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.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Bringing up the rear

It was a split shift kinda day: a morning express run to Civic Center in Miami followed by an afternoon piece on the 50. T'was St. Patrick's Day, so I felt safe in assuming most folks would be in an ebullient mood for the holiday. Some holidays have come to transcend cultural heritage and somehow unite us all regardless of the day's origin; apparently everyone's Irish in the middle of March and Mexican in early May.

After the Miami trip, as I neared the garage there was a bizarre billowing fog drifting down from the slopes of Mt. Trashmore, its peak poking above the clouds. It was a puzzling phenomena since the weather wasn't cool that morning. Perhaps it was a harbinger for the day ahead.

Later on, I took over for the morning 50 driver at the NETC and headed north. Up at Hillsboro, I made a mental note to photograph the old red caboose that probably hasn't moved in decades, right at home with the old warehouses as a backdrop. These moldering relics of the past are disappearing and it's good to take a snapshot before they're gone. The side of the caboose facing Dixie Highway still bears a streaked yet vivid red coat.

A train delay ate up about ten minutes on the next northbound at Flagler Drive. Three engines hauled the endless quarry cars piled high with Dade County limestone like a hundred-humped camel.

After crossing the tracks, Big Boy Hot Rods generally has some custom pick-up or monster truck sitting right on the shoulder of the hairpin curve, making it impossible for a 40-foot bus to swing a clean turn in a single lane.

At one of the stops along Oakland Park's stretch of Dixie, there was a familiar face. Rarely a rider, she's often to be seen hanging out at various bus stops. A mature woman with bleach-blonde hair, she's a fan of form-fitting clothing but keeps it decent. She's flirty when she sees me and the wink she shot my way was in character.
"Where's your green?" I joked with her, alluding to the holiday.
"Right here!" she exclaimed before turning around and grabbing both denim-clad cheeks.

The rest of the afternoon had some full-moon type weirdness:
 -For some reason people think they can beat a red light even though the road ahead is closed for a train crossing, backing up traffic. At Sunrise northbound, cars blocked the intersection when we got green thanks to these short-sighted motorists, causing us to miss a light cycle. The domino effect was that we hit red lights at every intersection for the rest of the trip.
-In Deerfield, it was chaos as at least a dozen marked and unmarked BSO cruisers were racing about, one even coming head on toward the bus.
-At Hillsboro, two big box trucks had a fender bender at the front of the left turn lane, forcing us to turn from the middle lane and backing up traffic at the worst time of day.
-On one southbound, I caught my leader at the NETC. To get some separation, that bus was instructed to drop off only - all the way to Central Terminal. This meant I would be the only one picking up for all that distance. Now I love to help out my coworkers and can sympathize with running late, but this happened to coincide with an early release day for the schools. So by the time I rolled up to Lauderdale High the platform was covered with waiting teenagers, and I already had a seated load. I had set a personal record before when I carried a double rush-hour load on the 22, but this surely topped that. Even today I don't know how we all fit in. There must have been some lap-sharing.

For our last southbound from the north layover, a couple regulars were waiting; a middle-aged man and much younger man, both on work release with attendant ankle bracelets. The older gentleman recites some verse:
"Get on the bus, Gus! Get with the plan, Stan!" as he swiped his pass. I thought it was clever at first, then realized through the haze at the end of a long day that these were familiar song lyrics, albeit paraphrased. Not one to be outdone with words, I resolved to continue the game at our next meeting.
"A little late, Nate!" he sneaked a last one in as he stepped out...

Enough about endings, time for beginnings: summer routes have begun! I'll be on a variety-pack schedule: 2, 10, 60, 42, 441 Breeze, and 95 Express 109. So top to bottom, side to side, with a little Dade and Palm Beach thrown in, I'll be all over Broward County. See ya out there...

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Portland women (or, Blowing smoke)

The 10 never fails to deliver on providing an engaging experience. It certainly has its own identity, which tends to be more light-hearted, humorous, familiar, and just generally easy going. That contrasts with some other routes which always seem to be a little on edge, with frayed nerves on the verge of breakdown. Of course I'm only generalizing and things can switch on a dime. After all, people are people and we're all in the same bus.

Our first southbound, we pulled up to Oakland Park Blvd. While servicing the stop, I could hear a whistle. Sure enough, it was one of my homeless regulars, standing in the median with heavy traffic whizzing by. County policy forbids 'flag stops', which means waiting for someone to cross the street through traffic. This is for good reason; that's how accidents happen. I started to pull forward when the light turned red and gave the whistler a reprieve. He slid in an increasingly rare free trip ticket and when it spit back out he slyly pocketed it rather than reinsert it. Who knows how many trips that ticket was eventually stretched out into. Cleaned up in his red polo and shorts, he had a court date downtown and was cutting it close.
"Can you believe they busted me for having an open Corona on the beach?" he offered up.
I had to sympathize with him since according to their ads Corona is made for the beach.

On the northbound we were just entering Pompano and I could see a familiar gray head.
"There he is, the Weatherman! What's the forecast today?" I greeted the regular.
Though surprised to see me, he didn't miss a beat: "Chili today, hot tamale!"
He's got a catchier one-liner which I still need to catch accurately before writing it down, but suffice to say it's along these same lines.
"What do you call baby potatoes? Tater tots!" he sneaks one more joke in before exiting, followed by the most raucous laughter at the sheer inanity of it all.

Up the line at Hillsboro, a clean cut guy is complimenting a young woman and getting nowhere. She ignores him completely, getting the best of him, so he comments out loud:
"The women here are so conceited! In Portland they're so much nicer!" along with some choice words about vain local women and wish you a good day, Miss.
Of course these sorts of diatribes rarely have the desired effect and that held true in this case.

On the southbound, a girl with model good looks is asking me questions at length and in detail to the point of obvious flirtation. She even follows me off the bus at Central Terminal, with a winning smile and gentle hand taps. She presents herself as a visitor with limited English, but she's communicating quite clearly. I assist her as best I can, with SUNsational Service.

At some point a woman boards with a fine looking service animal. Gray, short hair, and a rhinestone-studded muzzle. These are working animals and they know their place; she scoots under the seat and is perfectly silent.

The bus we're rolling in this day is notorious among the fleet for its heavy exhaust. I'm talking billowing black clouds when the accelerator is applied. It's enough that you don't want to be nearby if you have your convertible's top down -  or if you're on a scooter. At Commercial sitting at a red light, a guy jumped off his scooter and came running up to my window (which I always keep open regardless of temperature).
"Hey, did you know you're blowing a lot of smoke?" he kindly informed me.