Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Pinhole viewer

Spring time Saturdays in Broward County, what could be better. Cool temps, still too cool to roll up my sleeves. The rising sun has turned Oakland Park Blvd. into a street of gold. Yellow tabs in bloom. Ibis pecking for grubs. The light is clear and golden.

A guy in a Piney Grove Baptist shirt, glasses, and snaggle teeth. On his way there now for a health fair. A friend goes there, I ask if he knows him. Yes, he does.

"Thanks for sayin' that, my mind was gone." The middle-aged man in pink-themed outfit thanked me for announcing the stop. There's no annunciator or PA on this bus so I'm doing it old school and hoping folks can hear me at least halfway back into the artic. It's good to know someone's listening, we all need periodic reminders of where we are at this moment. His statement reminded me of my own experiences staring out a bus window, both locally and during the Gypsy Years. Whether the view is familiar or strange, this time-defying act can transport the imagination beyond the bus and down countless side streets, countryside paths, and glimpses of Life.

"How's it goin' out there?," I asked one gentleman as he paid the box. Even though the bus is out there too, it's always on the move like a planet unto itself. Since it's a long road with ever-changing dynamics, I like to find out what's going on with people at various points along the way.
"It's goin' nice. How's it goin' in here?"
It's goin' nice in here, too, Sir.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Getting caught

An early morning express run on the agenda, I deadheaded to the BB&T Center for a tripper to Miami. On 595 there was a horrific accident closing down the east bound lanes and traffic was already backing up for miles. This was going to create a problem when I went into service. Fortunately the road supervisor developed a detour for us and we got to take a rare scenic-route trip on surface roads to the Davie Park & Ride. So while the buses ahead of us gave radio updates of their progress crawling through the accident scene, we bypassed the mess and made good time.

The afternoon piece on the 50 wasn't meant to run as smooth. A detour around the line crews closing lanes would have been nice, but that wasn't an option as we inched our way along.

A passenger came up to me wanting 10th Street in Deerfield. With Spanish accent he said he was from Miami and hadn't been in this part of Broward in 15 years. He looked lost as he commented how everything changed. I had to agree with him, though that stretch of road probably hasn't changed in decades. Sure, signage changes, businesses come and go, landscaping gets replaced - but the physical buildings on Dixie are stuck in a time warp untouched by the rapid gentrification on other thoroughfares. Change is good and necessary and unavoidable, but there's a simple reassurance knowing some places aren't turned upside down and torn down. It anchors the roots as the tree spreads upward and outward, successive years adding expanding rings of hardwood to withstand the stormy times.

Something was in the air that day as another passenger, a woman in scrubs wandered up front, scanning out the window with a dazed look. She was from New Jersey and lost. Were the scrubs the uniform of an exhausted nurse or an inpatient?

We hit the end of the line and headed back south, passing Satchmo's BBQ on 4th St, with his enormous smoker set up on the front lawn of an abandoned shell of a house. The smoke of comfort food is a welcome sight and smell on this lonely street, mostly populated by the ghosts of Pineview Cemetery. A couple love taps on the horn and up goes the master cook's arm in waving response.

Our next northbound we got slammed. The bus was extremely full, presumably from my leader running a few minutes hot. That meant I was picking up people waiting for the previous bus, which leads to complaints about the bus being late though we were actually on time.

The trip after that things got really bogged down. Traffic was congesting and we kept getting later until my follower caught me. It doesn't help anybody to have buses bunched up, so I got instructions to drop off only and put some space between us.

The following trip the tables were turned when I caught my leader and she went into drop off mode.

At Sample a nurse in scrubs boarded after a long shift.
"Save any lives today?," I asked.
"Just one," she replied with a satisfied smile.
"That's enough."

Finally, we pull in to the north layover for our last trip and the rhymers are waiting.
"What's the con, Don?" The young one threw out there.
"How you like the hat, Matt?" The older gentleman tossed up while profiling his classy headwear.
I couldn't drop the ball this time and had to up my game.
"Keep it loose, Bruce."

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Epic day on

Lest I start thinking it's only my days off that are eventful, life reminds me that every day brings its own surprises. As long as we keep moving, our next stop will be Life and all that it contains. Occasionally those stops come at us rapid fire and it's all we can do try to keep up and take some notes along the way.

An otherwise predictable morning tripper on the 10 started out predictably enough. The Palm Tran driver whose layover coincided with my starting point at the Publix on Camino Real was coming out of the store as I was going in. With a fluid gait, dead-weight arms, and before I could say Good Morning he announced with deadpan disappointment, "No croquettes!" Not needing a pit stop (and not caring for a patty) I too turned around.

Settling into our trip to Central Terminal, we picked up the NFL guru, a regular whose extensive analysis of football history and predictions I must always defer to. Football's not really my sport, but talking with him makes it fun to discuss.

Then the ghost reappeared. Not one of those bus glitches that appear without warning, but rather a rider I hadn't seen in well over a year. A bit more gray above the ears than before, but no less dynamic than I recalled. A tireless talker and inveterate socializer, his New York bravado and invasion of personal space demands constant engagement from anyone in his orbit. Frank the street preacher keeps you on your toes, a relentless challenge to apathy. With a curled copy of his autobiography in one hand, the other holding onto an upright stanchion so he could sway in the aisle rather than sit and aggravate an injury, the trip from Pompano to downtown was out of the ordinary. Between countless entreaties of "Jesus have mercy" every few blocks, he explained how he was on his way to court for preaching where he wasn't wanted, resulting in a trespass charge. As we passed the sky-high steeple of Coral Ridge Presbyterian gleaming in the morning sun, he pointed it out and proclaimed aloud, "I need to preach there!" With enthusiastic soulful inflection, he told us how he started in the black churches, then the Haitian churches. That last bit perked my ears.
"Sak pasé?" I asked, hoping to work on my Creole.
"I don't even speak French." A dead end for my language education, but at least I wouldn't need a translator for this sermon.
We approached Barnes & Noble, which prompted another proclamation while sliding his hand across the sign: "I see my book there. Nine million copies sold."
That kind of success requires some promotion, and I advised him to digitize his book, then go to the Art Institute and find a film student to follow him for a day. I'd watch that documentary.
As we neared the end of our trip, he let it be known he was looking for work. A car salesman for 20 years, he was let go recently after only a month at one dealer, "Even though I was the top salesman." Lamenting past mistakes that have set him back for lengthy stretches, he quietly resolved, "I need a godly organized woman." Just before he exited, he offered to sell me his mangled book; I decided to leave some things to mystery.

Trips like that can be invigorating and exhausting when you're not expecting them. It was a good warm up for the afternoon run, after a break between shifts.

* * *

It must have been at the Whole Foods at Copans when the lady boarded with a dozen eggs. It was an irresistible intro, so I asked if she was going to throw them.
With concern she flatly replied, "No. I need to eat them."
A man boarding behind her got my yolk joke and kept it going by saying, "I might do it."
"Let's make an omelet!" I suggested.

Closer downtown, our Special Olympics regular awaits, still wearing her big number sticker from the weekend race. She's excited and hopeful about going to State Finals.

Pretty sure it was at Central Terminal where the down-on-their luck couple boarded. These two were visiting and had to get all the way up to West Palm for a friend's wedding. They had limited funds, but enough for the fare to Boca. Hopefully they gave themselves plenty of time for the trip, I've taken that journey by bus before and it's a looong one.

In Pompano a newer rider stows her bike on the rack. With strong facial features, she boards waving a $5 bill and explains with a Slavic accent she doesn't have change. She got behind the yellow line, I kept the bus moving, and she returned with change after asking the other passengers.

Next the familiar Stander boarded. A bag lady in the truest sense, she hauls about a half dozen full bags around. A couple weeks earlier she'd made a morbid comment the day Brussels was attacked. Now, as then, she preferred to stand and let her "bones grind together." Perhaps unable to keep her thoughts silent, she continually talked out loud to herself, missing her stop and getting upset at herself.

Promising progress on Sunrise Blvd: finish coats are being applied, hopefully wrapping up an insane project which has been stifling traffic flow for months at the worst time of day.

Shortly after our next trip out of Central Terminal, we pick up the "visiting" Jamaican lady. I've picked her up several days in a row on other routes, she's always surprised to see me and never has the fare. She'll intently focus on me, whisper her request for a free ride so quietly it's the same as mouthing. We hear a lot of sob stories on the bus, but hers is a consistent one involving domestic trials and travails. It's not difficult to extend a courtesy to the suffering.

Uptown, the regular with the Peru hat boards, I lower the bus as he limps on with a cane. He's getting more mobile as he heals, and he'll be walking without it soon. We approached Atlantic Blvd, and he took the Pompano Cemetery stop. As he exited, I advised him to turn and not walk straight ahead.
"Ha ha, not yet, I got a few more years!"

Somewhere in Deerfield, a woman prepares to exit, but not before swiping her pass. I'd forgotten she boarded, but recalled it was way downtown and at the time she struggled to locate her pass. A classy lady with a sweet voice, she seemed tired after a long day so I told her to have a seat and just come back up when she found it. Wearing a Broward College lanyard, she mentioned something about working with 20-40 year olds. Bus drivers work with all ages, so I couldn't quite relate to the age reference.

Just before picking her up, a long lost couple boarded at Central Terminal. I used to pick them up every Saturday back when I drove the 20. He looked beat and dazed and didn't seem to recognize me, she was beaming with a huge smile and wide eyes behind cute glasses when they got on.
"Hey guys! How's it goin' over on the 20?"
"He's an older driver..." she bit her tongue. "God bless him."
They both seemed world-weary when they exited all too soon.
"If I could only keep myself out of trouble," she sighed.
"We know the right thing to do but we don't always do it," I concurred.
"We make choices..." she continued as they drifted away.

Oh, on that last northbound trip we picked up the NFL guru again, the same one we picked up that morning. He was a bit surprised that I was still driving so late. It's funny how things come full circle sometimes, even after a shift change.

Up at Hillsboro a longtime gas station was leveled. An earthmover with monstrous claw was steadily tearing a giant black olive tree apart, reducing it to toothpicks.

On one of our earlier trips, a northbound at Copans, we were parked at the red light when I looked to the left and saw a woman in the vehicle next to us aiming a camera with an enormous Nikon zoom lens directly at me. I didn't mug for the camera or otherwise acknowledge it, but it felt weird. With a lens that large and that close it could probably see into my pores.

Finally, another familiar face appeared. This time it was incomplete, since up till now the gentleman always had his lady friend with him. Odd to see him solo as he regretted their break up. On his way to the Swap Shop to sell his phone for some extra cash, he too needed a free ride.
"What would I do without the good guys?" he pondered aloud as we all made our way down the road.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Silverbacks and cherry tops

Our 595/95 Express routes generally use dedicated commuter buses with features not available on local route buses. The first difference that is obvious is the outside appearance. Taller, longer, and more curvy, many of these models are decorated with either a silver or red roof and a large spaceship entry door. Inside, the seats are plush and padded, and the wifi always works. Although designed for rider comfort, a few of the older units have developed an unpleasant surprise for unsuspecting drivers: a rain reservoir that drains when the bus is in motion. Ok, so into every life some rain must fall, sometimes it happens to drip on your lap while you're on the turnpike. Soon enough, the dashboard's Stop Engine light and attendant buzzer sound activate, presumably in protest to the uninvited moisture behind closed panels. After pulling over briefly, the warnings relent and we continue our tripper to Miami.

After that morning run, I get a couple hours off the clock before returning for an afternoon on the gritty 50. The buses on the 50 run the gamut, from ancient time machines to brand new models unsullied until the fresh bus smell wears off. The previous driver seems to bring me a different bus each time I relieve him or her, and today I get a newer one which means everything is probably working ok. A good bus covers a multitude of ills and we're gonna need any edge we can get for the road ahead.

Prior to the bus arrival, an older woman also waiting made some comment and we joked around. The levity was to be short-lived soon after we boarded and departed the Pompano station. She set up camp in the middle of the very back row and not long into our trip I could hear a row brewing. As she yelled and cursed, others began arguing with her. In rough shape, with a bruised face and no sense of self-control, she let loose her entire obscene vocabulary. Difficult to determine if the behavior was due to drunkenness or derangement, I'm very patient with these episodes since the offender will exit eventually. As distasteful as crude language may be, it's still just talk and she never threatened physical violence toward anyone. It was only a short distance to our north layover anyway, where I assumed she'd exit. Never assume. She decided to stay on and ride back around, continuing the abrasive performance without tiring. When we returned to the Pompano station, the security guard escorted her off - right where she'd gotten on in the first place.

The rest of the trip was a breeze after that, but the afternoon was progressing and we got slammed on the next trip. Packed bus, wheelchair, bikes, slowpokes, and a suspicion that my leader bus went down.

At Sunrise I picked up a regular rider, an amputee in a wheelchair who's been riding Broward Transit since before it was Broward Transit. He can come off as bitter and cranky at first blush, but in time reveals a keen intellectual brand of humor; no cheap one-liners here. Totally independent, he inspires awe as he maneuvers the chair backwards up the ramp, the rear of which is heavy laden with a collection of bags common on the streets. No assistance required, my offer of securement declined. Way up the line an old man boarded cautiously, hands feeling before him. I've carried him occasionally, every time he's sure to tell me he's blind and where his stop is, and that he's 91 years old. Every time I congratulate him and make sure he gets his stop. He held on the stanchions to make his way into the bus, and was snapped at by the passenger in the wheelchair who preferred not to have someone sitting on his lap.

"Appreciate your help, you guys are a lot nicer than the bus drivers in Boston, where I'm from." No, this didn't come from an older passenger thankful for my assistance, but rather from a young man looking for an address. More mature folks tend to be profuse with their thanks, but I hear it from all ages and it's appreciated.

"Are you new?" a man asked at the Pompano station. I hear this question a few times a year and I usually reply the same. "New to you!" and a smile.

The afternoon got later and we picked up the pet vet. I asked him what exotic animal he worked on today since he's mentioned treating rhinos, lions, and pot-bellied pigs. Today it was nothing exotic, just a toy poodle with an owner resembling Arnold Schwarzenegger.

On this trip a pattern is developing: I'm getting reports from passengers that my leader passed them by. Most likely that bus was instructed to go out of service and get back on schedule, but passengers don't know that. Even I didn't know that, but it made sense of my earlier hunch.

The ongoing lane closure north of Sample is in effect today, causing a traffic crunch at the worst time of day. We're all wondering why the line crews can't do the work at night.

The weather's nice and the street walkers are out in force, hustling the blocks south of Copans as the daylight wanes.

At our final north layover, the rhymers arrive, hurrying over from Hillsboro. I'm stretching my legs on the sidewalk.
"What's flyin', Brian?" the young one gets the ball rolling this time.
"What's the deal, Neil?" the older one follows up with his nugget.
I'm ready this time. "What's the hurry, Murray?" directed towards both of them, followed with a smooth spin into the bus.

We're well into our fall/winter pick. You'll find me on another variety pack like usual, this time on the 2, 10, 34, 55, and 114. All over the county, let's ride together...