Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Tough in Florida

Let's go back in time to a little year I like to call 2002. Actually, it was 2016 and the bus was from 2002, a Gillig Phantom. Every bus that's been in service this long is bound to be full of phantoms and ghosts, with so many years of life within its space. I call them Gillig Time Machines, rattling around town while faithfully getting us to the next stop.

On one 10/50 split shift I rolled out of the garage in this '02, ready to fill it with more stories. The heavy overcast above was a gloomy way to start the day, but not unusual during rainy season. A late pull out time for this trip, it was the height of morning rush hour as I headed to Camino Real in Boca. At Hillsboro and Dixie, I was a bit startled to see the red caboose was missing. It had been moved slightly a couple weeks before, but today I couldn't see it in the vicinity. Finally I spotted it a considerable distance south and all was well.

In service now, heading south on US 1, we stopped at Sample for the normal crowd. Two Haitian women began to board, one with a folding cart loaded with a rainbow of Gatorade bottles. Her dreary demeanor matched the sky and her tone as she said "Good Morning".
I repeated it back to her, then had the inclination to toss in a little Bonjou. With that, her face lit up. When I followed with "Ke gen ou ye" she went ecstatic. "M'bien mesi!" she laughed with her friend as she took a seat.

At 6th St, a regular boarded and began feeding quarters rapid-fire into the fare box, alternating between both hands and delivering the coins like Chinese throwing stars.

At Commercial Blvd, with swarming traffic surrounding him, a homeless man sitting at the bus stop in vintage teal Marlins cap was beginning his day. He didn't want the bus, this was his intersection. With a black Sharpie marker, he carefully lettered a piece of cardboard. So far it only said "I'M DOWN".

At 15th Ave, an older woman was putting out great effort running across the Walgreens parking lot to catch the bus, as my laughing Haitian friend exited, presumably to catch the 36 and dispense her cart of rainbows at the Swap Shop. A younger woman waiting to board kept shifting her position, deferring to the others. She was a few cents short on her fare and put it in silently with some delicate finger gestures. While this was going on, I could hear a female voice calling out. Looking to my left, there was one of my favorite customers in the median, someone who always lights up my day. The older lady who was running a moment earlier was now on board, buying a day pass and advising me not to get old. By now the light had turned red, so my sunny friend had time to cross over to us.
"My favorite! Now I know it's going to be a good day. Thanks dahling."
At Central Terminal, I thanked her for bringing sunshine on a cloudy morning.
The mute young woman who was short on her fare suddenly became talky, revealing that she was homeless. She told me about her thrifty clothes shopping, wisdom from her father about doing the right things in life, how someone stole her bag while she used the restroom. She shared a bit of good news about securing a slot in a women's shelter. When she mentioned she hadn't been in a relationship with a man since 2002, I could see this was going down a strange path and gave her an emergency pass to get to the shelter.

The morning trip on the 10 was fairly busy, and a few more wrinkles were added to that old bus. The afternoon shift on the 50 was sedate in comparison. A different bus of course, slightly newer.

Picked up Mr. Mercedes at the usual spot. He's looking for a vintage-style spotlight for his bike, a perpetual creative work in progress.

At 54th Street, Iron Chef boards. A regular who always looks exhausted, but like the rest of us perks up when he gets to talk about what he loves. And he loves to cook. He cooks 6 days a week and wants a second job - cooking. He's worked at Boca Raton Resort so he's got the skills. Now he wants to open his own restaurant.
"What kind of food will it have?" I wonder.
"Italian, American, everything." His answer is broad and unlimited. I think he's looking for investors.

A young man who'd gotten on awhile earlier came up as he readied to exit. He felt compelled to throw some sweet talk my way, which tends to induce cringing. This time it impressed me.
"You're one of the coolest bus drivers, one of the best I've seen. You've got character, that's tough in Florida."

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