Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Farewell 40 (for now)

Some things just grow on you. This is a little different than doing what's right even though you don't want to. I'm not talking about eating your veggies. No, this is about learning to see beauty in the blemished.

The infamous 40, bane of many a bus operator mostly because of an impossible schedule during certain hours of the day, certainly reminded me of this concept. Now that I'm no longer on the 40 and can look at it a bit more objectively it occurs to me that I actually miss the chaotic fury it carried me through. Fortunately, my new routes bring similar mind-numbing action so I can cope with the loss.

Being a Broward native, virtually every route has some connection to my life at various stages. The 40 goes right by Broward General, where my journey began, and also Sunset Memorial Gardens, where it'll probably end. In between is the stuff of Life. I miss the familiar regulars, the views from 17th St bridge, Swap Shop people, BBQs on Sistrunk, Outcast Ryders MC, and threading the bus through the Eye of the Needle by the county courthouse.

The last day on the 40 was typical of the previous runs. A Sunday morning run, for the most part an unrushed piece, except for the first trip out of the Hill, and regular lane closures on A1A for special events.

"My favorite driver - announcing driver - only announcing driver," was the cheery greeting I received from a regular, a homeless gentleman who without fail kept his luggage protected in heavy duty black plastic garbage bags. Sometimes the onboard announcer isn't working so if the PA system is functional I take to the mic and announce the time points and points of interest. Apparently most drivers don't offer this service, since I've received numerous comments about how unusual it is. To me it's a joy and honor to call out these names that are part of me.
Sunrise> World Famous Swap Shop> African American Research Library> Central Terminal> Main Library> Courthouse> Broward General> US 1> Port Everglades> Las Olas> Galleria

At the Galleria another regular awaits, also homeless, with the pungent ripeness of living rough. Sociable and refined in speech, he presents a more pragmatic presence than the previous passenger. Initial small talk about the weather makes way for headier topics such as current events, mass transit, and various occupations. On a different day, he made a wry joke about doing card tricks, and I think I caught him off guard when I presented him with a fresh deck and asked for a lesson.

At the Port a tourist explains he'll only pay the senior fare since he's "55 plus" and offers to show me his passport. I welcome him to Broward County and let him ride.

Every Sunday at 11 a.m. there is a looong line waiting for the doors to open at Tap 42, across from the hospital. It makes for an unlikely hot spot in an area still sleeping at that hour. Today it's doubly long. BBQ?

As we roll along Sistrunk, a woman sitting on a bus bench up ahead spots us, hurriedly grabs an armful of belongings off the bench, and does a modified bicycle kick to flag the bus. I can't say it's the first time I've stopped for legs, but it's the first time I've been stopped by them.

At the Hill, a lady puts some coins in the farebox, and one of them is rejected. She sees it's a foreign coin so naturally tosses it behind her onto the bus platform.

At the Central Terminal we pick up the smiling face of a newcomer from Jamaica by way of Boston. This guy has class and is bringing back the lost art of nice hats.

Near the end of my shift I pull into a stop for a recognizable regular. She's a young lady whose speech belies some level of learning disability, along with physical limitations. In spite of this she's kind of an inspiration because she doesn't let it paralyze her or render her inactive. She always has a smile for me and I ask if she had a good time at church, but today she's not smiling. She tells me another driver didn't lower the bus for her and slammed the door in her face when she didn't move fast enough. Now, I wasn't there so I can't vouch for her accusation, but there's no denying she's hurt and upset. It sickens me to see this sweet person, normally sociable and bright, down in the dumps due to mistreatment when we should all be looking out for her and assisting her as much as possible. She's counting on us to do our part, and it's not good for her to just be standing out on the streets any longer than necessary. Fortunately she's ok and this time it's more of an inconvenience than anything. I lower the bus for her.

Note: this pick you can find me on the 10, 50, 60, 72 and 595 Express. All over town on my tours of duty, hope to see you out there.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Regular day off

Like most jobs out there, bus driving offers its workers a couple days off during the week. Rarely are they on the weekend, so our 'weekend' may actually be in the middle of the week. I usually sign up for extra work on at least one of those days to get in some overtime. Plus, I love being behind the wheel and it just feels weird when I'm not constantly on the move. Working on my off days is quite unlike a regular day. First of all, it's usually a run I'm not necessarily familiar with, could be a split shift, or nothing but express runs. Then again, it may be all too familiar since it may be one of my regular routes, but it wears a cloak of mystery since I'm seeing the same thing from a different angle.

One such day I worked a split shift, which involved a few hours on the 88, then a few more on the 10. Now the 88 runs up and down Pine Island Road, except for the section of road in Coral Springs, conveniently named Coral Springs Drive. This route is generally lightly traveled, other than twice a day when the rush to and from the six school zones it services is in effect. So the more leisurely aspect of the route make it enticing to senior drivers, and it's heavily used by young people. This particular day was drizzly and overcast, which meant even lighter use than usual. I can see how regular drivers on this route could get to know most of the regulars. In other words, the complete opposite of the 441 Breeze.

"Buh pah" was all I heard from the voice behind the little hand reaching up to me from below. No more than 3 years old, his cool comic-con mom deciphered the syllables for me.
"Another driver gave him a bus pass once and now he asks every time he gets on the bus!" she explained.
As we rolled along, she explained basic bus etiquette to him such as not running around the bus while it's in motion and when to pull the stop request cord. It's always great to see the youngest ones among us getting an early education on how to use mass transit.

And so that morning on the 88 went, uneventful overall. Then came time for the afternoon piece: the 10. Let me just say I love the 10. It's been a mainstay at least one day of my work week for a long time, though all my other routes get changed when we make our picks. The route itself is nothing exciting, only deviating from US 1 at the north and south ends. But the trip from one end to the other is a sort of anthropological archaeology, or as a supervisor put it "A sociological lesson in life."

I should have known this wouldn't be just another afternoon on the 10 when the bus showed up to the relief point almost 20 minutes late. Any longer and my follower would be on my tail so I adjusted the mirrors and booked it, noticing the bus was loaded. A few miles up the road we made a routine stop request when who should bound by me as he exited the front door, but my favorite German bus fan. Hadn't seen him for awhile since he tended to be on the 10 only at a certain time when I drove it on a different day.
"You punishment! You naughty boy on weekend!" was how he both greeted and said goodbye this time.
No, he wasn't referring to some off-duty debauchery, but rather it was the continuation of a long-running joke regarding whatever bus I'm driving at the moment. Being a bus fan, he's quite knowledgeable about the buses themselves. In this case the bus was nearing the end of its service life, almost an antique. The opposite of the newer model I used to drive when I picked him up regularly. So whenever he sees me in an old bus he jokes I'm being punished for misconduct. The levity is most welcome as I wave farewell.

By the time we finished that trip and arrived at the north end layover, we weren't much better off time-wise. A large group awaited and let me know in clear terms that they were displeased with the delay. It doesn't do any good to explain the reason we're late since that won't fix the issue, so I offer up sincere apologies and keep it moving. Waiting among the crowd, as irate as the rest but for different reasons, is a local legend on the 10. It's the one and only Patty, or the one I used to call Patty till she said that's no longer her name. Claiming previous drivers wouldn't let her board, she was determined to make this bus so I kneeled the bus and in she came. Once seated, she immediately went off on another homeless woman seated directly across from her, claiming the woman's rolling luggage was hogging the aisle. The woman decided not to stay for this treatment and exited. This seemed to satisfy her and she switched into sweet-talk mode, complimenting two homeless men who boarded. Then her attention turned to me.
"Bus driver, you need to take me to a hotel." Bear in mind nothing she says is meant for my ears only, everything is at top volume and everyone on the bus can hear it.
"There's a hotel, baby" she continued. I can only smile, call her a sweet-talker, and let her go on.
"Hey Stanley, wanna shave my head this weekend?" she calls out to one of the earlier men she recognized.

Shortly before she exits at the south end, a young man boards. He looks familiar but I hesitate because I'm unsure. He's wearing a yellow safety vest and wants to start a revolution, not the kind that causes chaos but fixes it. His idea is a Rescue Team, a do-good army to fix the world's woes such as transporting water to the drought areas of California. He says the media focuses on bad news the way a parent focuses on a bad child wanting attention.
"I can't do it alone, so I talk to everyone about it to plant seeds. I can't do much, so today I'll start with a haircut."

Just another regular day off.