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.