Thursday, December 8, 2016

Wax on

Ah, how I miss the 50. Virtually the entire length of the route is a trip on Dixie Highway and its baked in layers of life. Since the last round of service improvements it now runs like a dream with far less bus-bunching than before. And with extra recovery time at the layovers, the more senior drivers understandably snatch the runs for themselves. Most drivers seem to steer clear of picking it due to an undeserved reputation as an unpleasant route. For those of us who feel at home among the persevering strugglers, the rumble of the railroad, and a built environment that fits like an old shoe this is the place to be.

The waxing moon would be full tomorrow, a signal to be extra aware and patient. Not all full moons create the same effect on people, but the relation between our closest cosmic neighbor and bizarre behavior is too frequent to chalk up to coincidence.

An ominous dust storm billowing from the vicinity of a concrete plant and inconvenient lane closures would be the least of our encounters today. Strange trade winds were blowing.

"Prince just died," the cyclist announced by way of greeting as he boarded, eyes glued to his device screen.
"Who, the musician?" I responded after a moment's hesitation, at first thinking of British royalty.
"3 minutes ago."
It was a bit stunning, after David Bowie's death three months earlier. We lost a number of creative giants in 2016.

Up around Copans a variety of streetwalkers are loitering in skimpy fashions and garish colors to draw attention while also distracting from their vapid, lost stares.

At Five Points a long train is preventing cars from turning, and keeping us stuck at the light through a couple cycles. It's frustrating to have a green light so close yet so far away. A gentle reminder to be patient. The train was here first and takes priority.

The moving yet immovable obstacle and its mindful reminder was timely as not long after we approached a stop and were met by a 20-something young man with a distinctive style. An eccentric hipster clad with gloved right hand and top hat he limped forward with the support of a wooden survey stake, complete with two colors of streamers.
"Whoa, whoa, what's that?" I asked, pointing at his makeshift cane to determine whether it was safe.
"I sprained my ankle. It's not been a good day."
"Hang in there, man, it's not the end of the world." I consoled him as he put his fare in the box.
The encouragement seemed to work as he piped up with some R.E.M.:
"'It's the end of the world as we know it...' I love the oldies. Remember that? What's wrong with music today?"
"Not a fan of Katy Perry I take it."
Pause. Head shake. "Blah wa wa."
He sat down and tried out some bad Creole with some Haitian guys, and got no response.
As he put on his show, an older woman came up front for the next stop.
"Tonight's a full moon you know." Perhaps she was trying to explain the man of the hour.
"I know. I was just waiting for it to start. There it is." I agreed in low volume for her ears only. Her volume had not been so discreet, a passive-aggressive insult he quickly latched onto.
"You ain't seen nothin' yet!," he announced.
"Honey, I've seen it all."
"Wanna bet," he slyly replied, tossing in some playful kissing sounds.
She exited and wished me a good day.
Our showman stayed on a bit longer as we passed through another dust storm, this time from the Eastside Village construction site. When his time came to depart, he looked back over his shoulder and made a prophetic promise:
"Remember, it's a full moon. I may be the first, but I won't be your last."

As it turned out, he was the last that day. The shift ended predictably enough with the Rhymer on our last trip.
"Whatcha gonna do, Lou?," he asked in a way that didn't require an answer. I gave him one anyway.
"Shake a leg, Greg."

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

No angels

Sunday mornings on the 60, a chance to truly enjoy this route without the brutal onslaught of rush hour traffic. The schools are closed so everyone gets a seat rather than the usual standing load coming out of the college. The route itself is one of those dual-personality routes like the 11 and the 40. It stays on one road through east Broward (Andrews Ave) for a long stretch then decides to switch things up by veering out west through Pompano, Coconut Creek, and Margate. The purpose for this is obviously to maximize connections for passengers wishing to hop on other routes. This year, the county straightened out the hairpin curve on Andrews at Atlantic; it required cutting a section out of a warehouse sitting in the way. Now that the road is updated there, the flyover is complete, and widening up at Copans are done perhaps the planning department can look at having the route go straight up Andrews and Military Trail to the county line. On second thought, scratch that idea. Without the western leg, this most colorful and exciting of routes would be just another boring north-south line on the map.

Our first trip we came rolling down the Turnpike overpass, made our turn onto 31st Ave, and pulled up to the first stop for an awaiting trio of men. Two of them told me they just got out of jail, a common confession at this stop across the street from the detention facility. They want free rides, and they have the universal bus pass of the just-released: "I can show you my paperwork." One fumbled some papers in hand, then added with a quiet afterthought: "It's nothing to be proud of."

We made the horseshoe turn onto 27th Ave through the still-sleepy Collier City. A birdman was crumbling biscuits on the sidewalk, but there were no birds.

That first trip tends to be the busiest. Sunday service starts later than weekdays, but people still need to go to work so we're packed now, but it will lighten up as the morning progresses.

The next trip is northbound. At the Prospect red light, there's a loud thud sound. The solid impact two cars make when colliding is a mystery to me. With all the glass and metal and plastic involved it seems like there should more of a shattering, scraping sound. Even so, it's always a similar sound: thud.

We make the turn off John Knox and onto Dixie. A slight curve in the road lined with auto garages leads to the first of two stops before the Transit Center. The stop is empty and my heart sinks a little. Ordinarily there is a group of five or six day laborers waiting, immigrants speaking little English and dressed in their Sunday best: clean jeans and t-shirts. Without so much as a peep after we exchange Good Mornings, they make their silent pilgrimage to San Isidro, patron saint of farmers and feeder of birds. Always paying their fare, camping out in the back of the bus, and pulling the cord on cue, I find them to be a source of steady and reliable strength. Maybe they're whispering back there, but I hear only silence. It can't be because they're not familiar with English, we get all languages talking on the bus at all volumes. They are mysterious in their presence, and today they are mysteriously missing.

Pulling out of the Transit Center, we began our westward trek on MLK. Soon there was a woman in a red sedan in the lane next to us - driving the wrong direction. At this section of street there is a landscaped median which meant she was between it and the bus. I slowed down to a crawl and may have come to a stop in awe of what I was seeing. She continued on her way without causing harm to herself or others.

After that, a familiar face in the neighborhood boarded. With thick graying dreadlocks hanging out of his ski cap, he cuts a distinctive figure. This philosopher is always ready to drop some knowledge on me and I'm always ready to listen. Today he theorizes that the government should better maintain housing projects to keep people's spirits up, then transitions into the concept of helping others. A vague example of him sitting down, asking for help, and not putting in any effort seemed clear at the time but now I'm not sure.

Finally making our way back up 31st Ave on the final leg of this trip, a rider we picked up awhile back makes his way up to the front. Sporting a Cheetah Pompano shirt and lunch tote, he must work there since it's too early to be open.
"Off to work," he said with resignation after an audible sigh.
"Another exciting day?"
"Yeah." No enthusiasm.
"There's gotta be something exciting, something's gotta happen." It was trite encouragement, but it's not like he was looking at a day of drudgery in an office.
"When you seen one, you seen 'em all."

Late morning has arrived, we're on our second southbound going through the college when who should board but my pal Al. He's on a mission to feed some feral cats and dogs. Regaling me with military adventures in Costa Rica, this guy's been places.

We're back on John Knox going the other way and I can see my old regular Louis rising from the bench when he spots the bus. This is the rider who threatened to fire me awhile back. Now he's a bit miffed because a coworker quit at the gas station and he got called in. Forced to nix his plans to attend a charity wrestling match at Mickey's Bar, it added insult to injury as we passed by and could see the ring set up in the  parking lot. Already surrounded by several dozen motorcycles, he said all the biker clubs would be there. When I hinted that might mean trouble he laughed it off.

Maybe angels can be found in the unlikeliest of places: prison, strip clubs, biker bars, even bus stops.

Thursday, December 1, 2016


It's that day again, his day. Jaco Pastorius, one of Broward's own who pulled music out of the air. He said the music was in his hands. For many of us our livelihoods depend on our hands, and occasionally for a brief moment, the stuff of Life passes through them.

Sometime in the past few weeks a passenger and I were discussing the bus we were in. Every bus is different and has its own set of glitches and quirks. I don't recall the particular ghost in the machine we were dealing with that day, but it prompted an excited response from the passenger and he christened it the Bus of Doom. Instantly there was one degree of separation from Jaco and his Bass of Doom. We all use various tools to ply our trades: wrenches, pens, scalpels, computers, and even buses. Jaco bought his in a Margate pawn shop, popped out the frets, and the rest is legend.

Below is an essay I wrote 10 years ago about heroes and Jaco's place among them. It could probably use an editing update (especially since he now has a dynamic park bearing his name), but the substance of it is still true and so I present it here as a sincere and simple offering to the World's Greatest.

Happy Birthday, Jaco.


Jaco the Hometown Hero

Many years ago, I thought about the great men I admire and asked myself what made them so great. Artists, explorers, inventors, and all the other titles we bestow upon those we call 'heroes.' As I compared the lives, personalities, and qualities of each one I realized there are three fundamental aspects to all heroes. I call these aspects The Three Vs: Vision, Virtue, and Vice.

Vision is what separates heroes from non-heroes. In the case of an artist, vision is that creative spark always pushing outward, seeking expression, and often building to an intensity difficult to bear. Jaco had Vision to spare, as evidenced by his incessant drive to express the music he had within. Those with a sensitive temperament, that is those who are sensitive to the influences and impressions of the world in which they live must be able to express themselves in some way. Impression without expression equals depression.

Virtue is that part of us that is compassionate, generous, honest, and self-sacrificing. Jaco showed his Virtue in several ways: encouraging other musicians, giving to the homeless, and especially by his love for his family.

Vice is the aspect of ourselves which is the opposite of Virtue. It is dark, cruel, and selfish. Jaco's Vice was revealed in alcoholism and drug abuse.

Essentially everyone has Virtue and Vice; only a hero has Vision as well. Jaco had all three.

Jaco is still considered a hero to bass players internationally. On a smaller scale, he should be a hometown hero for everyone who was raised in South Florida, as well as for transplants who have an affinity for the region. Jaco himself was a transplant from the North, though it was at a young age and he immediately felt at home in the new environment. He heard music when the train rumbled through his neighborhood wailing its lonely cry in the night. He never met a tree he didn't like to climb. He felt the power of the ocean when he went to the beach. His hometown shaped him as a person, as all hometowns do, and today he is inseparable from South Florida, as much a part of it as the flora, fauna, climate, and landmarks that define it. He often mentioned its influence on him in interviews. He performed around the world and back again, visited dozens of countries and spent a sizable amount of time in New York City, but always returned home to the Fort Lauderdale area. Ultimately he was laid to rest in the place where he spent most of his life.

My personal heroes include some of the great writers of the world: Cervantes, Villon, Dickens, Dostoyevsky, and especially the American writer Thomas Wolfe. Originally from Asheville, NC, his hometown shunned him for his writings and he spent the rest of his life looking for 'home,' never finding it. He had an insatiable hunger to know, see, and experience all things. He died of pneumonia at age 37. His hometown now holds an annual festival in his honor, and the last time I attended I spoke with a teenage resident who was ignorant about his city's most famous native son. I told him his ignorance was a shame and I would be proud to say Thomas Wolfe was from my hometown. Jaco is Broward County's Thomas Wolfe, and I am proud to say he is from my hometown.

The widespread ignorance about his very existence, much less his accomplishments, is a shame and must be remedied. Something must, and will, be done to honor this shining light in the place he felt most comfortable. He passed away in 1987 and still nothing substantial has been done to honor someone who deserves so much.

If you listen close to everyday sounds you can hear Jaco even after all these years. When the ibis flock overhead, a whisper in the breeze, when the sky roars, when the mockingbird sings at midnight, and when the train rumbles through the neighborhood.