Thursday, November 30, 2017

Everlasting arms

"I was a celebrity's girlfriend, now I'm alone." Her worry wrinkles and crow's feet glistened a little more behind the glint of her glasses. It was awful early for confession time, a still dark morning somewhere along the 2 route. At this time of morning-night, on this stretch of road, and with a rolling suitcase clasped in a rear-stretched arm behind her it was obvious she'd spent the previous hours out here. A lavender shawl shared its color when she crossed the threshold into the bus.
   At Stirling, our friend in a creative t-shirt boarded, and it looked like sadness was going to be the theme of the day. His battle against discouragement would be ongoing, as it often is.

   Had a nice layover at 207th St, flipped the bus around to head back north with a new trip and a new direction brighter than the first one.
   A young man was unfamiliar with the area and was looking for a particular street. He was afraid of missing it and stayed close by while I assisted him. The section of University Drive just north of Pines Boulevard is paralleled by a canal, with a sidewalk in between. Protecting the sidewalk and potential detours into the canal is a lengthy guardrail, with occasional cut outs for bus stops. While helping out the young man, the stop request bell chimed, I registered it, but still missed the next cut out. An older woman had pulled the cord, and with the guardrail preventing any kind of safe alternative exit we would have to proceed a bit further. This inconvenience triggered a tempest.
   "You need to pay attention to the signal, that's what it's there for! You missed the stop, Driver!" A voice that shook the entire bus raged from her deceptively small form, and things got dark again as she lit into me. I immediately apologized with sincere contrition.  It had been a long time since I got that kind of treatment, and I was surprised by it.
   Just past Broward Blvd, the former Plantation Fashion Mall was a demolished pile of rubble. The old was being cleared to make way for the future quite different from its past.

   The shift was nearly half over and so far it was skewing decidedly downward. Into each life some rain must fall, and we weather the storm trusting growth will result on the other side. A bus driver spends a lot of time in the bus, moving through wildly different settings and interactions. It is a comfort to consider that every trip we're "reborn" and get a fresh start. Pulling into the north layover at Westview Drive brought this trip to a merciful end. Before the bus came to a stop, a large man with trim graying beard rose from the bench and headed for the entrance steadied by a wooden cane.
   "Can I come on during your break?" He inquired politely, and of course I welcomed him aboard while he commented on the heat.
   'That's how you know where you are. Rub your finger down your back. Most of the world wishes they were here.'
   "You know it's a right for those who live here to bitch about Florida." I couldn't argue with that logic, and it made a natural transition to discuss New Yorkers who say their city is the best, yet moved away. He too was from there, but far more effusive about his year in Hawaii among jumping humpbacks, cruising dolphins, smoking volcanoes, and giant Samoans. Some people are travelers, not tourists, and he was one of those who absorbed everything in his environment and could talk about it in a thoughtful manner. He only went a few stops down the road with me, but somehow we covered thousands of miles before he exited with an Aloha and Mahalo.

   The empty space left by the thoughtful traveler was soon filled by my friend the Afghan. It had been some time since he last stopped by, so I asked about the trip to his homeland. He hadn't gone after all, citing the high cost to do the journey right. His accent is heavy but refined, and pleasant to hear and decipher. I reminded him to send a postcard.

   Sometimes our uniqueness is our blessing, and such a person showed up on cue with hers. Always giggly and ready to laugh, she has special needs yet still gets around independently, excited to be off on her errands. Simple joy is a powerful antidote for complex stressors.

   Later in the shift, and we were in the home stretch. A man entered with a horribly scarred forearm. Doctors wanted to amputate, sure the damage put it beyond saving. This man was not ready to give in so quickly, though the pain must have been immense when it occurred. The fingers no longer closed, something he would remedy with therapy. Numb nerves meant he felt no pain whatsoever beneath the healed wounds. We were looking at a miracle, reminding us of a strength beyond our hands.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Back to normal

Some extra work on the 42 had begun with confusion when I was given the wrong info for my run assignment. We sorted it out with no appreciable disruption in service. This piece started in the middle, so half an hour later we were at the west layover. The bus was empty but for a sleeper in the rear, woke him to make sure he was ok before riding back around.

At State Road 7 an unhurried early afternoon crowd deferred to an older couple connected at the hip.
   'Careful there, nice n' easy. Take your time...' I coaxed them with all due care. The old woman's smile was bright and true as she helped her old man along, the thin bracelet on his wrist indicating his recent hospital visit.
"We're married for 46 years. And we love each other." She was their voice and strength this day, surely just one of her many turns in those many years.

We pulled out of the Northeast transit center a couple minutes down, and things were looking good for a timely arrival at the east end. No sooner did we exit the center and pull up to the light on Dixie, when the adjacent FEC RR lights started flashing and we had to yield to the original mechanical transport, that old iron horse squealing on its thin metal ribbons for the past 120 years. Two minutes turned into ten.

A short break and back to the west we went. At 27th Ave, three young men sat in the bus shelter, smoking a heavy lazy smoke. One boarded while the others stayed behind with the smoke. The pungency of what he was smoking reached me before he did. His dollar bill didn't want to go in the box, prompting one of the friends to giggle crazily.

This trip was rolling smoothly, too smoothly for an afternoon on Atlantic Boulevard. The reason was obvious when my leader came into view short of the west end. She'd been taking the brunt of the increased demand. About this time a guy sidled up to me. Bus drivers can also be sounding boards when someone needs to talk. He told me how he'd been homeless on the streets for 6 weeks now, and it wasn't easy.
"I'm trying to get back to normal." He stated with surety.
   'You'll get there.' I encouraged him.

Heading east again and the sleeper is still aboard. Apparently homeless, with his collection of bags holding all his belongings. He used his backpack as a body pillow, hugging it close to his chest. Another tote bag sat nearby, a long umbrella handle sticking out. A white styrofoam cup hung upside down on the handle, perhaps to deter the quick grab or as a sign of surrender.

The after school crowd is joining us now, from the large middle and high schools in the suburbs. I caught my leader again at the east layover. She's having a rough day and is losing ground by the minute. She gets a reset and deadheads somewhere down the road, leaving me to do the picking up.

It's a weekday, but a face from Sunday is waiting for me under some shady oak trees. It's the Indian girl with a snaggletooth smile.
"Half hour late!" She complained through her smile.
   'Sorry for the wait!' I apologized. My bus was on time, but she was late to work and no explanations would change that. As she exited at Dixie I encouraged her not to let it ruin her day. The kind smile returned.

At Lyons Road there was my leader yet again. I leapfrogged her to give her some relief. She was so busy dropping off she never caught us until we got to the west layover. She got another reset and booked it to the Northeast transit center.

Now it was my turn to work. We soon had a standing load, with the usual complaints about long waits. Unfortunately the bus is at the mercy of a million time-eaters, and this time of day calls for an extra dose of patience from all of us. The drama, the chaos, the energy, the urgency keep us from getting bored. Anything else wouldn't be normal.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Good medicine

In between ridiculous crawling traffic and frustrating red lights are the little moments that make one take pause. If you blink, you'll miss 'em.

A morning run on the 60, rumbling over the ruts leading out of downtown. My regular with the strobing headlamp at the Lighthouse for the Blind stop wasn't there, leaving a dark void as we crested the FEC RR. It may be darker than the bottom of the ocean out here, but this first bus of the day is a popular one. We've got a seated load by the time we get to Prospect, with a few standers. The earliness means few cars on the road and we make good time all the way. At Dunkin' Donuts it becomes clear the ladies behind the counter know me well, preparing my breakfast by heart.

Back in service, and now the city is waking up. If we don't have moving obstacles, we have stifling congestion. The Jamaican regular who navigates the mountains of rock at Matco hops on, ever cool in sunglasses. I ask him what he works with over there. "What do I work with? Locomotives, pushin' those cars around." Now he's Superman to me, moving the earth.

We're pushin' 10 minutes down by the time we exit Cypress Creek Tri-Rail Park & Ride, a notorious time-eater. Climbing the I-95 overpass gives us a clear view of the commuting chaos on the highway, and I count my blessings to be running late on old Andrews Avenue. Folks are rushing to get to work so I can't help feel a little bad being late to pick up my next regular. For some time I'd been calling him Amigo, thinking he was Hispanic. When he boarded with a smiling "Bom dia!" in Brazilian Portuguese it froze me to my seat.

Things thawed out quickly and we made it to Central Terminal with a couple minutes to spare. My friend who works at Catfish Dewey's was waiting to head up there and do his thing in the kitchen. Now we were in the thick of it, flowing with the heavy, slow traffic all the way to Northeast transit center.

Not everyone heads to work in the morning. At Commercial a woman with a bicycle was awaiting our pull up.
"Is there any way I can ride to the clinic to get my medicine?" She forced the request out, barely functional and reliant on the kindness of strangers. Getting the go ahead, I assisted her with loading the bike since she was having difficulty placing both wheels in the same slot. More than a year earlier, I'd picked her up on the 10 over by the Florida House Experience. At that time, she had been bright-faced and vivacious. Today, either the early hour or an unfortunate relapse had discolored her into a haggard, strung out low point.

The roaring morning had settled into humming calm as the machinery of life spun its wheels, and lunchtime approached. At Central Terminal for my last trip north, a couple with all their belongings in bags came over in the usual way.
"We just need a ride to Sunrise, to a church."
A block past Sunrise and the green building came into view.
"Next stop, driver." The woman's voice drifted up.
   'Ok, the meatloaf church.'
"Ha ha! Every 60 driver knows the meatloaf church! Here just in time to grab a tray!" The man joked.
   'Now you're makin' me hungry!' I half-joked, part of me wishing to join them, part of me wondering what the next stop might bring.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Getting called out

The names I get called by my passengers continue to amaze me. The vast majority use the old standbys like Boss, Sir, Man, so the list of new names continues to shrink, or perhaps I forget to take note when I should. It generally takes something audacious to catch my ears, something out of the ordinary. Below are a few more on the ever-growing list.

List Three
-Hustla
-Blue
-Bo
-Kennedy
-Billy Bob Thornton
-Dumb Ass Cracka
-Kiddo
-My Potna
-Bubble Burster
-Clark Kent
-Big Bo
-Mr. Driver
-The Man


List One
List Two

Thursday, October 5, 2017

God, country, and BCT

Saturdays on the 36 are nothing to get excited about, because nothing much seems to happen. The schedule has plenty of time on it, so there's more chance of running hot than late. Service is frequent enough that there's always a seat for everyone. And the recovery time at the layovers is quite generous.

I started the shift around lunch time at Lauderhill Mall heading west. At Pine Island a familiar face from Route 2 was waiting. An older gentleman with a folding bike, a bucket, and a squeegee with a 2-foot wood handle. We talked about good & bad bus service, and the upcoming penny tax proposing to remedy the bad part. Two stops past Flamingo, he exited for his window-washing gig at Publix.
"Good talkin' with ya, see ya next time." I think he considers me like a son.
   'See ya out there.'
"I'm sure you will. If you don't see me, I'm dead."
   'Aw, don't say that.'
But he said it, and I wondered if I'd see him again.

On our return trip, a passenger who'd been reserved and quiet his entire trip wandered up front as we neared his exit.
"Thank you for your service. God, country, and BCT. Not necessarily in that order."
   'Different days, different orders...'
As he exited, he pointed out the bus bench ad featuring a pretty woman's face; someone drew a handlebar mustache on her upper lip.

Renovations at the aging Galleria were progressing. A previously stark white wall at the east end facing the boulevard had been replaced with two floors of glass and a colorful background within. At the east layover a cute latina boarded asking about the fare in accented English, her beach-appropriate apparel accentuating her more prominent features.

The next westbound trip was underway and traffic was so smooth we got to the Hill a bit earlier than scheduled. I relaxed in the cabin with everyone else.
"You look like Kennedy." A woman sitting across from me made an observation.
   'The president? He's before my time.'
"When he was around." She replied with a soft smile, before talking about her father taking trash to the dump up in Pennsylvania.

While at the Hill, a man boarded with a large rolling trash can loaded with his belongings. He looked at me intently and said "I've got more." Apparently he just got evicted since he followed up the trash can with two large storage totes and a wicker folding chair. He was also prone to bursts of manic laughter, like the Joker.

Along the residential stretch between Pine Island and Nob Hill is a development called Cross Creek. They have an impressive hedge of ixoras which present a wall of color when in full bloom. Unfortunately this damp day in late summer the blooms were sparse.

At Sawgrass mills, I bumped into a fellow driver. He was on the 22, which was still out Copans Garage at that time, and complained about too much stopping. I sympathized with him, but my day was going a lot smoother. At our first stop out of Sawgrass I picked up a former coworker from a previous job. A loud and intrusive individual, I didn't respond when he said I looked familiar to him. He didn't push it and was preoccupied with whatever he was on his way to do.

The wet ground and moist air invoked the ghost of Jaco as we passed Holiday Park, where he spent so many of his days. Days like this Saturday, on the 36, when nothing much seems to happen.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Spent on the 60

Afternoons on the 60 are a lesson in patience. Crushing congestion, servicing every stop, and fanciful schedules all coalesce to frustrate and confound. It is not unusual for buses on the route to catch each other despite the 20 minute separation. It's still my favorite route. It has everything I love about bus driving: half the route is on Andrews Avenue, the original spine of old Broward County which now extends all the way north and passes through my neighborhood. The westbound turn after the Northeast transit center takes us through rough sections of town full of heartbreak and back ache. There's also a taste of true city driving when we're downtown on those ancient narrow lanes. As a young rider many years ago, the 60 took me where I wanted to go; now I'm in the driver seat returning the favor.

The glitch was glaring from the moment I took over that afternoon. Every time the front door opened, the bus would announce 'Wheelchair Assistance Requested', though there was no wheelchair aboard. A couple attempts to recycle the bus were unsuccessful. The seats in the wheelchair area were still up, once I put them back down the problem was resolved. Now there would be no distractions as we began our first southbound trip.

The nearly empty bus was soon packed with a standing load at Broward College, and this was only our first time point on the route. The loud students don't seem to mind, reveling in bumping into each other. When we turned on to 27th Ave for the first stop in Collier City, I had to hop off the bus and explain to the man in the wheelchair why I was passing him - the bus was packed. An apology and estimated arrival of the next bus was all I could do, and off we went.

We were 15 minutes late at our next time point, the Northeast Transit Center, and that would be the pattern the rest of the afternoon, steadily increasing until we were nearly 30 minutes down at one point. There would be no immediate relief from my follower bus since he went down on our next trip north. At that time of day, all the reasons I mentioned before prevent any chance of getting back on schedule. Yet there is a simple satisfaction in being the bus that does finally show up to take people home after their tiring day, navigating the swarming cars, train delays, and construction zones of a buzzing city.

Shortly before my follower went out of service, he had caught me and I was instructed to drop off only, until we came upon our only exception. She was the sweet lady in the wheelchair at the library in Collier City, a recent amputee unfamiliar with getting around in the chair. We had room on the bus now, and there was no way I could leave her sitting in the heat of the day any longer than necessary. She had an awkward prosthetic this time, but boarded confidently and accepted securement in her polite and demure way. A flower in the dust shines out all the more brightly, even with a petal missing.

When I finally returned to Central Terminal, my follower had also returned, his bus occupying the 60 slot, the driver missing. I hadn't been out of the seat for hours and could have used a pit stop, but the double-size crowd waiting to leave inspired me to finish strong for this last trip of the day.

Moving twice as fast as anyone else to get aboard and get situated was my long time regular Mr. Brad. He's always energetic and sociable, and is his best self after treatment. He was especially talky today, after spending the previous four days in the hospital, eating good food, taking two showers a day, and getting his treatment. It was like a vacation. We talked all the way up to his campsite near John Knox Blvd. Somewhere on the way he got nostalgic.
"I used to wait for your ass at Sunrise," he reminded me of those Sundays on the 50. "A year and three months ago we met at Sunrise and Bayview," he took us back earlier to a trip on the 40. It was fun to reminisce and praise him for his good memory - and bittersweet to consider how time had passed so quickly. A quick mention of the package of cinnamon rolls waiting in his tent, and he was gone.

My follower had finally caught me during our ride down memory lane and I received instructions to transfer my passengers to his bus. I'd come this far with a full bus and it was my last trip, so I persuaded dispatch to let me finish the run before heading back to the garage. We all finished our day together, blitzed, drained, and exhausted after another day on the streets of Broward County.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Annum Recognition: 2

One fertile September two years ago this blog was born out of sand and sun, a watery mystery drifting through tangled mangrove roots. Most of the time, it is a tranquil breeze in the cool shade of a broiling hot afternoon. Once in a great while, when the pressure rises, a hurricane must visit. The fury of nature's pent up energy is beneficial to the environment, stirring up oceanic sediments and discouraging stagnation. These cycles of calm and chaos are the character of a dynamic living system, unpredictable and occasionally leaving broken limbs behind. There will always be reminders of our tenuous existence on this thin crust. Let us make preparations, and wait for the sun to crack through again.

Still unrisen, the full moon was tugging on everyone's psyches, enhancing and exaggerating what they were feeling. A Sunday on the 36 generally carries a sense of easiness and patience, so that was a mitigating plus as things heated up.

I took over the bus at Lauderhill Mall from the morning driver, ready for a sedate afternoon on Sunrise Boulevard. Preparing to pull out, a slow elderly woman with a walker from the connecting 19 bus did her best to hold us there. We couldn't leave this grandmother sitting around for another half hour, so out came the ramp and she hobbled aboard.

Our first stop on Sunrise, two young guys boarded and stayed up front in the filled cabin. They were non-stop talkers, communicating in curse code.
"Bro. Bro." One of them repeated the same word several times, and I assumed it was for the other. It was actually for me, as it turned out when he finally said "Excuse me, sir" and I responded.
"Hey bro, you got any more of these?" flashing a day pass at me. It doesn't hurt to ask, even when it doesn't pay off.

In the parking lot at Dale's Wheels & Tires near Andrews Ave, it's a back to school party crammed with music, dancing, BBQ, bounce house, and free backpacks.

"I smell like a camp fire, don't I?" The older man asked by way of greeting. At first I hadn't noticed, then it was unmistakable. This was further east by Victoria Park and he was doing a BBQ of his own, with oak firewood donated by Red Cow, though he's partial to cherry.

As we serviced the Powerline Rd stop, a teen boy in yellow Parks & Rec shirt wandered up front, looking intently past me through my driver's window, as if checking to see if this was his stop.
"Can I just give the rest of this change to that guy?" he pointed out a disheveled man panhandling in the median. We had a minute, the light was red, the door was open, off he darted to bestow a blessing on this stranger.

 Nearing Sawgrass Mills Mall, my leader bus was getting worked on by the mechanic on 136th Avenue. This was a Sunday with reduced service, so a downed bus will affect service more than it would on a weekday. The mall itself was full and overflowing, to the point where the parking lot is at capacity and cars are parked in the swales of the feeder streets. I was ready to pull out of there when the mechanic pulled right in front of me to look at another downed bus waiting at the mall. His service truck blocked me, but only delayed us briefly when he determined that bus needed to be towed. He's a magician most of the time, but some things aren't in his bag of tricks.

This new trip was getting busy, lots of riders before Pine Island, a definite indicator it had been awhile since those stops were serviced. At University, a sour-faced man boarded complaining about having to wait an hour. I could have explained the broken down bus before mine, but I kept it simple.
   'Siento.' I apologized when he took a pause to breathe.
"Gracias." His ranting was over, now he was ready to continue.

We serviced Lauderhill Mall and pulled up to 12th St before turning left. A police car parked in the street directly in front of us blocked the right lane, forcing the steady traffic into one lane on this busy side street. the delay was frustrating for us, but helped out someone as I heard some yelling followed by a young man pulling up to us on his bike. We hadn't actually left the Hill yet, so he loaded his bike. He boarded dripping sweat like a spigot from the effort to make the bus, as well as toting two large bags of groceries. Profusely thankful for my holding the bus for him, he slid in his fare with a "Thank you, brotha!"
   'We wouldn't just leave you like that!'
"I know who my brothers are..."

A big event at Carter Park (formerly Sunland Park) was still going on into the evening and looked like fun as we cruised by. We flipped around at the beach and hit the weekly wall of traffic which I hoped to avoid on these Sunday shifts.

10th Ave has my friend in the motorized wheelchair waiting. He can't move much, but he knows how to work the joystick so he's as nimble as anyone else. Once he's facing backwards, I guide him on.
   'Nice and easy, you got it. Like a pro!'
"Hey, how you doin'? I don't need securements."

Father & Sons Smoke Til U Choke BBQ was wafting its mouth-watering aroma onto Sunrise as we approached Martin Luther King Blvd. The cricket tournament that began the day before at Central Regional Park had another busy day of matches. Attendees crowded all over the area after parking at the Hill, blocking the intersections.

It was finally time for our last trip of the day, an easy eastbound journey ending at A1A. The full moon was now risen, and tides were rising. On all the previous trips, those outside the bus had been careful and aware of their proximity to it. Now they had death wishes. At four different points along the way, there were young people leisurely strolling across the street, a young man on bicycle wearing earbuds and racing toward the bus at full hilt forcing me to come to a complete stop, a group of boys on bikes riding northbound in the southbound lanes of State Road 7, and two elderly women with rolling luggage and walker wandering aimlessly in the maze-like intersection at US 1.

In the midst of the madness, Miss Ketteline from Fridays boarded. She pointed out the full moon and swore she wouldn't watch the solar eclipse. We approached Sunset Strip, where Miss Anderson patiently waited.
   'Hey! There she is!' I clap my hands, impressed she has made it this time after several missed attempts.
"Today's my birthday, so I'm idlin'!" Her face lights up with a wonderful smile, Ketteline starts singing "happy birthday to you...", and the moon works its magic after the sun sets on Sunrise.



---
The new pick is underway! I'll still be with my peeps on the 36 every Sunday. The exciting news this time around is I'm coming back home to the 60 and 14. Also one night a week on the 34.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Better days

The sun was trying to rise on a dewy warm morning, its anticipated intense rays muted by heavy cloud cover. Yellow and pink bursts of luminous watercolor radiated through fissures in the dense atmosphere. Ibis perched atop towering light poles unsure if it was time to begin the daily search for sustenance, their instincts on pause.

We were well underway, gliding down University Drive on one of those lazy summery Saturday dawns when the world is quiet and few are in a hurry. The north half of the county was behind us, the West Terminal was serviced, and a familiar silhouette separated from the bus stop shelter as we approached Stirling Road. He was a young man with an old soul, a common condition leading to confusion and despair. Its negative effects can lead to paralysis of initiative. After several weeks of gloomy expressions, today the light was on.
   'Ready for another exciting Saturday?' My rhetorical greeting is a mixture of curiosity, encouragement, and personal pep talk.
"Better days, man. It's better days." His bright response lit up the bus, spurring us onward on our journey.
   'That's awesome, you're on a mission! I like that.'
His smile smoothed away the wrinkles of worry and he was suddenly his age again.

The pedestrian bridge over University at Miramar Parkway with an especially steep ramp was in full use that morning. No pedestrians however, just a crossfit group using it as their private gym, huffing up the incline with weights and other forms of resistance.

In Coral Springs an infrequent rider with striking features loaded her bike on the rack backwards. As a courtesy I pointed it out to her, she said she'd watch it - and stayed up front to do so.

In Tamarac a young man with reptilian facial tattoo boarded, earbuds deafening my greeting.

At the stop on the curve just north of Oakland Park Blvd, a small girl sat alone, no visible sign of a chaperone. She was just a toddler, and it was disturbing to see her beside a major street unattended. Someone pulled the cord to request the stop, and as we pulled over an older woman who was hiding behind the shelter emerged. Grandma was smiling as the little one ran to greet mommy exiting the bus, soon hand in hand walking home.

A fixture on University, Douglas stopped in for a short trip. Talky in the NYC tradition, where one topic turns into another and still another, he reminisced about traveling to Switzerland as a teenager when his father worked for an airline. This somehow transitioned to visiting Google Sky to see the stars, asking if I was a Christian, and announcing he was heading to Broward Mall to do surveys.

Hours later, the crossfit crew were still at it, taking advantage of the overcast to work up a sweat. Up and down the concrete hill like Sisyphus, their efforts were not futile. I occasionally hear other operators lament that our service is pointless, since we don't produce anything of value. The results aren't always apparent and sometimes things look bleak. As you toil up and down our avenues and boulevards, please know that carrying people, making connections, looking out for each other, and moving a county are worthwhile endeavors. Your service is priceless.

Monday, August 14, 2017

The right sound

Route 31 rolls up and down Lyons Road all day. That's not totally true. Another segment of the street is called 31st Avenue, and another is called Martin Luther King Jr Avenue depending which stretch you're on. The 31 rolls on all of them, and makes a side trip on Coconut Creek Parkway to service Broward College North Campus. Numerous school zones line the route, from the aforementioned college down to grade schools, so it's a popular route at certain times with students. During summer break the kids are scarce and the route resembles a typical neighborhood route.

A summer morning went along as expected. Morning traffic made for a couple hectic trips. Francois, a regular on the 60, stopped in; he still hadn't found his lost cell phone. At Boyd Anderson High, a vigorous ackee tree shaded the bus stop and reached out over the street. At Broward College, a rider did his good deed for the day and turned in a wallet left behind by a student.

I neglected to mention a few more turns on the route. At the south end, after so many miles on the same road, we veer onto NW 19th St, then down NW 15th Ave, and east on Sunrise Blvd. For about a mile we share Sunrise with the 36 before cutting south on NW 7th Avenue on our way to Central Terminal. And on Sunrise resides a legend. A rider since the earliest days of BCT, maybe even earlier, he rolls his wheelchair slow and steady along the boulevard. He's waiting now, takes one last deep drag on his cigarette and turns his chair in preparation. As he enters backwards, the ballast lost by having one leg is more than offset by the ever-growing layers of bags hooked behind him. They now protrude enough to prevent his making a smooth turn into the bus cabin, brushing against the doors. Still, his persistence and determination see him through. The bags are wet from last night's rain and the books within are saturated. Nothing else is identifiable in the camel's hump mounding with the collections of life. Once inside, wheels stable, hands free, he removes his pass from his mouth and reaches forward to swipe it through the fare box. The box isn't happy and spits out a raspberry.
"Oooh, that's the wrong sound," he declares matter-of-factly as he reswipes and receives a positive validation. "Ah, that's the sound."
He's a little jokey this morning, and the dampness hasn't affected his dry humor.
"Turn left." His loud order comes, insincere instruction since he knows we turn right here.
   'OK, if you treat us all to Miami Subs, we can go through the drive thru.' My response didn't faze him. He enjoys these bouts, his agile mind and fierce wit unhindered by his life-ravaged body. A van chose that moment to cut us off.
"Why didn't you hit him?" He delivered his calculated strike, seeking an equal response like a prize fighter in the ring with an unqualified opponent.
   'I need more of a challenge than that.' My counter-motion would hopefully diffuse the verbal pummeling.
"Risk Management would pay everyone on this bus - including you - $15,000 in an accident. But it might take up to three years." His high volume suddenly involved everyone else on their morning commute.
One of them took a moment to register the new information: "Ha. Three years."

We were done turning. All roads lead to Central Terminal, and our road had ended. School bells, rustling branches, air brakes, facetious exchanges: the streets will carry the sounds of Life as long as we are there to hear them.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Tree islands

Atlantic Boulevard is a major east-west thoroughfare through the northern part of Broward County, starting out as a few lanes east of the Intracoastal and soon fanning out as land opens up westward. A1A is our coastal highway, a thin band of asphalt on the interminable barrier island between the Atlantic and the mainland with nowhere to grow, lined on both sides by countless condo towers where occupants live at the edge of the endless sea. Curiously, Coral Ridge Drive in Coral Springs at the west end of Atlantic Blvd, far inland with no hint of salty air, has neither coral nor a ridge. Apart from occasional tree islands, it is historical River of Grass territory, long ago drained and dried to develop the desirable community we see today.

Route 42 is dedicated to Atlantic Blvd, plying the relatively short distance from A1A to Coral Ridge Drive and only diverting to service the Northeast Transit Center in Pompano. On a Sunday morning, this trip takes about 45 minutes. A weekday afternoon may take twice as long due to the crippling congestion which gathers at predictable hours. It was my good fortune to have it on Sunday mornings.

"My mom died last week. She was 91." Marty announced the sad news almost as soon as he entered the bus. "She just went to sleep and didn't wanna wake up. She was 91. She was tired. My two sisters died early this year. My brother's been missing five days - I don't know if he's in the hospital or in jail. He has the key to the house so I've been sleeping in the garage, sweltering."
Marty only speaks in one voice: bus voice. That's at a volume the entire bus can hear. He had some internet fame a few years back courtesy of then-local YouTuber Vitaly who funded an extreme makeover for this sympathetic character. Now, he's back hustling on the streets (but never a bother on the bus). Small in stature and vulnerable in spirit, it is impossible to dislike the man. He's out here struggling against the odds, and goes to pains not to get in anyone's way when doing it. While I get stymied by a wonky wheelchair ramp, Marty accepts everything with gratitude.

After the transit center, my pal Al stops in for a brief trip. Next, the Indian girl with enviably long black hair boards on her way to work, at her usual stop under the oak trees.

Out west, approaching University Drive I could see my mature friend in her distinctive ball cap waving from the median. Flag stops are a no-no as they encourage unsafe crossing through traffic, so I couldn't acknowledge the request. Fortunately we were servicing the stop anyway for a crowd exiting, which gave her time to make it over.
   'You trust all these crazy drivers?' I asked, thankful she'd made it through with her labored walk.
"No! But I didn't want to wait for you to come back around." The heat was getting to her and the cool cabin of the bus was too enticing. I was kind of glad she did, since the mechanic worked on the wheelchair ramp at the layover and it saved her needlessly melting by the street.

Over by State Road 7 another elderly passenger boards, holding out his money to show he's a little short on fare.
"Next time, I promise," he said with conviction.
   'Yeah, I know your promises.' It was a snarky response I immediately regretted, and resolved not to repeat.
"I only work one day a week now." His depressing admission made his attempts to pay his way admirable. He was an honorable man unprepared to let go of that virtue.

A few minutes later, we pulled up to Powerline Road, where a far younger man - in his 20s - was waiting. His arms were tucked against his chest, squeezing a drink and loose papers. A cigarette pack balanced on his forearm while fumbling for bills in his wallet and change in his left hand.
"Oh man, I got some big bills, but only this for a pass." Again, a passenger making a fair effort to pay the fare.
   'That'll work.'
"You're awesome, thanks!"
He had more change than he thought but held on to it, whispering "That's for a drink."
On the return trip, he was waiting where he'd exited, this time with a bicycle.
"I had just enough money for my medication." He informed me, picking up where we left off.
   'Oh yeah? So you'll be ok? That's good.'
"God bless you." He thanked me again and offered a fist bump.

Even tree islands aren't isolated, connected by life-giving waters acting as avenues of travel for fauna and peoples now forgotten. Try as we may in our time to plant ourselves at a distance from unpleasant interaction, the river of Life feeds our roots and unites us with each other.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

We get around

One early evening on the 60, filling in an empty slot for a few hours, waiting to pull out for my final trip of the day. Two minutes before pull out, a man pulled up in front of the bus on his bike, brakes squealing, he panting heavily from his successful bus catch. The heat of the day was still lingering, leaving sweat splotches on his t-shirt with Marines logo to match his ball cap. Though his bike wheels were still, he was still racing and ready to talk. His temperature was cooking and his day had started in that vein. He'd awoken to a house filled with smoke and a chicken burning in the oven. The connection between the charred poultry and his living on his friend's sofa next to a 56" flat screen can only be assumed, since the story was interrupted by nature's call. In his haste to make the bus, he hadn't made time to relieve himself, and now he was at capacity. Miles short of his destination, he opted to exit early and make use of the facilities of a nearby diner. The urgency stoked a memory of one 2-minute stream of relief, which he claimed for all to hear. I congratulated him and said it must be a Guinness Record.

Turning off Atlantic for our last trip through Collier City, an infrequent regular was waiting. Quiet and reserved, he always has some insight about the world around us. In true Socratic fashion, I can't recall him ever claiming to have the answer, but tries to find it through questions.
"You ever look at all these people and wonder where they're going? All the places they're going?" He asked the air when we'd become enveloped in a mass of congestion.
   'Yeah, but it gets overwhelming.' I finally said, knowing it was a short answer for a longer discussion.

A middle age man with a sleepy eye boarded, clearly despondent after another long day of futility.
"Wish I had your job." He pined.
   'Be careful what you wish for.' My admonishment was as much for my own benefit as his, a reminder that things are not as simple as they appear.
"You have job security. People will always need to get around."
Of course, he was right and there could be no arguing that fact. He wasn't saying it was easy, only pointing out the community's need for the service transit provides. It forced me to pause and recognize that just maybe it was greener on this side, in this way. The garden requires mindful tending lest the weeds take over, and with proper care will bear fruit in season.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

100 posts of gratitude

Street by street, block by block, stop by stop we reach another milestone. One hundred posts containing even more numerous stories within. Our stories, illuminating the brief moments we share together - and yet all the world is there in the experience. Stretching out to undiscovered stars, then contracting down to a water droplet, ours is the stuff of Life. Thank you for being here, let's continue the journey.

---

An afternoon shift on the 36 had come and gone routinely, in its own colorful way. Regulars like Chuck with his mesmerizing art bike, the Hungarian man in his hard-gotten wheelchair, and a familiar older gentleman who tends to go the extra mile with politeness in a most impolite environment were bright spots smoothing the way through standard obstacles like the perpetual box-blocking line of concert-goers trailing out of the Swap Shop.

We pulled into The Hill with a couple minutes to burn on our final trip toward A1A. I stayed in the seat, still facing forward while the flow of exits and entries were a blur of final connections. In my periphery, the blur came to a standstill, at least partly, and I looked over to see what was stanching the flow. A woman stood at the door, her knowing smile glowing in the new night. Her wide eyes of joy as she held her face with both hands and stared at me made it clear she was waiting for acknowledgment.
   'Wow!' Was all I could say when I realized it was our own incomparable Sunshine, resurfaced after so many months apart.
"Wow is right!" She replied with a lithe entrance, well-formed dreads framing a distinguished face.

No sooner were we out of the terminal when a young Haitian man began complaining aloud of the bus being too cold. The sun had settled and the a/c was no longer struggling against the summer heat. Our fearless friend took it upon herself to be positively contrary.
"This is delightful! You could take your clothes off in this. I could get naked!" She spun her suggestive magic.
"Where are you from?" The doubtful young man had to know.
"The islands, but I've also lived in England and New York." Her time in those cold locales certainly qualified her.

Nearing her exit, I could see her rise in the mirror-image reflection of the windshield. She held on to a stanchion as we slowed. An old, grizzled man sat nearby, drunk and slouched in his seat. She turned to him, moved closer into his personal space as only she could.
"Everything's irie. It's ok." Her kindness brought a weak smile out of his sagging cheeks. "God loves you, but you also have to love yourself."

We came to a stop, but she wasn't finished with everyone on the bus. She came in close to me and rested her hand on my shoulder. I covered it with my own as she stated, "I love you!" at a strong volume, with sweet authority, and no emphasis on any individual word.
Embarrassed that everyone was witnessing this unexpected display, I responded with my usual 'Thank you for bringing the sunshine!'
An anxious man standing beside us brought the moment to an end with an entreaty to get moving lest he miss his next connection. He made his connection that night, and so did the rest of us.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

A different drum

While the 441 Breeze is generally a rough-n-ready roller coaster ride up and down State Road 7, there have been days when it runs like a lazy cat slinking its way between napping spots. Mornings are the best time for this most unconventional limited-stop route to resemble a regular local-stop route, whereas afternoons are a frenetic blur of traffic and full bus capacity.

My morning run on the Breeze started at Turtle Creek in the early a.m., just before the rush hour crush was getting warmed up. This stop is popular with patrons and workers of the Seminole Casino across the street, an ever-growing glittery complex built on desperate dreams. I snuggled the 60-foot artic beside the curb and popped the brakes to wait for our departure time. The head sign is set to change automatically at the prescribed time, so passengers are often inquisitive when it only reads NOT IN SERVICE.

"Are you in service?" Asked a full-bellied man who emerged from the shadows when I swung open the doors.
   'We sure are! How's it going this morning?'
"I had a bad morning. I lost $220 at the casino, after getting up to $465."
   'So you didn't come out ahead?'
"No, I got cleaned out. How am I gonna get to Vegas now?"
   'It's another day.'
"It's gonna be a rough month."
   'There's always next month.'
"Yeah." Stunned and dejected, he took his seat as I stepped off. The bus was an island of light in the dark morn, and this unsettled gentleman seemed to appreciate the solace he found there in the midst of his own darkness.

Traffic was noticeably not an issue this morning, a welcome break from the standard onslaught. Red lights were making us run a little late this time, since we'd arrived in that domino effect where every light turned yellow as we approached. An early drizzle slicked the streets, then the sun dried them off.

Heading south, the enormous yet tedious roadway expansion project in Hollywood creates a transitional segment, where the scenery and environment steadily decline and deteriorate into a melange of aging strip malls and decades of built up grime. Around 177th St, in the midst of that hell of steaming streets and struggle comes a simple blessing: the wafting scent of baking sweet bread. It is a farewell kiss as tangible as Golden Glades, the labyrinth of asphalt ribbons we entered soon after.

Laying over at the Golden Glades Park and Ride, I was met by a sociable man in a cream-colored dashiki of fine stitching. A djembe drummer from Senegal, he showed me a video of himself performing a concert. As an aside, he proudly let me know he was a cousin of the singer Akon. Now he was in town to give drumming lessons at a school in Lauderhill, and requested my assistance to find the right street. The fierce rhythm of his music made an impression, and it kept me company as our wheels carried us through the threads of a million lives, the greatest concert of all.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Finally figured it out

The first stop out of Central Terminal on Andrews Ave. A seasoned citizen with a folding cart. She's taking her time, and not just because of her apparent advanced age. She's trying to do someone a solid, holding up the bus for another woman running our way. The runner is a trim jogger in hot pink spandex, and our waiting proves futile as she zips on by the bus. The considerate customer completes her boarding and clears the doorway.

"Does anybody really care if you miss the bus anymore?" She asked herself, reminiscing over the bygone days of looking out for each other.
"I'm 73 years old. I raised three sons to have good manners and good jobs. At my age, I feel I finally figured it out."

Monday, June 19, 2017

Floating freight

Most of our east-west routes are dedicated to a single road (e.g., 72-Oakland Park Blvd, 22-Broward Blvd, 55-Commercial Blvd). Route 36 is dedicated to Sunrise Blvd, and except for a short detour through Shallowside to service the Lauderhill Mall station, it currently extends from A1A on the east end to Sawgrass Mills Mall at the west end. One early morning on extra duty I was assigned this route and scheduled to start out at Sawgrass Mills in the dewy darkness at the edge of the Everglades. At that time of morning the mall doors are still locked so my only passengers were overnight maintenance workers heading home.

We'd completed a trip and were heading west over the Turnpike as the sun was rising behind us. A mother Muscovy duck with a fluffy yellow brood of ducklings waddling before her in the far left lane were blocked by the median from completing their crossing to a nearby canal. The morning crush of cars had accumulated, pinning them next to the extremely long barrier, which could easily be mounted by the mother but was too much of an obstacle for the tiny legs of her offspring. A considerate motorist took the errant family under their wing and protected them from certain destruction.

Our first visit at the east layover a sweet homeless lady wished me "a Jesus God-blessed day" and took her sweet time exiting. A crowd of freighters listed off the coast, biding their time before heading into port.

Heading into Sawgrass around lunch time, news vans lined the streets, sprouting a crop of telescoping antennas like metallic reeds. Endless queues of cars covered 136th Ave. A helicopter hovered over the scene, focused on the BB&T Center. At the mall, a man lounging in the courtyard explained that then-presidential candidate Donald Trump was in town for a rally at the arena.

Now en route, the vague presence of someone moving to the front appeared in my peripheral vision. This is usually the sign of someone looking for their stop, or looking to socialize. The middle-aged man beside me was both. The vitals came out first: homeless, going through trials, just got out of jail. His monotone expression was half conversation, half contemplation. A native who only recently returned, he was getting the hang of the social services available to him. His description of taking hours to secure a bed in a shelter veered toward the conspiratorial: "The Sheriff wants to know where all the homeless people are." A cameraman by profession, he boasted of being able to work the video camera at any event. The sickly sweetness of stale wine became pronounced as he lamented not being in Rio with his buddies filming the Olympics, readily admitting fault for not being prepared for the opportunity. He said aloud what street he was looking for, but made no request to let him know when we got there, before drifting into the cabin. The street came and went, but he didn't exit. When we got to the layover, I discovered him sleeping deeply. After waking, his friendly monotone became an angry loudness at me for letting him sleep through his stop. All I could do was offer to take him back around. He was content with that, and I was able to direct him to the feeding site he was looking for.

At the Hill, a young man walked on, casual and oblivious. Dazed and silent as a statue, an especially pungent fume enveloped him. He stood perfectly still staring into the cabin as the flow of passengers went around him like an island in the stream.

Even when things are partly cloudy, the light will find a way through. When we got to University, the glow grew brighter. My old friend the security guard was there, a familiar face only when I drove this route. Her unkempt hair, arms loaded with groceries, and obvious exhaustion were signs of a woman determined to do right by her child. A couple years earlier, we'd discussed work life and she laid out her career plans with bright hope and excitement. The grind over the intervening years had taken its toll, though her spirit stood strong and resolved.

On my last trip, somewhere west of Powerline Rd, an older man boarded, grinning and flashing a county employee ID hanging from the lanyard on his neck. He looked like someone I already knew, but his name escaped me.
   'Which department are you with?' I asked out of curiosity.
"Transit. 29 years!" His answer was proud and clear.
Then I remembered: Cooper, facilities manager at the Ravenswood garage. His winning smile made an impression on anyone who met him. It is always an honor to spend time with those who have dedicated so many years to BCT, and I was fortunate to have this brief interaction with just such an institutional mainstay. Mr. Cooper would pass away only a few months later, shortly after retirement. For this day however, he was ebullient and vigorous, with a satisfied assurance he had served his community well.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Philosopher's corner

The nature of our interactions on the bus doesn't always allow for in-depth discussion, mostly just what can be squeezed in while waiting at red lights. This is for the best since that's not primarily why we're behind the wheel in the first place. The operator's function is utilitarian, assigned with the task of safely moving expensive equipment containing the priceless lives of those aboard. This immense responsibility is both head-floatingly elating (for the operator) and mind-numbingly pragmatic (for the bus company).

Amid the unremitting flow of life around us (in the forms of traffic, commerce, and habitual practicality), the quietly profound moments of Life do their thing without expectation of acknowledgment.

Passing Alegria Tacos (best in town), the owner is on the front porch on the phone. I send a message in Bus Code: a couple love taps on the horn and a finger point.

At BC North, I pick up my older neighbor lady who I usually call out "Hola amiga" to across the street. She's dragging her small self aboard this afternoon, and with a frail smile could summon only a "cansada" when I greet her.

A noticeably dirty man boarded with a hospital bracelet, requesting a free ride since he used his emergency pass on a bus going the wrong way. He blamed his disorientation on being heavily medicated.

At Oakland Park, the giggly mature woman from NY who's always doing exciting things.

A guy about my age getting a day pass, unaware the fare has gone up since he last rode the bus. His car broke down, and will cost too much to repair.

In Pompano, I bump into a former coworker from another life. He's waiting for a different route, but uses the brief moment to let me know nothing has changed at the old job - and also he got stabbed last week.
"Ya gotta have a hobby!" he joked about this latest in an endless line of calamities to befall him.

The weather has turned drizzly and miserable. By the Pompano detention center is the slowest lot of miscreants yet. Everyone's got wet bills or a handful of change or just got out of jail and needs a ride to Powerline. An old man is using both a cane and a bicycle, he could barely walk so I help load the bike on the rack. What is it about the dampness today that has brought a tsunami of human wreckage?

An older man boards with two Dostoevsky books under his arm.
   'Good reading?' I asked, always happy to see someone with a physical book. A courthouse clerk, he made me envious with his plans to attend the Dostoevsky conference in St. Petersburg (the city in Russia, not Tampa Bay). Nonchalantly going on about probing the mysteries of God and existence, he made a perplexing admission: "I was a Mason with Mozart on Solomon's temple."
The conversation moved quickly, transitioning to John Calvin, predestination, and finally retirement.
"What good has the quest ever done me? Now I'm seeking an affordable condo near an academic center where I can study to my heart's content."

Another philosophy buff boards ready to discuss Nietzsche, Kierkegaard, and Hegel. His poor personal hygiene attests to his dedication to the psyche. He soon returns to earth with frustration: his new car was stolen and it's probably chopped up or shipped overseas.

We came full circle with Alegria again at 38th St, where my friend with the punk tats waited holding a single white rose with violet tips. He took a drag from his cig and passed it to the homeless lady hanging out there. Romance and chivalry on the streets of Broward County, while philosophers try to figure it all out.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Head in the sand

The bus was a bunch of sleepyheads on our first trip south down University Drive. Such foot-dragging and seat-slouching stood out since my day had begun hours earlier. It was Saturday, we were on our way, and it wasn't even 6 a.m.

At this time of day, everything is gravy. Passengers shuffle off to day jobs, time points are realistic, and the crush of congestion at 595 is a problem for future travelers. An hour later, when we depart West Terminal, the light is fresh and our day begins in earnest.

At Commercial Blvd, a drooping profile waits with his briefcase. His suit reveals a natty fashion sense accumulated over untold years in the industry, but his footwear clinches the impression. For most of his trip, we will hear laconic reviews of the shoes he sells. When he tells us he has the best alligator and ostrich skin shoes available, we believe him.

At Stirling Rd, a familiar crestfallen figure emerged from hiding in the shadow of the bus shelter. This had happened the week previous, when I was less prepared for this 20-something who was smooth-shaven and worry-wrinkled. When I'd greeted him before, tears welled up in the corners of his eyes and no words were given in return.
   'One of those days? Hang in there.' My encouragement was premature and presumptive; the day was too new to have gone sour, and his muteness was no proof of discouragement. Still, it seemed to fit at that moment.
Today I tried a different direction, to stoke imagination and possibility with my friend in the wide-eyed space cat t-shirt.
   'Ready for another exciting Saturday?'
"Yeah man, it's one of those days. I'm on a mission, man!" His smiling eyes and light slap on my shoulder were a complete reversal from before. His back straightened and he glided to his usual seat in the rear upper deck.

At West Terminal for a mid-trip layover, I was off the bus for a stretch when a young Asian exchange student exited my bus and approached me. Another passenger was asking her for a date; he wanted to take her to the casino. In broken English she let me know she didn't feel safe, so I offered to call Security. She declined and opted to wait for the next bus, so long as he wasn't on it.

Somewhere before Commercial, a young lady put $20 in the fare box before I could tell her we only sell day passes on the bus. I gave her a courtesy pass and scribbled the customer service number on back.

At the north end oppressive clouds were massing as struggling and exasperated young men boarded along the way. The pattern of gloom appeared set in asphalt until our final visit to West Terminal, when a breath of fresh air in the form of a beaming smile came to the door. It was Mister, a long lost regular on the 36 who I hadn't seen in a long while. He was there to save the day from depressing collapse with a cheerful greeting, a fist bump, and well wishes.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Livin' on the edge

The beautiful Breeze. We have several limited-stop Breeze routes, such as those on US 1 and University Drive, but only one can be called The Breeze and be known immediately. It's the 441 Breeze, an hour and a half from end to end with no let up in between. The majority of operators who pick it soon dread their shift on this relentless, endless route. For the rest of us, it is a fantastic journey along the serpent's spine of State Road 7, with its thousand ribs leading mostly through parts the tourist board won't advertise. From Coconut Creek where luxury car dealers have formed a mecca of fine motors around the garish excess of the casino to freshly baking bread perfuming the concrete dust bowl at the gateway to the intergalactic interchange known as Golden Glades, this route will send you on a trip.

At Hollywood Blvd, I serviced the stop and was ready to pull away when the daredevil appeared. His impressive whistle prompted me to look left and see a man on a bicycle defying the odds as he cut across the dense traffic of a chaotic construction zone. It took my breath away, and I feebly voiced what was obvious.
   'That's not safe. A lot of crazy drivers out there.'
"Life is an adventure. When it's your time..." The personal philosophy came with a matter-of-fact latino accent.
   'Livin' on the edge! Could fall off any second.'
"Livin' on the edge."
He took care of the fare box and blended into the bus.

The massive State Road 7 roadway project in Hollywood was only in its second phase, which meant a couple more years of Swiss cheese roads and tight, shifting lane patterns. Major excavations from Pembroke Rd to Washington St designed for enormous pipes an adult could walk through were effectively sheer cliffs right at the edge of the lane lines, with only flimsy barricades separating us. Where once stood businesses, closed and demolished for the sake of progress, now spread shapely storm water retention pits. While they would later smooth the edges and install grassy banks, for now the earth works exposed bare bedrock never before seen by man. The ancient limestone crusted yellow as a silent signal to future generations of shifting sands where our feet now tread.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Key word: adjust

The sweetest time on the 60, doing the first bus of the day out of Central Terminal. Downtown still sleeps while the gears of the city wind up for a new day. The soft glow of crooked street lights pierces the dull darkness, artificial stars of human proportion. The sun hasn't thought to wake up yet, so we will make our own light.

The regulars board at this time, folks with places to be while others dream in bed. Pulling out of the terminal, heading north up Andrews Ave, a street like no other if only for its vital conduit at the heart of Broward County. While gentrification makes its predictable march along the shoulders, the roadway itself remains cast in stone with lanes too narrow by today's standards. Time-scarred sabals tempt fate as they lean their shredded skins a hand's width away from the steady pulse of traffic. Buses better watch their mirrors along here, and ease over the puddle-collecting dips and buckles underneath.

Jutting out at the visual promontory where the FEC RR meets the street named for its creator, Flagler Drive, sits Lighthouse for the Blind. The obscured bus stop there seems to have sprouted a strobe light this morning. It is a headlamp of a passenger waiting to load his bike on the rack, and determined not to miss the bus. I compliment him on his creative attention-getter while he feeds the machine for a day pass.

We make our appointed trek uptown, with the usual busy spots at Commercial, 56th St, Tri-Rail, and Race Track Rd on the way to the Pompano transit center. Connections are made with other routes and the 60 then makes its most daring venture of the route, a sharp turn westward along Martin Luther King Jr Blvd. The road formerly known as Hammondville has recently received a permanent name change after decades of dual-name status evoking the history of a Broward long past. Next comes the Collier City loop, then over the Turnpike, followed by anxious concern from passengers since we don't enter BC North Campus on this first trip. From there it's a straight shot to 441 in time for the majority of those remaining on board to connect to the 441 Breeze heading south to Golden Glades. Two stops later we're at the north layover, where I and whoever's left wander into Dunkin' Donuts for some caffeine.

The sun is starting to peek over the eastern edge as I return with cup in hand and a dark figure waits near the bus. I thank him for his patience and the floodgates are released. My policy is to make folks comfortable with being sociable so strangers can be instant friends. This young man dressed in black took his cue and came on strong. If I wasn't awake before, I had no choice but to focus up now. A raw blend of bitterness and resignation flowed freely as he settled into a seat up front, while I scalded my palate from sipping too quickly. Claiming to be oppressed, before detailing why MLK's dream is another man's nightmare, he soon resolved to leave the US. A side argument with a young lady defending MLK after this disparagement soon fizzled out, so he returned to me. The earlier vociferous introduction was now replaced with calm introspection. His polemic continued in an orderly process, wrestling with the mixing of the nations, promising not to hate me since I may have Moorish blood, and finally discouragement while desperately grasping for a foothold in the mystery of humanity.

A few hours later I was making the same path as that first trip, servicing the Pompano transit center for the last time of the shift. An older man boarded, his casual Hawaiian button-down shirt providing a welcome splash of color against the drab trim of the bus interior. He stayed up front by the yellow line, bracing against the stanchion.
"So, are you getting the hang of things?" It was a broad question to start with, the kind you might get later in a conversation.
   'Hang of things? Where?' Rather than assume anything, I needed a clue.
"Oh, the job in general."
   'That? No way, never! Just when I think I've got the hang of things, I learn that I don't.'
"I think the key word is adjust. Most things in life are like that."
   'That's very true. Adjust, adapt. It's not one size fits all.'
"Like me, I don't like riding the bus, but don't have enough for a car right now, so I adjust."

Thursday, May 4, 2017

The sun stood still

An afternoon/evening shift on Route 60, the most brutal time of day to work that route. I wasn't supposed to be here, it was my regular day off and seemed like a good idea to get some extra work. Besides, I love the 60 through and through despite it being a high-maintenance relationship sometimes. In between requests from passengers to let them know when we got to the DMV, Sunrise Blvd, or Blount Rd, we had to contend with ever-growing traffic on ever-narrowing Andrews Ave. Lane closures at Prospect Rd dealt a devastating blow to any semblance of schedule-keeping. One lane at rush hour? Bad 60!

The grind was briefly diminished when a regular from the 50 appeared, with his signature big floppy hat and winning attitude. A sign waver when I saw him in action, he's a fixture on Dixie Highway near the Pompano transit center. We were probably pushing 10 minutes down, not bad considering, but he took it in stride as usual without a hint of malice or resentment.

Several hours into the marathon and we were in the thick of it. The frenetic activity of late afternoon came at us from all directions, conspiring to put the brakes on our forward motion. Then she was before us. A broken silhouette between the two large circles of her wheelchair, waiting patiently in Collier City. The angled shadows cast by the setting sun were focused on her, and now so were we. The impulse to rush came to a sighing halt as all due care was lavished on one who truly was dealt a lasting blow. Down kneeled the bus, up and out flipped the ramp, creating a bridge for her to rest her arms and be carried at least some of her journey. Fresh bandages wrapped the rounded end of what used to be an intact leg. She lined her wheels up at the base of the ramp, and paused.
"I'm sort of new at this, so..." she explained with endearing vulnerability, fixing her eyes on the challenge before her as she tentatively wheeled herself on board. I offered to attach the securing straps to her chair, and she blessed me by accepting.

The episode delayed us even more, yet curiously our time deficit soon shrank and was no longer an issue.

After that, I picked up an infrequent regular who is frequently anxious to get to his destination. This time he was relaxed about it, perhaps because the day was done and he was on his own time. Usually sociable while on my bus, today he was quiet and reserved. Apparently he was reading the Bible, since another man inquired, "What the Scripture today?"
His answer was a measured retelling of a passage in Joshua about the day the sun stood still.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Please be patient

Sunny, rainy, sunny. A settled pattern with unsettled weather of a Sunday on Atlantic Blvd. A relatively brief east-west route in the narrow north end of the county, the 42 bridges the length between A1A and the western suburbs. While weekday afternoons are notoriously unreliable during the relentless congestion where schedules become fodder under so many axles, the weekend version runs like clockwork. Regardless of the day however, some things never change.

Approaching the Magner warehouses near Powerline, the slim figure of a young man went skipping across the entire width of the boulevard - six lanes and a sizeable median. Once across, he waved for the bus, and anticipating this was the reason for the mad dash I was able to make the stop.
"I lost my bus card, can you gimme a ride to the next stop?" At this point where the surface street intersects with Andrews Ave and I-95, the next stop is a good half mile away. Perhaps I hesitated too long in my generosity, since he felt compelled to go on.
"Today is my birthday!"
I wished him a happy birthday and kept it moving.

At the east layover, there was ample time to secure the bus and take a needed walk. Glancing out over Atlantic Blvd's namesake, the shimmering shallows lapped silently in the morning light while pleasure craft drifted a couple miles offshore. A small cluster of cyclists sped by on A1A.

That part of the beach has no dedicated parking lot, so limited street parking is the only option. A SUV was having some difficulty maneuvering to parallel park, taking repeated attempts to fit in the slot between other vehicles. The teen girl in the driver seat looked focused yet a little overwhelmed. Her bumper sticker read: Student Driver. Please be patient.

Sunny, rainy, cloudy, rainy.

Halfway into the shift, I heard a disturbing call over the radio: the other 42 bus driver had a passenger who urinated on the bus and he was instructed to return to the garage. At that time there were only two buses on the route, and after that call I was the only one out there. This hadn't happened before so I wasn't sure what to expect. I figured we'd be ok the rest of the trip, but after that was anyone's guess. Sure enough, the complaints started to come in, repeated refrains of waiting 2 hours for the bus. I apologized and sympathized and kept it moving. An elderly gentleman with a walker concerned me; he needed to get to his wife in the nursing home and now would have little time to be with her.

Late in the shift I picked up a familiar face, not from the bus since I only picked her up a couple times before, but rather from a friend's art show a few months earlier. An older woman with a trademark ball cap, we'd been introduced and she named another driver she was fond of on another route. Now I asked her how our mutual friend from the art show was, and she gave a confused look, not knowing who I was talking about. She didn't recall me, or the art show either.
"I can't remember one face from the next." She admitted with regret.
   'That's ok, as long as you remember who you are, and don't lose track of that.' She knew that much, found solace in it, and kept it moving.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Say you're ok

Early morning bus operators don't start bright and early, they start dark and early. The weekend shift on University Drive came with a predawn report time and light traffic on the way to my start point. Accompanied by the thinnest sliver of moon in the east I made my way to Westview Drive in Coral Springs. Off we went, smooth as could be down to 207th St in Miami Gardens, in the shadow of Dolphins Stadium (or as we'll always call it: Joe Robbie Stadium). The earlier trips take less time but you've got to expect it's gonna take awhile to get from the top of Broward County down to the top of Dade County; this trip would take just over 1 1/2 hours, later trips take close to 2 hours.

The way back up included a visit from a waitress regular who zoomed into the stop on her bike just ahead of the bus. She was the fun aunt today, picking up her young nephews way up the line.

A three car accident outside the Coral Square Mall somehow found two of the cars up on the median.

After the wreck, it was nice to see someone on our next trip who had it together. The multi-color embroidery on her fine blouse of deep violet complemented her Trini complexion. We said our greetings, and she continued, half to me and half to herself.
"You gotta say you're ok even if you're not. Gotta fake it till you make it."
There was a crack in the manicured facade of Coral Springs here. It was refreshing to be reminded by this woman's basic revelation in the land of perfection that all that glitters is not gold.

The south end of the route has its own lived-in flavor, far from the lush satisfaction of the north. A mobile juicer in his red pick up roams the streets, the battered bed loaded with sugar cane stalks poking upward over a mound of coconuts.

A single-engine plane takes off from North Perry Airport, unfurling an enormous orange banner to advertise in the sky.

All routes change along the way, and these longer routes change more than most, especially with the weather. A dry broil around the county line gave way to monsoon conditions from Davie to Ft. Lauderdale. It was tapering off but still drizzly when we got to Joe's Crab at 44th St in Lauderhill. A somber figure draped under a towel stood at the stop, dripping under the clouds. The face of a young man emerged out of the improvised umbrella as he boarded, discouraged and resigned to the whims of Mother Nature: "This was my beach towel..."

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Ten plus sixty

Many operators don't care for split shifts, and with good reason. Sometimes we just want to settle into a shift and stay there until time is up. A split means two shifts, two buses, and usually two routes.

This day's split started with the 10 and would later see me on the 60. With a massive FEC southbound train rumbling by next door, I began boarding the 10 at Central Terminal. A cyclist loaded his bike on the rack, and an accessory on the handlebar caught my eye: a cup holder woven from palm fronds.
   'How do I get one of those?' I had to know.
"You come to Hollywood beach and I make you one," he readily replied, as if that was all I needed to know.

Once we got uptown, an older gentleman jumped as we neared his stop, suddenly aware that he'd reached his destination.
"This is my stop!" His exclamation sounded like he was getting his bearings.
   'You're leaving so soon? We have a lot of road ahead.' It was my invitation to continue his adventure.
"Nooo, I don't wanna go to Boca. Those women wanna spend all your money."

Well into Pompano now, a familiar duo came into view, along with a third, even more familiar face. It was the tenacious young lady with lupus, and her boyfriend. The other passenger with them is a Pompano long-timer, dressed for a day at sea on a fishing charter. A true gentleman, he deferred to the determined woman and let her board first. Her grimace with every simple movement was replaced with a smile when she got to the door and noticed I was there.
"Hey! Long time, no see!" Her greeting was an inner strength shining past her physical frailties.
   'How we feelin' today?' I immediately regretted bringing up the obvious.
"Oh, not good."
    'Take your time.' It was a struggle to lift her legs, and her perseverance conquered the challenge.

With her safely seated, the fisherman stood up front.
   'Any good fishing?' I asked, since he's the expert.
"Not last weekend. It gets like that in the summer. But we'll see."
   'That's the thing about fishing, you never know what's gonna happen.'

On my flip trip back to Central Terminal, I picked up another operator in uniform, heading into work. With our weird work schedules, it's not always feasible to use the bus on work days. I generally do it at least once a week, and still ride on my days off. I've been riding BCT for decades now, and when people complain about service fails I recall those days when service was much less frequent. We've come a long way, baby.

The afternoon piece on the 60 would soon become notorious for traffic delays and a bus load of students, but this day started off smooth and showed promise. We were on pace after servicing BC North Campus, and would only be a couple minutes late into the Pompano transit center. Then we came to the train tracks and all hope was lost. The gate arms were malfunctioning, stuck in the down position though no train was on the way. We eventually got permission from dispatch to make a u-turn and get around the obstacle, but by the time we finally got to the transit center we were nearly half an hour down and it would be impossible to make up any time as the afternoon progressed and traffic snarled. Fortunately a supervisor would reset us later and though we never got on time the rest of the shift, at least we were within sight of the schedule.

At the college I picked up one of my neighbors. She was tired after a long day, and it was a pleasure to give her a chance to take a load off and head home to relax. No relaxing for drivers on the 60, though, with relentless congestion and several road construction sites.

We flipped it at Central Terminal for our final northbound before heading to the garage. Not sure where he got on, but a young man covered with punk rock tats hopped on and perked up when saw me.
"Remember me from the 50 last week?" He asked, and the day came back to me. It had actually been a couple weeks before, and he had been under a lot of stress after getting an eviction notice with little time to make new plans.
"Yeah man, I got a new apartment!" It was good to see the stress was gone and things were looking up.
"Plus I hit four numbers on Lotto. My girlfriend didn't believe me."

His good fortune would be contrasted by the homeless crew hanging out at 31st Ave & Hammondville, across from the county detention center. One man was panhandling while we waited at a red light. He was holding out a spray of crape myrtle, with flowers matching those on some nearby landscaping.
"I'm trying to make a dollar so I can get some bus fare," he slurred as he came up to my window. "I just got outta jail and they're all outta passes."
Now I generally don't carry cash when I'm working, but I started to dig for some spare change.
"No! I don't want your money, just a bus ride later. Can I get you a soda or something if I make enough?"
   'Get yourself a cool drink, it's hot out there.'
"Hey! I'm always cool!"

---
The new pick has begun. My variety pack this time mixes the old with the new: 10, 19, 31, 36, 81, 83. From Central Terminal to Boca, and Pompano to Coral Springs, I'll be all over town. See ya out there.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Bowling for mangoes

The full moon often gets the blame for increases in bizarre human behavior. Any job dealing with the public is going to bring higher than average exposure to the wide variety of activity going on in society. So when a full moon is rising it can be interesting to see what happens and take notes.

   'Sunrise Boulevard.' I called out as we approached the stop.
"You're the only one who does that!" The young man standing up front was commenting on my calling out stops. The announcer system must not have been working that day, and I like to take those opportunities to do it the Old School way.
   'Aw, there are others.' I came back in my contrary way.
"Not really. You're the only one I've seen since I moved here. A lot of them are just mean," fist-bumping on his way out.

"Hi, Sweets! How ya been?" The pleasant young lady was all smiles as she boarded. She seemed vaguely familiar as an especially friendly passenger from awhile back, and was excited to see me back on this route.
"I don't like it when drivers move around. Then I have to make new friends and that's not easy." As with all my passengers, I make it easy to be friends, no hard work required. A mile up the road, an old friend of hers boarded and suddenly I was old news as they settled into conversation.

Heading north out of downtown, we came upon 16th St. A man was stumbling toward the street, leaning down, arms outstretched. I slowed in case he might stumble into the street. As we got closer, I could see he was reaching for something moving on the ground. He had shaken some mangoes from a tree next to the sidewalk and was chasing them down.

"I'm a criminal, that's the guy." At least I think that's what the young guy with the gold grill mumble-whispered into my ear. I looked in the cabin mirror to make sure everything was ok, he sat back down and that was it.

Passing Catfish Dewey's at 40th St, there was a line waiting to get in. The next stop I picked up my friend who works there. Normally in a sociable mood, today he looked exhausted after prepping everything for dinner service.

Finally pulled into Central Terminal for our last trip of the day. The full bus unloaded to make their connections and I gestured to those waiting on the platform to board.
"You leavin' right away?" The 20-something lady asked.
   'Yes.'
"I thought so. You're 4 minutes late."
   'Good to see you too!' Again with my contrary nature to flip frustration into humor.

Also appearing at the terminal was an older lady I'd never seen there before, but was familiar with as a regular way uptown on the 50.
   'Are you gonna ride with me?' I asked hopefully, glad to see her doing well after hobbling around with a cane the last time. Another woman boarded at that moment and said she would ride with me. That prompted the first one to ride with me after all, at least to the Pompano station and switch to the 50 there. She stood up front a little while as we pulled out, letting me know she thinks I'm undercover with the FBI, and telling me about her new puppy.

"You people are too incompetent for words." The bitter sentiment directed toward me came after an older gentleman realized we were going the opposite way he wanted to go. The head sign hadn't changed when it was supposed to and he assumed it was correct. I always advise people to ask the driver if the bus is going where they want to go, regardless of what the head sign reads or even what direction the bus is facing. At the next safe stop, I popped the doors for him and a couple others, and pointed out the nearest stop for the direction he wanted to go. I wished him a good night as the full moon rose, pulling the tides.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Keeping vigil

Bus operators are rarely called by their job title, rather we receive countless nicknames and epithets. They can be repetitive or creative, and when a new one comes my way I add it to the running list. One that will never make the list is Father, since it wasn't given on the bus. It was bequeathed upon me by another operator, who was presumably inspired by my general appearance. Other operators latched onto it and what started as an inside joke soon morphed into an inquisitive greeting.

Father's Day found me on Atlantic Boulevard, one half of a dynamic duo I dubbed Team 42. Shortly after pulling out of the garage, I witnessed a somber scene: a couple dozen Egyptian geese were convened in a semi-circle, in the street and on the shoulder. Standing straight as soldiers, they faced the same direction toward the flattened carcass of one of their flock. Keeping a respectful distance from the still, feathered casualty, they stood in stony silence with blank, wide-eyed stares.

My turn for giving a confused look came on the first westbound trip. A couple stops before US 1, an older woman waited to board. With limp, stringy hair and her arm in a brace, she called me by name as soon as the doors opened, before she even boarded. Hard as I tried, I couldn't place the face and no name came to mind. She proceeded to talk to me as if we were familiar with each other, updating me on her man's job plight. Hoping her name would come to me, I didn't let on that I couldn't remember her.
"I see you cut your hair!" She tossed out an observation that could be a clue.
   'Yeah, I gotta be respectable now.'
I felt bad for not calling her by name, but I just didn't recognize her. My theories are that we met briefly a long time ago, or that she got me mixed up with someone else.

On our previous trip, a 20-something young man with extensive ink on his arms begged for an emergency pass so he could "get to the homeless assistance center," which he didn't know the location of because he was "from Orlando." I offered a ride to the transit center a little over 10 minutes away, where he could catch the 60 to the Broward Outreach Center. He immediately began hedging and declined the offer, mumbling that he would "drive myself."

We did a round trip and settled in at the east end layover. A slight man in a motorized scooter rolled up the ramp. Curious tattoos on his thin arms stood out in contrast. I commented on the lighted ball used to control the scooter's joystick. He volunteered that he had been paralyzed during a robbery on Las Olas in the '90s. His arrowhead necklace caught my eye and I complimented him on it, which prompted him to tell me about his Cherokee grandmother.

At the stop before the FEC RR, a familiar old man boarded. His personal hygiene had long been neglected, understandable among our homeless regulars but rarely this powerful. The offensive odor is always more than offset by his impeccable manners and politeness.

Simple gratitude and consideration go a long way in our interactions with one another. We may not know each other's names, we may not know where we are going, we may know where we came from, and we may offend each other unintentionally. This is our flock, we are marked together as one community, and look out for each other to the end.