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.

1 comment:

  1. Love your writing! Your descriptions are so flowing and vivid, I'm jealous!

    It's interesting how those without "homes" are often much more decent and caring than the ungrateful masses we normally transport. You are obviously a well-liked operator, and your passengers are lucky to have you. Keep on rockin'!