Sunday, January 31, 2016

Blessed and highly favored

In previous posts, it was the multiple-personality 40 that vexed me on a regular basis. This time around it's the limited-stop 441 Breeze. One of the system's longer routes, it reaches from Coral Springs in north Broward to the Golden Glades park & ride in north Dade, at least an hour and a half from end to end. It is a good way to see the heart of Broward County, from the manicured north in Coconut Creek to the gritty south as it transitions from Hollywood and on into Dade County.

The Breeze stops running earlier than the regular-stop routes, though could probably stand to run a bit longer since this is one of the busier lines in the system. From the time I relieve the previous driver to the time I go out of service, it's a non-stop effort to never stop moving forward. Being a limited stop service, the Breeze has more options for keeping it moving by switching lanes regularly if enough space opens up to tuck in a 60 foot articulated bus. This gets tricky during the chaotic rush hours, when certain sections of 441 are bumper to bumper for miles.

The driving skills required to make the route work are an exciting challenge, but it's the people that bring the most reward. All of my 'favorite' routes share that characteristic, and the only downside in this case is that the relentless pace of the Breeze limits lengthier interactions. Even so, when pretension is not an issue and the comfort level is there, equal hearts can connect.

An older gentleman who boarded at Golden Glades asks me to let him know when we get close to his stop, in north Broward. This is usually tough to keep track of due to the countless similar requests that come my way, but we're getting close and he stands close by to look for familiar landmarks. A Bahamian who left the islands long ago for more opportunity, he's traveling to visit his grown daughter this day. A driver himself in younger days, he emphasizes that driving a bus is "no joke" and he'll "leave it to the young guys". He loves the newer model bus we're using today and says it feels like he's flying in an airplane.

At one stop, a wide-eyed young man boards nervously and comments that the area we're in is scary. This interests me since it's a relatively benign area. I ask where's he's from, expecting him to mention a gated community somewhere. "Brooklyn" he replies.

Down in Hollywood, another guy is sharing his thoughts on current events, commercialized holidays, and various other ills. He makes a prophecy concerning the Russia-Turkey conflict: Ethiopia will get involved. It's in the Bible, and he'll bet $100 on it.

A fashionable lady with a braided bun boards, and her long pointed nails attract my attention. When I tell her they're nice, she runs them lightly across my leg. Surprised, I tell her she's bad - and she agrees.

On my last trip northbound, a young man steps out of the darkness flashing a big toothy smile. He can't be contained, he's so excited.
"I'm ready to drive, man, I put in my application to be a bus driver!"
These guys are the best, hopeful and eager to be in my seat. I encourage him to pursue his dream and don't give up.

Two middle age women are having a semi-religious discussion in the front seats. One of them had to travel out of state recently for some time. She returned to find her Bible, with tithe money inside still intact, and called it a blessing.

On a different day, pick up a young mother with two little ones at Golden Glades. With all sincerity, she explains how she left her purse at work and doesn't have fare for the youngest. He meets the criteria for a free trip anyway, so no problem. Later on, I look in the cabin mirror to see her holding some cash. A woman who just exited gave it to her, out of the blue. "I know God is good to me" she says with wondrous confidence.

At Commercial Blvd, a sizable group of day laborers awaits to board, covered in paint splatter, drywall dust, and stale sweat.
"What you need to do is find one good thing to do for people. You know we're all in the same situation. Everyone on this bus is in the same situation." The conversation between two coworkers that began at the bus stop continues as they board and swipe their passes.

Much later, nearing the end of my run, I look in the cabin mirror and see a familiar face. Can't remember where he boarded since the sheer volume of the ridership tends to blur such details unless I take note. But I always remember when he boards since he has a definite greeting. I used to ask him how it's going, and he'd reply with "Blessed and highly favored." Now I beat him to it and ask if he's blessed and highly favored today. Always greeting me with a "Ya mon" in a light island accent, thick plaits spilling out from a skully, this cheers me up for some reason, no matter what's going on around us. As we approach the final stop of the night, the bus annunciator gives its final message: "Route finished. Thank you." My blessed friend is quick to disagree with the disembodied voice, calling out a message of his own: "I'm not finished, I'm just getting started!"