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.