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.
"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.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Staying level

Late starts are no way to start the day, especially doing the 72 on a weekday morning. It meant I wouldn't be able to get on time for a couple hours. This wasn't my regular run, I was filling in on my day off. This being the 72, one of the busiest routes in the system, the 60-footer artic was soon filled with a standing load up to the yellow line - and the sun wasn't even peeking over the horizon yet. To add to the delays, this particular bus was notorious for being sloooow. My follower caught me near the end of the first trip so I went into drop-off only mode and tried to get back on time.

During the first couple trips, passengers came up to me for assistance or socializing and their words stuck with me, piercing through the din of early-day chaos.

"It was a test and I passed it. I'm keeping positive." The Jamaican woman had missed her stop on our previous trip, and here she was again on the return trip. Not sure if she was referring to actually missing the bus stop, or what transpired at her destination.

"Water seeks its own level." An older gentleman repeating an old phrase. Again, in the tumult and blur of the moment his reference eludes me, but the words remain.

My follower caught me a second time and I was ready to chalk up this crawling bus as just about useless.

The furious squall of the morning rush subsided to a manageable pace. The crowds clamoring to get to work were replaced with the smaller number of those in pursuit of more leisurely activity, or none at all.

On my final trip I picked up two familiar faces in the east part of town. Both homeless, one is a sociable ex-Marine and the other frequently annoys passengers by begging on the bus. The Marine was chugging a beer when I pulled up, which apparently had left him broke as he turned out his empty pockets. The second rider made an effort and put a few coins in the box. I also had him promise not to bother anyone on the bus, since he has a habit of staying up front and begging everyone who boards. He promised, but it didn't last.
"Driver, you need to kick him off the bus, he's bothering everyone." The Marine was fed up with his friend's antics. We were stopped and I turned back to see what was going on with my crew.
   'I know he's not, because he promised not to, right buddy?' My tone was kind and peaceful, not upset. These two would be exiting soon enough and the annoyance was minimal, or so I thought. Shortly after my playful chide, a woman exited up front and made a point of encouraging me on her way out.
"You have the patience of a saint, sweetheart."

Water seeks its level, makes its way where it can, and adjusts to the space it's in.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

In my heart

A sedate morning on Sample Road. The first trip was under a cloudy sky, which seemed to complement the low ridership and light traffic. By our second trip, the sun had a chance to rise and burn off lingering nighttime moisture.

We picked up the eccentric cyclist and he wasn't talking about the weather when he joked about going under the Doppler Radar today. Life is bound to bring us all a collection of scars, and he proudly displayed an impressive one on his abdomen, gouged there by an infection during a hospital stay.
"I just had surgery and got up to go to the bathroom, but the nurse thought I was falling and went to catch me. She was holding two bags of IV fluid and grabbed me with the bags, right on the surgery spot. The doctor almost fired her."

About this time Mr. Pickle boarded, heading to work at his Pickle Spot in Festival Flea Market. Somehow our conversation turned on me and the two of them were shocked when I told them I was working from 6 am to 7 pm, with an evening run to Miami on the 95 Express after this local shift. There tends to be a wide chasm between the ridership of our premium express service and those on the local routes. They rarely overlap, and each group is unfamiliar with the other service. So I wasn't surprised when they asked me if I'm on the 441 Breeze, which is promoted as a limited-stop express service, but in fact stays on surface streets. I started to explain the differences and was met with looks ranging from confused to betrayed, as if I was a wayward father with two families. Mr. Pickle soon exited and conversation ended.

After the Tri-Rail station, we passed the AMPM Food Mart with at least a dozen day laborers hanging around for someone to come by and offer work.

A Haitian woman boards and asks for "Pompano", but can't be more precise.

Pulling up to the red light at Dixie, a 50 bus barrels by southbound. It stops close to this corner and a man in a pink button-down jumps out and races over to my bus. For those I'm familiar with, I'll joke that it takes a real man to wear pink. This guy is a stranger, so I skip that idea and go with a simple compliment: 'You're fast.'
"When I got a knee replacement, they gave me an upgrade! Like Steve Austin."
   'Where do I get that?' I had to know.

We flip around at the east end and a familiar face from the 10 is waiting on 33rd Street. A perennial Grumpy Gus who once told me to "give it more gas" so he could get his coffee before his connecting bus, he was a regular when I drove the 10. Now I was picking him up where I left him off. Uncharacteristically sociable today, though still a dour front as usual. Some reasons for that started to become known.
"I'm ex-military. That's where I got hooked on coffee. I put cognac in it on the weekend."
From there he listed his complaints about BCT: bad schedules and bad drivers. I was with him on the first thing, as for the second complaint my answer is always: We got all kinds.

Now we're bookin' it back the other way, heading east. Another regular with a bike boards at Turtle Creek. Semi-retired until Social Security kicks in, he flashes a LAID OFF - RENT DUE sign at Powerline. Unabashed about how he makes ends meet until then, he wistfully recalls receiving $100 bills in west Broward. Far smaller denominations come his way on this dusty stretch of warehouses at the base of Mt. Trashmore. His voice audibly broke when he remembered one young man in a BMW giving him all the money in his pockets; he grabbed the generous giver's forearm and said, "You're blessed."
He cleared his throat, lowered it to a whisper, and came in a little closer: "Over here, people of color are the most consistently giving, while our own kind sneer at me. Took me 60 years to really see, though I knew in my heart."

While at the east layover, I did a walk-through and found a hat left behind. It was the second one of the morning.

At some point a petite, wan young lady boarded, clean and with a freshly made up face. Her blank expression brightened when I said hi, and she stood up front while we rolled.
"I'm a little nervous about what I have to do now, I'm not happy about it." Her first words came resigned and tentative, grasping for a life preserver. Not wanting to pry into what she had awaiting her, I tried to think of some encouragement for this skeletal girl with the sweet disposition.
   'We've all been there, this too shall pass.'
"Thank you." She seemed bolstered as she slipped out the door.

At Holiday Springs, a woman held a baby, perhaps her grandchild, and pointed up into a tree near the bus stop, smiling.