, and advice. It is not fancy, just simple sliding letters meant to be replaced on a regular basis. This day's quote: "Kindness is the natural way of life not the exception". However, I wouldn't read this until about 2/3 of the way in on my first trip of the day. If a hopeful quote goes unread, does it still work?

The morning started out a little rough, after having to leave the garage later than scheduled due to getting a replacement bus after the one assigned to me was determined to be not road ready. On the other hand, the replacement bus was an old friend of mine, my regular ride on the 441 Breeze awhile back. Comfortably settled into the familiar seat, I went into service on the 72 heading eastbound from Sawgrass Mills.

The stretch from the mall to University Drive tends to be the quietest of the whole route, dominated by bedroom communities and residential developments. The lull wears off quickly once we approach University and the businesses that dominate the rest of the route. It was a gentle ride 15 minutes into the trip as I serviced the pull-in stop at University and loaded the small crowd waiting on a Saturday morning. Then, from behind the bus shelter, he appeared. A man of indeterminate age with the unchanging wardrobe and eye-watering aroma of BO and stale tobacco that generally indicate homelessness, but never has the standard luggage - or the standard fare. I've also never heard him say a word or utter a peep, so I assume he's mute. This makes communication difficult, but he doesn't really attempt to communicate anyway. He has a habit of puffing leisurely on a cigarette as he walks up to the door, unlike the majority of smokers who fiendishly maximize their final puffs before boarding. His relaxed habit was delaying service and I would have been within my rights to leave him there for the next bus rather than hold up all the people on the bus who did the right thing. It was tempting; I even started to shut the doors. That movement seemed to get his attention as he gave me a surprised look - not anger, not dejection - a genuine shocked expression that the bus might leave him. He dropped the cigarette, boarded, and took a seat right up front where I could smell his presence all the way to the Galt. It was the look that got me: I couldn't leave him after that despite the stench, the fare-skipping, and the lack of communication. That look communicated volumes.

At 441, loud and clear reggae music drifted over the intersection from the car wash across the street, its languorous island rhythm keeping the morning mellow. Another bus operator pulled up next to me in his car and waved, presumably on the way to the garage. It's easy to feel isolated in front of the bus, but his coincidental visit was a reminder to always be on our best on the road - you never know who's watching.

After passing Powerline, I kept an eye out for the aforementioned quote sign, and pondered its statement.

It was barely after 9 in the morning, and Jack's BBQ already had the smokers fired up, an anomalous sight along with the piles of seasoned oak firewood along a busy road like OPB, but such a welcome fragrance with our pungent passenger aboard.

A layover at the Galt to stretch, grab a bite, and get some fresh ocean air. This layover point is unique among them all as we are required to shut off the buses if we'll be there more than five minutes. I've heard conflicting reasons for this, but they generally center around appeasing the residents of the wall of condo towers lining the beach. Even the passengers know about this arrangement, as I got an opinionated earful from one who was waiting when I returned to the bus.

The women's center across from the Main Post Office typically has a few anti-abortion protesters holding signs on the sidewalk, and this morning there was a sizable bunch. They're always respectful of motorists and don't interfere with the bus, unlike the political demonstrators at US 1.

Our final eastbound I pick up an older man wearing a NEWARK cap. First of all, I don't think I've ever seen a Newark cap before, secondly, I have a habit of asking about their trip whenever someone boards wearing souvenir clothing.
"How was Newark?"
"I'm still there," came the resigned reply.
"That's too bad."
"Yeah, you're right," he agreed as he drifted into the bus.

The bus we've been using all morning has served us well, kept us on time, with no mechanical issues (i.e., good a/c). It's a 60-footer articulated, spacious and deep. It also has a spacious dash board, larger than usual. Somewhere along the way, someone left a tract there, out of my reach from the seat so I decided to leave it there till the layover. In the meantime, I could see the title: You will be with Me in Paradise. As I considered the morning's events, and the hopeful sign quote, I nodded my head and smiled.

Thursday, June 23, 2016


Back in March there was a little blip of a holiday called Transit Driver Appreciation Day. It seems to be a promotion to remind passengers of the hard work their bus operators (and other modes of transit) perform on a daily basis. We should never need a special day to thank those who impact our lives for the better, but sometimes a reminder helps. Hopefully every day I'm out there my passengers see how much I appreciate them for being there. Without you, I wouldn't be here.

And what better route to do on that nascent 'holiday' than the 50. As soon as I got in the seat to relieve the morning driver, I heard a voice.
"Let's go."
So often our tone makes the difference, and the tone I was hearing sounded like an order. I turned to see my taskmaster and was presented with a young guy with empty eyes. It wasn't time to pull out yet so we weren't going anywhere, but I engaged him to see what the hurry was about.
"Let's go, huh? We going somewhere exciting? Deerfield? Boca? Big party today?" I asked as I set my mirrors and adjusted the seat.
"Look at that guy wearin' the same clothes every day!" he pointed out a homeless man relaxing on a nearby bench.
"Well, we could give him a shirt and fix that problem. It's tough times out here, man" was my immediate reply to take the onus off an innocent bystander as we rolled out.
It didn't take long to see this was a passenger who doesn't see the bus as mass transit, but rather as his personal taxi service. As we approached stops with waiting people, he demanded I keep going if he determined they weren't interested in boarding. He wasn't wearing earbuds, but randomly threw out rap lines of standard profanity along with a repetitive favorite: "Rollin' up on ya."
Although his attitude made for an unpleasant trip, it was basically harmless and actually inspired me in a backwards way. Maybe it's my contrary nature, but it compelled me to treat those 'uninterested' people just a little nicer and make sure I had a steady supply of patience and appreciation.

On our next northbound, a young lady was exiting and asked if she could buy a 7 day pass "on the boose" with a cute accent. As we headed north the sunny sky gave way to gray overcast.

Further up at the NETC, a familiar older latina was waiting, and she had a new accessory.
"Oh no, amiga, are you ok?" I asked as she limped on with a cane. Previously, she had been quite spry and mobile.
"You know a car hit me on Sample, right? I was trying to catch the 34."
"What?! You gotta be careful out there, there's a lot of crazy drivers."
For a brief moment awhile back she had a puppy which met an untimely end. Pets are always good conversation and I wanted to take her mind off her injury.
"Are you getting another dog soon?"
"No, I want to get a man - that will be my dog," she flatly replied with a sweet voice.
"Ha! There are plenty out there," I encouraged her.
"No. There's not." Another tone this time: resignation. I probably offered up some platitude about giving up too easy, but words of comfort fall short at times like that. All I can do is empathize and show my appreciation.